Home Louise Parker Mayo

Louise Parker Mayo

Louise Parker Mayo

2004 (rev. 2014)

Dear Christopher,

I am writing to pass on to you what my family has told me about my grandmother’s contribution to the women’s suffrage movement. I believe you are exactly the kind of person she had in mind when she worked so hard to promote the passage of the Suffrage Amendment to the Constitution of the United States to allow women the right to vote. You are a boy becoming a man who is willing to use his mind, work hard, and yet hold to a high standard of fairness and teamwork to make a real contribution to life. You would be unwilling, because of her legacy, to gain an advantage just because you are a male.

In your time, and because of the efforts of the “Suffragists” as they preferred to call themselves, you will be able to live in a world where many women have some of the same options that men do. In her time, women not only could not vote, they could not own property. They were also barred from most of the professions to which men had access. For instance, women were not admitted to the Harvard Business School until 1961. Your inheritance is not just a revised set of laws; it is a requirement to continue the direction she and the other suffragists began. Not all women, and many minorities, share the equality she sought for women, even today. You are an heir to her vision as well as her genes.

“Grama Mayo” was what my 26 cousins and I called Louise Parker Mayo. I want to tell you a bit about what a capable lady she was before I go on to tell some of the special stories about how she was involved in the women’s suffrage movement. She had attended the “Normal School” in Framingham, where she lived. In those days, a two-year program prepared a person to teach, and that was all the college education that most women who had any at all undertook. Grama not only taught in a one-room grade school, she later became the principal of a four-room school. However, she was a small, dainty, nononsense person all of her life.

When William I. Mayo came into her life, she stopped teaching in the school and set to work by his side to build their farm and their family. They had five sons and two daughters, so as the family grew up there were more hands to help. They lived in a house that had been built by the time of the American Revolution, and when they modernized it, they put in lead pipes, not suspecting any danger. However, “Will,” her husband, drank more water than the others and contracted lead poisoning. This meant that “Shine” as Will called her for her sunny personality, gradually took over running the farm. They had big dray horses, about 25 milking cows and over a hundred laying hens, which she and the brothers and sisters took care of every day.

The business side of the farm kept growing. They separated cream and ran a pasteurizer before selling the milk. All the eggs were weighed, sorted, and priced before they were driven to market. The family also ran the school “barges” for the Framingham public schools. They were horse-drawn school buses in the early 1900s, so there were an  increasing number of horses as that business grew. The boys (and the girls) were able to do the physical tasks, but Grama managed the farm, and it was sufficiently successful to meet the needs as the family grew, with very little left over.

In spite of all of the work that had to be done, Grama never gave up her belief in education. Every night after supper she read to the children. Everyone listened to longer stories like Little Women, and James Fennimore Cooper’s tales. Her eldest three children all went to college, but by the time my father James Parker Mayo, the middle child, fourth of seven, came along through high school, he felt needed on the farm. His brothers were away at war. Going against her dream for him, he dropped out of high school after the 10th grade, in about 1915. However, as she had done for all the others, she had given him the sense that it is essential to keep on learning, and he did, to the end of his life, becoming a community leader, attending General Motors Tech, learning tax law, accounting, and finally going through a long learning process to become a registered stock broker. All of her seven children became businessmen, teachers, or social workers, making contributions to their state and local areas.

Grama, meanwhile, also continued her own learning and kept in touch with the exciting trends around her. She belonged to the Unitarian Church, and several of her sons and daughters met their future spouses in the church youth program. It was a natural thing for her to take part in the women’s suffrage movement. She went to the meetings, and I can just imagine her explaining the importance of it to her family at home. The suffrage movement gathered women from all walks of life from the wealthy to those with limited resources like the Mayos.

As the fight for women’s rights heated up, the women felt that it was very important to stand up for their beliefs in Washington, D.C. A Mrs. Bowditch, whose husband was a gentleman farmer owning a larger nearby farm, was a member of Grama’s suffrage group. The Bowditches lived on their farm rather than in the city because they loved to ride. They kept horses, just as the Mayos did, but other people tended them, and the Bowditches rode in a hunt club. In fact, they were quite wealthy. All at once a call went out across America to local suffrage groups to find women willing to go to Washington to picket the White House for women’s rights. Mrs. Bowditch declared that she did not care to go, but she would be willing to pay the expenses of a woman who would be willing to take the risk. I can imagine Grama talking it over with her husband, Will, and the family, discussing it with the Bowditches, and finally determining to go.

The movement that sent out the call had been going on in the U. S. since the time of the Continental Congress, ever since Abigail Adams warned her husband that there would be an “insurrection” if the writers of the Constitution did not write in women’s rights! They didn’t and although women continued to protest, the laws were not changed until Grama’s time. Woodrow Wilson was over in Europe trying to negotiate a peace at the end of World War I that would include human rights, and here were women back in Washington picketing for their human rights! They embarrassed him. The movement is described in the next paragraphs.

