Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Martha A.(Mrs. J[ohn] W.) Dyer, 1834-1922
By Clare M. Sheridan, retired librarian, American Textile History Museum, Lowell, MA
Martha A. Dyer: Member, Equal Suffrage Club of Portland, Maine; Maine Woman Suffrage Association, Board of Directors; delegate from Maine to NAWSA convention (1900)
Dyer is a common Maine surname from all walks of life: upper, middle and working class. Multiple Martha Dyers appear not only throughout the state but also in the Portland area. Documents record a Martha A, Martha J., Martha O, Martha G., Martha P., Martha T., etc. and distinguishing among them can be difficult. To make matters more confusing, there are multiple Martha A's. Occasionally, it is clear that the middle initial was recorded or transcribed incorrectly. Recording the life of suffragist, Martha Dyer, is often a best guess. This biography should be considered a work-in-progress and subject to correction.
The same can be said of her husband, J[ohn] W. Dyer as multiple J. W. Dyers appear in Portland area records. Even the Portland DailyPress had to supply a correction on March 31, 1887 stating that the "Mr. J. W. Dyer, mentioned in Tuesday's Press as one of the directors of the new Portland Mining Company, is not Mr. John W. Dyer, the Commercial street merchant." As for Mr. & Mrs. J. W. Dyer, there are several of them in the state.
Suffragist, Martha A. Dyer, was born on December 20, 1834 (some records vary: 1835 or 1836) in Harrison, Maine. She died in Portland on May 29, 1922. Her father was William Lindsey (or Lindsay) born in Wells, Maine and her mother was Martha A. H. Scribner born in Harrison, Maine (Maine VitalRecords). The 1850 census had the family of five living in Portland: Martha (age 14) and two siblings, Joseph (age 17) and Elizabeth Scribner (age 16). Given the value of her father's estate in the 1860 and 1870 federal censuses, they appear financially comfortable. Martha married Albert R. Stover on March 21, 1854. He is listed in the 1866 Portland city directory as a "marble worker" living at 21 Brackett St., although the 1860 census had them boarding in Boston, Massachusetts. Albert enlisted in the Union army in 1862 and mustered out in 1863. By 1873, Martha appears to have divorced Albert (Cumberland County Superior Court), and Albert disappears from the record. However, the Canadian census for 1871 lists someone of that name living in Collingwood, Ontario as a US citizen, married, but no wife with him. Albert died in the Chelsea (Mass.) Soldiers' Home in 1906. The couple had no children.
The 1880 census recorded a Martha A. Stover (Martha A. Lindsay), age 42 (born about 1838) living in Portland at 47 Brackett St. with her mother, Martha A. H Lindsay, age 64. Martha was listed as a widow, it being not uncommon to conceal a divorce. However, on June 16, 1880, John W. Dyer (age 45) and Martha A. Stover (age 43), both residents of Portland, Maine, were married in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It was the third marriage for John and the second for Martha; they were listed as widow and widower. John's occupation was "merchant" and the 1880 census called him a "shook" dealer (barrel staves).
It is not clear which of the many John W. Dyers, Martha married, but the best guess is the John W. born in Athens, Maine on Feb. 17, 1835, probably raised in Cape Elizabeth, and dying in Portland on June 17, 1900. His parents were Theophilus (possibly listed as Thomas) Dyer and Mary A. Dyer. John appears to have been married twice before marrying Martha. He had three children, only one of which, James Hall, survived. John's third marriage to Martha A. in 1880 did not produce any children. Martha's husband is probably the John W. listed in the city directories as a commission merchant; then as a shook maker; and then as a commission merchant dealing in cooperage (barrel and cask manufacturing). According to an obituary for John W. Dyer on June 19, 1900, he went on to become the treasurer of the Baker Extract Company and then treasurer of the Maine Provision and Cold Storage Company leaving a wife and one son (both not named). Notices indicate he was 65 or 70.
