Saturday, September 25, 2021

Jessie Mallory Thayer O'Neal and woman's suffrage

Jack Williamson, a couple of weeks ago, very kindly sent along a clipping from The Orlando Sentinel of Aug. 22 featuring Chariton's own Jessie Mallory Thayer O'Neal (left), who made her home in that city from 1909 until her death at age 60 during 1923.

If you've been following the scripts I've posted here this week from the 17th annual Chariton Cemetery Heritage Tour you'll know that Jessie's first husband, Deming Jarves Thayer, was among those featured this year. During 2015, Jessie returned (in spirit, of course) to participate in that year's tour. And I've written here frequently over the years about the Mallory family and its role in Lucas County.

To make a complicated story short --- after the collapse of the Mallory bank, First National, in Chariton during 1907, Jessie and her mother, Annie, were found financially liable --- although not because they were guilty of any wrongdoing (they had trusted too much long-time bank manager Frank Crocker). As a result, all Mallory assets in Lucas County were turned over to the federal government and the proceeds used to reimburse depositors. Jessie and her mother --- who had considerable assets elsewhere --- built new lives for themselves in Orlando after 1909. Jessie married her second husband, William R. O'Neal, there in 1914.

The Sentinel article was written by Joy Dickinson as one of her "Florida Flashback" columns and celebrates Jessie's role in the woman's suffrage movement in Orlando during her years there. I've transcribed a few paragraphs from the article, as follows, but if interested you may right click and open the entire article (above)  in a new window. Note the towering cross that originally stood in the Chariton Cemetery in the accompanying photograph. The photograph below shows Jessie's Orlando home as it looks today. 


Starting a new life in Orlando, Jessie bought the large Queen Anne home facing Lake Cherokee that's now known as the Poyntz-O'Neal House (the first name comes from newlyweds Oliver and Minnie Poyntz, who built the home in the 1880s on what was called "Honeymoon Row").

In 1913, the year before she married W.R. O'Neal, Jessie's name appeared in the Sentinel in February, announcing the formation of an Equal Suffrage League in Orlando, with a first meeting at her Lake Cherokee house. The notice was also signed by Mary P. Patterson and Mary Safford, also a former force in Iowa who would become Central Florida's best known woman's suffrage leader.

W. R. O'Neal joined Jessie in supporting votes for women; he joined the city's Men's Equal Suffrage League, and in December 1914, he accompanied her to Pensacola to the first convention of the Florida Equal Suffrage League just weeks after their wedding in October 1914.

Thanks to their work and that of others, in March 1919 Orlando leaders passed an ordinance enabling women to vote in municipal elections. That was more than a year before the 19th amendment became official. The next month, in April 1919, after Florida's House of Representatives affirmed the right of Orlando women to vote, Jessie O'Neal celebrated by marching around lakes Cherokee and Lucerne, waving an American flag and ringing a bell.

Unlike her second husband, she would not be blessed with a life that extended into her 80s. She was 60 when she died at home in 1923, leaving a legacy of activism in Orlando.

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