Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Merib Rowley Patterson, 1865-1945

By Janolyn Lo Vecchio, independent historian

One of the first women to graduate from the University of Michigan, Merib Susan Rowley Patterson was born on May 10, 1865 in Adrian, Michigan. Her parents were Josiah Cass Rowley and Angeline (Brown) Rowley. Josiah Rowley was a merchant and distant relative of Lewis Cass, a former Michigan Territory Governor, U.S. Secretary of State, and 1848 Democratic Presidential nominee. Merib graduated from the University of Michigan in 1889, where she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and one of the founders of the university's Sorosis organization which was a chapter of the Sorosis women's club in New York. Sorosis was the first all-woman club in the United States and was organized by journalist Jane Cunningham Crowley because women were barred from attending a New York Press Association banquet in 1868. Merib's experiences in Sorosis exposed her to women's issues and may have been the genesis of her later involvement in the suffrage movement. While she was a university student, she met her future husband, George Patterson, who was a physics instructor on campus.

George Washington Patterson was a descendant of Christopher Todd, one of the founders of New Haven, Connecticut. He was a graduate of Yale University and also received a B.S. in Science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After joining the University of Michigan as an Instructor in Electrical Engineering in 1889, he was appointed an Assistant Professor of Physics in 1891, Professor of Electrical Engineering from 1905-1915, Assistant Dean of the College of Engineering in 1921, Associate Dean of the College of Engineering in 1928 and acting Dean of the College of Engineering and Architecture from 1927-1930. He also was president of the First National Bank of Ann Arbor, and a director of the Erie and Kalamazoo Railroad Company.

Merib and George Patterson married on July 2, 1890 in Adrian, Michigan. Their children were Gertrude, George Washington IV, and Robert Rowley Patterson. As a faculty wife, Merib was deeply immersed in University of Michigan functions and activities in addition to supporting her husband's career and raising three children. In 1898 Merit and her husband spent a sabbatical year in Germany where he obtained a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Munich. During his sabbatical, she assisted him by translating a book by Antonin Palaz from French, A Treatise on Industrial Photometry With Special Application to Electric Lighting. To recognize her contributions to this project, he cited Merib as a co-author of the book when it was published.

A well-educated woman, Merib was an Ann Arbor community leader who became an ardent supporter of women's suffrage. She even included a brief statement supporting suffrage in her 1914 Who's Who In American Women Biography. An outspoken woman, she declared:

"Michigan is at least 50 years behind the eastern colleges and many in the western institutions in regard to such a vital matter as equal suffrage. At Bryn Mawr, Vassar, Wellesley and Mt. Holyoke, the presidents of the colleges and the students unite in forming active clubs which are aiding the equal suffrage movement by awakening interest, disseminating literature and raising funds. Wisconsin and Chicago also have strong organizations which extend their influence over the state. Here at Michigan there has been a deplorable lack of interest in the question, but I believe by far the majority of young and active professors are very much in favor of the movement."

Merib was elected president of the Equal Suffrage League in Ann Arbor, second vice president of the Michigan State Suffrage Association in 1918, and Director of the Second District campaign for suffrage in 1919.

During these years, both of her sons served in World War I, and George received the Croix de Guerre from France. While he was stationed overseas, George met and married a survivor of the sinking of the Titanic, Susan Ryerson, an American nurse in France who also received the Croix de Guerre. His experiences during World War I may have left George with post-traumatic stress disorder because he became depressed and committed suicide in 1925. After serving in World War I, Merib's surviving son Robert Rawley Patterson became an American diplomat with posts in England, Romania, and Ireland.

Despite the impact of World War I and her son's death, Merib continued to be active in community organizations and events. She was proud of her ancestral heritage and was an active member of the Colonial Dames, Daughters of the American Revolution, and Society of Mayflower Descendants. In 1926 she was selected to represent Michigan in an elaborate three-day New York reception to honor Queen Marie of Romania when she toured the United States. Shortly after his appointment as Acting Dean of the College of Engineering and Architecture, at the University of Michigan, George Washington Patterson died in Ann Arbor in 1930. Merib continued to live in Ann Arbor until her death on May 19, 1945.

A prominent community leader in Ann Arbor, Merib Patterson was one of the officers of the Michigan Equal Suffrage Association. Together with other women throughout Michigan, she celebrated when women won the right to vote in 1918 which ended a 70 year struggle by women in Michigan for suffrage.


Encyclopedia of American Biography. New York American Historical Co., 1940: pp. 21-14. article (University of Michigan Faculty History Project for George Washington Patterson)

A Sorosis Book 1886-1906. Ann Arbor: Collegiate Sorosis, 1907: pp. 29-30.

"Michigan 50 Years Behind," Lansing State Journal October 19, 1912, p. 1.

Woman's Who Who of America New York: American Commonwealth, 1914: p 627.

Handbook of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and Proceedings of the 50th Convention St. Louis Missouri . p. 274.

"Wolverine and Bride Awarded Croix," Detroit Free Press January 11, 1919, p. 1.

"Port Huron Woman Tells of Rumania's Radiant Queen," The Times Herald October 28, 1926, p. 1.

"Dean George W. Patterson of Michigan Dies" The News-Palladium May 23, 1930, p. 1.

"Mrs. Merib Rowley Patterson," Detroit Free Press May 21, 1945, p. 5.

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