Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mary Martin, 1868-?

By Brenna Ashe and Jon Walker, students of Maggy Carmack, Presbyterian College, Clinton, South Carolina, and by Marjorie Spruill, Distinguished Professor Emerita, University of South Carolina.

Recording Secretary, Equal Suffrage League of South Carolina; President, Vice President, Columbia chapter

Mary Martin was an important leader of the woman suffrage movement in South Carolina. Born in 1868, Martin lived the majority of her life in South Carolina, marrying Henry Martin in the 1890s. Henry Martin was a clerk living in Columbia. The couple had two children, Francis and Sarah.

When the National American Woman Suffrage Association sent a representative, Virginia suffrage leader Lila Meade Valentine, to South Carolina in early 1914, Martin was one of the women in the state who readily responded to the call. After Valentine's lectures, suffrage clubs were founded in three cities including Columbia. Mary Martin became president of the Columbia club. Later that year, NAWSA sent an organizer, Miss Lavinia Engle, to the state to encourage formation of a state suffrage group, the Equal Suffrage League of South Carolina. Engel called together "a representative group of clubwomen" which included Mary Martin. Martin was elected recording secretary of the state organization. In that capacity she promoted the suffrage cause through articles in newspapers in her city and state.

In 1916 Martin was one of the state suffrage leaders who spoke at the State Democratic Convention. The organization had brought a petition containing some 1500 signatures urging the convention to adopt an equal suffrage plank in both the state and national Democratic platforms. The group was successful in that the convention adopted a plank asking the legislature to submit the question of equal suffrage to the voters. However, the convention declined to instruct its delegation to support suffrage at the next Democratic National Convention.

In 1917, in an article she contributed to the "Equal Suffrage Edition" of The Union Times, "Great Oak from Little Acorn," Martin reported with pride on the efforts of suffragists in her state and pressed their case. After a weak start, she said, the state league is "rapidly strengthening and developing." Optimistically she predicted, "Surely in a state that has over 66,000 self-supporting women (a greater per cent than has any other state of the Union) the men, noted for their chivalry to their women, will see to it that this band of workers will have equal weight with them in making the laws under which they both live and work together. If the weight of a vote is an absolute necessity for the safeguard of a man's business, then should not those 66,000 women be allowed the same safeguard for their business?" However, South Carolina suffragists were ultimately unsuccessful in persuading their state legislators to support suffrage either by state or federal action.


"United States Census, 1920,", accessed April 26, 2017.

Antoinette Elizabeth Taylor, "South Carolina and the Enfranchisement of Women: The Later Years." The South Carolina Historical Magazine 80, no. 4 (1979): 299 and 305;

Mrs. Henry Martin, "Great Oak from Little Acorn," in the Equal Suffrage Edition of The Union Times, March 16, 1917. (accessed May 30, 2018).

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