Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mary Herbert Hughson, 1858-1924

By Joyce Weaver, Director of Library & Archives

The Mint Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina

Hospital administrator and founding member of the Morganton Equal Suffrage League, Morganton, North Carolina

Mary Herbert Hughson was born in New York in 1858, the daughter of John and Sarah Herbert who had a shoe store in Brooklyn. In 1879, she married Walter Hughson (1855-1908). They had three children, 2 daughters Marjorie and Dorothy, a son, Walter. In 1900, the family was living in Detroit and Walter Hughson's occupation is noted as a clergyman. In 1901, Rev. Hughson became rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Morganton, NC in Burke County. With the assistance of Miss Maria Purden Allen, the Hughsons established Grace Hospital which opened in 1906. Miss Allen's article in the Episcopal publication "The Spirit of Missions" prompted a donation of $3,000 from Mrs. Kate Forrest Gray, wife of the late George Zabriskie Gray, dean of the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, MA. in memory of their daughter Grace which enabled the establishment of the hospital. In 1906, the Hughsons moved to Waynesville, NC and Rev. Hughson became rector of a church there, but they continued their association with Grace Hospital. In 1908, Rev. Hughson died suddenly and Mary Hughson returned to Morganton and became General Manager of Grace Hospital. In 1910, her oldest daughter Marjorie died at the age of 25.

On July 10, 1913, Mary Hughson participated in what may be her only documented suffrage activity. A meeting was held at the home of Mrs. Isaac M. Taylor in Morganton after the 4th of July suffrage parade in order to organize "into a club those in sympathy with the women's suffrage movement." At that meeting, officers were elected and three women, Mary Hughson, Mrs. Isaac Taylor and Miss Julia Ervin, were selected to "formulate the aims and purposes" of the newly-created Morganton Equal Suffrage League, believed to be the first established suffrage league in the state, and were published as follows:

"1. Its purpose is to aid in securing equal suffrage for women in the State, by which she may obtain "her just, and equal rights of property and person." She is a citizen, subject to taxation, and should have a voice in making the law by which she is governed.

2. She is intrusted as mother and teacher with upbringing of the child, the future citizen, and she is particularly fitted to legislate in all matters pertaining to the protection of childhood and youth. She is the guardian of purity in the home, and her influence in politics would be thrown with overwhelming force against the organization of vice and liquor trusts. She has entered the industrial world, and must assume the regulation of the laws now so frequently violated which shall secure to women workers proper sanitary surroundings, restricted hours and adequate pay and a law enforcing a proper age limit for children."

The other women involved in this initial meeting were:

1) Mrs. Susan Taylor (Dr. Isaac) -- The meeting was in her home; her husband was a prominent member of community and a doctor at Grace Hospital.

2) Mrs. (F. W.) Hossfeldt -- elected president

3) Miss Maria Purden Allen -- Superintendent and head nurse at Grace Hospital

4) Miss Riddell

5) Miss Julia Ervin (sometimes noted as Erwin)

6) Miss Kate Pearsall -- elected secretary of the organization

7) Miss Mamie Collett -- elected vice-president

8) Miss Mary Mose

9) Miss Wilhelmina Tate

10) Miss Katherine Ervin

11) Miss Ruth McNaughton

Other documented community activities undertaken by Mary Hughson included serving as Burke County chairman of the Y.W.C.A. drive for raising funds for war work purposes and speaking on hospital-related issues around the state. She traveled to many cities on the Eastern Seaboard raising funds for the hospital and did mission work to remote homesteads in the mountains surrounding Morganton. She is best known though for her years of work at Grace Hospital where she was General Manager from 1908 until her death in 1924. The notice of her death in the local newspaper referred to her as an "Outstanding Angel of Mercy of the Community," and that during the funeral hour, the shops of Morganton were closed out of respect.

Several years after her death, at an anniversary event at Grace Hospital, this tribute to Mary Hughson was delivered by Mrs. Mamie Collett Kistler: "For eighteen long years Mrs. Hughson made Grace Hospital the object of her prayers and activities, and this in the midst of a busy life of labor and love and sacrifice among the poor, the neglected, the afflicted. She was a woman of wonderful intellect, of broad vision and abounding energy, and, withal, she was endowed with rare wit and humor that made her a charming raconteur and a most forceful and engaging platform speaker. During her long connection with the hospital she made a yearly circuit of the great cities of Eastern America, telling the needs of the field in which she labored, and garnering large sums of money to carry on the great enterprise to which she had pledged her life. Her work at the hospital, where she was during her stay the dominant spirit, was only one among her many fields of endeavor. She went into the coves of surrounding mountains, bringing words of cheer as well as material help to the forgotten people of the hills. Time and again she took young girls from the homes of destitute or afflicted parents, taught them, built them up physically and spiritually, and sent them forth into the world equipped for life's sternest battles and filled with a portion of her love for humanity."


1870 United States Federal Census (from accessed 10/1/17)

1900 United States Federal Census (from, accessed 9/4/17)

Asheville Gazette News (Asheville, NC) Aug 15 1913, "Morganton Notes" (accessed Jun 23, 2017)

The Gastonia Gazette (Gastonia, NC) Jul 25 1913, "Equal Suffrage League: Morganton First Town in State to Have Regular Organization of Suffragettes" (accessed Jun 21, 2017)

Jackson County Journal (Sylva, NC) Aug 15, 1913, "Tar Heal [sic}Women Want Ballot?" (accessed Jun 23, 2017)

The News-Herald (Morganton, NC) May 24, 1906 . (, accessed July 7, 2017)

The News-Herald (Morganton, NC) Sept 10 1908 (, accessed July 7, 2017)

The News-Herald (Morganton, NC) Sept 26 1918, "Mrs. Hughson Y.W.C.A. County Chairman" (accessed Jun 23, 2017)

The News-Herald (Morganton, NC) May 5 1921, (accessed Jun 21, 2017)

The News-Herald (Morganton, NC) Jan 24 1924, "Mrs. Hughson Passed Away Friday Night: General Manager of Grace Hospital and "Outstanding Angel of Mercy" of the Community Dies After Long Illness"

Photocopy from the Special Collections of the Burke County Public Library.

The News Herald (Morganton, NC) Nov 28, 1935, Catherine Ervin, "Women Here Had the First Suffrage Club in Carolina," Women's Club Edition, page 10. Photocopy from the Special Collections of the Burke County Public Library.

Statesville Record and Landmark (Statesville, NC) Jan 8 1907 (accessed Jun 23, 2017)

Ervin, Jean Conyers, PhD. "Hughson, the Reverend Walter and Mary Herbert, 376" The Heritage of Burke County. Morganton, NC: The Burke County Historical Society, 1981.

Harper, Ida Husted, ed. "North Carolina," The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol 6. New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922. LINK

Sill, James B. Historical Sketches of Churches in the Diocese of Western North Carolina Episcopal Church. Asheville, NC: Publishing Office, Church of the Redeemer, 1955.


Mary Herbert Hughson

Provided by Grace Episcopal Church and the Burke County Public Library.

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