Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Edith Wistar Stokes Silver, 1872-1949
LINK to another sketch about Edith Silver
By Patrick McConnell, undergraduate student at University of Maryland, College Park
Edith Stokes was born on June 17, 1872 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Francis Stokes and Catharine Wistar Evans. She was the second youngest of five children; all grew up on Francis's property of Meadow Farm in the village of Darlington, Maryland. Edith and her siblings were raised to practice the Quaker faith. As a child, she and her sister, Esther, frequently received letters of advice from her aunt Hannah Bacon Evans (see her papers housed at Haverford College Special Collections).
As an adult, Edith met her eventual husband, a Presbyterian named William Silver who worked as a canned food packer and broker. Despite their religious differences, the couple fell in love and married in 1897 at Francis Stokes's farm, before settling Darlington, Maryland. Over the course of 13 years, they had five sons named Francis, William, John, Arthur, and Roger, and a daughter named Esther. Esther was once interviewed about her early life, where she described her mother having been actively involved in her children's lives and education. During the non-summer months, the family lived and attended school in Aberdeen, Maryland. Esther recounts her mother being displeased with the antiquated conditions of her children's school, claiming "she said she wasn't going to have her children going to school like that." She initiated a protest that resulted in the Board of Education agreeing to build a new and improved school.
Silver, a proud and committed Quaker, was a member of the Religious Society of Friends. She attended monthly meetings in Darlington but attended Grove Presbyterian Church in Aberdeen during the winter months. Although there weren't any meetings there, Silver used her vast knowledge of religion to organize and educate groups of older women seeking to learn how to read the bible. She joined these women to initiate the first free lending library in Aberdeen. Silver also got involved and hosted meetings for the Aberdeen Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). An example of one of the many topics discussed at Silver's home concerned selecting delegates to attend and represent them at the county convention. Years later, Silver was elected President of the local WCTU in 1933. The 20th century provided Silver opportunities to engage in and pursue involvement in more advocacy organizations.
Silver was active in advocating for suffrage in the Maryland Suffrage League of Maryland. In 1915, suffragists undertook a "prairie schooner" campaign in which they decorated automobiles with their "votes for women" message and made a pilgrimage around the state professing their cause. Silver was one of the "prominent suffragists" who hosted the caravan when it arrived for mass meetings in Harford County, according to Maryland Suffrage News. In June 1919, Silver attended the third convention of the Maryland Suffrage League, along with about 100 other delegates from around the state. Here, Silver was elected second auditor of the organization and contributed $25 to the Maryland ratification campaign fund. Their primary goal was to convince the Maryland state legislature to support woman suffrage. This is a goal that they were not able to actualize before the passing of the federal amendment, also in June 1919. The state legislature also ultimately voted against ratification of the federal amendment in 1920.
After the ratification of the 19th amendment, Silver served as a charter member for the Maryland League of Women Voters. In April, 1921, the League sent Silver and many other women to the State convention to report for the "committee of representative citizens to study efficient government and means of obtaining it." Silver's job here was important in evaluating the possible corruption and proportional representation of state politics. The convention authorized a separate legislative convention, focused for the sole concern of policies supported by women. Delegates like Silver, who was elected director of the Second Congressional district, were selected to question the candidates on their position towards the League's program. In 1924, the Silver attended the national convention in Buffalo, reporting on behalf of the League's international relations department.
Silver worked for the first woman delegate of the Maryland General Assembly, Mary Risteau, convinced that she had moral standards. Specifically, Silver was interested in the abolition of racetrack gambling (William Silver was President of the Anti-Race Track Gambling Association at this time). She wrote to all League participants, requesting that they encourage Risteau to "vote right on all the moral measures that come before the body." Silver also met with Risteau in Annapolis during the 1922 legislative session, arguing that the purpose of suffrage was to reform "sundry evils," like racetrack gambling. Silver maintained that abstaining from this issue would reflect poorly on the League, expanding accountability from her individual actions to the collective of their movement.
When she wasn't involved in religious commitments or influencing legislation in the name of suffrage, Silver frequently attended and entertained meetings of the Afternoon Card Club, and was also a member of the Deer Creek Friends monthly meetings. She served on an executive committee formed to provide housing and dance entertainment to soldiers stationed in the Aberdeen area, through the War Camp Community Service program. Silver made history when she helped form the first Black women's Homemakers Club through the University of Maryland Extension Service, demonstrating how broad her goals and the methods of achieving them were. Eventually, her husband, William Silver died in 1934 at the age of 63, following a pneumonia induced stroke. In the last two years of her life, Silver started the Evergreen Garden Club and the Darlington Lions Club, soon to become a promising community outreach program. On April 1, 1949, Edith Silver died at the age of 76, due to a heart attack at the Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore.
"Aberdeen WCTU elects Mrs. William Silver as Chosen President of Group." The Baltimore Sun, Oct 05, 1933, pp. 16. ProQuest.
"Aberdeen WCTU Meets." The Baltimore Sun. Jun 13, 1921, pp. 14. ProQuest.
"Deaths." The Baltimore Sun. April 2, 1949.
Hannah Bacon Evans Letters, 1888-1925 (HC.MC.1252) Quaker; Special Collections, Haverford College, Haverford, PA http://archives.tricolib.brynmawr.edu/repositories/5/resources/665 Accessed March 30, 2020.
Maryland Suffrage News. (Baltimore, MD.), 26 June 1915. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn89060379/1915-06-26/ed-1/seq-2/
"Mrs. Edith Silver Dies In Hospital." The Evening Sun, 1 Apr. 1949, p. 42. Newspapers.com.
"Ratification of Suff Convention." The Evening Sun, 19 June 1919. Newspapers.com.
"Rockville." The Baltimore Sun. Feb 28, 1915, pp. 1. ProQuest.
Silver, Francis S. A Family Chronicle: William Silver of John and Edith Wistar Stokes, His Wife. 1968.
"Social Affairs Gay and Bright as Winter Clides." The Baltimore Sun), 1913, pp. 1. ProQuest.
Stokes Silver Jaeger, Edith. Digital Maryland, 14 Aug. 1985, https://collections.digitalmaryland.org/digital/collection/hclt/id/251/rec/1.
Stokes, Susan J. "Edith Wistar Stokes." FamilySearch, 17 Apr. 2017, www.familysearch.org/tree/person/details/LZVZ-WL8.
"W. C. T. U. Group Meets." The Baltimore Sun. Dec 12, 1933, pp. 4. ProQuest.
Weaver, Diane E. Maryland Women and the Transformation of Politics. 1890s-1930. 1992.
"William Silver Dies at Aberdeen." The Baltimore Sun, Apr 23, 1934, pp. 7. ProQuest.
"Wilkie Stand for Lease Bill Draws Attack." The Baltimore Sun, Jan 18, 1941, pp. 20. ProQuest.
"Women Voters Open State Convention." The Baltimore Sun. May 07, 1924, pp. 13. ProQuest.
"Women Voters Plan Legislative Campaign." The Baltimore Sun. Apr 30, 1921, pp. 3. ProQuest.
"Women Voters Planning Study of Government: Convention which Will Open Tomorrow Will Take Up Question of Naming Committees." The Baltimore Sun, Apr 27, 1921, pp. 7. ProQuest.