"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 does not shelter one 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 Stuart in 1892|
After her husband’s death it seems Ada began taking care of her ailing siblings. It is also said it is about then that Marie became the first girl in Lafayette to ride a bicycle. It is interesting to note that it is around 1890 that women's bikes became a symbol of the suffrage movement. Riding a bike enabled women to go further than they had before been able to go on their own.
It is easy to understand how Ada Ellsworth Stuart would want to foster a desire for self-reliance in her daughter. Ada had been an orphan and was now a widow, wealthy as she might have been, she still seemed to depend on the kindness of relatives to ensure her children had all she hoped they could have.
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 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 in Northampton, Massachusetts. The letters reveal that it is at Smith College that she developed 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. 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.
"I have definitely promised to marry Dick at some indefinite time. He wants me to say in a year, but I wouldn't, because to begin with, it's going to take him longer than that to do what his father wants him to, So I said when I came home from abroad we'd discuss it again. I don't wear a ring - for one reason, I don't want to now and for another, neither Dick nor I want anything of that sort while he is dependent on his father..." (Miami County Museum 1992.089.0013a-b)
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 Church in Lafayette, IN. Richard worked for the Wolverine Cedar & Lumber Company and so the couple moved to the Upper Peninsula. They resided in Menominee until 1909 then moved to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
“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.”
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, 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.
Marie had surgery at Chicago's St. Luke’s Hospital in October 1913 and was reported recovering well, although there was no hint as to 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. The house belonged to her husband's cousin, Elbert Shirk, and his wife, Mary Emma Kimberley, whose sister Helen Kimberley had married Marie's paternal uncle, Herbert William Z Stuart, aka HWZS. This is where Marie hosted many suffragist meetings and received her friends, Adah Bush, among many others. This is the house where she resided during the years when she served as State President of the Woman's Franchise League of Indiana (1917-1919) and also as Treasurer (1920) and later First Vice-President (1921-1923) of the National League of Women Voters.
Richard spent a year closing the lumber business, then began to manage the old Peru Chair Company, renaming it Peru Chair Works 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, and of course the Woman's Christian Temperance Union.
The Women’s Christian Temperance Union 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 WCTU was also interested in the woman’s suffrage movement and it is likely what brought Miss Harriet Henton, columnist for the Peru Republican to invite Dr. Amelia Keller to speak about the Woman’s Franchise League of Indiana on October 15, 1914, at the Peru Public Library
and organize a new branch. The Peru Franchise League, became the 78th branch[15a] organized in Indiana, with 16 charter members. Ellen Cole Fetter, daughter of Albert Cole and Mary Galpin, was elected first President with Marie Stuart Edwards as First Vice-President.
The League members had had good intentions, planning to meet every other week at the library but it is not until a year later that they really became active in the movement. On November 13, 1915[15b], fifty-one women assembled at Marie Edwards' house, to reorganize the Peru League. Marie Edwards was elected President, switching roles with Ellen Fetter who served as First Vice-president and Mrs. F Van Ness, Second Vice-President.
In April 1916, both Marie Edwards and her mother Ada Ellsworth Stuart were elected to the board of directors of the Woman’s Franchise League of Indiana.
A Suffrage Parade was to take place in Chicago on June 7th, 1916 as part of a special Convention. Marie, as State chair of the League, with the help of Mrs. Theo Ensel, local chair, arranged to rent a Pullman car on the C&O and travel the night before the convention and return a day after.[16a]
40,000 women were expected to march but the heavy rains kept many out of the street that day.
Indiana was well represented however and a large contingent braved the storm. The parade was to go from Randolph Street to the Coliseum. The Miami County contingent is believed to have been the best represented in the state.
During Indiana's centennial year, Marie had many other opportunities to demonstrate the qualities of a good leader and in spite of her young age (compared to the other women involved) she was quickly propelled to the presidency of the State League in April 1917, succeeding Dr. Keller who was retiring.
Marie continued to work hard and soon found herself with an increasingly heavy load. Her leadership skills were also put to the test right away.
In February 1917 the Maston-McKinley Act had given partial suffrage to Indiana women. They would be allowed to register to vote for delegates to a Constitutional Convention to take place in September. This was contested of course. Registration began Jun 11 and women came in to register in drove. But on June 25, Judge Thornton of Indianapolis put a stop to all women registration and Marie found herself in the middle of a legal battle with the state. Her brother Allison represented the Woman's Franchise League but in the end, the law was walked back later that summer. More on that in another article.
