Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Margaret Jones [Mrs. R. Barclay] Spicer, 1875-1952
By Anne M. Boylan, University of Delaware, Emerita
Suffragist, Single Tax Advocate, Businesswoman
Born in Springfield, Ohio, on August 28, 1875, Margaret Jones came of age in the Welsh Presbyterian community of Shandon, Butler County, Ohio. She and her brother William J. were raised by an uncle, Andrew J. Jones, and his second wife, Patience, after their parents' untimely deaths. The siblings remained close to their aunt Patience Jones until her death in 1915. In 1900, Margaret married Robert Barclay Spicer, a native of Fallston, Maryland, who had grown up on his father's dairy farm near Baltimore, and had been living in Ohio since the mid-1890s. The 1900 census found the couple in Springfield, Ohio, in a household that included Barclay Spicer's sister, Abra Ella (Nellie). Soon, Margaret and Barclay had moved to Darby, Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia, where Barclay took a position as editor of The Friends Intelligencer, a monthly publication of the Hicksite branch of the Quaker sect, a position he held for seven years. The couple joined the Philadelphia Friends yearly meeting and eventually the Wilmington Friends monthly meeting. During her marriage, Margaret bore three children, two of whom survived infancy: William J. Spicer (1903-1954) became an entomologist; and Edward H. Spicer (1906-1983) became an anthropologist noted for his studies of native people of the U.S. Southwest.
By 1908, the family had begun spending part of the year in Arden, Delaware, a community founded in 1900 upon the "single tax" principles of the American economic reformer Henry George and with a commitment to the Arts and Crafts movement. Many Ardenites were socialists; they put a premium on rustic outdoor living, skilled craft production, community sociability, and openness to residents of any racial, religious, or ideological background. Like one of the group's founders, Frank Stephens, Arden residents were suffragists. Although initially Arden was largely a summer colony, where residents built cabins or lived in tents, by the second decade of the community's existence, it had become a permanent year-round home for a group of economically and socially radical iconoclasts who designed and lived in distinctive cottage homes, supported a craft shop, and formed a well-regarded theatrical group, the Arden Players.
Once the Spicers began living full-time in Arden around 1910, Barclay combined his editorial work with farming, growing fruits and vegetables for local markets and keeping a menagerie of animals. Margaret joined other Arden women in teaching the community's children. The couple also immersed themselves in local politics. Barclay ran on the 1912 Socialist Party ticket for lieutenant governor; Margaret joined the Delaware Equal Suffrage Association. She participated actively in Arden Players' performances, several times taking a role in a play entitled "How the Vote Was Won." When the Arden Suffrage Club hosted an outdoor meeting of the Delaware Equal Suffrage Association in June, 1913, Margaret Spicer was a key organizer and host. By 1914, she was the Arden affiliate's secretary/treasurer; another Arden suffragist, Alice Lightbown Steinlein, was the group's president. At the first statewide suffrage parade, held in Wilmington on May 2, 1914, with Alice Steinlein as the Arden contingent's marshal, the twenty-six members took their places in line behind the (African American) Equal Suffrage Study Club, led by Blanche Williams Stubbs [LINK to Stubbs's sketch]. Soon, Margaret Spicer was taking an active part in the annual meetings of the Delaware Equal Suffrage Association, reading the report of the resolutions committee in November, 1915, pressing for a federal constitutional amendment, and then being chosen one of the association's two auditors, a position to which she was re-elected in 1916. With 29 dues-paying members in 1915, the tiny Arden club made an outsized contribution to the state association, which could muster only 270 dues-paying members across the entire state.
After her stint as auditor ended, Spicer remained an active member of the Delaware Equal Suffrage Association, evincing a particular interest in a federal constitutional amendment. She seems not to have taken any direct role in the effort to get Delaware's legislature to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment in spring, 1920, a two-month undertaking that ended in failure. Once Tennessee had provided the final ratification vote, and Delaware women began registering, Margaret Spicer took it upon herself to be the first woman from Arden to sign up as a voter, walking three miles in order to complete the task. In the 1920 election for president, her husband Barclay ran as a Socialist Party elector.
