In August of 1920 women received the right to vote through the passage of the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution and could vote in the presidential election in November 1920.
There were 144 women of color living in Vermont who were eligible. In Windham County there were 18 women: 13 of whom had reached the minimum age of 21. Eight lived in Brattleboro while five lived in Rockingham/Bellows Falls.
During the pandemic I participated in Project 144, which was created by Vermont Historical Records Program Director Rachel Onuf. Rachel created a database of women of color (specifically Black women) who may have been involved in the suffrage movement. This point was difficult to document, but Rachel was able to extract the “B” Black and “Mu” mulatto women and families who were coded by enumerators in the 1920 U.S Census of Vermont. A total of 144 women were identified. Rachel then recruited a team of volunteers to analyze, validate, and research the women and families
I identified at least one woman of the eight in Brattleboro, Mary M. Rogers, 31, who took the Freeman’s Oath and likely voted in the November 1920 presidential election.1
The actual voting records have been destroyed in most Towns, as was the case in Brattleboro.
Mary had resided in Brattleboro at least since 1910, where she lived and worked as a servant in the household of Dr. Edwin Bowen at 17 High St. Her age was listed at 26, (b. about 1884) and her race as “Mu,” mulatto. She was born in North Carolina, as were both of her parents. Bowen was listed as a widower, so his wife died sometime before 1910.2
Ten years later in the 1920 Census, she was enumerated as being 31 years of age when the 19th amendment passed. Mary continued to be part of the Dr. Edwin Bowen household at 43 High St.
Mary’s Roots in North Carolina
Mary’s birth years, as noted in the four-decade years of the Census (1900- 1940) were between 1874 and 1891. In 1900 and 1910 she was listed as 26 (b. 1874); in 1920 she was listed as 32 (b. in 1888); in 1930 she was enumerated as 39 (b. in 1891); and in 1940 as 50, (b. in 1890).4 North Carolina was identified as her birthplace all the U.S. Census pages, and those online birth records via Ancestry and FamilySearch were searched with no direct evidence found. The database searched via Ancestry.com was North Carolina, Birth Indexes, 1800-2000 for Franklin, Granville, and Warren counties, as well as Vance County.
According to the 1900 U.S. Census, Vance County, North Carolina, the most likely family for Mary M. Rogers in Kittrell, North Carolina, was George Rogers, Sr. (68), his wife, Harriet, (55), a son, Willie (16), and a daughter, Kittie, (18).5 While Mary is not listed as part of this household a clue in her father’s probate record of 1925 perhaps pointed to this household.6
3 1920 United States Census, Brattleboro, Windham County, Vermont, pop. sched., E.D 110, sheet 1 (b) penned, dwelling 217, Mary Rogers, servant, Edwin Bowen household, 43 High St., Ancestry (ancestry.com : accessed 7 Dec 2020). Citing NARA microfilm T624, reel 1618.
4 1900 United States Census, Milford, Hillsborough, New Hampshire, pop. sched, E.D. 115, sheet 10(a) (penned), dwelling 125, David Heald household, Mary Rogers, age 25, digital image, Ancestry (ancestry.com : accessed 14 Dec 2020). Citing NARA microfilm T623, reel 618; 1910 United States Census, Brattleboro, Windham County, Vermont, pop. sched., E.D. 135, sheet 5(b) penned, dwelling 230, Edwin Bowen, digital image, Ancestry (ancestry.com : accessed 7 Dec 2020). Citing NARA microfilm T623, reel 618; 1920 United States Census, Brattleboro, Windham County, Vermont, pop. sched., E.D 245, sheet 13 (b) penned, dwelling 217, Edwin Bowen Ancestry (ancestry.com : accessed 7 Dec 2020). Citing NARA microfilm T624, reel 1618. 1930 United States Census, Brattleboro, Windham, Vermont, pop. sched., E.D. 135, sheet 5(b), penned, dwelling 74, Edwin Bowen, Mary Rogers, age 39, digital image, Ancestry (ancestry.com : accessed 7 Dec 2020). Citing NARA microfilm T626, reel 2432; 1940 United States Census, Brattleboro, Windham County, Vermont, pop. sched., E.D 13-2b, sheet 3 (a) stamped, dwelling 217, Mary Rogers, age 50, C.4, digital image, Ancestry (ancestry.com : accessed 17 Dec 2020). Citing NARA microfilm T627, reel 4239.
