Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Mrs. Mary "May" Cornwall Juilliard, 1857-1934
By Julie Johnson, Graduate Student in History, University of California, Santa Barbara
Director of the San Francisco branch of the Red Cross; President of the California Club, President of the Papyrus Club; President of the San Francisco Club Women's Franchise League; Vice president of the New Era League of California
Mrs. Mary "May" Cornwall Juilliard was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, most likely in 1857. After she moved to California, she had a lengthy and impactful career in philanthropy and politics. During the Spanish-American War, May served as director of the Red Cross Society's San Francisco branch, working directly with convalescent and discharged soldiers and improving their conditions through extensive fundraising. She took from this experience administrative expertise and a devotion to the poor and the sick, both of which informed her efforts as president of the Social Science Department of the California Club. In this capacity, and as a private benefactor alongside husband Arthur William Cornwall, May championed a range of San Francisco causes, including the creation of playgrounds, libraries for the blind, public gardens, maternity homes, and nursing training programs. She also extended her efforts further afield, advocating reform of prison and hospital conditions throughout California.
May organized and politicked in the high society circles of San Francisco. Between 1901 and 1911 she was elected president of the California and Papyrus Clubs, both prestigious groups amongst the city's upper crust. May consistently used her position and resources to aid the less fortunate. She took a particular interest in providing support to struggling young businesswomen of lower-class origin. In 1902, she founded the Porteous Club, a group for poor, working women that provided networking opportunities as well as training in cooking, health, sewing, music, and literature. Acquaintances and journalists alike described her as "popular," a "clever feminine financier," and a leader committed to ensuring that "heavier matters [did not] push out the importance of social functions." A reputedly talented director of plays, hostess of teas, and organizer of costumed balls, May was beloved for her fun-loving and welcoming persona.
May's ability to weave the political together with the social constituted one of her most vital tools as a suffragist. Club members noted that May was simultaneously stealthy and indefatigable in turning conversations and agendas to vote-taking and fundraising in support of female enfranchisement. Between 1908 and 1912, May organized rallies, attended conferences, and gave numerous speeches on behalf of political equality. She served first as president of the San Francisco Club Women's Franchise League, and then as vice president of the New Era League of California, once the former body was disorganized and replaced by the latter in 1911.
In 1909, May was widowed with the unexpected death of her husband. The eldest son of capitalist Pierre B. Cornwall, president of the Black Diamond Coal Mining Company, Arthur Cornwall left his wife the sole beneficiary of a sizable fortune. May responded to his death by doubling down on her commitments to the suffrage cause. In the lead-up to the critical vote on the "Bell Amendment" in 1911, May worked tirelessly organizing and politicking throughout the Bay Area. Her endeavors were all the more critical given the recent failure of the 1896 campaign, in which San Francisco had been one of two key counties that had voted against enfranchisement. In 1911, Mrs. May Cornwall joined Mrs. Coffin, Edson, and Blaney on the Legislative Committee that travelled to Sacramento to argue on behalf of Proposition 4. The Proposition was taken up by the California Legislature and approved through a referendum vote on October 10. Formally set into law as Constitutional Amendment Number 8, victory secured the right of California women to vote almost a full decade prior to the 1920 national victory. There were, however, notable exceptions to this extension of franchise; Native American, immigrant, and non-English-literate women were amongst those excluded.
Neither the victory of 1911 nor the state-wide suffrage it secured constituted end goals for May Cornwall. In 1912, May become the editor of the Woman Citizen alongside Helen K. Williams. Originally founded in 1870 under the name "The Women's Journal," the monthly magazine became the official publication of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1917. During her tenure as editor, May used the platform in her continued advocacy of suffrage equality and to provide visibility to a variety of other social and political causes. A supporter of female journalism broadly, she hosted numerous benefits and events on behalf of the "newspaper women" of San Francisco.
May entered into her second marriage in 1914, wedding Senator Louis W. Juilliard. The two had met during May's lobbying visit to Sacramento a few years prior, during which Juilliard had been one of the most vocal supporters of the suffrage cause. The two bonded over their shared political convictions and moved to Santa Rosa, where they shared an active and apparently happy marriage until the former senator's death in 1919. Following her late husband's passing, May relocated to Oakland. From there she continued working for social and political reform. An increasingly outspoken opponent of corporal punishment, she served as secretary of the Society for the Abolition of the Death Penalty in California and personally petitioned the governor on behalf of condemned prisoners in numerous cases. After decades of passionate, vital labor on behalf of the causes she held most dear, Mrs. May Cornwall Juilliard passed away at her East Bay home on January 31, 1934.
"Best-Known Club Women on the Pacific Coast." San Francisco Call, January 12, 1902, 4.
"California Club to Have a Great Show." San Francisco Call, October 20, 1900.
"California Red Cross Aids Local Workers in Increasing the Fund for the Texas Sufferers." San Francisco Call, September 17, 1900, vol. LXXXVIII, no. 109.
California Superior Court, San Francisco County. "Will Proof and Certificate A. W. Cornwall." Probate Dept. No. 9 Form 29, No. 8059, August 9, 1909. Ancestry.com. California, Wills and Probate Records, 1850-1953 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.
"Denver Woman Will Conduct Local Battle." San Francisco Call, September 19, 1911, 7.
"Favors Playgrounds for School Children." San Francisco Call, May 17, 1901, 7.
"Fight on Death Penalty Started." San Francisco Call, July 4, 1913, 14.
Harper, Ida Husted, ed. History of Woman Suffrage: 1900-1920, Volume VI. J.J. New York:Little & Ives Company, 1922.
"Mrs. L.W. Juilliard Claimed by Death." Press Democrat, Feb 1, 1934, 2.
"Mrs. A. W. Cornwall to Wed Senator Juilliard Her Fiance." San Francisco Examiner, March 25, 1914, 1.
"Red Cross Ladies Make Complaint." San Francisco Call, August 13, 1899, 10.
"San Francisco to Carry out A Potato Patch Plan." San Francisco Call, October 28, 1900, 10.
"The Smart Set Mobilized at Monterey." San Francisco Call, February 28, 1904, 20.
"The Smart Set at Work and at Play." San Francisco Call, November 1, 1903, 52.
"Suffrage Amendment Made Law Automatically." San Francisco Call, October 13, 1911, 5.
"Suffrage Victory is Certain." San Francisco Call, October 13, 1911, 1.
U.S. Census Bureau, 1920 United States Federal Census. Census Place: Santa Rosa Ward 4, Sonoma, California; Roll: T625_151; Page: 13B; Enumeration District: 159. Ancestry.com [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
U.S. Census Bureau, 1880 United States Federal Census. Census Place: New York Landing, Contra Costa, California; Roll: 64; Page: 651A; Enumeration District: 048. Ancestry.com [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.