Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mary Lucky Kelso, 1879-1963

By Glenda Ward, Graduate Student and Senior Archives/Library Clerk, Northern Michigan University, Marquette, Michigan

State Chairperson of the Campaign Committee for the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association, 1915; Member of the Legislative Committee of the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association; Represented Tennessee on the National American Woman Suffrage Association's Congressional Committee, 1917.

Cornelius Lucky and his wife, the former Julia Sims, gave birth to a daughter, Mary Julia on April 16, 1879 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Cornelius served as a major in the Confederate Army during the Civil War and built a prosperous law practice in his adopted city. Her parents sent Mary away to school at the Female Institute in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. After graduation, she attended Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. In 1900, Mary wed Dr. Henry J. Kelso. Dr. Kelso trained at Vanderbilt University Medical School in Nashville, founded in 1875, specializing in allopathic medicine. He established his medical practice in Knoxville in 1891.

As the wife of a physician, and daughter of a prominent attorney, Mary Kelso automatically held a certain position in local society, and she used much of her influence to espouse equality for women. Soon after returning to Knoxville, she joined the Knoxville Political Equality League and began to work for women's suffrage. She became an active member of the Legislative Committee in 1915. As the movement for an amendment grew, lobbying of legislators by local clubs and statewide organizations increased. In May of 1915, supporters gathered at a conference in Tullahoma, chosen because of its location on the railroad line between Chattanooga and Nashville. Kelso was elected as one of the two chairmen of the statewide Campaign Committee. Like most of her suffrage sisters, she volunteered many hours with the Red Cross during World War I, while she continued to work toward an amendment and then its ratification by the Tennessee legislature. In 1917, she was named as chair for Tennessee on the Congressional Committee of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

In 1925, Henry Kelso died of heart failure. The couple had been spending long periods of time in Florida, perhaps thinking it would be beneficial for his heart disease. They built a house in Tampa that Mary Kelso continued to live in after her husband's death. In Florida, she joined the Southern Women's Study Club, but she returned to Knoxville every summer. She died in 1963 after a lengthy illness and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Knoxville.



Find a Grave, database ad images ( accessed O5 November 2019), memorial page for Henry Jefferson Kelso (13 June 1870-14 May 1925), Find a Grave Memorial no. 77445142, citing Greenwood Cemetery, Knoxville, Knox County, Tennessee, USA; Maintained by dhintx (contributor 47160808).

Find a Grave, database and images ( accessed 05 November 2019), memorial page for Mary Lucky Kelso (16 April 1879-9 July 1963), Find a Grave Memorial no. 203558369, citing Greenwood Cemetery, Knoxville, Knox County, Tennessee, USA; Maintained by sheena^78 (contributor 47160808).

Harper, Ida Husted, editor. The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. VI, J.J. Little & Ives Company, 1922. [LINK]

"Henry Jefferson Kelso," Directory of Deceased American Physicians, 1804-1929.

"In Florida Hospital: Mrs. Kelso, Widow of Physician, Dies," The Knoxville News-Sentinel, Web, 10 July 1963, p. 35. Accessible at

"Knoxville Woman Takes Important Chairmanship," The Tennessean, Web, 25 March 1918, p. 30. Accessible at

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