5 1900 United States Census, East Kittrell Township, Vance, North Carolina, pop. sched., E.D.86, sheet 6(b) (penned), dwelling 7, George Rogers Sr. household, digital image, Ancestry (ancestry.com: accessed 14 Dec 2020). 6 Geo. W. Rogers, 1925, Wills Index, 1903-1956, Vance County, North Carolina, “North Carolina Probate Records, 1735-1970,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9GZ2- 3GY?cc=1867501&wc=32G4-FMQ%3A170041401%2C170086001 : 21 May 2014), Vance > Wills Index, 1903- 1956 > image 133 of 191; county courthouses, North Carolina. A list of devisees includes one Mary Rogers, Kittie Rogers, Willie Rogers.
Mary was not married while she lived in Brattleboro, and apparently never married. There were no marriage records found in North Carolina nor in Vermont.7 She was listed as single in the last recorded census of 1940.
Before Mary Landed in Brattleboro
As mentioned earlier, Mary arrived in Brattleboro sometime between 1904 and 1910. Why those dates? Edwin Bowen, her employer, was a widower already in the 1910 US Census. Edwin’s wife, Louise, passed away after an operation in a Springfield, Massachusetts hospital on 13 September 1904.8
In 1900, Mary M. Rogers was a servant in the household of David and Lucretia Heald, of Milford, Hillsborough County, New Hampshire.9 David and Lucretia Heald had been married four years, which was also enumerated in the 1900 Census. If Mary was hired when the couple were married, it is possible that she relocated to New Hampshire as early as 1895-1896.
Mary’s Life in Brattleboro
How did Mary, then, get from Milford, New Hampshire, to Brattleboro, Vermont, almost 60 miles away? What occurred in the Heald family that made Mary want to leave? How did she make the connection to Edwin Bowen in 1904? These are questions that may never be answered.
On 13 Mar 1913 a headline article in the Brattleboro Reformer read, “Followed and Robbed.” It was about woman who was stalked and robbed while attempting to enter the house of her employer, Dr. E. S. Bowen of 17 High St. That unfortunate woman was Mary M. Rogers.10
There were other articles over the years that documented Mary’s time in Brattleboro as well as her sojourns down south to her state of birth, North Carolina. At times it seemed she lived in both places:
7 Searched collections “State records of births, marriages, and deaths, 1909-1942;” “North Carolina Marriages, 1759-1979,” FamilySearch.org.
8 Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Return of a Death, Louise Bowen, 13 September 1904, Springfield, Massachusetts, “Vermont, Town Clerk, Vital and Town Records, 1732-2005,” (ancestry.com : accessed 14 Dec 2020).
9 1900 United States Census, Milford, Hillsborough, New Hampshire, pop. sched, E.D. 115, sheet 10(a) (penned), dwelling 125, David Heald household, Mary Rogers, age 25.
10 “Followed and Robbed—Unknown Assailant Seized Miss Mary Rogers and Stole her Purse,” Brattleboro Reformer, page 1, 20 March 1913, (Newspapers.com: accessed 15 Dec 2020.)
- 7 June 1932-Mary M. Rogers returned from her home in Kittrell, North Carolina and formerly worked for E.S. Bowen. She rented a room in the Wagner Building.
- 19 Nov 1932-After spending the summer and fall in Brattleboro, Mary returned to her home in Kittrell.
