Biographical Database of Militant Woman Suffragists, 1913-1920
Biography of Martha Penny Derickson (Mrs. Frederick) Bringhurst, 1876-1957
By Janet Lindenmuth, Librarian, Widener University Delaware Law School
Edited by Anne M. Boylan, University of Delaware, Emerita
Martha Penny Derickson was born in Wilmington, Delaware on November 18, 1876. Her parents, David Penny Derickson and Sarah Harvey, were cousins, both descendants of the Dericksons, a well-off Wilmington family who could trace their ancestry back to the early Swedish settlers of Delaware. She lived her entire life in the Derickson family home, a 1770s stone house at 1801 Market Street, which today houses the Junior League of Wilmington. Derickson attended Wilmington Friends School but was mostly educated by private tutors.
Her early interest in the suffrage movement may have begun with her membership in Wilmington's New Century Club. She was an active member of the New Century Club beginning in the 1890s, particularly as a member of the Club's current events class, where she wrote essays and poetry. Some of her poems were published in Wilmington and Philadelphia newspapers, usually credited using her nickname, Mazie Derickson. She did write at least one poem about the suffrage movement titled "Pros and Cons." She was eventually elected president of the New Century Club in 1920. In the New Century Club she would have met other future members of the Delaware suffrage movement, such as Mary de Vou and Emma Lore, who sang at her wedding to Frederick Bringhurst in 1906.
The Bringhursts were another wealthy old Wilmington family. Frederick's grandparents, Joseph and Sarah Tatnall, lived next door to the Dericksons on Market Street. Frederick was vice-president of the Wilmington Savings Fund Society, which had been founded by his grandfather Joseph Bringhurst. After their marriage Martha and Frederick lived in the Derickson family home. Although she and her husband had no children, she was, according to her obituary, very close to her younger cousins and their families.
Martha Bringhurst was a member of the Wilmington Equal Suffrage Association by 1907, when she served as a delegate from the Wilmington Equal Suffrage Association to the Delaware Equal Suffrage Association's annual convention. After the Delaware Congressional Union was formed, she attended its first annual meeting in May 1915, and presided over the business meeting at the Hotel Du Pont. In April 1917, when the Congressional Union became the National Woman's Party she was elected 2nd vice-chairman of the Delaware branch. As chair of the resolutions committee at the group's 1917 convention, she crafted the Delaware National Woman's Party petition to the state's Congressional delegation, calling for the passage of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment; the petition was read into the Congressional Record on April 21, 1917.
Some members of the Delaware Equal Suffrage Association disagreed with the National Woman's Party promotion of picketing. Although there is no evidence that Martha Bringhurst did any picketing herself, she remained an active member of the NWP until the ratification of the 19th Amendment, attending NWP meetings in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. In 1918 she was again one of the signers of a Delaware National Woman's Party resolution presented to the U.S. Senate.
After Congressional passage of the 19th Amendment in 1919, Delaware had a chance to be the deciding state to ratify the Amendment. With Delaware NWP president Florence Bayard Hilles in France doing post-war reconstruction work, Martha Bringhurst, as vice-president of the Delaware NWP, took over in August 1919, presiding at a planning meeting for ratification in Wilmington, serving as a member of the ratification committee, and speaking at rallies at Wilmington's Majestic Theater and in Dover. She even served as costume director for a suffrage pageant held in Wilmington. Despite her efforts the Delaware ratification attempt ultimately failed.
With the 19th amendment ratified, Martha Bringhurst continued advocating for voting rights. She was active in the League of Women Voters, serving as state president from 1925 until 1928. She also served as a local voter registration official in Wilmington in 1930.
Both Martha Bringhurst and her husband were active in the Episcopal Church, attending the Cathedral Church of Saint John in Wilmington. She served as president of the Episcopal Women's Auxiliary for the State of Delaware and taught Sunday School for almost 60 years. She was also on the Board of the Woods Haven School, an industrial training school for delinquent white girls in Claymont, Delaware.
Martha Bringhurst died February 23, 1957 in Wilmington, two years after her husband. She is buried in Old Swedes Churchyard.
Photo by William Shewell Ellis. The Wilmington Evening Journal, August 9, 1919, p. 16. The same photo was used multiple times in Wilmington newspapers.
Martha Bringhurst's obituary appeared in the Wilmington Morning News, 25 Feb 1957, p. 15.
"Beautiful Church Wedding," Wilmington Every Evening, 18 Oct 1906, p. 2.
"Savings Fund Society Marks 110 Years of Steady Progress," Wilmington Journal-Every Evening, 18 Feb 1942, p. 21
A brief history of the Derickson House and the Derickson family can be found in Carol E. Hoffecker, Brandywine Village: The Story of a Milling Community (Wilmington, Del.: Old Brandywine Village, Inc., 1974), p. 85.
Martha Derickson Bringhurst and her family can be found in the Federal censuses for Wilmington, Delaware at 1801 Market Street in 1880 and 1900 to 1940.
For her participation in the New Century Club, see reports of the Club's activities in Wilmington newspapers, and the New Century Club Papers, Delaware Historical Society, Accession 83.11. (Before her marriage she was sometimes referred to as "Mazie Derickson," after it as "Mazie P. Derickson Bringhurst.")
"New Century Club Events," Wilmington Morning News, 3 Feb 1894, p. 1.
"New Century Club, Programme of Exercises for the Coming Week," Wilmington Morning News, 27 Feb 1897, p. 6.
"New Century Club Elections," Every Evening, 10 May 1900, p. 2
"Current Events Class Program," Wilmington Morning News, 14 Feb 1915, p. 7.
"Clubs," Wilmington Evening Journal, 19 May 1920, p. 16.
"Equal Suffrage: Annual Meeting of the Wilmington Association Held Yesterday, Business Transacted," Morning News, 27 Sep 1907, p. 6.
"Suffragists End Their Convention," Morning News, 15 May 1915, p.5.
"Mrs. Hilles Heads Woman's Party," Every Evening, 14 Apr 1917, p. 3.
"The Woman's Party Conference at the Capital," The Suffragist, v. 5, no. 98 (8 Dec 1917), p. 5.
"Suffragists Hope for Wolcott's Aid," Evening Journal, 31 Dec. 1918, p. 7.
"Urges Delaware to Get in Line," Evening Journal, 28 Jul 1919, p. 1
"Suffragists of State Encouraged," Evening Journal, 29 Jul 1919, p. 11.
"Want Legislators at Suffrage Rally," Morning News, 1 Aug 1919, p. 7.
"Women of Many Minds Ask Ballot," Evening Journal, 4 Aug 1919, p. 7.
"Planning Greek Pageant to Aid Suffrage Cause," Morning News, 7 Aug 1919, p. 1
League of Women Voters and voter registration:
"City Condemned for Unclean Ways by Women Voters," Morning News, 9 Dec 1925, p. 1.
"Registration Officers Named in this City," Morning News, 26 Jun 1930, p. 9.
"St. John Women's Auxiliary Elects New Executives," Journal-Every Evening, 16 Jan 1942, p. 21.
"Woods Haven Depopulated, Head Resigns," Journal-Every Evening, 24 May 1946, pp. 1, 12.
"A New Woman," The Philadelphia Inquirer, 14 Mar 1897, p. 28
"Anniversary Sonnets," Every Evening, 13 Jan 1914, p. 9.
"Translation," Morning News, 26 Aug 1919, p. 4
"A Tribute," in Nellie Blessing Eyster, A Noted Mother and Daughter (San Francisco: Paul Elder and Co., 1909, p. 25.