One hundred years ago, women from Middletown and Delaware fought for what was right to empower women of today. They spoke truth to power by peacefully protesting and petitioning for suffrage, or the right to vote. Though Delaware did not ratify the 19th Amendment to give American women suffrage in 1920, the work of Delaware suffragists was passionate, dedicated, and determined and is a model for change today.

Middletown suffragist Marie T. Lockwood was instrumental in the suffrage movement in Delaware. This virtual exhibition tells the story of the women’s suffrage movement in Middletown while featuring Lockwood and her work. To learn more, visit this exhibition at Middletown Historical Society, on view until July 2022.

Header Image: Delaware suffrage leader Mabel Vernon at a 1916 Chicago rally, Library of Congress

Jump To Activities!

  1. Suffrage About Town Scavenger Hunt
  2. What’s Your Petition?

Meet Marie Lockwood

Black and white newspaper image of Marie T. Lockwood.
Marie T. Lockwood, The Evening Journal [Wilmington, DE], August 2, 1919

Marie T. Lockwood was born on February 28, 1872 near Warwick, Maryland to George W. and Adelaide Morton Lockwood. Her father owned a successful peach and sheep farm. After his death in 1902, Lockwood moved to Middletown, Delaware with her mother and siblings. She received medical schooling and training in Philadelphia and had an illustrious nursing career in Delaware. She founded the Wilmington Visiting Nurses Association and was the Supervisor of Public Health Nurses and of the Child Welfare Association for the Delaware State Health Commission until 1926. [1] Lockwood was involved in numerous local and regional organizations and committees, including the Red Cross Nursing Service, the Delaware Society of Colonial Dames of America, Middletown’s New Century Club, and the Middletown chapter of the International Sunshine Society.

Suffrage Gatherings in Middletown

Rallies and protests took place in towns across the United States, including Middletown. The Middletown Transcript was the local newspaper for all the comings and goings of area residents and included reports of local suffrage gatherings and events.

Marie Lockwood Suffrage Sightings

Marie Lockwood was actively involved in suffrage work in the years leading up to the 19th Amendment. On April 18, 1914, Lockwood hosted a “suffrage parlor tea” in her home on North Cass Street in Middletown, which she publicized in the Middletown Transcript. Prominent Delaware suffragist Florence Bayard Hilles spoke at this teatime gathering.

Article from Middletown Transcript, April 18, 1916

On February 26, 1916, Marie Lockwood attended a meeting hosted by her mother for organizing “a committee to carry on the suffrage work in Middletown.” A week later, Lockwood attended the organizational meeting of the New Castle County branch of the Congressional Union at the Hotel duPont in Wilmington. The Congressional Union, which soon after became known as the National Women’s Party, was the militant faction of the American women’s suffrage movement. Delawareans Mabel Vernon and Florence Bayard Hilles were both important party leaders. Hilles, Delaware state chairman of the Congressional Union, led the meeting in Wilmington. Marie Lockwood and Mrs. J. Allen Johnson were elected as Middletown’s two vice-chairmen for the New Castle County branch. [2]

Article from Middletown Transcript, March 4, 1916

Middletown School (now Middletown Historical Society)

On May 29, 1914, boys and girls attending the Middletown Academy participated in a Debate on Woman’s Suffrage. The girls, representing the “pro-suffrage” argument, won the debate.

Forest Presbyterian Church (now Church on Main)

Forest Presbyterian Church, Early 20th century, Middletown Historical Society Image Collection

Delaware suffrage leader Florence Bayard Hilles spoke on “Equal Suffrage” at a Women’s Christian Temperance League convention held at Forest Presbyterian Church in Middletown on May 18, 1916.

Florence Bayard Hilles, 1916, Library of Congress

Middletown New Century Clubhouse

On April 17, 1918, Mrs. Helena Hill Weed, the Research Chairman of the National Woman’s Party, came to Middletown while on a tour of Delaware. At the New Century Clubhouse, she gave an “Illustrated Lecture” using lantern slides to depict and discuss the passion and plight of suffrage workers in Washington, D.C.

Middletown Hotel (now Sully’s Irish Pub at the Witherspoon) and the World War I Memorial at Cochran Square

Middletown Hotel, early 20th century, 2012.74.05, Middletown Historical Society Image Collection

During the Delaware ratification battle, Vivian Pierce, a suffragist from San Francisco, California, stopped at the Middletown Hotel while organizing suffrage meetings in towns throughout Delaware. She was in town April 7, 1920 to raise support. Anyone listening to her while she was “arousing all possible interest in the suffrage situation” would have come by the new World War I Memorial in Cochran Square, built in 1919.

