Todd, Marion Marsh (1841–post 1913)

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Todd, Marion Marsh (1841–post 1913)

American lawyer, political activist, and writer. Born in March 1841 in Plymouth, Chenango County, New York; lived until at least 1914, with no record available of her death; daughter of Abner Kneeland Marsh (a Universalist preacher) and Dolly Adelia (Wales) Marsh; educated at Ypsilanti State Normal School (now Eastern Michigan University) and Hastings Law College, San Francisco; married Benjamin Todd (a reformist lawyer), in 1868 (died 1880); children: Lula.

Wrote political works, including Protective Tariff Delusions (1886) and Railways of Europe and America (1893), and novels.

A pioneer in women's rights and reformist politics, Marion Marsh Todd was born in 1841 in Plymouth, New York, one of seven children of Dolly Wales Marsh and Abner Kneeland Marsh. Her father, a Universalist preacher, taught Marion at home while she was young. In 1851, when the family moved to Eaton Rapids, Michigan, she attended public school. She graduated from the Ypsilanti State Normal School at age 17, and began her career as a teacher. In 1868, she married Boston lawyer Benjamin Todd, who convinced her to join him in his work for women's rights. Marion gave up teaching to devote her time to public lectures on temperance, women's suffrage, and economic reform. During this period, she also gave birth to her only child, daughter Lula Todd .

In the late 1870s, the family moved to California to accommodate Benjamin's poor health. In 1879, Marion enrolled in the Hastings Law College in San Francisco, which activists Clara Shortridge Foltz and Laura de Force Gordon had recently convinced to begin admitting women students. There, Marion Todd concentrated in financial law, but was forced to leave without a degree after her husband's death. Nonetheless, she was admitted to the California bar in 1881 and opened a law practice in San Francisco. She also became active in political work. In September 1882, Todd attended the state convention of the Greenback Labor Party and was elected a member of the party's platform committee. She made significant contributions to the platform and received the party's nomination for state attorney general, making her one of the first women to run for statewide office. Though she received only 1,109 votes, she led the Greenback Party in the election.

Todd relinquished her law practice in 1883 to concentrate on work for the Greenback Party and other movements. She was instrumental in organizing the Anti-Monopoly Party in 1883, and campaigned widely for it and for the Green-back Party. In 1886, having moved back to Michigan, Todd was a state delegate to the General Assembly of the Knights of Labor in Richmond, Virginia. In 1887, with her friend Sara E.V. Emery , Todd organized the Union Labor Party, which focused on financial and railroad reform. She moved to Chicago in 1890 to become editor of the Express, a reformist weekly. The following year, she was a delegate to the Cincinnati conference at which the national People's (Populist) Party was formed.

Todd wrote eight published works, most of them on political themes. Protective Tariff Delusions (1886) denounced U.S. tariff laws that, in Todd's view, hurt American labor. Her 1890 campaign booklet, Honest (?) John Sherman, or a Foul Record, was widely used by the People's Party, and Todd later expanded it into a book, Pizarro and John Sherman (1891), that attacked Senator Sherman as an exploiter of his own people. Todd collected several pieces originally published in the Express in Prof. Goldwin Smith and His Satellites in Congress (1890), an assault on Smith's anti-women's suffrage position. In Railways of Europe and America (1893), considered her most ambitious work, Todd argued that the entire U.S. railway system needed to be restructured.

Todd also wrote three novels that protested capitalist exploitation, human profligacy, and religious hypocrisy. Rachel's Pitiful History (1895), Phillip: A Romance (1900), and Claudia (1902) were considered melodramatic vehicles for social protest, though the latter two were noted for their more positive views. Todd spent her last years in Eaton Rapids and then in Springport, Michigan, where she was reported living in 1914. No documentation on her death has been found.


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

Elizabeth Shostak , M.A., Cambridge, Massachusetts

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Todd, Marion Marsh (1841–post 1913)

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