Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Mary E. O'Neill, 1876-1961

By Zach Wright, Gianna Sherman, and Matt Overfelt, student researchers, Montana State University, Bozeman


Mary E. O'Neill was born in the family home in Lawrence, Kansas in 1876 and died in 1961 in Butte, Montana. She came from a family of ranchers; her brother, Frank O'Neill, was a prominent member of Montana society serving as a representative from Custer County. In Butte, she became a prominent suffragist and newspaper writer, rubbing elbows with several other well-known suffragists.

O'Neill may have been introduced to the suffrage movement because of her involvement in the club movement. She attended the convention of Montana Federation of Women's Clubs in 1904 as a representative of Butte and continued to be an active member. The following year, she was one of the first women to address the Montana House in 1905 as a proponent of Montana House Bill 77, a woman suffrage bill, which was ultimately killed.

O'Neill subsequently played several important roles in the final campaign of the state suffrage movement. She was one of the primary writers for the state's suffrage newspaper, the Suffrage Daily News, which started in 1914. She also served as Jeannette Rankin's head publicist for the successful 1914 Montana suffrage campaign. In 1914 she also attended the 46th annual convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association as a representative of Montana, along with Rankin who served as the President of Montana's branch. That same year, she was elected the press secretary for the Montana Equal Suffrage Association.

A skilled journalist and publicist, O'Neill helped Montana suffragists to cater to their audiences. The Billings Gazette quoted her advice: "Give them all the dope you can about the influence of women on behalf of children and appeal to the higher standard of motherhood... that's the gush that gets the public."

In addition to publicizing the state movement, O'Neill helped organize a suffrage parade in Helena, Montana in September of 1914. The Suffrage Daily News hailed the parade as the "most significant parade ever seen in the northwest," with thousands of spectators in attendance for the mile-long procession that took place in the state capital. The participation of men, women, and children in this show of support for the suffrage movement surely helped to secure the passage of the women's vote in Montana later that year.


The Handbook of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and Proceedings of the Forty-Sixth Annual Convention Held at Nashville, Tennessee November 12-17, 1914 (New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1914). Google Books,

"Montana Suffrage Parade Great Success," Suffrage Daily News. (Helena, Mont.), 26 Sept. 1914, pg. 1. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress,

Morrison, John and Cathy. Mavericks: The Lives and Battles of Montana's Political Legends (Montana Historical Society: Helena, 1997),'neill%20&f=false

Pickett, Mary. "Jeannette Rankin and the Path to Women's Suffrage in Montana."Billings Gazette, 17 Nov. 2014,

Stout, Tom. Montana, Its Story and Biography: A History of Aboriginal and Territorial Montana and Three Decades of Statehood (American Historical Society: New York, 1921),

Ward, Doris. "The Winning of Woman Suffrage in Montana," M.A. Thesis, Montana State University, Bozeman, 1974.

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