Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mercy Peffer, 1878-1956

By Samantha Hunter, Yenci Reyes, Michaela Deppen, students, Longwood University

Mercy Buchanan Peffer was a women's suffrage activist in Baltimore in the early 20th century. She was born in Indiana in 1878 to James and Emma Buchanan. James was a lawyer while Emma was a homemaker.

Mercy Buchanan married Charles Clarence Peffer in 1903; they had one daughter, Emma. Charles worked as a railroad administrator and was drafted in the first World War. Over the course of their marriage, Charles and Mercy moved to several states. In 1910, the Peffer family lived in Texas. In Texas, Mercy lived with her daughter Emma and her brother, Harry Buchanan. She also employed one servant, Amanda Pates. Her husband was not listed in the household at this time and may have been traveling in connection with his work for a railroad.

Mercy Peffer became active in the suffragist movement in Baltimore in the 1910s. Peffer was a director of the Equal Suffrage League of Baltimore and worked along with many other prominent suffragists of the time. The Equal Suffrage League was founded by Elizabeth Ellicott in the early 20th century. It held living room "rallies" and led protests and was one of the first groups to propose an equal suffrage amendment to the Baltimore city charter. The amendment proposed that in order to vote in municipal elections held in Baltimore, every person should possess: qualification to vote in the House of Delegates, he or she can read and write, if the person is in possession of any property, and has paid taxes at least two years preceding the election. The amendment would have given equal voting rights to all Baltimore residents 21 years of age or older and who met all other requirements, regardless of gender; the bill ultimately failed to pass. In June 1918 Peffer was elected as recording secretary of the Woman Suffrage League. No other surviving sources provide further information on Peffer's suffrage activism.

Mercy Peffer was listed as a "special student" in American Government, college courses for teachers at John Hopkins University in 1919. Special students were eligible for admission as a degree or certificate candidate to the selected program but chose not to pursue the credential.

In Baltimore in 1930, Charles and Mercy Peffer resided with their daughter, and her husband, Thomas Van Sant. Charles continued to work as an auditor for a railroad. Charles died in Baltimore in 1942 and Mercy died there in 1956 at the age of 78. Both are buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery just outside of Baltimore.


Federal Manuscript Censuses: 1880, Indiana, Buchanan family; 1910, Texas, Mercy Peffer household; 1920 and 1930, Baltimore, Charles and Mercy Peffer household; 1940, Baltimore, Thomas and Emma Van Sant household. Accessed via

1917-1918 U.S. World War 1 Draft Registration Cards, digital image s.v. "Charles Clarence Peffer",

Harper, I. H. (1922). The History of Women Suffrage: Volume 6. New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association [LINK]

John Hopkins University. "Non-Degree/ Special Students." John Hopkins University. Accessed April 24, 2020.

Miyagawa, Sharon. "Elizabeth King Ellicott." Elizabeth King Ellicott, MSA SC 3520-13588. Maryland State Archive, August 5, 2014.

The John Hopkins University Circular, Volume 39. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins Year: 1910; Census Place: Fort Worth Ward 8, Tarrant, Texas; Roll: T624_1591; Page: 6A; Enumeration District: 0133; FHL microfilm: 1375604

"Leaflet: The Equal Suffrage League of Baltimore. Proposed Amendment to the Baltimore City Charter. [Circa 1909-1910]." Ann Lewis Women's Suffrage Collection. Accessed March 26, 2020.

"Charles C. Peffer," death record for 1942 in

"Mercy BUCHANAN Peffer (1878-1956) - Find A Grave..." Find a Grave. McPherson Genealogist, March 3, 2009. Accessed March 26, 2020

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