When the 19th Amendment finally passed the Senate, Marie Stuart Edwards, Peru, IN said: "... we rejoice that this has come just now to the women of America at the dawn of this wonderful reconstruction period. Women are to “sit in” at the remaking of the world. I believe women will bring to our body politic an independence of action, a clarity of thought, unhampered by precedents, and an inspired desire to vote for the best interests of human society. We are calling on all women of the state to study, to carry through their plans for educational work along civic and citizenship lines. We are urging them to put loyalty to humanity, loyalty to country and to state above all ideas of party loyalty, since these new voters have yet to participate in party councils.
“I am glad to see this amendment pass. I am anxious to see it ratified. Most of all, am I anxious to see this great new force in action.
Marie Stuart Edwards, 4 Jun 1919

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Marie Stuart Edwards

"Indiana may well be and is justly proud of one who is possessed of so many striking capabilities, such inexhaustible energy and such unselfish readiness to give of herself for the betterment of all as Marie Stuart Edwards of Peru, whom to know is to love."

Journal and Courier, 27 April 1921, Lafayette, IN, quoting the Elkhart "Woman Voter's"


When we first began studying the suffrage movement in Miami County, it quickly became clear Marie Stuart Edwards was important. We just didn't realize how important a role she played. Not just in Miami County but at both the state and national levels as well.

Who was Marie?  What exactly did she do that deserves such high praise from the Journal and Courier?

Marie Stuart was a closer when it comes to the Women's Suffrage.  She and the women of Miami County played a big part in getting the 19th Amendment to the finish line.  We are working on bridging the period gap between the time Lizzie Bunnell published the last issue of The Mayflower in Peru in 1863 and the creation of the Peru Franchise League in 1914, time when Marie Stuart arrived on our local scene.

Marie Stuart was born in Lafayette, IN on September 11th, 1880, the daughter of Ada Ellsworth and Thomas Arthur Stuart. We don't know much about her youth, except that she is said to have been the first girl in Lafayette to ride a bike and to go to college. 

Marie was born in the upper-middle-class family of prominent lawyer, Thomas Arthur Stuart, who had followed in his own father's footsteps, Indiana Supreme Court Judge William Z Stuart.  Marie's mother, Ada, was not without a prominent background herself.  She was born in Indianapolis and had grown up at the site of what is now the War Memorial.  Her father Henry Ellsworth served as Minister to Sweden under James Buchanan.  Her great-grandfather, Oliver Ellsworth, was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and later served as the 3rd Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court.


Enjoying the comforts money can afford one does not shelter from tragedy.  It would not spare Marie any more than it had her mother Ada, who had lost both her parents by the time she was 14.

Marie was almost 12 years old when her father, Thomas died.  Ada was left on her own to raise Marie and her little brother, Allison, 6.   Thomas Arthur was only 39, and on his way to a promising career of his own.  In 1890, he and his brothers, Charles B. and William V. founded the legal firm of the Stuart Brothers[1].  Both brothers would take a turn as President of the Purdue University Board of Trustees, as would Allison also.

After her husband’s death it seems Ada began taking care of her ailing siblings. 

It is said that after Charles Stuart’s death in February 1899, Ada moved in with her sister-in-law Alice Earl Stuart, at “Earlhurst”, in Lafayette, Indiana.  But the 1900 Census shows that she is ‘keeping house’ for Lewis Perry, a “woolens dealer” in Chicago.  Allison Stuart is listed as a cousin to the head of household however, while Rhea and John Morrill are listed as “Wards”, and Annie F Ellsworth a boarder, Ada’s younger sister.

1901-1902 correspondence[2] between Marie and her mother show that she took care of Annie and that her extended family did indeed help ensure she and her brother would not want for anything.  By then Ada was no longer in Chicago.

Marie attended Smith College[3] in Northampton, Massachusetts.  The letters reveal that it is at Smith College that she developed[4] her talent as a well-respected public speaker and maybe even as event organizer.  It seems that her love and talent for theater blossomed there as well.  Marie might even have pursued a career in that field.  Richard Edwards well might have talked her out of it suggesting she should find as much fulfillment becoming his wife.  She graduated in June 1901.



A year later, in late June 1902 she applied for a US passport and on July 7, embarked on the Potsdam in route to Europe to round up her education.  In her letters, she shares her joy of linking History to the places she visited.  Her itinerary included Boulogne and Paris (France), Lucerne and Lausanne (Switzerland), Florence, Rome and Sorento (Italy).  In one letter she mentioned how in Padua, a university professor accidentally turned guide, quizzed her to establish she truly had benefited from a higher education.[5] He asked her to “translate some Greek text… to see how far women were educated in America.”

