Mary F. Thomas

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Mary Frame Thomas
Born Mary Frame Meyers
October 28, 1816
Montgomery County, Maryland
Died August 19, 1888
Richmond, Indiana
Education Penn Medical College for women (1851-1852), Cleveland (1852-1853), Penn Medical College graduated 1854
Occupation Doctor
Known for Woman's Rights Advocate, Doctor
Spouse(s) Dr. Owen Thomas (July 1839)
Children 3, including Pauline Heald
Parent(s) Samuel and Mary Meyers

Mary F. Thomas (1816–1888) was an American women's rights leader from Indiana and a member of the suffrage movement. Born into a Quaker family, Thomas advocated for women, as well as those in need of medical help. She was one of the founding members of the Indiana Woman's Suffrage Association and worked for years in various Indiana organizations.

Early life[edit]

Mary Frame Meyers was born on October 28, 1816 in Montgomery County, Maryland to Samuel and Mary Meyers, a Quaker family. Quakers in the 19th century in Indiana and around the country were significant in their criminal justice reform and social justice movements including temperance, abolition, and women's suffrage. Some of the most famous white abolitionists and suffragists were from a Quaker background, including Sarah and Angelina Grimké, Rhoda M. Coffin, and Mary B. Birdsall.[1]

During her childhood, Mary Meyers' father Samuel, an active abolitionist, took her to congressional debates in Washington, D.C.[2][3] Because her family believed slavery to be morally wrong, they moved to New Lisbon, Ohio in order to escape the pro-slavery atmosphere. While in Ohio, Mary Meyers and her sisters helped their mother and father work on the farm, and in the evenings their father would tutor them.[3]


During her time in Wabash County, Indiana, Thomas began attending lectures with her husband on medicine. She eventually went to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to take courses at Penn's Medical College for Women starting in 1851. Some sources say she then took more courses at Cleveland Medical College from 1852-1853 before returning to graduate from Penn's Medical College for Women in 1854,[2][4] while others do not mention her leaving Penn to take a course at Cleveland Medical College.[3] She was one of the first women to earn a medical degree in the country.

In Penn's Medical College for Women catalog of 1860 she is listed as having graduated in 1854 as a "lady graduate" (with "ovarian dropsy" listed as her specialty).[4]

Women's rights movement[edit]

In 1845, Thomas attended a Quaker yearly meeting in Salem, Ohio, where she heard Lucretia Mott preaching women's rights.[2] This is said to have inspired the young Thomas to use her position to advocate for her fellow women.[4]

Indiana Woman's Suffrage Association[edit]

After hearing Mott speak, Thomas became active in the suffrage movement, and became a member of the Indiana Woman's Suffrage Association (originally known as the Indiana Woman's Rights Association), helping draft the preamble and constitution in 1851.

The constitution, which cites "undeniable...and inalienable rights" as a reason for woman's suffrage was drafted October 15, 1851.[5] Resolutions incorporated within the initial constitution include points that state: laws that discriminate against women should be eradicated, woman's rights are everyone's rights, equal opportunities for all, and that men should help the movement but not lead the movement since this is a woman's movement.[5]

Notable signers include Mary B. Birdsall, Fanny and Henry Hiatt, and Agnes Cook.


During the 4th annual meeting in 1855, the Indiana Woman's Suffrage Association elected Mary F. Thomas one of the vice presidents of the organization to serve during 1856. She served as Vice President to Amanda M. Way during the 5th annual meeting, with fellow vice presidents including Melissa J. Diggs, Fanny Hiatt, Hannah J. Small, and M. Collins Gordon.

During the 5th annual meeting she was elected as the president of the association for the next year's meeting. In 1857, Thomas served as President with Sarah Underhill, Emily Neff, Emma B. Swank, Elizabeth Wright, and Mary B. Birdsall as her vice presidents. In her opening remarks Thomas stated "that while we [women] were still deprived of many rights and privileges, we had accomplished a great work for we now occupied a position much in advance of what we did a few years ago".[5]

In that same year, Thomas became a coeditor of a national woman's magazine called the Lily alongside her fellow suffragist and vice president Mary B. Birdsall. The magazine focused on a myriad of issues ranging from temperance, women's rights, dress reform, and femme coverture.[4]

Indiana state legislature[edit]

On January 19, 1859, a special joint session was called to order for the Indiana General Assembly in order to hear a petition for women's rights.[6] Thomas, Mary B. Birdsall, and Agnes Cook led a group of over one thousand women and men from Wayne County[6] to address the members of the General Assembly.[4]

Thomas became the first woman to address the General Assembly in her presentation of the group's petition. The petition called for an amendment to be added to the Indiana Constitution which allowed women's suffrage.[3] Various accounts from the time period record different atmospheres among the general public. Some describe the men in the crowd as 'rough, outspoken and boisterous',[6][7] whereas other accounts say that everyone listened 'politely'.[7] Regardless, Thomas presented the petition with logical arguments, strongly advocating for equal rights after pleading with the assembly to listen respectfully.[6][7] Mary B. Birdsall spoke after Thomas calling for women's suffrage, then Agnes Cook followed Birdsall with an appeal for temperance. Although none of the petitions were enacted, it still made an impact on the history of women in Indiana.

