From the Collection of the Peabody Historical Society and Museum

Mary Upton Ferrin was born on April 27, 1810 in South Danvers (now Peabody) to Jesse Upton and Eliza Wyman Wood Upton. Jesse Upton ran the Upton Tavern, from our last email, until 1825.
Mary Upton married her husband, Jesse Ferrin on December 2, 1845. The marriage was an unhappy one, as Jesse was an abusive alcoholic. Mary Upton Ferrin approached the Salem attorney Samuel Merritt to understand her rights and to see if she could get a divorce. Mary Upton Ferrin was advised that she would be left destitute if she divorced her husband. Any property or money she entered into the marriage with belonged to her husband. It was a matter of law.

Mary decided that she only had one recourse. The law was unjust, so she would push to get the law changed herself. She petitioned the Massachusetts legislature in 1849 through the Hon. Charles Upham, a State Senator. When the petition was presented, many at the State House could not believe it had been drafted by a woman. This tells you exactly what she was up against. Her petition did not move forward that year.
In the years that followed, Mary traveled throughout Massachusetts to get the necessary signatures and support for her cause. She traveled 600 miles – 2/3 of it on foot. In 1853, through sheer determination, Mary Upton Ferrin was successful. The Massachusetts Legislature amended the laws:

  • Women could keep their property after a divorce.
  • Married women could draft wills without the consent of their husbands.
  • Widowed women were now entitled to half of their husband’s property, in the event there was no will.

Mary continued to advocate for the rights of women including women’s suffrage. In 1869, Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, gave a speech on why women were unfit to vote. Mary Upton Ferrin wrote a point for point rebuttal which was published in the Peabody Times. Her conclusion from the original text is shown below.

Excerpt from Mary Upton Ferrin’s “Woman’s Defense”, 1869

Mary Upton Ferrin died in 1881, accomplishing so much in her 71 years. If the laws don’t support the entire citizenry, then change the laws. A simple concept, but a monumental task.

Special thanks to S. M. Smoller whose extensive research on Mary Upton Ferrin made this article possible. For more information, please read Smoller’s work Mary Upton Ferrin – Earliest Massachusetts Pioneer in Women’s Suffrage.