The other crisis looming on the horizon had been the World war. And on April 6, 1917, the USA joined the Allied Forces. The Woman's Franchise League of Indiana answered the call of Patriotism by creating a War Work Department, endorsing the work of the Woman's Committee of the Council of Defense. Marie became one of the local Fourteen-Minute Women speakers, traveling throughout the county to encourage and teach women on different subjects, still needing to continue her state work and answering to her family obligations.
Helen Royse Shirk had succeeded Marie locally and set up headquarters at the Episcopal Church Guild Hall. The leagues were busy all across the state that year, registering women with notaries, canvassing the state in automobiles.
So yes, 1917 was busy, and 1918 would not slow down. With the prospect of her husband leaving for war, in the Spring of 1918, Marie advised the League leadership 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.
"The proof is in the pudding", they say, and the League's board amended its constitution to allow headquarters to move to the president’s home town for the duration of her service.
So from May 1918 until April 1919, Peru, Indiana became the hub of the state league, conducting business right from here. They located the State League Headquarters at the Dukes Building at 15 South Wabash, in Peru, IN, "in a pleasant suite of rooms, on the north side of the building, upstairs. The three large rooms are none too big for the increased office force and necessary machinery for this important yer. The press bureau, of which Miss Mary Gallahan is chairman, has a room all to itself. The ante room is conveniently arranged for committee meetings and contains an interesting display of suffrage literature, magazines and novelties for the visitors' inspection. Miss Kate Cox, the executive secretary, and Mrs. Edwards have their desks in the third room which with its telephone and its correspondence files has many lines leading out through the state...".[18a]
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 at the Peru Library, in April 1919.
In 1917 already she had organized a poll of Indiana women that is reminiscent of the war registration cards[19a], women across the USA would be asked to fill out in 1918.
She also 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:
- $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.”
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. Her friend and fellow Indiana suffragist Ada Bush came to keep her company.
She was present however the day the one and only Suffrage Parade 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 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.” 
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.
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. She would relocate the National Headquarters of the League of Women Voters to 26 North Broadway, Peru, IN. [11xa]From there she ran, among other things, the Speakers Bureau with the help of beginning May 1, 1921 until the end of April 1923. There, women were trained to give speeches, before being sent out to lobby for social reform across the country. Citizen School and league meetings were also held there.
Headquarters appear to have shifted in 1922 to be at the Traction building, on East Main Street, Peru, IN, as shown on the front page of the League's flyers.
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.http://loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3b01778/
“The Sentinel”[25a] printed the proceedings of this conference here, along with league programs, yearbook, pamphlets, flyers etc.
All through 1922, she traveled with Adah 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.”
In 1925, Marie resigned from the state board of directors of the League of Women Voters because she and her family expected to make a permanent move to Syracuse, New York. However, in December 1925, she was named chairman of the nominating committee for the annual convention to be held in Indianapolis in March 1926. [25b]
Richard had already moved to Rochester, NY, ahead of Marie as we find her home from Lake Maxinkuckee (Culver, IN) "overseeing the packing of the furnishing of the Edwards home on West Main Street." The Peru Republican article of May 21, 1926 continues: "From Peru, Mrs. Edwards will go to Rochester, New York where Mr. Edwards is now.".
Young Richard was off to school by then. https://digital.library.in.gov/Record/PPO_IndianaAlbum-626F0890-203C-4EE4-AF93-211340430942
The house was sold to the Griswold family on August 29th, 1927, about 2 weeks after Marie's father-in-law, Richard A Edwards retired from his position at the First National Bank and made way for his son to succeed him.[25c]
Business would therefore bring Richard E back to Peru but Marie would lag behind a bit.
Pinpointing exactly when she came back is proving a little difficult, but her name appears as, once again, a member of the Peru Art Club in the Peru Republican of October 18, 1929.
She is also mentioned in the Indianapolis Times on August 31, 1929 as National Chairman of the 10th Anniversary and
Memorial Fund of the League of Women Voters.
The 1930 US Census shows that this time, they moved into the big Mansion at 50 North Hood. Even before her return to Peru many picnics and suffrage related gatherings took place there. Its lawns were often compared to those of the White House lawns.
In her application to the Register of National Landmarks, Terry Miller prepared a short summary of Marie’s later career: “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.