Many middle-class women like Martha were "club women," supporting their local churches and charities financially and with their voluntary labor. The same applied to their suffrage work. As Mrs. J. W. Dyer and sometimes as Mrs. John W. Dyer she (and her husband) supported the Christmas Festival at the Gospel Mission, and gave to the Relief Fund for victims of the Johnstown flood (1889) and the wreck of the Steamer Portland in 1898. Martha was active in the Woman's Literary Union, and was listed as a subscriber to the Temporary Home for Women and Children of Maine. Mrs. J. W. Dyer was elected to the Board of Managers of the Portland Invalids' Home in October 1894 and was a member of the Committee of Admissions. Mr. J.W. Dyer was on the Board of Gentlemen Managers. In October 1895, Mrs. J. W. Dyer traveled to Augusta as part of the Portland delegation to attend a meeting of the Federation of Women's Clubs; she was on their Entertainment [Hosting] Committee in 1896, and in September 1898 was a delegate from Portland to their meeting in Brunswick. The following year, Mrs. J. W. Dyer attended a reception in Deering for "Christian Endeavorers" who had attended the San Francisco convention in the Spring of 1898. The Young People's Society of Christian Endeavor was a nondenominational, evangelical society founded in Portland in 1881 to promote Christian life.
It is unknown what prompted Martha A. Dyer to become active in the suffrage movement. We first see her name (Mrs. J. W. Dyer) added to a petition in January 1889 addressed to the Maine Senate and House of Representatives from the "Inhabitants of Portland" asking that the legislature allow the women of Maine the right to the ballot in municipal elections. The Portland Daily Press of March 7, 1892, reported that Mrs. J. W. Dyer spoke at a meeting of Portland's Equal Suffrage Club during a discussion of a paper on "The Age of Protection for Girls." Then, at the annual meeting of the Equal Suffrage Club in February 1894, she was elected as "Collector." One year later, in February 1895, she was elected to the Programme [sic] Committee of the Equal Suffrage Club. Finally, on Sept. 28, 1898 at the convention of the "State Woman's Suffragist Association" in Hampden, Mrs. J. W. Dyer and others were elected to the Board of Directors. In December of the same year, a committee of the Maine Woman Suffrage Association prepared a memorial to Congress setting forth the need of a 16th amendment to the national constitution "whereby discrimination in the exercise of the elective franchise on account of sex shall be done away." Mrs. J. W. Dyer and Mrs. Zenas Thompson were the two appointed to the committee.
The 1900 census reported that John W. Dyer and Martha A. [recorded incorrectly as G.] Dyer are boarding at 639 Congress St. Dyer is listed as a commission merchant, age 60 marrying in 1881. Martha is listed as age 50 with no other information. At the beginning of the year, The Portland Daily Press (January 31) reported that Mrs. J. W. Dyer and several others had left for Washington DC to attend the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) annual meeting. In the Proceedings of the Thirty-Second Annual Convention of NAWSA, Martha O.[sic] Dyer is listed by the Credentials Committee as a delegate from Maine along with Lucy Hobart Day, Anne Burgess, Elizabeth P. Smith, Abby M. Fulton MD and Cordelia A. Quimby. Alternatively, she is cited as Mrs. J. W. Dyer in the Portland Daily Press as having attended the convention. In Vol. 4 of the History of Woman Suffrage, Martha O. Dyer is listed as one of many delegates from Maine to the National Convention between 1883 and 1900. The "O" may have been a mistake carried over from the Proceedings.
In May 1900, Mr. J. W. Dyer left for a business trip to Denver where he died suddenly in June from unknown causes, although he was not in good health. His obituary says that he was in the cooperage business and treasurer of several businesses, and left a wife and one son (no names were given). In September, Martha moved into the Columbia Hotel on Congress St. for the winter according to The Portland Daily Press; she continued to support the Gospel Mission Christmas Trees festival that year. In 1901 there was a transfer of real estate by "Ira S. Locke, administrator to Martha A. Dyer for $1, land on the corner of Beach and West Commercial Sts."
As a widow, Martha appeared to have stepped up her engagement with the suffrage movement. In the Fall of 1900, The Portland Daily Press reported that the suffragists of Maine "closed their very successful annual convention with a business meeting for the election of officers. Mrs. J. W. Dyer was elected to the Board of Directors. The resolutions adopted expressed thanks to Mrs Chapman-Catt, the new head of NAWSA, "for her assistance and advice to the ladies of Portland . . . ." On October 31 and November 1, 1902, the Bangor newspapers reported that the Maine Woman Suffrage Association had initiated a campaign to secure the ballot for all tax paying woman in Maine's municipal elections. Their aim was to obtain the signatures of 15,000 tax-paying women endorsing their effort by responding to a letter containing a few questions on the issue, signing it, and returning it MWSA. The letter was signed by Lucy Hobart Day, Chairman; Lillie Floyd Donnell, Secretary; Ella M. Adams Asst. Secretary; and Martha A. Dyer and Harriet A. Deering, Legislative Committee.