In the letters she also talks of the marriage plans between her and Richard E Edwards, son of Alice Shirk and Richard A Edwards of Peru, Indiana.  She would not commit officially, though she had made a private promise to him, until he was free from his obligation to his father.   Richard graduated from Harvard in 1902 and between July 1902 and February 1904, he worked for his father’s business, the First National Bank of Peru.

Marie and Richard were married on October 11th, 1904, at the St. John’s Episcopal[6] Church in Lafayette, IN.  Richard worked for the Wolverine Cedar & Lumber Company[7] and so the couple moved to the Upper Peninsula.  They resided in Menominee until 1909 then moved to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.[8] 

“Mrs. Edwards spent six years in Menominee and Sault Ste. Marie and made many trips with her husband to the snow-covered woods in logging season or to fight fires in summer.”[9]


Photo courtesy of the Miami County Museum

Following in her civic-minded mother’s footsteps, Marie had participated in fundraisers, such         as one for the benefit of Free Kindergarten and the Children’s Aid Society[10], but it is in Sault Ste. Marie that she became an activist.  Concerned about the quality of the milk she was feeding her young son, she joined the Civic Improvement League and fought to improve sanitation in processing milk and in pushing for city street sanitation.[11]

Marie had surgery at Chicago's St. Luke’s Hospital in October 1913 and was reported recovering well, although there was no hint at the reason for the surgery.

The little family returned to Peru in February 1914.   The 1920 Census shows Richard and Marie living at 123 West Main Street.

Sometimes after 1920, they moved into the Shirk Block, at 50 North Hood, in the grey house built by Elbert Hamilton Shirk in 1862. (National Register of Historic Places application - sheet 1)

Richard spent a year closing the lumber business, then began to manage the old Peru Chair Company, renaming it Peru Chair Works[12] factory in 1915, with Marie by his side. 

Marie also quickly settled in the Peru social life. Mary Emma Kimberley Shirk, who had been one of her bridesmaids, lived next door, as she married Richard’s cousin, Elbert W Shirk.

Women gathered for teas to discuss a variety of subjects.  There was a Sewing Guild, an Art Club, a Drama Club, the Tuberculosis Society…

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union was another such club.  It was bringing about real change.  The women who attended its meetings considered alcoholism the root of most of family problems and so they pushed for laws to ‘dry up’ states, but they did not just discuss temperance and the ills of alcoholism. 

The interest over the woman’s suffrage movement was there already and it is not a big stretch to see how on October 15, 1914[13], Dr. Amelia Keller came to Peru to organize a new branch of the Woman’s Franchise League of Indiana[14]: the Peru Franchise League[15], starting with 16 charter members.

Ellen Cole Fetter, daughter of Albert and Mary Galpin Cole, was elected first President with Marie Stuart Edwards as First Vice-President. 

In 1916 Marie was elected President of the Peru League.  

That same year her mother Ada Ellsworth Stuart was elected to the board of the Women’s Franchise League of Indiana[16].  It might have meant an increased involvement with the state league for Marie.  She must have demonstrated the qualities of a good leader in the process.

It would certainly explain how she was so quickly propelled to the presidency of the State League in April 1917, succeeding Dr. Keller who was retiring.

Marie went to work immediately and soon found herself with an increasingly heavy load.

On April 6, 1917, the USA had entered the World War and her husband anticipated getting the call to war, like so many men at the time.

For this reason in the Spring of 1918 when it was time to reelect her, she advised the leadership of the league that unless there was a way to get the League Headquarters moved to Peru she would prefer her name not be offered as selection for re-election.

All I can say is she must have been worth it to the board as they changed the League’s constitution so as to allow the headquarters to move to the president’s home town for the duration of her service.[17]

So from April 1918 until April 1919, Peru, Indiana became the hub of the state league[18], conducting business right from here. 

During her tenure, the league grew from 80 branches across the state to 300.  Miami County alone went from 1 to 7, adding leagues in Bunker Hill, Converse, Denver, Mexico, Macy, Gilead and Peoria. These leagues held at least one convention[19] at the Peru Library, in April 1919.

She set goals for the members to increase the membership.  In July 1918, the league started a campaign to reach 100,000 members by 1919 and collect 700,000 signatures to present to the 1919 state legislature.  Miami County’s quota was 10,500 petition signatures and 1,500 members.  To achieve these goals by October 1st, incentives were offered[20]:

-       $25 reward to the individual who secured the most new memberships

-       $25 reward to the individual who collected the most signatures

-       $25 reward to the league that increased the most (by percentage)

-       $25 reward to the league organized since April 1, 1918

-       $25 reward to the first county chairman to reach both goals.

