Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890 - 1920
Biography Sketch of Mary Parke London, 1894-1994
By Jesse Klein, Ph.D., Social Sciences Research & Data Librarian, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida
Popular in the women's pages in her youth and young adulthood, Mary Parke London had a rich social life as a member of the Birmingham, Alabama elite. From a young age, Mary visited her aunt, Mrs. Julian B Parke, later the State Chairman of the Alabama suffrage movement. Their close relationship facilitated Mary's work as an organizer and lobbyist for women's rights between 1916 to 1919.
Mary Parke London was born October 29th in 1894 in Birmingham, Alabama, to Mr. and Mrs. Alexander T. London. Mary's father was "one of the most distinguished attorneys of the state" and her mother was an active member of their church and community. Her uncle, Dr. Thomas D. Parke, was a well-known physician and philanthropist in Birmingham and her aunt, Mrs. Julian B. Parke (sometimes spelled as Julien) of Selma, would later become a leader in the Alabama Equal Suffrage Association. Mary was the oldest and had two sisters: Rachel (later known as Mrs. Clifford Lamar) and Alexandra (later known as Mrs. Curt Buhler).
As a child in Birmingham, Mary attended Margaret Allen's Girl School and participated in many high society events, especially as a teenager. Published in The Montgomery Advertiser, Mary assisted with hosting parties and was herself honored at various society events, including games like cards and bridge as well as luncheons and dances. In June 1910, at an extravagant social held for college girls who had recently returned home, "the hostess was assisted in receiving by Misses...Mary Parke London of Birmingham..." where she helped with refreshments and participated in the night's events.
In September 1910, at age 16, Mary and her mother traveled to and remained in Philadelphia for Mary to attend a preparatory school. Founded in 1894, The Misses Shipley's School Preparatory to Bryn Mawr College began was a girls-only preparatory school (it became coeducational in 1970) intended to model the intellectual standards of the college and to support the transition of girls to the college upon graduation, should they desire. It was located on Bryn Mawr College's campus and continues to operate there today as an elite, private school. The school aimed to prepare students to "enter college with a mind trained to habits of scientific study" and emphasized "character building."
It appears that in 1911, Mary began her studies at Bryn Mawr College and was listed as a student in Group, Philosophy and Psychology courses during her four years there — 1911 to 1915. Mary and her mother returned to Birmingham a couple of times that were reported in The Birmingham News, including this 1913 society note of interest "Thursday afternoon Mrs. Julian Parke informally entertained sixteen young women at bridge, complimentary to her guest, Miss Mary Parke London, of Birmingham. At 6 o'clock a number of young men called and delicious refreshments were served." Upon her graduation from Bryn Mawr in 1915, Mary, her mother, and her sister Rachel, who was attending Smith College at the time, returned to Birmingham that summer.
A 1916 memory book from Margaret Allen's Girl School notes that Mary contributed to a celebration hosted by the Drama League on the tercentenary of Shakespeare's death "posing in the tableaux." The next indication of her post-graduate activities also refers to the beginning of her involvement in the women's movement.
PARTICIPATION IN WOMEN'S SUFFRAGE
Mary's visits with her Aunt Julian are well-documented in the Alabama society pages and their relationship introduced her to suffrage activities in August 1916. As a resident of Selma and an active member of the Selma Equal Suffrage Association, Julian's trip to the National Suffrage Convention in Atlantic City was anticipated in The Selma Times; a note that included Mary's attendance as well. Between her first national convention in August 1916 and February 1917, Mary had climbed the ranks of the Birmingham Equal Suffrage Association to become a member of the State Executive Committee. At the next convention, Mary represented Alabama along with six other delegates as the Literature Chairman.
Alabama required a hard fought and coordinated campaign towards women's suffrage and was, unsurprisingly, a difficult state in which to accomplish the goals of the movement. As such, they received generous financial and personnel assistance from the national association with the expectation that Alabama would return the favor to other states when needed. Over the next two years, Mary proved to be a key member of Alabama's traveling team to help repay that favor, as a press writer, organizer, and lobbyist, first in New York and then in Oklahoma.
