Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Mary Munson, 1847-1920
By Monica Tapper, Historian. Edited by Carol Cleaver.
President, Vinemont Equal Suffrage League
Mary Munson was born in Laurel Township, Indiana to Moses and Elizabeth Kelly. Moses Kelly descended from the line of Irish Quakers that followed William Penn to the colonial frontier of Pennsylvania. Mary's mother, Elizabeth Riggs Kelly, was originally from Ohio. Although there is no photograph, in her 1897 passport application Mary described herself as having a dark complexion, with dark brown hair and eyes. She died in Cullman, Alabama on September 25, 1920, one month after the nineteenth amendment was ratified. The citizens of Cullman adored the "highest type of queenly American women" as one of their own.
Not much is written about Mary before her marriage to Charles Munson, at the age of 42, in April 1889. Charles Munson, a successful belt manufacturer from Chicago Illinois, had been married twice before and had four living children. Charles died less than two years after his marriage to Mary, and was followed a few months later by his oldest daughter who succumbed to consumption at the age of 26. Mary and the remaining children shared the estate, which was estimated to be worth $210,000. She took pains to protect his two minor children and gave a bond worth a future $160,000 in their names. Two years after Charles's death, she sold her 725 shares of stock in his belting company. In 1895, Mary sued Charles' former business associates because she believed that unfair business practices on their parts compromised the price of the stock. Mary believed that "a fair valuation" in 1893 would have shown that her shares were in fact worth $500.00 per share, and not the $100.00 she had been advised to sell them for. This legal battle continued for at least two years.
It is not known why Mary moved to Alabama, but records show that by the year 1900, Mary was living in Vinemont, a small community in Cullman County, Alabama. Her older, unmarried sister and younger brother lived in her house. In Cullman, Mary built upon her life's experience of responsibility and initiative and became concerned with the women's suffrage movement. In 1914, she was elected President of the Vinemont Equal Suffrage League. In this capacity she attended the second state convention held in Huntsville in February 1914. Mary did not confine her role as a leader in the community to the suffrage movement. During her time in Alabama, she supported a missionary in China, helped to organize the Cullman Boy Scouts, and organized the Vinemont Library Association. At 3:30 in the afternoon on September 23, 1920, Mary passed away in her home from a brain hemorrhage. In an article composed shortly after her death, it was written that, "no one who was sick or needy ever coming under her knowledge and went without help." She was buried in the Public Cemetery of Cullman, known in 1920 as the Protestant Cemetery in Cullman, Alabama.
Family & Regional History Program, Wallace State Hanceville:
Death Certificate for Mary Munson (received 9/12/2017)
"Vinemont E. S. League" Cullman Democrat, November 26, 1914 (received 9/21/2017)
"One of County's Most Brilliant Women Dies" Cullman Democrat, September 30, 1920 (received 9/21/2017
Foley Public Library:
People and Things from The Cullman Tribune, 1914-1920, p.339-340 (received 9/11/2017)
Chicago Tribune - 1887, 1890, 1891, 1895
The Inter Ocean - 1891, 1897
The Pantagraph - 1893
Massachusetts, Marriage Records, 1840-1915
U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925
Massachusetts, State Census, 1865
1860 United States Federal Census
1880 United States Federal Census
1900 United States Federal Census
1910 United States Federal Census
1920 United States Federal Census
Cook County, Illinois, Marriages Index, 1871-1920
Cook County, Illinois, Death Index, 1878-1922
Alabama, Death Index, 1908-1959
Alabama, Deaths and Burials Index, 1881-1974