Marie was no fan of Alice Paul or the Woman’s Party, or closer to home, Lucy Burns and the Indiana Constitutional Union, whom she viewed as radicals.  In August 1918, she is quoted to say:  “In spite of our frequent statements calling attention to the fact that our organization disapproves of the picketing, I am in despair of making people understand that we have tried in every way to stop them, but that since we are entirely different organizations, opposed in principle and practice, we cannot control their behavior.  They are few and we are many, and they seriously impair the suffrage cause.  We most emphatically do not picket, do not use nor believe in militant methods and in every way are supporting, not attacking, the president and the government.  Ex-President Roosevelt once said that every big public movement had its ‘lunatic fringe’.  That is what the pickets of the Woman’s Party are - the ‘lunatic fringe’ of the suffrage movement.[21]

Marie did not seek re-election in April 1919.  She claimed her family wanted her home; she had spent enough time on Suffrage.  She had however been named to the Board of the National League and would soon be busy founding the National League of Women Voters with Carrie Chapman Catt and the other national leaders of NAWSA. She was not slowing down, although…

The summer of 1919 would prove a difficult one for Marie as her health deteriorated and she had to rest at Lake Maxinkuckee, in Culver, IN, where fellow Indiana suffragist Ada Bush came to keep her company.

She was present however the day the one and only Suffrage Parade[22] took place in Peru, to celebrate the 19th Amendment passing the House.  She was on duty for Suffrage Tag Day on Saturday June 7th and she was in the parade with her son Dickie that evening to listen to those invited to speak.

On June 9th, she was absent when the Miami County Board of Education elected her as the first woman[23] ever to sit with them and make decision affecting the schooling of all the children in Miami County.  It took thirteen ballots to get a final vote.

Mrs. Gould, speaking in behalf of Mrs. Edwards, thanked the council for the honor bestowed on Mrs. Edwards in electing her to a seat on the school board and stated that the women of Peru felt sure that the selection was a wise one and that the council would never have grounds to regret its act.” [24]








It was hard not to notice Marie’s work and as she became more involved with the national movement, she was included in laying out the foundation for the National League of Women Voters. 

At the First Congress of the new league in Chicago in February of 1920, Marie was elected its first treasurer. 

In April 1920, she was present at the transformation of the Woman’s Franchise League of Indiana into the Indiana League of Women Voters. She was elected to the new board of directors[25].

In October 1920, she was one of three women called upon, at the last minute (two days' notice), to organize Social Justice Day.  It was a great success, with 12,000 women descending on Marion, OH to march in the parade.  Marie personally hand delivered the league’s planks to Senator Warren Harding. 

In December 1920, the Peru Franchise League transitioned into the Peru League of Women Voters and again the place of choice was the Peru Library’s Assembly room. [11a]

Marie was later elected as First Vice President of the National League of Women Voters, position she held in 1921 and 1922.  During this time, her home at 50 N Hood Street Peru, IN would become the new National Headquarters of the League. There, women speakers were trained before being sent out to lobby for social reform.

Constance Drexel, of the Public Ledger Company, published an article that was carried in at least 2 newspapers:

(Also found in the Dayton Herald, 9 Dec 1921, Dayton, OH, page 24)

In 1922, Marie helped organize the Pan-American Conference of Women in Baltimore. Central and South-American women came to participate in this intercontinental convention. 


“The Peru Republican” printed the proceedings of this conference here, along with league programs, yearbook, pamphlets, flyers etc.

All through 1922, she traveled with Ada Bush, Mary McDowell, Della Dortch and Mrs. Gilford Pinchot as they made their way West to San Francisco to attend the big convention in August.  The ladies carried 15 pieces of luggage including a typewriter and printing outfit and issued bulletins in Omaha, Denver, Salt Lake City and Reno.

(R to L: Ada Bush, Mary McDowell, Marie S Edwards, Della Dortch and Mrs. Gilford Pinchot – picture courtesy of the Miami County Museum, Peru, IN)

In 1923, Marie retired from the national stage for health reasons, but remained a director-at-large of the state league.

Maud Wood Park, national president of the League of Women Voters offered a tribute to Marie at the opening of the 4th annual convention of the National League.

