Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mary Esther Wilson, 1878-1924

By Laura Tuennerman, Professor of History, and William Meloy, Research Librarian, California University of Pennsylvania

Suffrage Supporter, Businesswoman

Mary Esther Wilson was born on February 12, 1878 in Princess Anne, Maryland to merchant Levin James Wilson and Mary Evalyn Daugherty Wilson. She was the eldest of three children. According to the 1900 and 1910 censuses, she lived in her parents' Princess Anne home into her early thirties, and worked first as a stenographer and later as a public school teacher.

Around 1911 she moved to Clarksburg, West Virginia following her brother, Dr. James Edward Wilson. James had moved there to practice medicine in 1904 after completing his studies at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Baltimore. Mary Wilson established herself as a stenographer and auditor, eventually opening offices in the Goff building and starting the partnership of Wilson and Davis, stenographers. In the 1920 census she, and business partner Ethel Jane Davis, are listed as living as roomers in the home of Abram Hall, a Clarksburg dentist.

Wilson was a supporter of the movement to ratify the suffrage amendment in the state of West Virginia. She was one of the signatures on a letter to the President of the State Senate accompanying a petition from 1,709 women of Clarksburg "praying for the ratification of the Federal Suffrage Amendment." She was also, according to multiple sources, a director of the state's ratification committee, working with Chairman, Mrs. Ellis A. Yost. The state ratification committee was associated with the NAWSA.

After the ratification of the 19th amendment Wilson served as the secretary of the West Virginia League of Women Voters. She was also a member of the St Andrews Episcopal Church, and took a leading role in the service work of the Young Women's Christian Association, the Business and Professional Woman's Club and the Women's Club in Clarksburg.

Only a few years after the ratification of the 19th amendment Wilson died on September 13, 1924 of complications from surgery. Her obituary in the Clarksburg Exponent the following day recognized her as a "prominent business woman." On the day of her death she authored a will leaving Peerless Oil Company stocks to her siblings, and leaving the bulk of her estate - life insurance, stocks, her 50% share in Wilson and Davis and her personal belongings - to her partner, executor, and housemate, Ethel Jane Davis. On the evening of her death, Wilson's body was taken, by overnight train, from Clarksburg to Princess Anne, Maryland where she was buried near her childhood home.


1900 U. S. Census, Princess Anne, Somerset County, Maryland, p. 9, Enumeration District 0070. Digital Images.

1910 U. S. Census, East Princess Anne, Somerset County, Maryland, p. 3, Enumeration District 0090. Digital images.

1920 U. S. Census, Clarksburg Ward 5, Harrison County, West Virginia, p. 22, Enumeration District 0059. Digital images.

Callahan, James Morton. Genealogical and Personal History of the Upper Monongahela Valley, West Virginia. Vol. 3. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing, 1912.

Callahan, James Morton. History of West Virginia, Old and New. Vol. 2. Chicago: American Historical Society, 1923.

Clarke, Clyde and Laura Miller, eds. Women of 1923 International. New York: Women's News Service 1923.

Clarksburg Exponent. "Mary E. Wilson to be Buried Monday at Princess Anne." September 14, 1924.

Division of Vital Statistics. West Virginia State Department of Health. Miss Mary E Wilson [Death Certificate], September 13, 1924.

Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Ida Harper. History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. 6. Rochester, New York: Susan B. Anthony and Charles Mann Press, 1881-1922.

Thurston, Karina G. "Lenna Lowe Yost, temperance, and the ratification of the woman suffrage amendment by West Virginia." Master's thesis, West Virginia University, 2009.

State Senate. West Virginia. "Extracts From Messages to the Senate In Support or Opposition to the Suffrage Amendment." Senate Journal of the State of West Virginia, Extraordinary Session, 1920.

Will, Mary E. Wilson, West Virginia, Wills and Probate Records, 1724-1982, Wills, vol 12-13, 1924-1928,

The Woman Citizen. "West Virginia Men Urge Ratification." January 17, 2020.

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