Biographical Sketch of Frances Grier McGaughey Martin

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biographical Sketch of Frances Grier McGaughey Martin, 1847-1923

by Dianne Hales, Bodega Bay, California

Lady Superintendent, Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools; President of Political Equality Association of Santa Rosa

Frances (Fannie) Grier McGaughey was born around 1847 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to Hugh Ferguson McGaughey and Jane Walker. In her long life, Fannie distinguished herself as an educator, an attorney, and a champion for women's rights.

Soon after Fannie's birth, her parents settled on a farm near Macomb, Illinois, where the family grew to include seven children. In 1863 Fannie's mother and father died within weeks of each other. Her 72-year-old grandmother took over the care of the children still at home, ranging in age from Fannie at sixteen to a two-year-old brother. Her older sister Anabel McGaughey Stuart, a nurse, was serving with her husband, a surgeon with Union soldiers, during the Civil War.

After the war Fannie moved with her sister and brother-in-law to Minnesota and trained for teaching. In 1871 she graduated with honors in the first class from what became Saint Cloud State University. After teaching in Minnesota for several years, Fannie moved to California in 1874 to teach and serve as principal of the Healdsburg school. On May 31, 1876, she married Edgar Martin, a local rancher. Their daughter Edna Bell was born on August 17, 1878.

In the early 1880s the Martins moved to Santa Rosa. Edgar, described as a devoted father and husband with "a generous-hearted, jovial disposition," became seriously ill. On August 7, 1882, he died at age 39 of heart disease and consumption (tuberculosis). Three months later, Fannie gave birth to their son, Edgar Jr. In 1884 she suffered another crushing loss -- the death of her six-year-old daughter.

Returning to the classroom, Fannie taught and then became principal of the Sonoma school. In 1886 she ran for Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools. The first woman ever elected to a county post, the "lady superintendent" served two four-year terms and won praise as a progressive and innovative educator.

In January 1895, Fannie, in her late forties, switched careers and began "reading" the law. She won admission to the state bar in December 1895 - the only woman among 64 applicants and the second female attorney in the county. The "lawyerette," as a reporter dubbed her, established her own practice specializing in probate cases and built a reputation for protecting the rights of widows and orphans.

A compelling orator, Fannie became a popular speaker on women's rights. In a talk on "Does the Professional Woman Need the Ballot?" at the Women's Suffrage Convention in Santa Rosa in 1896, she argued that women who earned admission to the law and other professions under the same conditions as men should be entitled to the same rights and privileges. On April 4, 1911, she was appointed president of the Political Equality Association of Santa Rosa.

Fannie also was part of a "sister act" of accomplished women. Her older sister Anabel earned a medical degree and practiced in Santa Rosa for many years. Her younger sister Elizabeth, the third woman accredited by the University of California's School of Pharmacy, owned a drugstore in the town.

Lauded for her political and philanthropic leadership, Fannie explained that she was simply "glad to be able to show men that women can really do things."

Fannie died on November 14, 1923, at age 76 and is buried in the Healdsburg Oak Mount Cemetery.


"A Woman Lawyer," San Francisco Call, December 16, 1895.

"Begin Campaign for October Vote," Press Democrat, April 5, 1911.

Bonham, Jane. "Frances Grier McGaughey Martin." Russian River Recorder, Winter 2016.

Gregory, Tom. History of Sonoma County. Historic Record Company, Los Angeles, California (1911).

Illustrated History of Sonoma County, California. Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, Ill., 1889.

LeBaron Gaye, "Celebrating Women's Suffrage," Press Democrat, March 10, 2019.

___________. "Women Didn't 'Get' the Vote; They Earned it," Press Democrat, March 8, 1987.

"Madame the Judge Grants a Divorce," Huntington Herald, December 3, 1915.

"Missionary Society Meeting," Press Democrat, August 16, 1911.

"Mrs. Martin, Pioneer Educator, Dies," Press Democrat, November 15, 1923.

"Prominent Woman Lawyer Succumbs," Press Democrat, November 15, 1923.

"Santa Rosa's Congress," San Francisco Call, May 27, 1896.

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"The New Lawyers," Petaluma Daily Morning Courier, December 26, 1895.

"To Willing Ears Wise Women Spoke," San Francisco Examiner, May 26, 1896.

"Woman Suffrage," Sonoma Democrat, May 30, 1896.

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