Mary Munson (ca. 1848-1920) was known for her work on behalf of the women’s suffrage movement in Vinemont, Cullman County, where she was instrumental in establishing the Vinemont Equal Suffrage Association.
Munson was born Mary Ellen Kelly in 1848 in Laurel Township, Indiana, to Moses and Elizabeth Kelly; she had two siblings. Very little is known of her early life and education. She and her family moved from Indiana to Iowa and then to Illinois, where she met her future husband, Charles Munson. In 1889, at the age of 42, she married the two-time widower and successful businessman. Charles, who was president of the Munson Belt Manufacturing Company, was born in 1830 in Huntington, Massachusetts, and was considerably older than his third wife. With her new husband and his children, Munson travelled the world until her husband’s death in 1891, less than two years after the marriage. A few months later, his eldest daughter died, leaving Munson to look out for the financial interests of not only herself but his three remaining children. She had been left partially in charge of her late husband’s estate and upon the advice of his former business associates; she sold most of her stock in his company. In 1895, she came to believe that they had cheated her out of a fair price for the stock and sued. The outcome of the long running case is unclear, but she was left in very good financial condition nonetheless.
In 1898, Munson moved to Alabama. She bought Ridge Farm, a country house just outside of Vinemont (now known as South Vinemont), Cullman County. Eventually, her mother, sister, and brother came to live with her at Ridge Farm, where she grew strawberries, peas, corn, and peanuts. When Munson could not find a buyer for her peanuts, she turned to raising hogs, which she fed her unsold peanuts. She was locally known for hosting extravagant parties as well as picnics for the Strawberry Growers Club at her country home. The family even brought down the remains of her father, who had died 30 years earlier, to be reinterred in Vinemont.
In August 1913, Munson hosted a luncheon at Ridge Farm that would become the inaugural meeting of the Vinemont Equal Suffrage Association (VESA), which elected her as president. The other officers elected at this initial meeting were a Mrs. Gregg as vice president and a Mrs. Greenleaf as secretary and treasurer. The next meeting of the VESA was advertised in the local newspaper, and both men and women were invited to attend, however they might feel about women’s suffrage. But, the same article declared that women should get ready to vote, as Alabama men would certainly be granting them this right. Indeed, Alabama suffragettes were not counting on federal legislation to grant them suffrage. They preferred to leave this to the individual states. Alabama, however, failed to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, which Tennessee did in 1920.
Munson was re-elected president the following year. Katherine Sexton was elected vice president and Helen B. Greenleaf was elected treasurer. At the second convention of the Alabama Equal Suffrage Association held in Huntsville in February 1914, Munson represented the Vinemont suffragists, and was joined by representatives from the 10 other Alabama societies from Selma, Birmingham, Montgomery, Huntsville, Cullman, Greensboro, Tuscaloosa, Pell City, Coal City, and Mobile.
Munson undertook many other initiatives to help the community. She worked to organize a local chapter of the Boy Scouts, supported a missionary trip to China, and organized the Vinemont Library Association. In 1919, Munson sold Ridge Farm and moved into town to a house on Central Avenue. The following year, on September 25, 1920, she died from a brain hemorrhage at her home. She was buried in the Public Cemetery of Cullman, although at that time it was known as the Protestant Cemetery. As a well-respected resident of Vinemont, she transformed her life as a farmer, humanitarian, hostess, and socialite. She may not be recognized as a famous figure in the national suffrage movement, but her lasting influence is her contribution to women’s opportunities and the suffrage movement in her local community of Vinemont.
Harper, Ida Husted. The History of Woman Suffrage. Vol 6. New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922.