Hay, Mary Garrett (1857–1928)

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Hay, Mary Garrett (1857–1928)

American suffragist and temperance reformer. Born on August 29, 1857, in Charlestown, Indiana; died on August 29, 1928, in New Rochelle, New York; daughter of Andrew Jennings Hay and Rebecca H. (Garrett) Hay; lived with Carrie Chapman Catt.

On August 29, 1857, Mary Garrett Hay was born into a prominent family in Charlestown, Indiana, the eldest of four daughters and a son of Andrew Jennings Hay and Rebecca H. Hay . Mary was especially close to her father, a physician active in politics. She first tasted the political world by joining him at meetings and entertaining his Republican friends at their home.

Mary Hay briefly attended Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio, from 1873 to 1874, but chose to return home and involve herself in the two causes near to her heart: prohibition and women's suffrage. She joined the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and became the secretary-treasurer for her local branch. She also worked as treasurer of the Indiana state WCTU for seven years and by 1885 found herself in charge of one of the smaller departments of the national organization.

At about the same time, Hay joined the local woman suffrage movement and soon advanced to a state office. She formed a close association with Carrie Chapman Catt who was organizing Western women to campaign in their home states for suffrage amendments. In 1895, Hay assisted Catt with the formation of the Organization Committee of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and was soon recognized as Catt's right-hand woman. That same year, Hay moved to New York City to help with organizing the committee's offices. The following year, Hay organized California's suffragists at all levels during the California referendum campaign.

In 1899, Hay and Catt traveled 13,000 miles, visiting 20 states to organize women's groups. In 1900, Hay resigned from the Organization Committee but continued to work in an unofficial capacity with Catt. In 1905, after the death of Catt's husband, the two women moved in together, and Hay became active in club work in New York City. During the campaigns of 1915 and 1917, she directed the city's suffrage movement, lobbying for a state constitutional amendment. The first campaign failed, but, as a result of her strong work with the women's trade union movement, the second campaign achieved victory.

Her success in New York City led to Hay's transfer to Washington D.C. to help direct federal amendment work among Congressional Republicans. A dedicated Republican, she had been a delegate to the 1918 New York Republican convention. Her influence with women voters had helped her secure the post of chair of the convention's strategic platform committee—an unprecedented appointment for a woman—and she obtained a plank that endorsed the federal suffrage amendment. Once the women's suffrage amendment passed in Congress in June 1919, Hay threw her energies into campaigning for its ratification in state legislatures.

Nationally, Hay had been one of the original appointees to the Republican Women's National Executive Committee in 1918, and in 1919 she had become its chair. However, Hay's vigorous campaigning against the reelection bid of Republican Senator James W. Wadsworth, Jr.—a bitter anti-suffragist—strained her relations with other committee leaders, and she resigned in 1920. Despite accusations of disloyalty to her party, Hay continued to fight for Wadsworth's defeat and realized her goal when he lost to the Harding ticket that November. Hay had also assumed the chair of the newly formed New York City League of Women Voters in 1918, but once again her strained relationship with other league leaders forced her resignation in 1923.

Having realized her dream of women's suffrage with the ratification of the 19th amendment, Hay returned to the cause of prohibition in her later years. She served as chair of the Women's Committee for Law Enforcement in the fight to enforce prohibition. While waiting for the arrival of guests to her 71st birthday party, Mary Garrett Hay died of a cerebral hemorrhage in New Rochelle in the home she shared with Catt. She was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, New York.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

Judith C. Reveal , freelance writer, Greensboro, Maryland