Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biographical Database of Militant Woman Suffragists, 1913-1920

Biography of Marion Gould Thorp Read, 1876-1972

Written by Barbara C. Batson for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, a publication of the Library of Virginia. Reprinted with permission.

Marion Gould Thorp Read (28 January 1876-13 September 1972), woman suffrage activist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and was the daughter of Harriet H. Bancroft Thorp and her first husband, Elliot Gove Thorp, a businessman. She attended a seminary in Boston and studied music in Switzerland. On 16 June 1898 she married Percy Shelley Read, a Massachusetts native, in Henrico County, Virginia. He was a real estate agent whose father had established Highland Springs as a suburb of Richmond, Virginia. The couple had no children.

Read belonged to the Unitarian church in Highland Springs, which had been founded by her father-in-law, and was active in its Woman's Alliance, serving as secretary and later as president. She and other church members organized the Woman's Study Club of Highland Springs (later Woman's Club of Highland Springs), which was unusual at the time in addressing members by their own names instead of by their husbands' names. With her sister-in-law, Kate Gebhardt Read, she organized the first Girl Scout troop in Virginia, named Pansy Troop #1, in November 1913. They had no training since the Girl Scouts organization had been founded only the year before, but Read and her sister-in-law led hikes and drills and taught first aid and knot tying. After moving to Richmond about 1920, Read continued to work with the city's Girl Scout Council until her husband's death on 19 January 1926.

In November 1911, the Study Club invited novelist and Equal Suffrage League of Virginia vice president Mary Johnston to speak about women's voting rights. Afterwards several members organized the Equal Suffrage League of Highland Springs, which was the fourth local league organized in the state. Elected corresponding secretary, Read served until 1915. She reported in 1914 that in Highland Springs, "all of the more enlightened men and women are believers in equal suffrage." The Equal Suffrage League advocated amending the state constitution to authorize woman suffrage, but the General Assembly refused to do so at sessions in 1912 and 1914. Like some other Virginia women, Read came to believe that amending the Constitution of the United States would be the most effective route to achieving voting rights for women, and in June 1915 she joined Equal Suffrage League of Virginia vice president Sophie Gooding Rose Meredith and others in organizing the Virginia branch of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage. Read was elected the branch's secretary.

During the summer of 1915, Read spoke at street meetings the Congressional Union held in Richmond and led a delegation of suffragists to speak with the governor about the effect of suffrage on women in California, where he had recently visited. In 1916 she represented Virginia in a group of twenty-three women who visited the states where women could vote to encourage the consolidation of the state branches of the Congressional Union into a national woman's party. The "Suffrage Special" left Union Station in Washington, D.C., on April 9 for Chicago and then continued on to visit twelve western states in five weeks. Read compiled a scrapbook of clippings and photographs to document her travels and experiences. On her return to Richmond on May 18, 1916, she was greeted by decorated automobiles and a fife and drum corps that accompanied her from the train station to the Jefferson Hotel. Read reported on the work of the Virginia branch in 1917, describing how "our small band of women has stood shoulder to shoulder, planning at monthly board meetings, speaking and distributing literature at the State Fair and at open air meetings" to advance the cause of woman suffrage. In March 1917, Read and other members stood with the pickets of the National Woman's Party (as the Congressional Union was renamed that month) while they surrounded the White House on the day before Woodrow Wilson's public inauguration as part of the party's ongoing campaign for the federal suffrage amendment. Wilson eventually endorsed the amendment in 1918, Congress passed it in 1919, and the states ratified it in 1920, although Virginia refused to do so.

Read continued to serve as secretary of Virginia branch of the National Woman's Party into the 1930s. During the 1924 General Assembly session, Read and others "wore the purple, white and gold regalia and they created a 'colorful scene'" as the House of Delegates' Committee on the Courts of Justice debated an equal rights amendment. The committee narrowly recommended passage, but the House of Delegates defeated it by a vote of 39 to 28. In her secretary's report for 1923-1924, Read noted that "twenty eight votes in favor of a blanket equal rights bill in the State of Virginia was never the less regarded as a long step toward victory."

A member of Richmond's First Unitarian Church, in 1930 she was widowed and lived with her 81-year-old mother in Richmond. She owned her home, valued at $5,000. She lived in the same house in 1940, but her mother had passed away in the previous decade.

She was active in the work of its Woman's Alliance and served a term as president in the 1930s and sat on its board of directors in the 1940s. Marion Gould Thorp Read suffered from heart disease and died of a heart attack at 96 in a Henrico County nursing home on 13 September 1972. She donated her body for medical research.


Birth date in Births Registered in the City of Boston, 1876, Massachusetts Vital Records, New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, Mass.; Marriage Register, Henrico Co., Bureau of Vital Statistics (BVS), Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Health, Record Group 36, Library of Virginia (LVA); Richmond Times-Dispatch, 5 Nov. 1911, 7 Feb. 1937, 7 Mar. 1940, 27 Oct. 1946, 2 Nov. 1960, 29 May 1966; Virginia Suffrage News, Dec. 1914 (first quotation); Richmond News Leader, 6 May 1916; Woman's Study Club minute books in Highland Springs Women's Club Records, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Va.; Virginia branch, Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage Minute Book (second quotation in 1917 secretary's report), Accession 52758, LVA; Marion Read Scrapbook (third and fourth quotations in 1924 secretary's report insert), The Valentine, Richmond, Va.; BVS Death Certificate, Richmond City; obituaries in Richmond News Leader, 14, 15 Sept. 1972, and Richmond Times-Dispatch, 14 Sept. 1972.

Federal Manuscript Censuses, Virginia, 1920-1940. Accessed via Ancestry Library Edition.

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