In the summer of 1917, Mary was campaigning throughout upstate New York and wrote about her experiences in The Selma Times later that year. In an article titled "Suffragists of N. Y.," Mary wrote "The year 1917 has brought the greatest triumph of the suffrage movement has yet gained in the United States. Enfranchisement for the women of New York State means that the vote has been granted to one tenth the women of the nation at one stroke, and by the direct consent of the electorate of this most populous and conservative state." She also boasted "Today, the N. Y. State Woman Suffrage Party is perhaps the largest single organization of women in the world, with 1,013,800 enrolled members and 5000 officers. Scarcely a polling precinct in the state is without a band of suffrage workers." In a conclusion that makes clear both her passion for the movement and her skill as a writer, Mary stated:
The campaign was in no way spectacular. From the time of our entry into the war, it was recognized that the first duty of every suffragist was to her country and suffrage work was subordinated again and again to national service. Designed to reach the individual citizen of every hamlet, town and city of New York State the plan of organization of the suffrage party was admirably suited to certain government work. For example, a house to house canvass was made throughout the state by suffragist to enroll all women for national food conservation. The suffrage party also conducted a canvass for the sale of Liberty Bonds and another to secure money for the Red Cross. Beyond a question, the suffragists demonstrated their eagerness to serve their country.
Since the war began, woman suffrage has been sweeping the world. In granting equal suffrage to women in New York State, men have recognized that in a crisis, women as well as men must be called upon to serve the state. The men of New York have understood that political freedom for women is but an application of the democratic claims of our nation in the war. The new enthusiasm for democracy, kindled by the war the world around, has indeed reached our average American voter."
That summer, in her house-to-house canvassing, Mary noticed the impact of the war on small industrial towns in upstate New York where women replaced the men in factories as America entered the war. During her work in Gloversville, near Albany, where the primary industry was glove making, Mary noticed an interesting development where women who were sometimes paid more than the remaining men, the women found the enthusiasm for women's suffrage less appealing. Although they all signed her petition, Mary did not find women in these areas to be as excited to participate and contribute as women in other areas.
By the beginning of 1918, Mary returned to Birmingham to continue her campaign work, eventually becoming the Chairman of the Press and Publicity Council. In a list of contributions made to the weekly newspaper, The Woman's Journal, which was "devoted to winning equal suffrage for women and published weekly in Boston, Mass from 1870-1917," Mary was listed as having contributed $50. She would later write an entry for Alabama's fight for equal suffrage in the newspaper, stating "I have the greatest confidence in the fact that there is no better means of getting our suffrage message across than through your invaluable paper, which during the last year has certainly attained to a rare degree of excellence. For the sake of the suffrage movement and for the sake of the individual suffragists, you have my heartfelt wish that the new subscribers to the Woman Citizen may number 100,000 by the end of the year." Extending from her presence in the press, Mary was invited to be a speaker at the next state convention, for which her Aunt Julian was a primary organizer and the presiding State Chairman.
In Mary's opening speech at the state convention, titled "The New York Campaign," she shared "amusing incidents of her experiences as a member of the campaign committee, which mad[e] the more solid part of her activities the more agreeable" and was said to have "held the undivided attention of all present." In addition to recounting her speech, writers of The Selma Times-Journal captured Mary's presence in several ways, including "quite a young and lovely representative of the State Association," "her appearance which in itself was the very escense (sic) of youthful enthusiasm," the "sweet pure tones of her voice were pleasant to hear," and, from The Montgomery Advertiser, "one of the youngest and most brilliant Suffrage workers of the State." Her Aunt spoke next about the "advances made during the year by the association" and announced her retirement from her position as State Chairman. Of Julian's role in the state association, reporters noted that:
Mrs. Parke...has made a conscientious and devoted president during the three years of her office and has been untiring in her attention to the hundreds of calls that have been made on her time, and strength. Her report was a splendid culmination of the things that she has been able to accomplish with the assistance of other state officers and co-workers and it will be a compliment to any successor who may be elected to take up the work, where she leaves off and continue it as efficiently. Her place will be hard to fill, and it has given the state association no little concern in choosing "who it shall be."
