Todd, Marion Marsh

views updated

TODD, Marion Marsh

Born March 1841, Plymouth, New York; died after 1914

Daughter of Abner K. and Dolly Wales Marsh; married Benjamin Todd, 1868 (died 1880); children: one daughter

Marion Marsh Todd was one of seven children. Her family moved to Eaton Rapids, Michigan, in 1851. Her father, a Universalist preacher, died in 1852. She attended Ypsilanti State Normal School, then taught until she married a lawyer, who, like her father, encouraged Todd to pursue a career. She had one daughter.

In the late 1870s, the Todds moved to San Francisco, where Todd enrolled in Hastings Law College. In 1880 her husband died and the following year she withdrew from school without a degree but was admitted to the bar. Todd, like many women lawyers, became politically active although women had no vote. She ran for state attorney general on the Greenback-Labor ticket in 1882; although she lost, she led her party in votes. By 1886, having returned to Michigan, she continued in reform politics: as delegate to the Knights of Labor General Assembly in Richmond, Virginia; as cofounder in 1887 (with Sarah Emery and others) of the Union Labor Party. In 1890 she moved to Chicago to edit the Express, a nationally circulated reform weekly. She later returned to Michigan, first to Eaton Rapids, then to Springport.

Between 1886 and 1902, Todd published five books on critical political issues and three novels. The political books are well documented and cogently argued; they reflect her legal training, yet are seasoned with wit. In Protective Tariff Delusions (1886), Todd, addressing a general audience, takes on the political issue of the day. She asserts, with supporting statistics, that protective tariffs help neither the farmer nor the laborer and hence should be abolished.

Senator John Sherman (formerly secretary of the Treasury) was a primary target of the Populists in the 1880s and 1890s.

Accused of selling his vote and political influence to big bankers, he was held partly responsible for the nation's problems, which the Populists saw as resulting from deflation. In two works, Honest (?) John Sherman; or, a Foul Record (1890) and (an elaboration) Pizarro and John Sherman (1891), Todd reenforces the Populist attack.

Her chief effort on behalf of the woman suffrage movement is a delightful book, Prof. Goldwin Smith and His Satellites in Congress (1890). This is a response to Smith's article, "Woman's Place in the State" (Forum, January 1890). Smith, a respected historian at Cornell, attacked the feminist movement. In her counterattack, Todd uses quotes from Smith as her text and pursues them to their ludicrous but logical ends. She leavens her caustic analysis with anecdotes from diverse sources: literature, periodicals, hearsay. The book remains clear, persuasive, and amusing.

One of Todd's best known work is Railways of Europe and America (1893). She presents tables comparing aspects of the 1890 American and European railway industries: equipment, stock, trackage, workers, accident records, and passenger and freight rates. These are the groundwork for her major recommendation: nationalize the American railroad industry since, "They know no people, no party, no God—but the God of Greed, based upon unrighteous dividends and watered stock." Like her previous works, though weighted with facts, this book is readable.

It is difficult to believe the woman who wrote these interesting books also wrote novels so meretricious as Todd's three romances. The stories are unexciting, the characters undeveloped, the stabs at "social issues" superficial. Claudia (1902), for example, revolves around a well-born woman's search for a husband among three suitors. There is little action and much talk—about evolution, growth, reincarnation, the burdens of the rich. All this talk is shallow and unrealistic. Inexplicably, Todd's social concerns in her nonfiction are mocked by the middle class trivia in her fiction.

Scholars of Populism are aware of Todd's work on railroads; scholars of feminism have yet to discover her work on suffrage. Readers of novels are unaware of her romances; perhaps it's better so. It is difficult to accept sentimental novels written by women who have demonstrated their insightful understanding of the political and economic world in which they live.

Other Works:

Rachel's Pitiful History (1895). Phillip: A Romance (1900).


Davis, W. J., History of Political Conventions in California (1893).

Reference works:

AW. NAW (1971).

Other references:

Arena (July 1892). Green Bag (Jan. 1890, April 1890). Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections (1892).



About this article

Todd, Marion Marsh

Updated About content Print Article