Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mary Elizabeth Darling, 1852-1950

By Kristen Thomas-McGill, PhD student in History at the University of California, Santa Barbara

President of the Southern District of the California Federation of Women's Clubs (1903-04); founder and president of the Socorro Club (1893); charter member and president of the Riverside Women's Club (1899-90); vice president of the Riverside Red Cross Society

Mary "Molly" Elizabeth Foster was born in Nova Scotia on May 18, 1852 to Edward Clark Foster and Harriet Lovica (Tupper) Foster. She married the jeweler and teacher Lorenzo Franklin Darling (1836-1916) of New England in 1876 in Halifax. Shortly after their marriage, the couple moved to the United States and Mary was naturalized in 1876. They had no children. Mary Darling died in Riverside, California on January 20, 1950 and is memorialized at Berwick Cemetery in Nova Scotia.

The Darlings immigrated to Riverside in the late 1880s in response to Lorenzo's health problems. There they had a two-story house built, from which they operated a citrus farm worked by Chinese laborers.

In 1890, during a trip to Boston, Darling visited some women's clubs. Inspired by what she saw, upon her return to California she helped organize her local circle of ladies into the Socorro Club in 1893. She was a charter member of the Riverside Women's Club founded in 1896 and served as its president in 1899-1900. In 1898, she helped found the Riverside Emergency Relief Association and served as the local Red Cross vice president. In 1902, as a district leader of the California Federation of Women's Clubs, she founded the Extemporaneous Drill Club-later called the Wednesday Club-to help women develop skills in public speaking, debate, and parliamentary procedure.

Her engagement in women's clubs led to her support for women's suffrage. In 1903, as president of the State Federation of Women's Clubs, she addressed the annual convention of the State Suffrage Association. In May 1911, the California Federation of Women's Clubs passed a resolution in support of women's suffrage, just five months before the successful state woman suffrage referendum. Mrs. Darling was among the "Three Leaders at Federation" highlighted in a photo that accompanied the San Francisco Examiner story that announced the Federation's vote.

Darling was a writer, contributing a short family history and memoir to the Berwick Register newspaper of Nova Scotia in 1929. She was a member of the Riverside Writers' Club and wrote a travel narrative called "One Place After Another."

In 1903, Darling also organized a local history society. She maintained scrapbooks and other papers of historical interest currently held by the Riverside Public Library as the Mary Elizabeth Darling Collection.


"Clubwomen Back Suffrage. Federation Is for Franchise," San Francisco Examiner, 17 May 1911, p. 7. Has photo of three Federation leaders, including Mrs. Darling.

Darling, Mary Elizabeth. "My Early Girlhood Days in Berwick." Berwick Register. Four-part series, November 27, 1929-December 18, 1929.

Harper, Ida Husted, et al., eds., History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6 (1922) [LINK to CA state report].

Nelson, Isabelle. "Mary Elizabeth Darling." Journal of the Riverside Historical Society 8 (February 2004): 11-19.

Riverside Public Library. "The Mary Elizabeth Darling Collection." Accessed 30 December 2019.

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