Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Fannie Williams McLean, 1862-1951


Photo Credit:A Centennial Celebration: California Women and the Vote (

Vice President, National College Equal Suffrage League; Director, San Francisco Settlement Association; Vice-President and Treasurer, California Civic League

By Amanda Ritter-Maggio, Associate Professor of English, Texarkana College, Texarkana, TX

Fannie Williams McLean was born in San Francisco, California, in 1862. Her parents were Edward and Sarah E. Chester McLean, both natives of Connecticut. Edward McLean was a Yale graduate who moved to San Francisco around 1850, seeking relief from his chronic asthma. He worked in insurance and real estate, and he served as one of the original trustees and site selectors for the College of California (the predecessor for the University of California). He returned to Connecticut in 1857 to marry Sarah E. Chester. The couple returned to California and had five children: Agnes, Edward Junior, Fannie, Francis, and William. Edward also served as a charter member of the Oakland Board of Education, which was founded in 1868.

In 1885, Fannie graduated from University of California, Berkeley, where she was a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma. The next year, she accepted a job as the first teacher of Berkeley High School, which at that time was a one-room school with forty students.

In 1909, Fannie was elected Vice President of the National College Equal Suffrage League. She was a featured speaker at the October 1910 California Equal Suffrage Association meeting. One newspaper reported her speech in part: "'If we can teach voters, why can't we vote?' was Miss McLean's text. She believed that women should have the opportunity to give dynamic force to their opinions by the vote, and that under present conditions there was a vast waste of mentality and a falsifying of ideals in eliminating the feminine brain from participation in the affairs of the government."

By 1911, Fannie had been promoted to head of English Department at Berkeley High School and had made a name for herself as "one of the most earnest workers in the suffrage cause." That year, she gave a speech titled "Why Women Should Have Suffrage" to a meeting of the Oakland Town and Gown Club. She also spoke to the first mixed (male-female) gathering of the Berkeley Suffrage Organization in June of 1911 and at a meeting of the San Francisco School Women's Club, an organization with which she remained active through the 1940s. Together with other Bay Area suffrage activists, she helped form the California Civic Center, headquartered in San Francisco, with the goal of promoting education on political issues, including suffrage.

Fannie was named vice principal of Berkeley High School in 1915, and as part of her duties, she was charged with organizing social and welfare activities for female students. She founded the Junior Red Cross, which grew into a national organization, and served as its longtime chair.

Although she never married, Fannie lived with her mother after the death of her father, and then later with her sister Agnes, who was a graduate of Samuel Silas Curry's School of Expression in Boston and taught public speaking at Berkeley High School. In the late 1920s, Fannie donated a family home to create the Children's Community Center in Oakland, which was rumored to be the first nursery school in the western United States.

Fannie retired from the Berkeley School District in 1937 after nearly fifty years of service. She remained active in social and literary clubs during her retirement and shared a home with a friend, Louise deLucci. She dabbled in real estate and invested in the mineral mining industry. When Fannie McLean died on April 20, 1951, she left behind an estate of over $230,000, most of which she bequeathed to churches and charity. She is buried in the McLean family plot in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California. The University of California, Berkeley's Bancroft Library holds a collection of McLean family papers, including a photo of Fannie in her childhood and Fannie's scrapbooks, which chronicle her career as a teacher as well as her suffrage activities. Her "Precinct Worker: Votes for Women" ribbon dated October 10, 1911 is available for viewing online through the Bancroft Library's website.

Sources: California, U.S., Death Index, 1940-1997 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2000.

"Fannie McLean Estate Valued at $239,116." Oakland Tribune 10 July 1951.,

"Fannie W. McLean, Famed Berkeley Educator, Dies." Oakland Tribune 20 April 1951.,

McLean Family Papers, 1850-1950. Online Archive of California, UC Berkeley Bancroft Library.;developer=local;style=oac4;doc.view=items

"Men May Attend This Suffrage Meeting." Oakland Tribune 07 June 1911.,

"Rev. Anna Shaw Scores the Prospective Tariff." The San Francisco Call 02 July 1909.,

U.S., School Yearbooks, 1880-2012"; School Name: University of California; Year: 1891.

United States Census, 1910, database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 13 July 2021), Fannie W Mclean in household of Sarah E Mclean, Berkely, Alameda, California, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 50, sheet 15A, family 170, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982), roll 72; FHL microfilm 1,374,085.

United States City and Business Directories, ca. 1749 - ca. 1990, database, FamilySearch ( : 29 April 2021), Miss Francis W McLean, 1889-1890.

"Women's Clubs to Discuss Suffrage: Miss Fannie McLean Will Address Town and Gown on Amendment." The San Francisco Call 10 April 1911.,

"Women of America Last." The San Francisco Examiner 02 October 1910.,

"Women of Bay Cities Form Chapters of Civic League." San Francisco Call 15 December 1911. UCR Center for Bibliographical Studies and Research,

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