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 felt snubbed 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…”
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.
In 2020, as part of the commemoration of the Centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment, our group was encouraged to apply for an OCRA grant with the help of the local "Mainstreet" organization "Rediscover Downtown".
We wished to recognize and honor the memory of Marie Stuart Edwards with the realization of a bronze statue of her as a 12 y old, with her bike. As the first woman to be elected to the Board of Education in Peru, Marie Edwards had also become the first woman to become a trustee on the board of the Peru Public Library. This location was the ideal place for the statue.
Our application was successful and in spite of some difficult moments, the unveiling took place 26 August 2021. It was attended by the Lieutenant Governor Susan Crouch and members of the Indiana Humanities, partnered with OCRA. Local dignitaries also attended but most important of all was the presence of Marie's grandsons. We had a chance to spend time at the cemetery with them and watch as they placed a WWI medallion on their grandfather's grave, honoring the man who made it possible for their grandmother to accomplish all she did.
The library was all decked out thanks to the hard work of the Peru Library staff. Inside and out.
The statue is the work of Cindy Billingsley who was also present at the unveiling.
An unexpected flood of emotions washed over many. It became a reunion for some who had not seen each other since childhood and had a chance to reminisce for a short while.
This picture touched my heart most: Marie's grandsons standing next to the child their grandmother was. They never knew her except wheelchair-bound.
We are grateful to the Indiana Humanities and OCRA for inviting us to dream big.
Here we hope Marie Stuart Edwards will continue to inspire generations to reach their potential and make a difference for good in the world.
Here the trail begins...
Video of August 26 Unveiling - Short - courtesy of Jim Allison
 These letters are part of the Marie Edwards’ collection at the Miami County Museum, transcribed and compiled by Miami County Indiana Worth Remembering.
 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
 1992.089.0009a-b: letter and envelope from Marie Stuart to her mother Mrs. Thomas Arthur Stuart, Florence, Italy, 24 Aug 1902
 By Nyttend - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8394158
 Harvard University Quindecennial, Class of 1902 Report V, June 1917 pp95-96
 The Evening News, 2 Oct 1909, Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. and Ont., p1
 The Hoosier Suffragist, Aug 22, 1917
 The Indianapolis News, 2 Jan 1902, Indianapolis, IN, page 6 – “Kindergarten Charity Ball”
 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
[11xa] The Peru Republican, 29 April 1921, Peru, IN; Indiana League of Women Voters directory, 1923 - https://indianamemory.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16066coll48/id/631
 Harvard University Quindecennial, Class of 1902 Report V, June 1917 pp95-96
 The Peru Republican 16 October 1914, Peru, IN
 Woman’s Franchise League of Indiana organized in 1911), associated with the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA)
 Their members met every other Thursday at 2:30pm in the Assembly room of the library
15a] The Peru Republican, 29 Feb 1917, Peru, IN
[15b] The Peru Republican, 29 Feb 1917, Peru, IN
 Journal and Courier, 15 March 1937, Lafayette, IN
[16a] The Peru Republican 12 May 1916, Peru, IN; The Peru Republican 2 and 9 Jun 1916, Peru, IN
 The Peru Republican 19 April 1918, Peru, IN; The Sentinel, 20 Apr 1918, Peru, IN; Indianapolis News, 13 April 1918, Indianapolis, IN
 Fort Wayne Sentinel, 17 April 1918, Fort Wayne, IN
[18a] The Peru Republican 10 May 1918, Peru, IN
 The Sentinel, 24 July 1918, Peru, IN
 The Richmond Palladium Item, 22 Aug 1918
 The Peru Journal, Jun 9th, 1919, Peru IN “Suffragettes Celebrate the Late Victory”
 The Peru Journal, Jun 9th, 1919, Peru, IN “Mrs. Edwards Chosen New Member of School Board on the Thirteenth Ballot”
 The Peru Journal, Jun 9th, 1919, Peru, IN “Mrs. Edwards Chosen New Member of School Board on the Thirteenth Ballot”
 The Indianapolis News, 9 Apr 1920, Indianapolis, IN
[25b] The Peru Republican 30 Oct 1925, Peru, IN; The Peru Republican, 11 Dec 1925, Peru, IN
[25c] The Peru Republican 12 Aug 1927, Peru, IN
 Correspondence found at the Library of Congress