Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Mary Settle Sharpe, 1863-1944
By Sarah Whitley Carrier, North Carolina Research and Instruction Librarian, Wilson Special Collections Library, UNC-Chapel Hill
First chair of the Executive Committee for Women of the North Carolina Republican Party; first woman in North Carolina to run for a statewide political office
Mary Settle Sharpe (also spelled Sharp) was born December 12, 1863, in Rockingham County, North Carolina, into a prominent family. Her mother was Mary Glenn Settle, and her father, Thomas Settle Jr., was a state supreme court justice and politician who helped found the North Carolina Republican Party in 1867. In 1884, Mary "Mamie" Settle married Benjamin Charles Sharpe of Tarboro, North Carolina, who was also born into an elite family in the state. They had two children, Benjamin and Emma.
Sharpe was politically and civic-minded, dedicating her working life and career to education. In 1896 she became a faculty member at the State Normal and Industrial School, the first institution of higher education for women in North Carolina (now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro). She was publicly lauded for her work as a teacher, but she resigned from the college to become involved in politics after the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920. Heavily involved with the Republican Party in the state, she was appointed the party's first chair of the Executive Committee for Women in 1920, assuring her visibility at the national level as well. Newspapers at the time agreed that this nomination was "one of the first tangible evidences that the Republicans are in earnest about this suffrage business."
In that same year, Sharpe became the first woman in North Carolina to run for political office at the state level when she was nominated as the Republican candidate for State Superintendent for Public Instruction. On her campaign trail, announcements for her public talks described her as, "of a family noted for their brilliance" and "a woman of fine intelligence and an able speaker." She advertised her speeches in local newspapers, specifically targeting women voters and appealing to their interests. Some ads addressed "the Womanhood of North Carolina," challenging the state's women to use their new power to vote. In a full letter that numerous newspapers published, Sharpe explained to her female constituents, "Those are false friends and advisers who would persuade you that your active interest in political affairs lessens your womanliness. May I tell you two interests which are paramount in every woman's life? Religion and politics." Women holding public office presented new possibilities for both women generally and for women educators specifically. Commentators asserted, "The innocent presentation of Mrs. Sharpe has started something and it is making people think in terms unknown before." While she ultimately lost her bid for superintendent, Sharpe nevertheless made her mark on North Carolina politics and continued to be a dedicated and active Republican.
Mary Sharpe died on April 18, 1944, and is buried with her husband in Ashe County, North Carolina.
"Handsome Building for Raleigh at Gilmers." Winston-Salem Journal, March 11, 1920, p. 8.
"Mary Settle Sharpe." (1863-1944). Find A Grave website, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/30643489/mary-sharpe
"Mary Settle Sharpe: Keen in Intelligence, Kindly at Heart, and Democratic in Sympathy." Spartan Stories: Tales from the University Archives at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Nov. 26, 2018. http://uncghistory.blogspot.com/2018/11/mary-settle-sharpe-keen-in-intelligence.html.
"Mrs. Mary Settle Sharpe Honored by Republicans." Greensboro Daily News, Feb. 9, 1920, p. 6.
"Mrs. Sharp to Speak at Newton and Hickory." Hickory Daily Record, Sept. 25, 1920, p. 1.
"Mrs. Sharp's Letter Evokes a Reply." Stanly News-Herald, Oct. 22, 1920, p. 1.
"To the Womanhood of North Carolina." Twin-City Daily Sentinel, Sept. 29, 1920, p. 10.