“I have no words to express what Mrs. Edwards’ vitality, tireless energy and devotion to duty have done for the league. Her qualities of genius have been a tower of strength to me in my own duties and have gone far toward building the league toward success.”

Marie would soon return to work with the League, locally, at the state and national levels.  She retired one last time in 1969.  She was 89 years old.

In her application to the Register of National Landmarks, Terry Miller prepared a short summary of Marie’s later career:  “In 1929 she was Chairman of the 10th Anniversary and Memorial Fund of the League of Women Voters.

In 1930 she made a nationwide tour on behalf of the League to increase fundraising.  Her committee reached the $250,000 goal in spite of the onset of the Depression.

In 1937, she was Vice President of the newly created Indiana Board of Public Welfare and chair of the drafting committee for the Civil Service Bill in Indiana.  She served on the state Board of Corrections and helped write the laws for this board.

She was active on the county board of Associated Charities and headed the local Works Project Administration Board, part of FDR’s New Deal program, during the Depression years.

Due to her leadership, shacks along the Wabash River, known as “Tin Town”, were razed and the families who lived there were provided decent places to live. She was appointed to Peru’s first Civic Center board, supervising the initial project of converting the building into a community center.

During WWII she was responsible for organizing and conducting the Red Cross Blood Donor Unit, which was one of the most successful in Indiana.

In 1945, she was overlooked by the national level, at the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. This prompted a letter exchange between Marie and Maud Wood Park, which is worth quoting: “When our state league paid its tribute, board members spoke almost with indignation that the present generation of young women took all you, grand people, did for them for granted… Some way, at intervals, they should be reminded…”[26]








She would not be forgotten on the 50th anniversary commemorations and at almost 90 years old, she attended. 

Marie died at her home at 50 North Hood in 1970, just a year after her husband.

Marie Edwards’ funeral services were held at the Holy Trinity Episcopalian Church on West Main Street.  She and her husband are resting at Mount Hope.


[2] These letters are part of the Marie Edwards’ collection at the Miami County Museum, transcribed and compiled by Miami County Indiana Worth Remembering.

[4] 1992.089.0003a-b – Letter and envelope – postmarked Northampton, Mass, 11 Feb 1901 from Marie Stuart to Mrs. T A Stuart; 1992.089.0002a-b – Letter and envelope postmarked Northampton, Mass, 12 Feb 1901 from Marie Stuart to Mrs. T A Stuart

[5] 1992.089.0009a-b: letter and envelope from Marie Stuart to her mother Mrs. Thomas Arthur Stuart, Florence, Italy, 24 Aug 1902

[6] By Nyttend - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8394158

[7] Harvard University Quindecennial, Class of 1902 Report V, June 1917 pp95-96

[8] The Evening News, 2 Oct 1909, Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. and Ont., p1

[9] The Hoosier Suffragist, Aug 22, 1917

[10] The Indianapolis News, 2 Jan 1902, Indianapolis, IN, page 6 – “Kindergarten Charity Ball”

[11] The Hoosier Suffragist, Aug 22, 1917

[11a]  Side note: The League of Women Voters prompted the creation of the Peru Public Library board as they felt the library should be autonomous and not be under the direction of the School Board

[12] Harvard University Quindecennial, Class of 1902 Report V, June 1917 pp95-96

[13] The Peru Republican 16 October 1914, Peru, IN

[14] Woman’s Franchise League of Indiana organized in 1911), associated with the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA)

[15] Their members met every other Thursday at 2:30pm in the Assembly room of the library

[16] Journal and Courier, 15 March 1937, Lafayette, IN

[17] The Peru Republican 19 April 1918, Peru, IN; The Sentinel, 20 Apr 1918, Peru, IN; Indianapolis News, 13 April 1918, Indianapolis, IN

[18] Fort Wayne Sentinel, 17 April 1918, Fort Wayne, IN

[19] The Sentinel 30 March 1918, Peru, IN

[20] The Sentinel, 24 July 1918, Peru, IN

[21] The Richmond Palladium Item22 Aug 1918

[22] The Peru Journal, Jun 9th, 1919, Peru IN “Suffragettes Celebrate the Late Victory”

[23] The Peru Journal, Jun 9th, 1919, Peru, IN “Mrs. Edwards Chosen New Member of School Board on the Thirteenth Ballot”

[24] The Peru Journal, Jun 9th, 1919, Peru, IN “Mrs. Edwards Chosen New Member of School Board on the Thirteenth Ballot”

[25] The Indianapolis News, 9 Apr 1920, Indianapolis, IN

[26] Correspondence found at the Library of Congress


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The Suffragists of Miami County, IN