Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Mary Ritter Beard, Kappa Alpha Theta

To celebrate Women’s History Month, the NPC blog will spotlight Panhellenic women who have been influential historical figures. The first featured Panhellenic woman is Mary Ritter Beard, a member of Kappa Alpha Theta at DePauw University. Beard was an American historian and activist who played an important role in the women’s suffrage movement. She was born in Indianapolis and was the fourth of seven children.

While studying at DePauw University in 1897, Beard was influenced by two of her sorority sisters who were not satisfied with limiting themselves to the conventional roles and courses of women. After graduating from DePauw, Beard worked as a German teacher in Greencastle, Ind. She married Charles Austin Beard in 1900, and they had two children born in 1901 and 1907. They moved to New York City where they both attended graduate school at Colombia University for Sociology.

Beard became involved with the suffrage movement through her work for the Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL). Through this organization, she hoped to improve labor conditions for women and believed that suffrage would speed up governmental regulation of economic conditions which would improve the lives of the working class. In addition to her role in WTUL, Beard was a leader in the New York City Suffrage Party (NYCSP), and an editor for their publication “The Woman Voter.” In 1913, she left NYCSP to join the Congressional Union (CU), where she became an executive member of the board and editor of its weekly magazine “The Suffragist.” On multiple occasions, Beard helped organize, strategize, lecture, participate in demonstrations and write articles — she even testified before House and Senate committees on suffrage.

Later in her life, Beard concentrated more on her writings. Through the written word, she sought to educate women about their history and value to society. In 1935, she founded the World Center for Women’s Archives (WCWA), which collected women’s published and unpublished records. The center also established an educational institution for women. This center was endorsed by Eleanor Roosevelt and generated a huge interest in women’s history.