World War I Memorial at Cochran Square, also known as “Four Corners” at the center of town, Middletown Historical Society Image Collection

Middletown Opera House (now Everett Theatre)

Mabel Vernon, a Delawarean and national secretary for the Congressional Union/National Women’s Party, arrived in Middletown with fellow suffragist Edna Latimer on February 20, 1915, in the “Votes for Women Flyer.” The “Flyer” was Delaware suffragist Florence Bayard Hilles’s car that she donated to the suffragist cause. Vernon and Latimer spoke in front of the Middletown Opera House in support of suffrage.

“The ‘Flyer’ is Coming,” Middletown Transcript, Feb. 20, 1915

On April 10, 1920, Delaware suffragists again held a rally near the Opera House. Both Florence Bayard Hilles and Mabel Vernon were present and gave speeches.

Miss Mabel Vernon, National Secretary, National Woman’s Party, c. 1917, Library of Congress

On April 24, 1920, another group of suffrage supporters visited Middletown and spoke in front of the Opera House. These speakers included suffragist Elsie Hill from Connecticut, the sister of Helena Hill Weed, who had visited the Middletown New Century Club in 1918.

Middletown Opera House, Middletown Transcript, Oct. 25, 1919

Odessa Public School

A suffrage rally in the nearby town of Odessa attracted 250 people on April 28, 1920. Held in the public school yard, it included speeches from Florence Bayard Hilles and Elsie Hill, who had recently visited Middletown. They used an open automobile as their speaking platform. Odessa was strategically important during the ratification fight, as it was the home of Alexander P. Corbit, who was the Speaker of the Delaware House of Representatives. Hilles’ speech was printed several days later in a Middletown Transcript article reporting on the rally.

Florence Bayard Hilles’ speech in Odessa, printed in The Middletown Transcript, May 1, 1920

Your Turn! Click here to check out some of these Middletown suffrage sites yourself with the Suffrage About Town Scavenger Hunt.

Lockwood’s Letter

With 65,000 Delaware women about to be clothed with the voting power, we feel sure you will not care to array that immense voting block against you by refusing this request.

Marie T. Lockwood, Petition Letter to Governor Townsend, August 12, 1919

Congress passed the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote, on June 4, 1919. Buoyed by this success, suffragists across the country began the fight for ratification. 36 states had to ratify the amendment in order for it to become law. Marie Lockwood was voted chair of the Delaware National Women’s Party Ratification Committee, which hoped to gain support from state government officials. [3]

On August 2, 1919, the National Women’s Party hosted a “mass meeting to arouse public interest in the ratification of the suffrage amendment by the Delaware Legislature” at the Majestic Theatre in Wilmington. As chair of the Ratification Committee, Lockwood led the meeting and provided a key address. [4]

The Delaware General Assembly was not scheduled to meet in 1920. However, Delaware suffragists believed that Governor John G. Townsend, Jr. would support the Amendment. They lobbied him to call a special session of the General Assembly to consider ratification.   Lockwood wrote a letter to Governor Townsend on August 12, 1919 petitioning him to call a special session for ratification in 1920. [5]

John Gillis Townsend, Jr., 20th century, U.S. Senate Historical Office

Click below to read the full text of Lockwood’s letter of petition.

Your Turn! Click here to write your own petition like Marie Lockwood.

Lockwood’s letter and the efforts of Delaware suffragists secured the special session. When it took place during the spring of 1920, it attracted national attention. 35 states had already ratified the amendment; Delaware suffragists hoped that their state would be the crucial 36th. Lockwood joined other suffragists in visiting state representatives and participating in rallies in Dover. However, the Delaware General Assembly adjourned in June 1920 without making a decision on ratification. Tennessee became the last state needed to pass the 19th Amendment into law in August 1920. This gave American women the right to vote in the 1920 federal election.

National Woman's Party members holding a sign that says "we protest against the continued disfranchisement of women for which the Republican party is now responsible. The Republican party defeated ratification in Delaware. The Republican party is blocking ratification in Vermont. The Republican party is blocking ratification in Connecticut. When will the Republican party stop blocking suffrage?
Party members picketing the Republican convention, Chicago, June 1920, Library of Congress. Elsie Hill, who spoke in Middletown, is second from right.

The Delaware General Assembly did not ratify the 19th Amendment until 1923.

Lockwood After Ratification

Marie Lockwood remained an important advocate for women’s rights in Middletown and Delaware. She served as the chair of the Delaware National Women’s Party during the 1930s and 1940s and was a Delaware Democratic National committeewoman from 1944 to 1948. Lockwood passed away in 1956 and is buried at Old Saint Anne’s Cemetery in Middletown, DE. [6]

Saint Anne’s Church, c. 20th century, 1998.1.14, Middletown Historical Society Image Collection

Your Turn! Click on to the following pages for activities!