In July 1918, Mary was elected as First Vice Chairman of the Birmingham Equal Suffrage Association and "made a stirring suffrage talk before the Volunteer Relief Association." As a national organizer who had previous success supporting another state, her first action was to go to Oklahoma to help with their suffrage campaign. The Birmingham News reported that she would stay in the field in Oklahoma until the election in November and opined that "Oklahoma is fortunate to secure such a well-trained, efficient, and devoted worker, and it is safe to prophesy (sic) that the suffrage amendment will carry in the district of which she has charge." When Mary arrived in Oklahoma, their State Chairman was on the verge of resigning due to the lack of resources to finance and staff the state headquarters. The national association provided Oklahoma with financial assistance and sent several organizers to help with the campaign. Although the Oklahoma association had financial trouble, "the National Association expended nearly $20,000 in Oklahoma, the largest sum it had ever put into a State Campaign. By September 1 it was paying salaries and expenses of eleven national workers." Similar to how she noticed the war affecting the suffrage campaign in New York, the influenza epidemic during the fall of 1918 interrupted traditional canvassing efforts in Tulsa and Mary's skill at being a writer became more important than ever before. She helped create fliers and petitions to distribute through the mail, in newspapers, and to post around towns with specific dates and times or any changes to meetings. During this time, meetings of more than twelve people was prohibited, thus making these "devices for voiceless speech" integral to the success of ratification efforts in Oklahoma.
Her return to the Alabama campaign in 1919 was fraught with challenges and the national headquarters had classified Alabama as "one of the almost hopeless states." Despite this, Mary and the other organizers knew that if victory was won in Alabama, then other states would be reinvigorated in their campaigns—abandoning hope was not an option. After a news poll showed the opposition leading, Mary was quoted in The Birmingham News saying, "We firmly believe many of the legislators will change their opinions, when we present our side of the case, so to speak. We intend to do a great deal of educational work and we know our representatives are reasonable, intelligent men, and we believe a large number will be found voting 'for' although they now say they are 'against.'" The last mention of Mary's campaign work was in an article titled "Suffrage Luncheon Brilliant Success" published in The Selma Times-Journal where Mary is one of two "gifted and brilliant young workers" who gave short speeches about their "real experiences and accomplishment[s]."
Inspired by her years of dedicated suffrage work and, perhaps, in admiration of her father, in September 1919 Mary decided to pursue the study of law at the University of Chicago. The notice of her decision titled "Miss London Studying Law in Chicago" was published in both the Birmingham Ledger and The Selma Times-Journal, which demonstrates her community's continued interest in her life and affairs. Only a few months into her graduate studies, Mary "one of Birmingham's most intellectual and charming young women" met Mr. Gerard C. Heym (also misspelled in variations with Gerhard, Gerhard Carl, Gerhart, Heim, Hime, Hyme, Heyme) and within the year they were married at Mary's childhood home in Birmingham. Born in Germany in 1894, Gerard grew up in Chicago, attended Haverford College and Harvard University, and was a prominent author living in Chicago when he and Mary met in the classic quadrangle of the University of Chicago.
After their intimate wedding in 1920, Mary and Gerard traveled to New York and sailed to Europe for a short tour and the intent to settle in Berlin so Gerard could continue his literary research. For the next five years, they traveled and stayed in Germany and France before making their home in Chelsea, the "district of London made famous by the residence of celebrities in the literary and artistic world." Their first visit back to the states in 1926 was announced in The Birmingham News and mentioned that Mary's mother was going to New York to meet them before returning to Birmingham together. In anticipation of her return, reporters wrote that Mrs. Heym "is one of the most brilliant young women ever reared in Birmingham. Her home-coming after so long an absence will afford genuine pleasure to many persons." They visited with Aunt Julian in Selma and spent some time in Birmingham with Mary's family before returning to New York and then back to their home in London.
By 1928, Gerard was listed as a member of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland and as having continued his "studies in the universities of the Old World, getting all kinds of degrees" and becoming a faculty member at the School of Oriental Study at the University of London, specifically in the Department of Egyptology. Although Mary only returned to visit in 1926 and 1931, for several years her mother traveled back and forth between London and Birmingham to visit Mary regularly. Then in 1933 it appears that Mary returns to and stays in the states, not returning to London.
In 1936 Mary is noted as a resident of New York and the society pages announced that she and her mother were going to spend six weeks together in Warm Springs, Virginia. The 1940 Census points to Mary living in Birmingham with "divorced" listed under marital status. On the 1940 Census, when asked about her living arrangements in 1935, she reported having lived in New York at that time with the occupation of "housewife." When Mary's mother died in 1954, Mary was listed as surviving kin and as living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. From the U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index, Mary submitted social security claims in 1966, 1987, and 1994.
Having outlived many (if not all) of her family, Mary passed away on May 23, 1994 at the age of 99. She was laid to rest beside her mother (d. 1954), sister (d. 1967), uncle (d. 1923), and his wife (d. 1944) in a family plot at Oakhill Cemetery in Birmingham, purchased long ago by her mother's brother, the physician Dr. Thomas D. Parke.