- 11 Sep 1934–Mary left for an indefinite visit with her sister in Kittrell.11The 1940 US Census documented that Mary was living in Brattleboro. She rented an apartment at 95 Main St. and she was enumerated as a “retired housekeeper.” Mary was also noted that she had attained a college degree.12On 12 May 1941 the Reformer reported that Mary moved from her home 95 Main St. back to her former home in Kittrell, North Carolina. This would seem to indicate that she had returned permanently to her hometown, but I don’t believe this was the case.13Mary’s failing health: Articles in the Reformer reported that Mary was back in Brattleboro and was experiencing failing health.
- 28 Dec 1959-Mary of 95 Main St. was admitted to the hospital.
- 31 Dec 1959-Mary of 95 Main St. became a patient at Hill CrestHome.
- 23 Jan 1959- Mary of 95 Main St. was admitted to the hospital.
- 4 May 1962 –Mary of 95 Main St. was admitted to the hospital.
- 7 May 1962 –Mary of 95 Main St. moved to the Hill Crest Home.14Not more than seven months later, on 16 Feb 1963, an obituary for Mary appeared in the Brattleboro Reformer,11 [Various articles], Brattleboro Reformer, 7 June 1932; 19 November 1932; 11 September 1934, (Newspapers.com : accessed 15 Dec 2020.)
12 1940 United States Census, Brattleboro, Windham County, Vermont, pop. sched., E.D 13-2, sheet 3 (a) penned, dwelling 216, Mary Rogers, 95 Black Mountain Road., Ancestry (ancestry.com : accessed 7 Dec 2020). Citing NARA microfilm T624, reel 1618. Note on document states entry transferred to ED Sheet 13-2a.
13 “Personal-Mary Rogers returns to Brattleboro” Brattleboro Reformer, 12 May 1941, (Newspapers.com : accessed 15 Dec 2020.)
14 [Various articles], Brattleboro Reformer, 28 Dec 1959; 31 Dec 1959; 23 Jan 1959; 4 May 1962; 7 May 1962,(Newspapers.com : accessed 15 Dec 2020.)
Miss Mary Rogers, about 95, a resident of Brattleboro for many years, died this morning at Hillcrest Rest Home. She had been a patient there since December 1959. Miss Rogers was employed many years by E.S. Bowen, who died in 1930. She is survived by one sister, Mrs. Kittie Young, Kittrell, N.C., no funeral series will be conducted. Burial will take place next spring in Meetinghouse Hill Cemetery.15
From this obituary, Mary’s birth year is now estimated about 1868. Several subsequent notices appeared in the Reformer regarding her probate, which were published on 22 February, 1 March, and 3 March 1963.
Mary’s Last Will and Testament16
On March 11, 1963, a Brattleboro undertaker Earl Dawley presented to the Court of Probate an instrument purporting to be the last will and testament of Mary M. Rogers. A legal notice was published for three consecutive weeks in the Brattleboro Reformer. On March 18, Florence Berry, one of the witnesses, made an oath to state that she saw Mary sign and heard her declare that this was her Last Will. The transcription follows:
I, MARY M. ROGERS, of Brattleboro, in the County of Windham and State of Vermont, of sound and disposing mind and memory, do hereby make and publish this my Last Will and Testament, as follows:
FIRST: It is my will that all my just debts and the charges of my funeral be paid and discharged by my Executor hereinafter named and appointed out of my estate, as soon as conveniently may be after my decease; and it is my request that A. L. ROHDE, of said Brattleboro, be employed as the
15 “Obituary-Mary Rogers” Brattleboro Reformer, 16 Feb 1963, page 5, (Newspapers.com : accessed 15 Dec 2020.) 16 “Estate of Mary M. Rogers,” Marlboro District Probate Court Record books, 1781 – 1997, vol. 80, 1962 – 1963, Series MRP-002, Container ID MRP-00261, Vermont State Archives and Records Service, E-mail, [email protected], 11 Dec. 2020.
undertaker, that an inexpensive, plain casket be used for my remains, that a small lot in Meeting House Hill Cemetery, in said Brattleboro, be purchased and that I be buried in said lot, and that no funeral services be held but merely a prayer at my grave.