Mrs. Hadassah Herrick of Harmony, Maine left her entire estate to the MWSA in 1902, necessitating the organization incorporate in order to hold the property. On December 8, 1903, MWSA officially incorporated. A clipping from a scrapbook entitled "Historical Sketch of the Maine Woman Suffrage Association," by Lucy Hobart Day, et al. listed the "board of officers" at that time, one of which was Mrs. John W. Dyer. The article further stated that in 1905, Mrs. Day was succeeded as president of MWSA by Mrs. Fannie J. Fernald with Mrs. J. W. Dyer still listed as a director. Mrs. Dyer's position on the board of directors was confirmed in the Proceedings of the Twenty-Seventh Annual Convention of the MWSA (1907) which contained a copy of the historical sketch, with Mrs. Martha J.[?] Dyer continuing to appear as a director for that year (1907).
Traces of Martha's activity in the suffrage movement after 1907 cannot be found at this time, although it seems unlikely that she was not involved to some extent in the great Maine referendum of 1917, the aim of which was to amend the state constitution and allow women to vote (the bill lost by a nearly 2 to 1 margin). According to city directories, Martha moved numerous times, appearing as a boarder at various addresses in Portland such as High and Congress Sts. (boarding was a common practice even for the well-to-do). The 1920 census had her living on Neal St at age 83, and boarding at 47 West St. in 1921. On May 29, 1922, Martha died at her residence at 323 Spring St, age 87. The cause of death was chronic bronchitis and senility. She was buried in on June 1, 1922 in Evergreen Cemetery (Section N) some distance from her husband's plot (Section A), probably for no other reason than that his plot could only accommodate his first two wives!
Martha died two years and five months after Maine ratified the 19th amendment, the 19th state to do so. In August 1920, the legislature passed a law to allow women to run for elected offices in Maine, and the first woman was elected to the legislature in 1922. In 2019, Maine's first woman governor was elected, and Maine currently has the highest number of women ever elected to their legislature.
Thanks to numerous Maine libraries and institutions for their help. Special thanks to Leslie Rounds, Executive Director, Dyer Library/Saco Museum, Saco, Maine for her genealogical research and comments on Maine social history.
Bailey, Mrs. Hannah J. "Annual address of the President of the Maine Woman's [sic] Suffrage Association" [by] Mrs. Hannah J. Bailey. Portland, n.p., 1896. Arthur & Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Harvard University. Nineteenth Century Collections Online, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/BGAUTT697674198/NCCO?u=camb55135&sid=NCCO&xid=691bdb21.
Canada. Census, 1871. [Albert R. Stover] https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/1578/?name=Albert+R_Stover&count=50&f-Self-MaritalStatus=Married&gender=m&race=USA&residence=_ontario-canada_5007
Day, Mrs. Lucy Hobart, Miss Helen N. Bates and Mrs. Sara P. Anthoine. "Historical Sketch of the Maine Woman Suffrage Association." ca. 1905/06, n.p. (2nd page missing). From: League of Woman Voters Mrs. Wing's Scrapbook 69.129.2. 101. Maine State Library, Digital Maine. https://digitalmaine.com/lwvme/101
"For Suffrage. Women Will Make Strong Effort This Winter. Letter Sent Out. Bangor Daily Commercial (Bangor, Maine). Nov. 1, 1902, p.7, Courtesy, Betsy Paradis, Librarian, Bangor Public Library, Local History & Special Collections.
History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. 4 (1883-1900). Edited by Susan B. Anthony & Ida Husted Harper. Rochester, N.Y.: Susan B. Anthony, c.1902. p.1102. Available on Google Books/Project Gutenberg/Internet Archives.
"Maine Womans [sic] Suffrage Assn. Proceedings at 22nd Annual Convention Being Held at Saco." Bangor Daily News (Bangor, Maine). Oct. 3, 1902, p. 9 https://www.newspapers.com/search/#query=Suffrage&p_province=us-me&ymd=1902-10-03
"Maine Women Who Want to Vote. Effort to Get 15,000 Women to Indorse [sic] Movement for Municipal Suffrage." Bangor Daily News (Bangor, Maine), Oct. 31, 1902, p. 7 https://www.newspapers.com/search/#query=vote&p_province=us-me&ymd=1902-10-31
Maine Vital Records, 1670-1921. Familysearch.org Death of Martha Dyer: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:Q24F-GDZG https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GRY6-S798?cc=1803978&personaUrl=%2Fark%3A%2F61903%2F1%3A1%3AQ24F-GDZG
Maine. Cumberland County Superior Court, Vol. 67, page 411 (docket no. 226) [divorce]. Courtesy,Tiffany Link, Research Librarian, Maine Historical Society.
