Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Mary G. (Mrs. Chester) Coulter, 1859-1947
By Lynn Cole, Writer, Florence, Italy
Utah State Legislature House of Representatives 1903
Mary G. Coulter (Mary Anna Clara Geigus) was born in Savanna, Illinois, September 7, 1859 to John Nicholas Geigus born in Switzerland, Nov. 26, 1830, and Caroline Christina Geigus (nee Wasmund) born in Mecklenburg, Germany, July 24, 1841. John N. Geigus came to the U. S. in 1853. He married Caroline on Aug. 31, 1855, then moved to Savanna, Illinois in 1856. He was a U.S. mail carrier for two years until he became a merchant.
Caroline Geigus was an advocate for women's suffrage and had a direct influence on Mary. Driven by her studies, Mary graduated from Mt. Carroll High School in 1878, attended Northwestern College until 1880, then went on to be one of the first females to study law at the University of Michigan, where she graduated with honors in 1885. Miss Mary C. Geigus was admitted to the bar in Michigan and Illinois in the same year. On October 7, 1885, she married Dr. Chester Emory Coulter and never practiced law.
The Coulters moved to Los Angeles, California, in 1886 for a year, then permanently relocated to Ogden, Utah. Her son, Halvor Geigus Coulter, was born April 17, 1887. He graduated from West Point and became a Lieutenant at the age of 22, becoming the youngest officer in U.S. Army history. Major Halvor G. Coulter served throughout WWI, working for John J. Pershing in France. The French government honored Major Coulter for field and administrative services and designated him as "Major Halvor Geigus Coulter, Officier d' Academie, University of Palms," awarding him corresponding decoration.
As the only woman elected to House of Representatives of the Utah Legislature in 1902 and the first female chairman of a state Judiciary Committee in the United States, Mary G. Coulter instituted laws for the betterment of social conditions. She served one term--from 1903 to 1905--and the accomplishments she contributed to included an anti-cigarette law, a curfew law, care of dependent children, and the establishment of a juvenile court. Mrs. Coulter also sat on the Industrial School committee and the Art and Education committee.
Mary Coulter was active in politics, education, and women's clubs. She was president of the Weber County Woman's Rep. Club from 1904-1908 and was twice a delegate to the Republican State Convention, once in 1912 as the delegate to the Progressive State Convention and the Presidential Elector Prog. Party in the same year. Mrs. Coulter was also president of the Founder Aglaia Club for two years, and the president Utah Fed. Women's Clubs from 1900 until 1904.
In 1903 she became embroiled in the Reed Smoot hearings (1903-1907) and was barred from addressing the May 17, 1904 biennial National Federation of Women's Clubs because of her vote for Smoot while she was in the State Legislature. Senator Reed Smoot faced expulsion from the senate because of his standing within the Mormon church. Senators who pushed for his removal charged that Mormons take a vow of vengeance against the United States while also holding the church doctrine over the law of the land. Representative Coulter testified in congress on behalf of Smoot, standing by the fact that he was qualified and was guaranteed religious freedom. Many in the Women's Clubs also held the belief that Smoot would push for polygamy in the state of Utah. Mrs. Coulter defended her vote and stated, "I am not in the Legislature as a club woman but as a citizen of Utah." Senator Reed Smoot remained in the senate and was re-elected to his seat until 1933.
At the Daughter of the Revolution Industrial Day in Chicago on July 1, 1903, Mary G. Coulter addressed the meeting with a speech entitled "You Talk Too Much." Her message was controversial as her intent to put forth her doctrine that "by silent policy alone can women's work really count." Her reason for being at the meeting was to discuss policy and industry and deliver a general message. Mrs. Coulter held the belief that whether you are a man or a woman, the only factors that matter are brains when it comes to progress, leaving out matters such as race, poverty, and other mitigating factors in women's suffrage.
Mary G. Coulter continued to serve in Women's clubs and other national and international organizations such as Women Lawyers' Association of New York City, National Arts Club of New York, Ogden Historical Society, University of Michigan Alumni, and American Women's Hospitals, until her death in Ogden, Utah on July 25, 1947.
"Work More Talk Less: What a Utah Woman Has to Say of Her Own Sex" Deseret Evening News (Salt Lake City, Utah, United States). Thursday, July 02, 1903, Last Edition, pg. 3 https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045555/1903-07-02/ed-1/seq-3/
"Prominent Ogden Woman, 87, Dies in Hospital" Salt Lake Telegram (Salt Lake City, Utah, United States) Thursday, July 25, 1947, pg. 15 https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6qv4vxm
Photo of Mary Anna Clara Coulter, Beyondsuffrage.org https://static.wixstatic.com/media/a25302_fd1799167f734963b3399808a7e98fcd~mv2.jpg/v1/fill/w_220,h_324,al_c,q_80,usm_0.66_1.00_0.01/a25302_fd1799167f734963b3399808a7e98fcd~mv2.webp
"Because She Voted for Smoot" Omaha Daily Bee. (Omaha, Nebraska, United States), 28 April 1904, pg. 1. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn99021999/1904-04-28/ed-1/seq-1/
"Vote for Mary G. Coulter" Ogden Daily Standard (Ogden, Utah, United States) Saturday, November 1, 1902 pg. 4 https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/ark:/87278/s6kd3059
"Women of the West - Utah." Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 15 March 2021, https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Women_of_the_West/Utah
"List of Utah State Legislatures." Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 7 January 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Utah_state_legislatures#Utah_State_Legislatures