SECOND: It is my further request that my sister, MRS. KITTIE YOUNG, of Kittrell, North Carolina, be not notified of my death until after my remains have been buried in said Meeting House Hill Cemetery.
THIRD: All the rest, residue and remainder of my estate, of whatsoever the same may consist and wherever situate and being, including two trunks in my apartment at Robert Trendell’s, containing my wearing apparel, I give, devise and bequeath to my said sister, MRS. KITTIE YOUNG, to her and her heirs forever.
FOURTH: I hereby nominate, constitute and appoint GODFREY CROSBY of said Brattleboro, to be the EXECUTOR of this Will.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I hereunto set my hand and seal, and publish and declare this to be my Last Will and Testament, at Brattleboro, aforesaid, this 2nd day of July 1952.
Mary M. Rogers (L.S.) Signed, Sealed, Published and Declared by the said Mary M.
Rogers to be her Last Will and Testament, in the presence of each other, hereunto subscribe our names as witnesses.
A true record. Attest: Register
Mrs. Grogana Fanning Mrs. Florence Berry Mrs. Marian D. Sparks
Julia M. Putnam
Summary: Mary M. Rogers, born in the town of Kittrell, Vance County, North Carolina, perhaps in 1868, at the age of 28 migrated to the Town of Milford, Hillsborough County, New Hampshire to work as a domestic in the household of furniture manufacturer, David Heald and his wife Lucretia sometime between 1896- 1900. Sometime after September 1904, Mary went to work as a domestic in the household of Dr. Edwin S. Bowen whose wife had just passed away and who lived on High St. in Brattleboro, Vermont.
On 9 September 1920, at 2:30 AM, the Town records show that Carl S. Hopkins, attested that Miss Mary M. Rogers took the Freeman’s Oath, which is the oath taken by all residents of Vermont as a qualification for voting:
You solemnly swear (or affirm) that whenever you give your vote or suffrage, touching any matter that concerns the State of Vermont, you will do so as in your conscience you shall judge will most conduce to the best good of the same, as established by the Constitution, without fear or favor of any person.17
While we do not know if Mary actually voted the following November in the national election for President and her Senators and Representatives in Washington D.C., it is likely that she did.
According to Mary’s wishes, she was to be buried in a “simple casket” in the Meeting House Hill Cemetery, Brattleboro, Vermont, and that no funeral services be performed except a simple prayer said at the grave.
17 Miss Mary M. Rogers, “Freeman’s Oath administered to the following, Sept. 14, 1920 [and names added to the checklist”] Miscellaneous Records Book, Freeman Oath Records, 20 Sept. 1920, page 363, Jane Fletcher, Assistant Town Clerk, Brattleboro, Vt., [email protected], 3 Dec. 2020, to Jerry Carbone, e-mail, Re: Brattleboro Town Clerk Collection. The other four women of voting age were not located in the that volume before the election of November 1920; “Freemans Oath,” found within John Duffy, Samuel Hand, Ralph Orth, eds. The Vermont Encyclopedia, (Burlington, Vt.: University of Vermont Press, 2003), page 130.
According to Marjorie Howe’s book, Meeting House Hill Cemetery, Mary was buried in historical section A, row P, number 18.18 After an extensive ground search of that area, I was unable to find Mary’s simple metal marker, although there were a few of the others buried there. 19
The metal marker, which was her tombstone, is no longer in that area. Would it not be fitting and an honor to the first Brattleboro (and perhaps the first in Windham County) African American woman to vote in a Presidential election be memorialized with another marker?
Below is the Marjorie Howe documentation where Mary’s marker should exist. Section A on the map ,Row P, number 18.