Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920

Biography of Mary S. Keene, 1840-?

By Ella Moreno, student, University of California, Santa Barbara and Thomas Dublin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, SUNY Binghamton

Auditor for the Equal Suffrage League, Financial Secretary for the Oakland Women's Club

Mary S. Keene was probably born in August, Maine in 1840 to Charles and Nancy Keene, the fourth of five children. Her father was a carpenter. In 1850, she was listed as a 10-year old attending school in the census for that year. Ten years later, she was working as a domestic servant in a family in Rockland, ME. In 1870, she was back in Augusta, living in her parents' household with no occupation noted.

Sometime between 1870 and 1880 she migrated to California and the 1880 census found her living in Oakland with her unmarried brother, Charles. She was listed as single with no occupation. Her brother worked in real estate. By 1900 she was a single boarder at 649 Oakland Ave. No occupation was listed and her brother no longer lived with her.

Numerous surviving references link Mary S. Keene to the California suffrage movement. Her name is listed in various registries and directories of the Women's Clubs in Oakland. These local clubs were part of an extensive network of associations operating in the San Francisco area which united under the Equal Suffrage League in the 1890s to support the suffrage movement in California. Mary Keene is frequently mentioned in suffrage movement texts as an auditor for this association, though the precise details of her role are unclear. She is also noted as the Financial Secretary for the Oakland Club in the directory of the California Federation of Women's Clubs. While much concrete information is missing about Keene, various directories give her personal address as 649 Oakland Avenue. In a 1903 edition of the San Francisco Call, Keene is mentioned in an article entitled "Longingly Look Toward Ballot Box," as an attendee at a reading by Mrs. Elizabeth Murray Newman. The reading was given as part of a suffrage convention. In October 1904, Mary S. Keene was elected as a delegate to attend the statewide suffrage convention that met in Southern California. In August 1908, at 68, she marched in a suffrage procession to San Francisco City Hall. Our last newspaper reference to Mary comes in December 1911, when she was elected once again as an auditor of the Susan B. Anthony Club, two months after the state's male voters had given their approval to woman suffrage.

We haven't found a death record for Keene, but we do know that she lived long enough to enjoy success for her decade's long suffrage activism.


Ethics and Professional Persuasion, Google Books accessed 7 May 2020.

History of Women's Marches – The Political Battle of Suffragettes, 2017. Google Books, accessed 7 May 2020.

Ida Husted Harper, et al., eds. The History of Women Suffrage, Volume 6 [LINK].

"Longingly Look Toward the Ballot Box," San Francisco Call, November 19, 1903.

San Francisco Call, October 3, 1904, p. 5.

San Francisco Call, August 28, 1908, p. 3.

San Francisco Examiner, December 19, 1911, p. 9.

San Francisco Blue Book; the Fashionable Private Address Directory, Google Books, accessed 7 May 2020.

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