Marie Louise (Slade) Mason


Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biography of Marie Louise (Slade) Mason, 1844-1919


By Blake Wintory, Ph.D., Independent Scholar

Marie Louise(a) (Slade) Mason, a second-generation suffragist, was a founding member of the Montana Suffrage Club in 1890 and represented Montana at the National American Woman Suffrage Association conventions in 1890 and 1892. Her mother, Josephine L. Slade, was a founding board manager of the Universal Franchise Association in 1867.

Born in 1844 in the District of Columbia, Marie Slade was the second child of William A. and Josephine L. Slade. The Slades were influential members of the city's free black community. William worked as a porter and caterer at Brown's Indian Queen Hotel, popular with Washington's elite, and was a leader in the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church. With seven children by 1860, the family also valued education. Marie and her siblings attended school, according to the 1850 and 1860 censuses. Later, at least two sisters taught school and a brother attended Oberlin College.

The family briefly moved to Cleveland, Ohio around 1857, but returned in 1861 when William took positions in the Treasury Department. By 1862, President Abraham Lincoln made him the lead servant in the White House. During the Civil War, the Slades founded a school and were leaders in the National Freedman's Relief Association, the Contraband Relief Association, Ladies' National Union Relief Association, and the Social, Civil, and Statistical Association. After Lincon's assassination, President Andrew Johnson appointed William White House steward. William's death in March 1868 left an estate valued at $100,000. President Johnson, his daughters, and other dignitaries attended his funeral.

In June 1864, Marie, "the accomplished daughter of Mr. William Slade," wrote The Christian Recorder, married Joseph Washington, a barber. In February 1870, the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia granted Marie a divorce on grounds of Washington's abuse and adultery. In May 1868, under her maiden name, she was appointed copyist in the Treasury Department's Pension Office. Two children born of the marriage do not seem to have survived into the 1870s.

In December 1870, Marie married James W. Mason in Washington, D.C. Mason, educated at Oberlin and in Paris, was a wealthy Arkansas politician and planter, who was also the son of the state's largest slave-holder and an enslaved woman named Cynthia. Mason stood out in Reconstruction Arkansas serving as postmaster at Sunnyside in Chicot County (1867-1871), a delegate to the Arkansas Constitutional Convention (1868), and Republican State Senator (1868-1871). In 1868 and 1870, he garnered appointments from President Ulysses S. Grant to the Sierra Leone Court of Arbitration and Minister to Liberia. Mason declined both positions, possibly due to poor health, and instead supervised Chicot County, first as Judge (1871-1872) and then Sheriff (1872-1874).

After her marriage to Mason, Marie, her mother, and younger siblings, joined James in Chicot County, Arkansas. However, James and Marie's daughter, Josephine L. Mason, born on March 26, 1872, listed Washington, D.C. as her birthplace on a 1920 passport application. The deaths of her mother in June 1872 and husband in November 1874 in Arkansas upended the arrangement.

Marie likely stayed in Arkansas into 1875 to manage the estate she inherited. She returned to Washington, D.C. by March 1876 and was appointed clerk with the General Land Office in the Department of the Interior. With Augustus H. Garland, Democratic Arkansas Senator (1877-1885) and U.S. Attorney General (1885-1889) as her patron, she maintained an annual salary between $900 and $1,000 until her resignation in September 1887.

Little is known about Marie's activities from 1876-1887. Her daughter studied at the Art Students' League in New York (ca. 1882-1886) and then for a year at the Académie Julian in Paris. Upon her daughter's return, in September 1887, Marie announced her resignation from the Land Office. The Alexandria Gazette reported she went to Wyoming because "there is no caste" in the Territory, suggesting women's suffrage as a motivation. The U.S. Senate's defeat of a women's suffrage amendment earlier in the year may have weighed on her.

A month later, in October 1887 mother and daughter arrived, not in Wyoming, but in Helena, Montana Territory. Helena, a booming territorial capital, sustained a small black community, but it is unlikely they made any attempt to integrate into it. Marie worked in the Territorial Office and then for Secretary of State Louis Rotwitt, while Josephine began a professional art career. The pair voted in a school trustees election in April 1888 and Josephine began teaching art in the public schools in 1889.

Montana achieved statehood in November 1889 without significant gains in women's suffrage. However, debate led to the creation of the Montana Suffrage Club in January 1890. The club, based in Helena, announced officers, including Marie as recording and corresponding secretary. The organizers informed the movement in The Woman's Journal in February 1890: "This is, we believe, the first organization ever formed in Montana for securing equal rights." Writing in the same journal a month later, Marie reported: "We are few in number, but hope to grow." Of herself, she said "you can depend on [me] to work and suffer...I tried very hard to form clubs in the different counties, but no one would help me." In 1890 and 1892, she represented Montana at the National American Woman Suffrage Association conventions in the District of Columbia.

In the summer of 1892, the pair moved to Colorado and by 1893 they were in Denver, where Josephine was active in the Le Brun Art Club. By 1896, they moved to Paris, where Josephine again enrolled at the Académie Julian. Josephine moved to London around 1899 and Marie may have returned to the District of Columbia to attend to family affairs. By 1911, Marie was living with her daughter in London's Chelsea neighborhood. According to the 1911 Census of England, Marie was a widow of "private means" and Josephine, a portrait artist. On December 23, 1919, Marie Louise Mason attempted to cross Fulham Road and was struck by a car. Later that day, at her home, she died at age 75.


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