Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mary Elizabeth Warren, 1862-1937

By Paola Sierra, MFA candidate for Curatorial Practice, Florida International University

Mary Elizabeth Warren - also known as Mrs. Harry Warren and Mrs. Henry Warren - is best remembered for her contribution to the Nevada suffrage movement in Humboldt County. Her maiden name was Mary Elizabeth Purdy, and she was the daughter of Samuel Purdy and Lizzie Purdy. She was born in London in September 1862 and in 1867, she immigrated to Canada and then to the United States as a young girl with her parents. After arriving in Quebec, Mary Elizabeth and her family journeyed by oxen to Ogden, Utah, the place where they would settle and live. She left Ogden when she married in 1881 to live with her new husband, Harry Warren, - also known as Henry Warren - in Winnemucca, Humboldt County, Nevada.

Harry Warren was born in Yorkshire, England, August 1851, and immigrated to the U.S. in 1861. Before moving to Winnemucca, Nevada, he was employed by the Wells Fargo Express Co. of San Francisco as a member of the Pony Express. Years later, he spent time in Spring City, Nevada possibly for a news-related job during the mining days of that camp. Harry Warren moved to Winnemucca soon after marrying and was admitted to the Bar. He was among the most distinguished attorneys of Nevada. Mary Elizabeth and Harry Warren had six children: Harry Warren Jr. (b. August 1881), George Warren (b. June 1883), Norma Warren (b. November 1885), Leo Warren (b. February 1888), Vivienne G. Warren (b. August 1889), and Mary E. Warren (b. June 1899). Vivienne G. Warren, who was 23 when her mother hosted local meetings for the Nevada Equal Franchise Society.

Suffrage activity in Nevada before the early 20th century was intermittent, and never achieved formal organization. On November 9, 1909, Mrs. Clarence Mackay, President of the New York Equal Suffrage Society, wrote to Jeanne Weir, professor and Chairman of the Department of History at the University of Nevada, and a leader of the Nevada Historical Society, hoping to kindle an interest in forming an equal franchise society in Nevada. Weir fell ill but after her recovery in the following spring, she spread a petition for the organization of a suffrage group in Reno, Nevada.

On January 28, 1911, the first Nevada Franchise Society met at the Odd Fellows Hall in Reno with Margaret Stanislawsky as elected President. By 1912, although The State Equal Franchise Society did not have county representation or county organizations, it was a five-person committee and had 14 paid up members. A provision adopted in 1912 called Article VIII stated: "Every county organization is entitled to one delegate at the annual meeting for every ten paid-up members." The president, Anne Martin, aimed to expand Nevada's participation by amassing representation in as many counties as possible, anchoring on Nevada's many rural communities. She strived to pass the equal suffrage amendment by the Legislature of 1913.

During this time, Nevada was the only state in western region of the U.S. without equal suffrage. When looking at demographic data of Nevada's 1910 residents, the state was in a unique position. There were 179 men - possibly miners, cowboys, and railroaders - to every 100 women in the state. One can argue that the correlation between a male-dominated state (by number) and a lagging suffrage movement (in comparison to surrounding states) is no coincidence. Nevada was visually marked as the "black spot" on the suffrage map and its slogan for emancipation was: "Nevada, the black spot on the map! To make it white, give women the suffrage." The suffrage map employed black, grey, and white to indicate the states' suffrage status - white signaling full suffrage, partially shaded states implying partial suffrage, and black states pointing to no women's suffrage. Considering a more current lens, an argument can also be made for how this choice of visual language is ironically reminiscent of cleanliness and women's traditional domestic roles; and in conjunction suggests a racially charged metaphor that warrants anti-black notions.

Nevada's women began forming county suffrage groups, and Mary Elizabeth Warren was an active pioneer in the Humboldt County organization. It was one of sixteen county-based chapters of the Nevada State Equal Franchise Society. The first ever proposal to form a suffrage organization in Humboldt County was in the Humboldt Star newspaper on September 16, 1912. Warren hosted the county organization's first meeting in her Winnemucca home on Saturday, September 21, and many more after. The by-laws were discussed, approved, and written in this meeting. Warren was elected president and four other women were voted vice presidents: Mrs. M.S. Bonnifield - whose grand-niece was friends with Warren's daughter, Vivienne - Mrs. S. Graham Lamb, Mrs. Charles Nofsinger, and Mrs. Florence Lillie. Mrs. A.W. Card was elected the organization's new corresponding secretary and Miss Dora Giroux, was appointed the treasurer.