Maine Woman Suffrage Association. Proceedings of the Twenty-Seventh Annual Convention of the Maine Woman Suffrage Association, held at Farmington, October 21-23, 1907 together with a Brief History of the Association. Portland, Me: E. E. Austin, Printer, 1908. University of Maine, Folger Library, Greenwood Papers, Box 540 f55r. Courtesy of Desiree Butterfield-Nagy, Raymond H. Fogler Library, University of Maine, Orono.
Massachusetts U.S. Death Records, 1841-1915 "Return of a Death." [Albert R. Stover]. Ancestry.com
National American Woman Suffrage Association. Proceedings of the Thirty-Second Annual Convention. . . Washington, D.C., February 8,9,10,12,13 and 14, 1900. Edited by Rachel Foster Avery. Philadelphia: Press of Alfred J. Ferris, n.d. p.20. Google Books https://www.google.com/books/edition/Proceedings_of_the_Thirty_second_Annual/rH8EAAAAYAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=%22martha+o.+dyer%22+maine&pg=PA20&printsec=frontcover
New Hampshire Marriage Records, 1637-1947. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FLX1-ZZM. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FLX1-ZCY. Familysearch.org
All newspaper references below from Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Libraryof Congress:
"Personal," Portland Daily Press, Vol. 24 (March 31, 1887), n.p.
"The Charge of the Six Hundred...Portland Petitioners Who Pray That the Suffrage May be Granted to
Women" Portland Daily Press, Vol. 27 (January 25, 1889), p.1
"The Johnstown Sufferers," Portland Daily Press, Vol. 27 (June 17, 1889), p.1
"Women's Literary Union," Portland Daily Press, Vol. 30 (June 29, 1891), p.1.
"The Baker Extract Co.," Portland Daily Press, Vol. 30 (January 28, 1892), p. 8
"Equal Suffrage Club," Portland Daily Press, Vol. 30 (March 7, 1892), p. 8.
"Woman's Literary Union," Portland Daily Press, Vol. 3 (June 27, 1892), p.8
"Ladies' Night. Portland Club's Reception...Prominent Ladies and Gentlemen," Portland Daily Press, Vol. 31 (May 5, 1893), p. 5.
"Christmas at the Gospel Mission," Portland Daily Press, Vol. 32 (December 27, 1893), p.8.
"Equal Suffrage Club," Portland Daily Press, Vol. 32 (February 12, 1894), p.2
"Baker Extract Company," Portland Daily Press, Vol.32 (March 17, 1894), p.8 [John W. Dyer resigns].
"Invalid's [sic]Home: the Corporation Was Organized Yesterday...." Portland Daily Press, Vol. 32 (May, 24,1894), p.8.
"The Portland Invalid's [sic] Home. New Institution Designed to Supply a Great Need." Portland DailyPress, Vol. 32 (October 13, 1894), p. 8.
"Equal Suffrage Club," Portland Daily Press, Vol. 32 (February 4, 1895), p.8.
"Producing Winter's Cold. Visit to the Rooms of Maine Provision & Cold Storage Co." Portland Daily Press, Vol. 33 (July 3, 1895), p. 8.
"Invalids' Home," Portland Daily Press, Vol. 33 (October 3, 1895), p.8.
"Mrs. Henrotin's Reception," Portland Daily Press, Vol. 33 (October 7, 1895), p.5. [Dyer part of Portland delegation to Federation of Women's Clubs in Augusta]
"Contagious Diseases," Portland Daily Press, Vol.33 (November 20, 1895), p.8. [Mr. J.W. Dyer ill]
"At the Gospel Mission," Portland Daily Press, Vol. 33 (December 26, 1895), p.8.
"The Visiting Women. Those Who Are Coming to the Convention..." [State Federation of Women's Clubs]. Portland Daily Press, Vol.34 (October 13, 1896), p.2. [Dyer entertaining Auburn delegate].
