Women Working Harvard Libraries Women Working Home

Marty Ritter Beard (1876–1958)

Portrait of Marty Ritter Beard, Portrait Collection, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute.

Mary Ritter Beard was a historian and campaigner for women's suffrage. Born and raised in Indianapolis, she attended DePauw University, where she met her future husband, Charles Beard, who became a noted economic historian. Married in 1900, the couple traveled to England so that Charles could continue his studies at Oxford, before returning to New York City in 1901 to pursue graduate studies at Columbia. Mary enrolled in the graduate program at Columbia briefly, but she quickly became involved in the growing campaign to secure women's suffrage.

In addition to working for the National Women's Trade Union League of America, she joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and became the editor of its New York newspaper, The Woman Voter, in 1910. The ineffectiveness of NAWSA caused her to band together with other reformers in 1913 to found the Congressional Union for Women Suffrage.

Like her husband, Mary Ritter Beard was a historian who belonged to the "New History" movement that critiqued traditional interpretations of American history by arguing that economic and social factors are powerful forces in history. One of Beard's contributions to this movement was her analysis of women's role in the labor force, which she expounded in Women's Work in Municipalities (1915) and A Short History of the American Labor Movement (1921). Beard collaborated with her husband to produce The Rise of American Civilization (1927), the celebrated two-volume history of the United States. Perhaps Beard's most important historical contributions were her works that challenged the orthodox viewpoint that the rise of American and global civilization had been solely influenced by men. In On Understanding Women (1931), America Through Women's Eyes (1933), and Women as Force in History (1946), she argued that women have played an indispensable role in the advancement of civilization that historians cannot overlook.

Always controversial, the Beards came under attack in the 1940s for their view that the United States should stay out of the Second World War. After the death of her husband in 1948, Beard published a book in his honor, The Making of Charles A. Beard (1955). She died in 1958.

Browse Published Materials Digitized for Women Working