Biographical Sketch of Martha Harris Burns Nichols Forest

Biographical Database of Militant Woman Suffragists, 1913-1920

Biography of Martha Harris Burns Nichols Forest, 1874-1955


By Linda D. Wilson, Independent Historian

Suffragist and Washington state national chairperson of the National Woman's Party, Martha Harris Burns was born on June 5, 1874, in Rome, Georgia, the daughter of Honorable John T. Burns and his wife Elizabeth Johns Harris. By 1886 the family lived in New York City. On April 6, 1892, in Fulton, Georgia, Martha Burns married Herbert B. Nichols, with whom she had two daughters and a son. Only one daughter lived to adulthood. The Nichols lived in Spokane, Washington, where she obtained a divorce on July 16, 1903. Two years later, on May 29, Martha married Frederick Story Forest in New York City.

In 1907 Martha and Frederick Forest were living in Spokane, Washington, where their daughter Lydia was born. Prominent in social affairs, Martha Forest became active in the woman's suffrage movement, circa 1916. In May 1916 Forest assisted Bertha C. Turner (wife of U.S. Senator George Turner), who hosted approximately five hundred guests including Alva Belmont, Inez Milholland Boissevain, and Harriet Stanton Blatch. In October that year Martha and daughter Catherine Nichols hosted a tea at their home in honor of Julia Hurlbut, an organizer in the National Woman's Party. That same month Katherine Corbin (wife of prominent businessman Austin Corbin II) held a large reception and tea for speaker Ida Finney Mackrille of San Francisco. At that event Martha Forest was in the receiving line with Corbin and Boissevain. In November 1916 Martha Forest stated to the press that "'As the end of the national campaign draws near, more and more women are taking a stand against Wilson and the democratic party on account of Wilson's unreasonable and absurd blocking of the Susan B. Anthony amendment. . . . He knows very well that the Susan B. Anthony amendment is the only way in which it can be obtained and that if we must wait for it to be granted state by state, we shall none of us live to benefit by it.'"

As the United States entered into World War I, patriotic women registered to help in the war effort. In Spokane, Martha Forest registered for "general service" in the National League. In October 1917 Anne Martin, vice chairman of National Woman's Party, spoke before a group of approximately fifty Spokane women. Martin discussed the harsh treatment that she and other suffragists, known as Silent Sentinels, received for picketing in front of the White House. Martin urged the attendees to write to President Woodrow Wilson. In 1918 and 1919 Forest served as Washington state national chairperson of the National Woman's Party.

By 1920 Martha and Frederick Forest had moved to Toledo, Ohio, where he worked as an efficiency expert in an automobile factory. In 1930 they lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota. On February 27, 1955, Martha died in Olmstead County, Minnesota. Her husband Frederick Forest preceded her in death on August 14, 1950. Both are buried in Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis.


(1) Georgia, Marriage Records from Select Counties, 1828-1978, accessed on on December 28, 2019. New York, New York, Extracted Marriage Index, 1866-1937, accessed on December 28, 2019. 1900 U.S. Census, Spokane, Spokane County, Washington. Spokane Press (Spokane, WA), June 2, 1903. Spokane Press (Spokane, WA), June 2, 1903. Spokane Chronicle (Spokane, WA), July 24, 1913.

(2) 1910 U.S. Census, Portland, Multnomah County, Oregon. Spokane Chronicle (Spokane, WA), April 15 and November 3, 1916. Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), October 5 and 14, 1916.

(3) Semi-Weekly Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), April 5, 1917. Spokane Chronicle (Spokane, WA), October 22, 1917. Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), October 21 and 22, 1917.

(4) The Suffragist, Vols. 6:41 (1918) and 7:24 (1919). Spokane Chronicle (Spokane, WA), November 3, 1916.

(5) 1930 and 1940 U.S. Censuses, Minneapolis, Hennepin County, Minnesota. Minnesota, Death Index, 1908-2017, accessed on on December 28, 2019. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current, accessed on on December 28, 2019.

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