Anne Martin was scheduled to visit Winnemucca and speak on October 24th. Two meetings were held before Martin's visit. Suffrage literature was handed out to members for their own personal distribution and arrangements were made by the organization's officials for Miss Martin to use the courtroom at the Humboldt County Courthouse as a lecture space. The event was a success. As president of the local society, Mary E. Warren introduced Anne Martin and other speakers. The details of what Martin spoke about remain unknown but she closed the meeting encouraging women to join the movement and sign membership cards. Martin was joined by attorney L.G. Campbell at the end of her speech, to show his support for the movement and briefly share the positive influence women voters have had in Colorado since emancipation in 1893. Outside the courthouse walls teeming with supporters, two bonfires lit up the streets and the local brass band played.

Membership grew exponentially throughout the rest of 1912. Meetings were held often and hosted in the homes of the organization's officials. Ads in the Silver State newspaper encouraged anyone interested to attend and announced that meetings were held on various days of the week, many of which continued to be hosted in Mary E. Warren's home. In 1913, the Legislature approved the 1911 resolution to allow women to vote, and allowing voters the choice to elect women.

Warren continued to serve as president of the Humboldt Equal Suffrage League until October 1913. In February 25, 1913 Warren was elected the ninth vice president of the Nevada Equal Franchise Society in Reno, representing Winnemucca. By then, membership had increased from 14 paid up members to nearly 1,000. Shortly after, on February 28, the members of the Winnemucca Parent-Teacher Association, appointed Warren to serve on the Social Committee. During the rest of the year, suffrage meetings paused, which fell in line with Anne Martin's notion that suffrage associations were impermanent and formed with the single aim to achieve the enfranchisement of women.

Warren lived with her family on Bridge Street in Winnemucca until her death in late September 1937. She died in her home from an illness that left her bedridden for several years. Her funeral was held on October 1 at the Winnemucca cemetery. By then her four children: Mrs. Vivienne Pike of Winnemucca, Mrs. Norma Stevens of Shreveport, La., Dr. Harry C. Warren of Belmont, California, and George Warren of Tacoma were married. Leo Warren and Mary Elizabeth both died in their early youth. Warren's husband, Harry, died on August 31, 1924; and according to digitized newspaper archives, Mrs. Warren filed a petition for letters of administration of his estate. Mary E. Warren bonded her vision of having equal suffrage rights with her generous service to her community. Her leadership granted Winnemucca representation in The Nevada State Equal Franchise Society and ultimately, recruited Humboldt County to win emancipation for women in her state.


Year: 1900; Census Place: Winnemucca, Humboldt, Nevada; Page: 2; Enumeration District: 0017; FHL microfilm: 1240943

Year: 1910; Census Place: Winnemucca, Humboldt, Nevada; Roll: T624_858; Page: 14A; Enumeration District: 0040; FHL microfilm: 1374871

Bennett, Dana R., and Mona Reno. "Nevada Suffrage Timeline." Nevada Suffrage Centennial, n.d.

Dando, Christina E. Women and Cartography in the Progressive Era. Place of publication not identified: ROUTLEDGE, 2019.

Earl, Phillip I. "A Monument More Enduring Than Bronze: The Woman Suffrage Movement in North Central Nevada." North Central Nevada Historical Society, Humboldt Historian, IV, no. 1 and 2 (1980).

Martin, Anne H., and Grace E. Bridges. Ms. Nevada Equal Franchise Society. Reno, 1913.

"Equal Suffrage News," Nevada State Journal, Oct. 14, 1913, 4.

"Mary E. Warren Dies in Humboldt." Nevada State Journal, Oct. 2, 1937, 12.

"Mary E. Warren Petition for Letters Estate Late Husband." Reno Gazette-Journal, September 8, 1924, 6.

Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Susan Brownell Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage. History of Woman Suffrage: Volume 6. Edited by Ida Husted Harper. National American Women Suffrage Association, 1922. [LINK to NV state report]

The Silver state. [volume] (Winnemucca, Nev.), 27 Feb. 1913. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

The Silver state. [volume] (Winnemucca, Nev.), 26 Oct. 1912. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

Warren Stevens, Norma. Ms. Early Day Family Questionnaire Prepared By Nevada Centennial Committee For Early Day Families. Reno, 1964.

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