Margaret White Houston holds a special place in the history of Sussex County and Delaware.
Houston, who was born in Lewes and spent most of her life in Georgetown, was a tireless, trailblazer in Delaware's struggle for women's right to vote.
Thanks to the efforts of a small committee, the William G. Pomeroy Foundation honored Houston with a historic marker in a national effort to identify individuals and events connected with the history of women's suffrage and the passage of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote.
The marker was unveiled in front of the Georgetown Public Library on Oct. 23 following a ceremony highlighting her achievements.
The location is significant because as a founder of the Georgetown New Century Club, she was instrumental in the formation of the town's first library in 1899.
The committee included Anne Boylan, professor of history, emerita, at the University of Delaware; Retired Superior Court Judge Susan Del Pesco; and retired Deputy Attorney General Marsha White.
Her suffrage leadership began in 1896 when she became vice president of the new Delaware Equal Suffrage Association. For the next two decades she was a passionate advocate for women and in the key years as the 19th Amendment was debated on voted on by federal and state legislators, she lobbied for a special session of the state legislature to consider ratifying the amendment, and then mounted a vigorous ratification campaign of lobbying, letter writing and rallying others. She was particularly active in Sussex County as ratification chairwoman.
Despite her efforts, and the work of many others, Delaware legislators did not cast the deciding vote and, in fact, the state was one of the last to ratify the amendment in 1923.
Boylan, committee member and author of “Votes for Delaware Women,” said Delaware had a chance to be the 36th state to ratify, which would have been the majority of the states needed to pass the amendment, but that honor went to Tennessee.
Her first focus was at the state level to get the Delaware legislature to amend the constitution to remove the word male from voting requirements. She and a small group of other suffragists lobbied Delaware legislators in 1897, 1915 and 1917 to amend Delaware's constitution. “Every session they were shut down,” Boylan said.
She then turned her efforts towards passage of the 19th Amendment at the federal level.
“You have to remember that not all women were for the amendment,” Boylan said. “Sussex County was the most difficult of the three counties because it was a bastion of anti-suffragist women.”
She said those against it felt if women got the right to vote, black women would also get the right, which they did not support.
“This all reminds us of the struggles we have today. We are carrying on their legacy,” Boylan said.
A snapshot of her life:
1864: Born near Lewes
1887: Graduate of Normal Department of the Academy of Newark as a teacher
1888: Married Robert Griffith Houston, publisher and owner of the “Sussex Republican” newspaper (later the “Sussex Countian”) and member of U.S. Congress, 1925-1933
1896: Vice president and founder of Delaware Equal Suffrage Association
1898-1909: President of Georgetown New Century Club
1903-1905: President of Delaware State Federation of Women's Clubs
1919-20: Chairwoman of Sussex County's ratification committee
1920: Helped organize Delaware League of Women Voters served as vice president
1937: Passed away at her home in Georgetown
2020: Inducted into the Hall of Fame of Delaware Women