1910, June 9. "Miss Jeffries's Card Party." The Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Alabama), pp. 3.
1910, June 11. "Miss Craig Hostess." The Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Alabama), pp. 3.
1910, September 26. "Society Personals." The Birmingham News (Birmingham, Alabama), pp. 12.
1913, July 6. "SOCIETY NOTES OF INTEREST IN NEARBY CITIES AND TOWNS IN ALABAMA." The Birmingham News (Birmingham, Alabama), pp. 35.
1915, June 14. "SOCIAL PERSONAL." The Birmingham News (Birmingham, Alabama), pp. 9.
1916, August 31. "In The SOCIAL World." The Selma Times (Selma, Alabama), pp. 1.
1917, February 11. "Delegates to Convention." The Birmingham News (Birmingham, Alabama), pp. 2.
1917, November 25. "SUFFRAGISTS OF N. Y. NOW TREMENDOUS ASSOCIATION." The Selma Times (Selma, Alabama), pp. 7.
1918, March 17. "Press and Publicity Council to Meet." The Birmingham News (Birmingham, Alabama), pp. 40.
1918, May 8. "Open Meeting of Suffrage Convention, Noted Speakers, President's Report." The Selma Times-Journal (Selma, Alabama), pp. 5.
1918, May 8. "STATE SUFFRAGISTS OPEN CONVENTION AT SELMA TUESDAY." The Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Alabama), pp. 2.
1918, July 7. "WOMAN SUFFRAGE: NEW CITY CHAIRMAN APPOINTS BOARD." The Birmingham News (Birmingham, Alabama), pp. 32.
1919, June 6. "FOES OF SUFFRAGE ARE LEADING 3 TO 1 IN THE NEWS' POLL." The Birmingham News (Birmingham, Alabama), pp. 1.
1919, June 8. "Suffrage Luncheon Brilliant Success." The Selma Times-Journal (Selma, Alabama), pp.3.
1919, September 28. "Miss London Studying Law in Chicago." The Selma Times-Journal (Selma, Alabama), pp. 3.
1920, July 23. "MISS LONDON'S WEDDING TO BE AN EVENT OF MONDAY." The Birmingham News (Birmingham, Alabama), pp. 17.
1920, July 19. "ENGAGEMENT OF MISS MARY PARKE LONDON AND MR. GERHART HEIM." The Selma Times-Journal (Selma, Alabama), pp. 3.
1926, March 26. "MR. AND MRS. HEYM TO ARRIVE FROM ENGLAND." The Birmingham News (Birmingham, Alabama), pp. 37.
1926, May 5. "Personals." The Selma Times-Journal (Selma, Alabama), pp. 3.
1927, November 20. "Beautiful Ceremony Marks The Wedding of Miss London and Mr. Buhler." The Birmingham News (Birmingham, Alabama), pp. 42.
1931, October 4. "The Kelley-Brown Engagement—Plans Of Debutante—Mrs. Heym's Visit Of Interest." The Birmingham News (Birmingham, Alabama), pp. 30.
1931, November 24. "MRS. HEYM VISITS UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA." The Selma Times-Journal (Selma, Alabama), pp. 3.
1931, December 6. "Society Personals." The Birmingham News (Birmingham, Alabama), pp. 32.
1933, March 30. "Society Personals." The Birmingham News (Birmingham, Alabama), pp. 11.
1935, September 26. "25 YEARS AGO TODAY: As Recorded In The Files Of The Birmingham News Of This." The Birmingham News (Birmingham, Alabama), pp. 6.
1935, November 12. "Obituary 7 – no title." Chicago Daily Tribune (Chicago, Illinois), pp. 16.
1936, August 12. "Society Personals." The Birmingham News (Birmingham, Alabama), pp. 15.
1936, October 1. "Society Personals." The Birmingham News (Birmingham, Alabama), pp. 11.
1954, January 11. "DEATHS—Mrs. Alexander T. London, church, civic worker, dies." The Birmingham News (Birmingham, Alabama), pp. 6.
1958, May 18. "1916 Memory Book Reveals—Young Magic City was Eventful for Grads Looking back at the memory books of Margaret Allen's school." The Birmingham News (Birmingham, Alabama), pp. 47.
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Year: 1940; Census Place: Birmingham, Jefferson, Alabama; Roll: m-t0627-00094; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 68-138.