Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Marcella Brown Man (Mrs. A.E.) Clark, 1856-1923
By Thomas Dublin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, SUNY Binghamton
Marcella Brown was born in Winchester, Indiana in January 1856 to James and Caroline Brown. Her father was a lawyer and by 1870 the family resided in Mankato, MN. Marcella was 14 at this date, the third of five children. With $1000 in personal estate and $6000 in real estate, James Brown must have been in the community's economic elite.
Marcella married Albon Man in 1876, but the 1880 census found her living with her birth family and a 2-year-old son in Mankato. She and Albon were living together in Mankato in 1900 with a 13-year old son and daughter, Mary and Albon, Jr. Her husband worked as the manager of a lumber yard.
The couple divorced, though, in 1905 and the next year Marcella married a lawyer, Alfred E. Clark, 15 years her senior. In 1910 the couple resided in Portland with two children from her first marriage, Louise and Albon Man, now in their early 20's, and a servant.
Marcella Clark joined in the successful suffrage referendum campaign in 1912 and her husband ran for the United States Senate on the Progressive party ticket. Marcella served on the Literature Committee of the Oregon Equal Suffrage Association, with such notable Portland activists as Louise Bryant Trullinger (later the partner of John Reed) and Emma Wold (later active in the National Woman's Party).
Clark's feminism led to further conflict as she sued Rev. A.A. Morrison, pastor of Trinity Episcopal church, for "humiliation and injury of feelings" in 1913. In her court filing, she claimed that the minister called her "an obstreperous person, a mischiefmaker and a nuisance in the parish" in front of members of the congregation. Her attorney said "that the difficulties resulted from Mrs. Clark's insistence upon having women members on the governing board of the church," in part the "result of the passage of the 'woman's suffrage' measure at the general election last June."
Marcella Clark's marriage and her life took a sad turn shortly thereafter as Alfred Clark sued for divorce in 1914. The divorce was granted and subsequently upheld as Mrs. Clark appealed the decision to the State Supreme Court. She remained dissatisfied with the terms of the settlement and two years later arranged for two young men to abduct her former husband and take him to Vancouver, where she planned to force him to remarry her so she could regain her lost property. The young men abducted Mr. Clark but the scheme unraveled when he resisted and their car ran into a woodpile. They pled guilty and were given 6 and 8 month sentences; Marcella Clark was committed to the State Hospital for the Insane in Salem. She was treated there for two and a half months and then released to the care of Maria Hidden, a Portland friend and "prominent woman suffragist." In 1920 she attempted unsuccessfully to reopen the divorce case and in 1922 she sued her former brother-in-law for taking possession of her Portland home.
The outcome of this final suit is unclear, but in October 1923 the Los Angeles Times reported with a sensational headline, "Society Belle is Found Starving in Dingy Room." The story describes in substantial detail Marcella's two marriages and divorces and her unsuccessful suit against her Portland minister. She apparently had many newspaper clippings and letters and telegrams attesting to her former high social standing, including her friendship with Mrs. Alva Belmont of the National Woman's Party. The story ends by describing "her last exploit"--"buying many pages of advertising in small [Oregon] newspapers, in which she alternately published articles for the National Woman's Party and aired her family affairs."
According to a Greek fruit peddler who had befriended her, Marcella Clark was starving herself to death. She died in Los Angeles ten days after the appearance of this newspaper account. She was buried in Mankato, Minnesota, most likely in a grave plot next to her parents, James and Caroline Brown.
Ida Husted Harper, et al., eds., History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6 (1922) [LINK].
Federal Manuscript Census listings, 1870 and 1880, for the James Brown family, Mankato, MN; 1900: Alban and Marcella Man, Mankato; 1910: Alfred E. and Marcella Clark, Portland; 1920: Alfred E. Clark, New York City. Accessed with HeritageQuest.com.
Ancestry Library Edition Marriage records for Marcella Brown and Albon Man (MN, 1876) and Marcella Man and Alfred E. Clark (VA, 1906). Death record, Marcella Clark, 20 October 1923.
Newspaper accounts accessed through Newspapers.com:
Oregon Daily Journal, 1/7/1913; 8/21/1914; 2/21/1915; 3/13/1915; 7/31/1917; 8/3/1917; 10/24/1917; 12/15/1918; 1/9/1920; 9/28/1922.
La Grande Observer, 8/4/1917
"Society Belle Is Found in Dingy Room," Los Angeles Times, 10/10/1923, 19-20; "Mrs. Marcella Clark Dies," 10/21/1923, p. 1.
District of Columbia:
Washington Times, 12/13/1918, p. 21
Washington Post, 12/14/1918, p. 15; 2/25/1919, p. 8
Washington Herald, 2/8/1920, p. 1