Biographical Sketch of Mary Traffern Whitney

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Reverend Mary Traffern Whitney, 1852-1942

By Helen-Chantal Pike, Independent Historian

Vermont Equal Suffrage Association: Recording Secretary

Mary Traffern was born February 28, 1852 at Alder Creek, New York, the daughter of Job and Sally Traffern. She graduated from St. Lawrence University in 1872 and married the Reverend Herbert Whitney the following year. Ordained a Universalist minister in 1887, Reverend Whitney served with her husband in several Unitarian and Universalist pulpits. In later years she had independent pastorates, and spent two years serving the Rochester, VT, Universalist Church, from 1908 to 1910. According to Edith Fox MacDonald's 1974 book Rebellion in the Mountains: Universalists and Unitarians in Vermont, Rev. Whitney was credited as a pioneer who opened the door of Unitarian ministry to more women.

Newspapers recorded Rev. Whitney's presence at various public gatherings during her brief tenure in Vermont. The first was at the second session of the Vermont Equal Suffrage Association (VESA) meeting in October 1908, where she offered the opening prayer and gave the response to the Rutland Mayor's welcome. Also in 1908 she attended the 23rd Convention of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) of Windsor County. In 1909, Rev. Whitney was elected VESA's recording secretary as well as vice president of the Green Mountain Association of Universalists. In the fall of 1909 she delivered an address on Christian citizenship at the fifth anniversary of the local WCTU.

In May of 1910 she delivered a speech on behalf of VESA in St. Johnsbury. The Saint Johnsbury Caledonian described Rev. Whitney as "prominently interested in education and reform work before coming to Vermont two years ago and expects to return to such work soon. She spoke of many of the evils of the day and said that women, being naturally patriotic, are desirous of helping in the solutions of these problems." The following month her attendance was noted at the 25th Annual Gathering of the VESA in Barre. She was listed as one of the "prominent speakers." Also in 1910, Rev. Whitney was elected WCTU president for Windsor County.

Prior to her move to Vermont, Rev. Whitney was engaged in missionary work for the Benevolent Fraternity of Churches in South Boston, was President of the Massachusetts Moral Education Association from 1899-1905, and State Superintendent of Social Purity for the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Her interests were listed as adult education, woman's suffrage, and the welfare of the elderly. According to Universalist and Unitarian Women Ministers, 2nd edition by Catherine F. Hitchings, while in Boston, Rev. Whitney was "president...[of] the Family Culture Institute; she edited its monthly magazine titled Family Culture from 1896-1897. Concerned with family problems and eugenics, she was a pioneer in this field and published articles written by Edward Everett Hale...and others and created interested support among many."

After their stint in Rochester, the Whitneys moved to Bernardston, MA, where they both served as pastors from 1912-1916. By 1930, they had moved to Weare, New Hampshire, where Herbert died in 1931. Mary died there March 8,1942.


Eliot, Samuel Atkins. Heralds of a Liberal Faith (Boston: Beacon Press, 1952)

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