By then, Barclay had arranged a long-planned trip to join the Friends Relief Agency doing post-war reconstruction work in Europe. In September 1920, he returned from nine months in the Baltic States, and left again in January, 1921, for a stint in Ireland in cooperation with the Irish Friends Society. Having become known for his activities in anti-tuberculosis work, he took a job upon his return as executive secretary of the Louisville, Kentucky, Society for the Prevention of Tuberculosis. The Spicers moved to Louisville in 1921 or 1922. Within a couple of years, however, Barclay was critically ill with throat cancer. The family moved to Baltimore to seek treatment. (His mother and two sisters--both trained nurses working at Johns Hopkins Hospital--resided in Baltimore and were members of the Baltimore Friends Meeting.)
After her husband's death in Baltimore on July 11, 1924, rather than return to Arden, Margaret Spicer lived at 1415 North Harrison Street in Wilmington, where Alice Steinlein hired her to help run The Greenwood Book Shop, Steinlein's pioneering bookstore in the city's downtown. Margaret became a specialist in children's books, heading the store's children's department, travelling regularly to select new stock, giving talks and writing newspaper articles recommending reading material. Several of her pieces on children's literature appeared in Publishers' Weekly between 1933 and 1944. She remained active in local Quaker circles. In 1932-33, she took a several months' long trip to Arizona to "keep house" for her archaeologist son Edward and his colleagues on a dig near Prescott. In the 1940 census, she and Alice Steinlein were listed as co-owners of the shop; they shared living arrangements at Alice's home at 4506 Walton Road as well.
In 1946, not long after Alice Steinlein retired and the bookstore was sold, Margaret Spicer returned to live with her husband's sisters in Baltimore. She died there in 1952. Her ashes were interred in the Friends Cemetery, Fallston, Harford County, Maryland, final resting place of her husband and his parents.
Basic genealogical information on the Jones and Spicer families can be gleaned from the vital records, decennial censuses, city directories, passport applications, travel lists, and other materials found on Ancestry.com and Familysearch.org. Local newspapers digitized via ChroniclingAmerica.loc.gov and Newspapers.com, and reports available on HathiTrust.org offer useful details on Margaret Spicer's suffrage work and later involvement in The Greenwood Book Shop. Her articles in Publishers' Weekly can be accessed via the Readers' Guide Retrospective.
The following obituaries provided useful details:
"Early Resident of Arden Dies," Wilmington Morning News, January 16, 1952, p. 23.
"Arden Pioneer Critically Ill," Wilmington Morning News, July 7, 1924, p. 3. "Death Calls Two Former Ardenites," ibid., July 12, 1924 p. 3; "Barclay Spicer Dies in Baltimore," Louisville Courier Journal, July 13, 1924, p. 8.
A memoir by Margaret Spicer's daughter-in-law includes an evocative portrait of life in Arden during Spicer's years there: Rosamond B. Spicer, "A Full Life Well Lived: A Brief Account of the Life of Edward H. Spicer," Journal of the Southwest 32: 1 (Spring 1990): 3-17.
These articles were particularly helpful for information on Margaret Spicer's work:
"Suffrage Day at Arden," Wilmington Evening Journal, June 23, 1913, p. 2.
"Suffrage Parade Striking Success," Sunday MorningStar, May 3, 1914, pp. 1, 23.
"Resolutions for Equal Suffrage," Wilmington Every Evening, October 31, 1914, p. 9.
"Katharine Pyle to Autograph Books Here next Friday," Wilmington Evening Journal, Nov 15, 1930, p. 7
"Many Good Books for Children this Year," Wilmington Journal-Every Evening, November 12, 1932, p. 9.
A set of ten photographs of The Greenwood Book Shop from the 1940s can be found in the Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, Delaware (accession # 1999. 221).
See also Delaware Equal Suffrage Association, Minutes of the Executive Committee, 1916-1919, Mabel Lloyd Ridgely Collection, Woman Suffrage Records, Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware (#9200 R09, 002, folder 1).
For context on the history of Arden, see Mark Taylor, "Utopia by Taxation: Frank Stephens and the Single Tax Community of Arden, Delaware," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 126, no. 2 (April 2002): 305-25; and Eliza Harvey Edwards, "Arden: The Architecture and Planning of a Delaware Utopia" (M.A. Thesis, University of Pennsylvania, 1993).
The following secondary works provide context on Delaware's suffrage story: Mary R. de Vou, "The Woman Suffrage Movement in Delaware," in Delaware: A History of the First State, ed. H. Clay Reed and Marion Bjornson Reed (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1947), I: 349-70; Carol E. Hoffecker, "Delaware's Woman Suffrage Campaign," Delaware History 20:3 (Spring-Summer, 1983): 149-67; and Anne M. Boylan, Votes for Delaware Women (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2021).