Mary Ritter Beard was a pioneer in the history of women and an influential advocate for women’s rights. The daughter of a prosperous lawyer in Indianapolis, Mary Ritter attended DePauw University, where she met her future husband, Charles A. Beard. She graduated in 1897 and married Charles three years later. The young couple then went Oxford University in England, and Mary became involved in progressive social reform, especially the woman suffrage movement. Returning to the United States, they both enrolled at Columbia University, but Mary soon lost interest in graduate training, in part because of the few opportunities for women in academia.
In 1907, following the birth of her son, she became an organizer for the Women’s Trade Union League, which was dedicated to improving the working conditions of women. She also joined the American Woman Suffrage Association and became editor of its journal, The Woman Voter, in 1910. Unhappy with the organization’s lack of success, she joined with Alice Paul and other feminists to establish the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage in 1913. Adopting the militant methods of the British feminists, the organization held huge demonstrations and picketed the White House.
Encouraged by her husband, Beard began to do serious historical research and writing. Her first important work, Women’s Work in Municipalities, surveyed the role of women in urban reform. Her next book, A Short History of the American Labor Movement, published in 1920, intentionally dealt with the concerns of both men and women. Beginning in the 1920’s, Beard and her husband coauthored a number of popular works in history, including America in Midpassage, The American Spirit, and A Basic History of the United States. She later insisted that her husband did the bulk of the research and writing in these works, although some scholars suspect that she was being excessively modest.
Both Mary and Charles Beard were proponents of the so-called New History, which emphasized economic and social factors and also attempted to view the past from the perspective of present-day concerns. Because the New History downplayed the study of wars and political...
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