This biographical sketch first appeared on the Online Biographical Dictionary of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the United States and appears here by courtesy of the publisher, Alexander Street.
By Julia Novick, undergraduate, University of Maryland, College Park
After a tragic childhood, a woman of passion emerged
Margaret “Maggie” Mehring (1847 – 1923)
Margaret (Maggie) Mehring was born in Taneytown, Maryland, to parents George and Elizabeth Mehring in 1847, the youngest of nine children. Although the family was fairly well off for the time, there was much tragedy within the family. Four of Maggie’s siblings died in childhood. This took an enormous toll on her mother, who hung herself in 1853, when Maggie was six years old. Her father and brother passed away not long after, and Margaret was left to look toward her siblings, Joann and Frederick, as parental figures.
The start of her life was during Civil War, and from June 15, 1863 on, she documented her perspective of the war in a diary. While the passing of her parents was tragic, it gave Maggie the funds to afford a private education at Lutherville Female Seminary, graduating in 1866. Afterward, Maggie remained religious, attending the Mt. Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, which she supported financially throughout her life. She never married, perhaps because of suffering her mother endured after the loss of so many children. Two of her other siblings remained unmarried as well. Instead, Mehring turned her focus to temperance and suffrage, two causes she held to equal importance.
Mehring joined the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and became a leader in the organization, especially locally. She held WCTU events at her church, and she served as the President of the Union between Mt. Zion Evangelical Church and the WCTU from 1906 to 1922. The WCTU, like Mehring, thought suffrage and temperance to be related. They considered women morally superior and theorized that the right for women to vote would pave the way to prohibition.
Mehring was a member of the Baltimore City Suffrage Club as early as January 1906. In 1909 she served as a country superintendent for the WCTU in Maryland. At a WCTU meeting in October 1919, Mehring gave a speech on woman suffrage.
In 1910, Mehring represented both Maryland and the United States as a delegate at the Eighth Convention of the World’s Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in Glasgow, Scotland. She created a pamphlet documenting her travels, titled “Seventy-Seven Days Abroad in 1910.” Mehring experienced both suffrage and temperance activism events there. She wrote that, “the liquor men know that the death knell will be sounded when women have justice done them and they are allowed to vote” (qtd. Piazzi 5). The 1910 conference proved to be a key moment in her life. In London, she watched a suffrage march and commented “we had the privilege and pleasure of witnessing the largest body of suffrage ladies we had ever seen” (qtd. Piazzi 5). She described the event in detail, writing, “Forty silver and brass bands, 40,000 women in line including representatives from not only the British Isles and the United States, but Germany, Italy, France, Sweden and Norway, literally an army of banners from all around the world…The London morning papers said, it was impossible to correctly estimate the thousands upon thousands of sympathetic eyes, who looked upon their display of magnificent womanhood” (qtd. Piazzi 5).
She was moved by the power of the event, also commenting that all classes of women marched together “for one common aim, that of securing women’s suffrage.” She watched what she described as a preacher’s “fine temperance talk,” in Ireland. Finally, in Scotland at the location of the conference, she heard a man suffering and recorded in her writings, “But Brothers and Sisters of the church, and White Ribbon Army, we have one hundred thousand such cries going up to Heaven from all over this broad land. What are each one of you doing to help crush this terrible evil, that is filling this land with broken hearts, disease, crime, and death?” (qtd. Piazzi 6). Maggie’s dreams culminated in this trip, as the push to have suffrage and temperance merged. It was not her first temperance conference, and it would not be her last. She began attending conferences from the time she was 58 onward, in 1905, 1907, 1911, 1914. She gave a short talk at a convention in Rockville in 1915.
According to the Maryland chapter in History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6, Mehring was active locally in the push for the right to vote for women. She represented Carroll County at Maryland state conventions during the height of suffrage activism in the 1910s. She lived to see the ratification of the 18th and 19th amendments and realize her dreams of prohibition and suffrage. She died in Bruceville, Maryland in 1923, before the 18th amendment was repealed, so her life ended with both dreams realized and intact.
World Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, Report of the Eighth WWCTU (London: John Heywood, Printers, 1910). [LINK]
Maggie Mehring, “Seventy-Seven Days Abroad in 1910,” pamphlet, Bruceville, Md., ca. 1910, PAM 13514, Main Reading Room, Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, Md.
“W.C.T.U. on Parade.” Baltimore Sun, morning ed., September 30, 1915, p. 3, Newspapers.com.
Ida Husted Harper, ed. “Maryland.” Chapter XIX in History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6: 1900-1920. New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922. [LINK]
Samuel P. Piazza, “Margaret Mehring: The Making of a Reformer—Personal Tragedy, War and Religion” (master’s thesis, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, 2008), ProQuest (1454612).
United States Census 1850, s.v. “Elizabeth or George Mehring.” Ancestry.com.
Amid Confusion, A Common Thread
by Julia Novick
When I began this research project, it was extremely important to me that I find accurate information about my subject. Reviving the memory of a forgotten woman seemed like my chance to channel the selectiveness of memory into something worthwhile: empowering females. However, it turned out that creating this picture of the past was not so simple. Although I was fortunate enough to come across a master thesis for my subject, the difficulty of tracking down where the information originated led me to believe that the partiality of technology individualizes the research process to the point that the research itself becomes individualized. I came to find that the upside to difficulty in research is that a small piece of information has the potential to add a great deal of information to a subject’s life.
