Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mary A. John (Mrs. Frederic) Watson, 1850-1941

By Foster Dickson, Booker T. Washington Magnet High School, Montgomery, AL

Mary A. John was born on March 3, 1850 in Uniontown, Alabama. Her father, Joseph Reid John, was a prominent lawyer and politician in west Alabama. Originally from North Carolina, her parents came to Uniontown in the late 1830s, where her father was first a schoolteacher then a justice of the peace. After the family moved to Selma, Joseph John was a lawyer, a state legislator in the 1850s, and the city's mayor in the 1860s. During the Civil War, he served the Confederacy as chancellor of the middle district of Alabama. Mary Amelia's mother was Rosanna Jane (Smith) John.

Mary A. John married Frederic Watson on June 12, 1878. Her husband was also the child of a wealthy and prominent west Alabama lawyer, Henry Watson. However, unlike his father and father-in-law, Frederic Watson did not go into law and politics, but business. The 1880 census lists him as a bank teller, and later, the Selma Times contained ads for his bookkeeping services, his beverage distributorship, and for his Hartford Life insurance business. The couple's first son Henry, born a year after their marriage, died of a fever in August 1898. Their other two children, a girl Cecilia and a boy Francis, were born in 1881 and 1884, respectively.

The Watsons were well-known and active in their community, and references to either can be found in the Montgomery and Selma newspapers during the first decade of the 1900s. Mrs. Watson was a schoolteacher in the Selma area, and was a vice-president of Selma's Thursday Literary Club. In September 1903, the Montgomery Advertiser's "Selma News" section explained that she was severely injured when she was thrown from her buggy. Yet the injury does not seem to have deterred her spirit: in 1904, she was listed among the incorporators of Selma's Carnegie Library and was giving talks on Shakespeare to her book club.

Frederic Watson died in February 1906. His obituary notes that he suffered from rheumatism and that his death was expected. After the death of her husband, Mrs. Frederic Watson appears to have used her own name more often, and appears alternately in public documents and records as Mary J. Watson or Mary John Watson. Certainly, her father would have a remained a well-known figure in Selma, and using his name alongside her husband's may have had certain advantages.

Mary Watson's involvement in the woman suffrage movement appears to have begun in 1910 and 1911. At the behest of organizer Mary Partridge, whose efforts earlier in the decade yielded little progress in Alabama, Watson was among a small group who met at the Carnegie Library that she had helped to incorporate and created a statewide suffrage organization. That organization grew, moved its home base to Birmingham, and sent representatives to national conventions. However, Mary Watson's role appears to have been fairly limited.

Though she continued to live in Selma in the 1920s, Mary J. Watson moved to Cincinnati, Ohio before 1830. The 1930 federal census recorded that Mary was living there with her unmarried daughter Cecilia, a librarian. She passed away in Cincinnati in February 1941, at the age of 90. Her obituaries in the Selma and Montgomery newspapers describe her both as the wife of the Frederic Watson and as the daughter of Chancellor Joseph R. John. The Selma obituary adds that she was the sister of Col. Sam Will John, who was a Confederate veteran. Mary Amelia John Watson is buried in Selma's Live Oak Cemetery.


United States Federal Census of 1850 for Uniontown, Perry County, Alabama. page 619. Accessed via

United States Federal Census of 1860 for Selma, Dallas County, Alabama. page 47. Accessed via

United States Federal Census of 1870 for Selma, Dallas County, Alabama. page 26. Accessed via

United States Federal Census of 1880 for Selma, Dallas County, Alabama. page 19. Accessed via

United States Federal Census of 1900 for Selma, Dallas County, Alabama. page 5. Accessed via

Alabama County Marriage Records: Dallas County, 1809 - 1890. Page 319 (June 12, 1878). Accessed via

City Directory for Selma, Alabama, 1906. page 235. Accessed via

City Directory for Selma, Alabama, 1926. page 287. Accessed via

"Mrs. Mary J. Watson Claimed by Death." The Montgomery Advertiser. February 21, 1941. Accessed via

"Mrs. Mary John Watson Dies in Cincinnati." The Greensboro Watchman. February 27, 1941. Accessed via

Image of tombstone of Mary Amelia John Watson. Accessed via

Federal Manuscript Census, 1930, Cincinnati for Mary Watson. Accessed via

"Henry Watson died . . ." Birmingham News. August 4, 1898. Accessed via

Public Notice for Thursday Literary Club. Selma Times. October 6, 1895. Accessed via

Classified ad for Frederic Watson, bookkeeper. Selma Times. August 16, 1898. Accessed via

Classified ad for Frederic Watson, bookkeeper. Selma Times. September 23, 1898. Accessed via

Ad for Frederic Watson's beverage distributorship. Selma Times. August 16, 1899. Accessed via

Public Notice for Medical Association meeting held at Watson home. Selma Times. April 1, 1901. Accessed via

Ad for Frederic Watson's Hartford Life agency. Selma Times. April 5, 1901. Accessed via

News brief about Frederic Watson injury. Selma Times. November 30, 1901. Accessed via

News brief on Watson home repairs. Selma Times. May 20, 1902. Accessed via

News brief on Frederic Watson being knocked down by a fleeing criminal. Selma Times. November 7, 1902. Accessed via

News brief on Frederic Watson's injury. Montgomery Advertiser. December 6, 1902. Accessed via

"Library to be Built." Montgomery Advertiser. March 7, 1903. Accessed via

"News from Selma." Montgomery Advertiser. September 26, 1903. Accessed via

"Carnegie Library Incorporated." Montgomery Advertiser. June 5, 1904. Accessed via

Classified ad for Carnegie Library. Selma Times-Journal. March 26, 1905. Accessed via

Public Notice on "Mortgage Sale." Selma Times-Journal. February 7, 1906. Accessed via

"Mr. Frederic Watson Dead." Selma Times-Journal. February 20, 1906. Accessed via

"Funeral of Mr. Watson." Montgomery Advertiser. February 21, 1906. Accessed via

"People and Events." Selma Times-Journal. March 24, 1910. Accessed via

Public notice for rental property. Selma Times-Journal. May 15, 1910. Accessed via

"Real Estates Transfers of Week." Selma Times-Journal. May 26, 1912. Accessed via

"Enfranchise Women." Selma Times-Journal. November 25, 1917. Accessed via

"Watson Rites Slated Friday." Selma Times-Journal. February 20, 1941. Accessed via

Robbins, Mary Lafayette. Alabama Women in Literature. Selma: Selma Printing, 1895.

Harper, Ida Husted et al., eds., History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6 (1922) [LINK].

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