American Civil War[edit]

During the American Civil War, the roles of women were expanded due to necessity of nurses to help care for wounded soldiers.

Indiana Sanitary Commission and war efforts[edit]

In 1862, Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton established the Indiana Sanitary Commission in order to raise funds and gather supplies for troops in the field. As part of this Sanitary Commission, Governor Morton enlisted the aid of women, including Thomas, to help carry supplies to the front line[3] starting January 1863. Not only that, but she nursed soldiers wounded at the Battle of Vicksburg,[2] along with many other women.

Along with the Battle of Vicksburg, she served in many hospitals caring for Indiana soldiers at Washington, Nashville, and Natchez. In 1864, she was appointed superintendent for eight months of a refugee hospital in Nashville where her husband followed as hospital surgeon.[8]

Later life and continuation of medical career[edit]

Thomas remained an advocate for women's rights while also dedicating her life to medicine. According to a journal published in 1889, "she was always deeply interested in the care of the helpless and needy, -- a veritable Dorcas, and beloved physician indeed to the poor."[8] Throughout this, her husband remained at her side supporting her endeavors.

Boards, associations, and societies[edit]

After the Civil War, Thomas and her husband returned to Richmond, Indiana, where they continued their social activism. Thomas herself served on[Richmond's Board of Public Health.[2] In 1875, she was elected to the Wayne County Medical Society[9] after being rejected twice before (most likely due to her sex).[2] In 1876 she became the first female member of the State Medical College, in 1877 she was a delegate from the State Medical Society to the American Medical Association.[2][9]

Home for Friendless Women[edit]

She was one of the founders of the Home for Friendless Women[8] and from 1875 until her death in 1888 she served as an active physician there.[2] The home was built 'for the aid and improvement of abandoned women'.[10]

Personal life[edit]

While in Ohio, Mary Meyers met Dr. Owen Thomas, who also came from a Quaker family. They were married in 1839, and the couple moved to Wabash County, Indiana in order for the two of them to study medicine.[2] It was rare for women to pursue medicine, but Owen was quite supportive of his wife's ambitions, seen through his appointing her as his assistant physician.

Not only was Thomas' husband supportive in terms of her career aspirations, but also of her work as a suffragist. In the 1851 draft of the Indiana Woman's Suffrage Association's constitution, he signed the document directly after his wife.[5]

The couple had three daughters, one of which was Pauline Heald, that Thomas sewed clothing for while also practicing medicine and advocating for Women's Rights.[9]


On August 19, 1888, Mary Thomas passed away in Richmond, Indiana. Her final wishes stated that her pall bearers be all women, four white women representing the Good Templars, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, the Woman's Suffrage Association and the Home for Friendless Women, and two African-American women to represent all races and the struggle for rights for all.[2]


  1. ^ Springer, Barbara A. Ladylike Reformers: Indiana Women and Progressive Reform 1900-1920. Diss. Indiana U, 1985. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Dr. Mary F. Thomas (1816-1888)". Morrisson-Reeves Library Local Home. Morrisson-Reeves Library.
  3. ^ a b c d e "This Day in Indiana History - August 19, 1888 - Mary F. Thomas Dies - Richmond Physician". My trending stories. 2016-08-19. Retrieved 2016-11-21.
  4. ^ a b c d e Gugin, Linda C.; Clair, James E. St (2016-05-20). Indiana's 200: The People Who Shaped the Hoosier State. Indiana Historical Society. ISBN 9780871953933.
  5. ^ a b c d Indiana Woman's Suffrage Association. 1851. Record book.
  6. ^ a b c d "A Public 'Jollification': The 1859 Women's Rights Petition". Indiana Public Media. Retrieved 2016-11-29.
  7. ^ a b c Scholten, Pat Creech (December 1976). "A Public "Jollification": The 1859 Women's Rights Petition before the Indiana Legislature". Indiana Magazine of History. 72 (4). ISSN 1942-9711.
  8. ^ a b c Friends' Intelligencer and Journal volume 46. Friends' Intelligencer Association. 1889 – via Google Books.
  9. ^ a b c bhypes (2012-03-26). "Pioneer Women Doctors in Indiana". spydersden. Retrieved 2016-11-21.
  10. ^ "Our History". Retrieved 2016-11-30.