When I ran an initial search on my subject, Maggie Mehring, I was immediately confused by my results. There were Margaret Mehrings and Magdalene Mehrings and a slew of different ages. I found a surefire answer in a record from a suffragist convention. Maggie Mehring was listed as an attendee from Carroll County, which I knew to be where she was from, because of the initial information we were given. However, there was no context to the convention. It was ambiguous which year and which conference she attended, as a multitude were listed followed by the delegates. But I was sure that was my subject. I then found a marriage notice in a newspaper that announced the marriage of Margaret Louise Mehring to Mr. Ecker in 1938. To be married in 1938, even if at a young age, would mean she was extremely old during the suffrage movement. I realized this was probably not my subject. Then, I got some extreme help from Professor Enoch. She found a master thesis on Margaret Mehring by Samuel Piazzi. She arranged for this to be sent to me, and I assumed that from then on it would be a matter of filtering what I wanted to include about Maggie Mehring and what was not necessary to include. However, in trying to cross check Piazzi’s sources I ran into many roadblocks.
I first decided to simply go down the bibliography and find what Piazzi found in the same manner he did. I copied his citations into the search bar, only to be led to an overwhelming list of results. The sites listed were either completely unrelated to the subject or impossible to navigate. I was reminded of Solberg’s assertion that the “google search engine…is designed to search the full content of the disorganized sprawl of the web and nevertheless returns results with a high degree of relevance (Solberg, 62).” Though the search engine does undoubtedly have an effective method, its effectiveness is based upon popularity, a phenomenon that is not always applicable to such detailed research. The popularity filter actually made the information harder to find, and it probably would have returned a more accurate response if it had been less inherently prone to popularity. Then, I decided to go about it the opposite way. I read through all of Piazzi’s thesis, and took notes on what I wanted to include. I then connected the information to the correlating citations. The first citation led me to the Maryland Historical Society website. I was able to see the book in question, Seventy-seven Days Abroad, but the physical copy was located in the Main Reading Room of the Historical Society in Baltimore. This would have been easy for Piazzi to get to, as he attended University of Maryland in Baltimore County. I, on the other hand, did not have the means to get to Baltimore in order to cross check his citation. I was doing lots of research to confirm little pieces of information. Luckily, I soon found that these small pieces held more impact than I realized.
While it was impractical for me to acquire and read Mehring’s book myself, what I found in Piazzi’s quotes from her book seemed at first to be trivial, and then to be crucial to her character. At this point I recognized Mehring as a religious figure, her prime motivation for women’s suffrage being temperance. It seemed we did not share commonality, as her desire for suffrage was linked to a cause typically not associated with this era of women’s rights. Then, in Piazzi’s thesis I found quotes from that elusive book. Mehring described a suffrage event when she wrote of “Forty silver and brass bands, 40,000 women in line including representatives from not only the British Isles and the United States, but Germany, Italy, France, Sweden and Norway, literally an army of banners from all around the world…The London morning papers said, it was impossible to correctly estimate the thousands upon thousands of sympathetic eyes, who looked upon their display of magnificent womanhood” (qtd. Piazzi 5). Her incredulity at the masses of people and the media’s inability to calculate the numbers was strikingly similar to my memories of the Women’s March on Washington. This small detail closed some of the distance I felt between Mehring and myself. I began to see Mehring as a more relatable subject, in her own wave of protest and change mirroring my own. Both of our experiences took on great meaning to us, exemplifying, as Mehring phrased it, the “magnificence of womanhood.” She also noted all classes of women marching together for the common goal of suffrage. In this observation I saw a very premature stage of intersectionality, which we now see taking more inclusive forms in today’s movement. Our memories of these events were in different places, different time periods and of slightly different natures, and yet they somehow connected us. Zelizer comments on Bergman’s description of this connective memory when she writes that “memory… acted as a meeting ground between past and present, evoking all past perceptions that were analogous to present one so that the sum result of memory work was ‘prolonging the past into the present'” (Zelizer 215). Our memories of two events were not only similar, they were related. The past is “prolonged into the present” as Mehring’s memory acts not only as a mirror, but as an antecedent to modern day feminist events. Despite the different circumstances surrounding feminist events of the past and present, in the specifics of her memory commonality is evoked. Mehring lived a life distant from my own but her experiences were stepping stones for the strides modern day feminists are making, and I am able to join in this stage of a shared movement, and a shared history.
Diving into history to memorialize Margaret Mehring was more of a technical process than I first realized. Maggie Mehring did many things in her life that were a matter of public record, yet tracing back this evidence was made more complicated by the counter checking process. The difficulty of navigating citations and search engines often obscured my subject more than clarifying her past. However, once I was able to piece together portions of Mehring’s past the relationship between past movements for women’s rights and the current movement began to emerge. Mehring is a person very different from me, born and bred through a different time period. Yet, our experiences are that of a common thread. Researching a person that is part of the women’s rights movement allows this thread to become more tangible in the lives of modern suffragists, and it gives life to the women’s rights movement beyond our time.
Essay Works Cited
Steiner, Linda, and Barbie Zelizer. “Reading the Past Against the Grain: The Shape of Memory Studies.” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 12, no. 2 (1995): 213-39.
Solberg, Janine. “Googling the Archive: Digital Tools and the Practice of History.” Advances in the History of Rhetoric15, no. 1 (2012): 53-76.