Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Mamie Matthews (Willits), 1896-1978
By Kellie Keesee, Atlanta-based Global Journalist
Mamie Matthews was born December 3, 1896 in the Inman Park neighborhood of Atlanta, Georgia to Mr. Eli Arthur Matthews of Georgia and Mrs. Mamie Koch Matthews. Her mother was born in Illinois to German immigrants and later moved to Atlanta and worked as a stay at home mother and served as Auditor for the Georgia Women's Suffrage Association. Her father was a successful business owner and employer who sold furniture in the Atlanta area.
Matthews name was found on the rolls of a local unnamed academy - which would be exceptional schooling for a girl in the south in the early 1900's. She later attended two private Georgia colleges, Brenau College (now University) and Shorter College (now University) where she worked as an aide for Mrs. Mary Latimer McLendon, who was president of the Georgia Women's Suffrage Association (GWSA) called the "Mother of Suffrage in Georgia."
Matthews was an active member of the Women's Suffrage League of Georgia as well as the Georgia Young People's Suffrage Association. She traveled to Washington, DC for NAWSA's "Women's Suffrage Procession," on March 3, 1913, the day before President Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated. Mamie served as the Georgia flag bearer during the parade, while marching down Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House.
As noted in the Atlanta Constitution, once Matthews returned from Washington, "Miss Mamie Matthews gave an interesting account of her march in the suffrage parade in Washington" to the Young People's Association Meeting. Suffrage marchers claimed poor treatment, taunting and little protection during the march.
Soon after, Matthews was one of the speakers to meet and testify for the Atlanta Civic League to condemn Washington DC police for their failure to protect the marchers from male spectators hurling insults and shoving marchers.
During a Women's Suffrage League of Georgia meeting, Georgia suffragists publicly condemned both Congressman James Heflin of Alabama and Congressman James Mann of Illinois as well as testified to the terrible treatment from Washington, DC police. Two resolutions were passed on the floor of Carnegie Library acknowledging the events - Washington Police were pressed to address the matter.
Later a photo of Matthews driving a parade float during an Atlanta suffrage parade has often been used as a representation of the suffrage movement - she continued to be a leader in the suffrage movement until women were allowed the right to vote.
Soon after the Nineteenth Amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution on August 18, 1920, Mamie married Jesse Roydon Willits of Pinellas County, Florida on February 15, 1921 - their marriage only lasted a few years. It was noted that Willits remarried in 1926 in Florida and Mamie's residence was established back in Atlanta.
Several small comments in the social section of the Atlanta Constitution showed she was active in civic engagements and social activities. It appeared Matthews was popular on the social scene and often hosted events - many of the addresses are wealthy areas of Atlanta.
One article later shows Matthews was a story orator at a theater for a gathering, but little information has been found about Matthews's later life or death. One Georgia death record listed a Mamie Matthews having died in February 1978 in Hall County, Georgia but it is not confirmed that this was suffragist Mamie Matthews.
Woman Suffrage Centennial, Part II: Siege of the Senate www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/People/Women
Atlanta Equal Suffrage Float Photo Source: atlantahistorycenter.com/digital/collection; Kenan Research Center
Photo Source: The Georgia Young People's Suffrage Association shot before Aug. 26, 1920, Georgia State Archives, Virtual Vault Georgia,
"Woman Suffrage" by E. Lee Eltzroth, Georgia State University, 5, September 2002 New Georgia Encyclopedia (georgiaencyclopedia.org)
"Revival and Development of the Woman Suffrage Movement in Georgia" by A. Elizabeth Taylor The Georgia Historical Quarterly Vol. 42, No. 4 (December, 1958), pp. 339-354
Ida Husted Harper, et al., eds.,History of Woman Suffrage - Volume 6, (1922), p. 134 [LINK].
AJC clippings source: Ancestry.com/ Mamie Matthews timelines (Matthew Family Tree)