"Probate Notices," Portland Daily Press, Vol. 34 (March 19, 1897), p. 2 [Death of Martha A. H. Lindsey].
"At Gospel Mission," Portland Daily Press, Vol. 35 (December 27, 1897), p.3.
"Crossed the Continent. Christian Endeavorers Who Visited San Francisco Entertained in Deering," Portland Daily Press, Vol. 35 (April 2, 1898), p. 3.
"Federation of Women's Clubs," Portland Daily Press, Vol. 35 (September 28, 1898), p. 5 [Dyer is delegate from Portland to meeting in Brunswick].
"Maine Suffragists," The Republican Journal, (October 13, 1898), p.2. [Elected as director at Convention in Hampden to the State Woman's Suffragist Association]
"The Relief Fund...Wreck of the Steamer Portland." Portland Daily Press, Vol. 35(December 10, 1898), p.3.
"For Woman's Suffrage. Meeting of the Executive Committee of the Maine Association," Portland Daily Press, Vol. 35 (December 12, 1898), p. 4. [Committee to prepare memorial...16th amendment].
"Christmas Tree at Gospel Mission," Portland Daily Press, Vol. 35 (December 28, 1898), p.5.
"Personal," Portland Daily Press, Vol. 38 (July 27, 1899), p. 8. [Mr. J.W. Dyer].
"Personal," Portland Daily Press, Vol. 38 (August 17, 1899), p. 8 [Mr. J.W. Dyer].
"The Invalids' Home Annual Meeting. . . ." Portland Daily Press, Vol. 38 (October 20, 1899), p.6.
"Personal," Portland Daily Press, Vol. 38 (January 31, 1900), p. 5 [Mrs. J.W. Dyer to attend National American Woman Suffrage Association].
"The Invalid's [sic] Home," Portland Daily Press, Vol. 38 (March 19, 1900), p.6.
"Personal," Portland Daily Press, Vol 38 (May 26, 1900, p.12 [Mrs. Dyer left for Denver].
"Obituary," Portland Daily Press, Vol. 38 (June 19, 1900), p. 10 [John W. Dyer].
"Funeral John W. Dyer," Portland Daily Press, Vol. 39 (June 25, 1900), p. 10.
"Woman Suffragists. They Elect Officers...." Portland Daily Press, Vol. 39 (September 22, 1900), p. 12.
"Personals," Portland Daily Press, Vol. 39 (October 3, 1900), p. 10. [Mrs. J. W. Dyer at the Columbia for the winter].
"Gospel Missions Christmas Trees," Portland Daily Press, Vol. 39 (December 26, 1900), p.8.
"Real Estate Transfers," Portland Daily Press, Vol. 39 (January 24, 1901), p. 10.
The Portland Directory and Reference Book (title varies); also Directory of Portland & Vicinity; Directory of Portland incl. the City of South Portland and Town of Cape Elizabeth: 1863/64; 1866/67; 1869; 1877; 1883; 1889; 1891; 1892; 1894; 1895; 1897; 1898; 1899; 1900; 1905; 1906; 1907; 1908; 1911; 1914; 1921. (Hathi Trust Digital Library; Ancestry.com)
Risk, Shannon M. "'In Order to Establish Justice'; The Nineteenth-Century Woman Suffrage Movements of Maine and New Brunswick." PhD diss, University of Maine, 2009. Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 181. http://digitalcommons.library.umaine.edu/etd/181
Temporary Home for Women and Children of Maine. 11th Annual Report of the Temporary Home forWomen and Children of Maine (1893). Books and Publications 14. Bangor Public Library: Bangor Community: Digital Commons@bpl. https://digicom.bpl.lib.me.us/books_pubs/14. Mrs. J. W. Dyer also appears as subscriber in 10th and 15th annual reports.
U.S. Census Bureau. Census, 1830; 1850 ( for birth, etc. of Martha A. Lindsey); 1860; 1870; 1880; 1900; 1920; 1921. Ancestry.com
U.S. Civil War Soldiers, 1861-1865. Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the Civil War. Ancestry.com
U.S. Find A Grave Index, 1600-Current. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/117654537/john-w-dyer
Woman's Literary Union, Portland, Me. Yearbook, 1892/93 and 1893 (Miscellaneous documents). Portland Public Library, Portland Public Library Digital Commons. http://digitalcommons.portlandlibrary.com/wlu_documents