I am quoting from the Framingham Historical Society folder that accompanies the “Jailed for Freedom” pin that you and your own father wear. “…in 1914, the National Women’s Party (NWP) formed, comprised of a small group of militant women willing to go to jail for their cause, and the NWP began a White House picketing campaign. In July, 1917, sixteen women of the NWP were sentenced to 60 days in prison for obstructing traffic; one of those women was Massachusetts resident, Louise Parker Mayo (1868-1952).”… In those days, there were no laws against picketing the White House because no one had ever done it before, but traffic ground to a halt as people stopped to stare at the ladies. After they had served four days of their sentence, President Woodrow Wilson pardoned them. However, other women served as much as six months under miserable conditions in the District of Columbia Women’s Workhouse in Occoquan, VA that year.

Continuing to quote from the folder that comes with the pin: “The “Jailed for Freedom” pin was presented to 16 of those women by Alice Paul, then president of the National Women’s Party. The barred door design is based on the portcullis gate of Holloway Prison, where British suffragists had served prison sentences…” The pin is a copy of Grama’s pin that her eldest daughter, Katherine, my aunt Kaffy, gave the Historical Society. Katherine “had looked after the family while her mother was incarcerated. The pin is a powerful reminder of women’s victory in breaking out of conventional roles.” The pins are available from the Framingham (Massachusetts) Historical Society.

The pin is a reminder to us of many things, some serious and some funny. One of them is that while Grama was in Washington, members of the press wanted all kinds of information about our family. They learned that one of Grama’s own grandmothers had been a Unitarian minister in Maine, certainly not a conventional role for a woman in her time. They also learned that one of Louise Parker Mayo’s ancestors was a Captain Parker, an officer in the American Revolution. Family tradition has it that the sculptor who did the “Minute Man” statue in Concord, MA worked from a painting of that Parker. However, one of the things Grama did not want to happen was that we should rest on our ancestors’ achievements. She told us that she hoped there would be revolutionaries in every generation of our family. Some of us have picketed for human rights with her in mind, as I did when an African-American attorney was barred from having lunch at the Columbus, OH Athletic club in 1970 with a friend of his, a member, who had invited him to come.

Conditions in the Occoquan Workhouse were awful. The steps of the Occoquan Workhouse have been preserved at the Sewall-Belmont Women’s History Museum in D. C. The historical marker beside the steps says “…Those incarcerated in the {workhouse} suffered horrible conditions and mistreatment, including being given rancid, insect-laden food. To protest, some went on hunger strikes and were brutally force-fed.” We also know that at least one of the ladies was “disorderly” and the jailers fastened her wrists together over a bar in the top of the cell so that her feet could not reach the floor. When the suffragists who had been in jail returned to their native communities, they began to inquire into conditions in their own jails. To their dismay, they found conditions to be at least as poor as those they had experienced in Washington, D.C. They were active, involved women in the first place, so what followed was serious prison reform in many different states.

A joke that has come down to us is that one of the little suffragists was huddled whimpering in the corner of the cell that several of them shared. One of the bolder, stronger suffragists, it is said, strode up to her and declared, “Pray to God, dearie, She will comfort you.” Actually the joke is typical of the attitude many people took toward the ladies of the women’s suffrage movement. They portrayed them as hard, mannish people, but my Grama was the farthest possible from being that kind of lady. She was firm, and clear thinking, but she was also diminutive and pretty, and very kind. She had a grand, lighthearted sense of humor, too. It’s no wonder Grampa called her “Shine.”

I’ll tell you one more funny thing that happened before this story closes. You have probably heard how members of the press go after celebrities, stripping away every shred of privacy. The newspapermen from the Boston Globe who came out to Framingham were no exception. They wanted to know everything about the Mayo family. And they wanted pictures. Grampa was a kindly man with a gentle smile, but he valued his privacy and he did not want details of his family’s life spread all over the papers. He declined to give any interviews and would not let the men from the newspaper into his house. They were frustrated, but they were determined. When no one was looking, one of them climbed up the rose arbor outside Grama and Grampa’s bedroom, swept all the family pictures off the bureau, and made off with them! The family got them back, unharmed, but they realized there were costs to everyone in the stand Grama took.

Quoting, again, from the historical marker, “The 72-year campaign for women’s suffrage ended in 1920 with the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.” We have a great responsibility to continue the action for fairness in the United States and the world that our revolutionaries Captain Parker and Louise Parker Mayo have begun. She would have said, “Don’t be like the Irishman’s potatoes, or the best part of you will be under the ground!”

Dr. Jane Mayo Greiner (Chamberlain), Ph.D.

Dayton, Ohio

Written to her grandson, Christopher Chamberlain who is attending law school