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Kansas Memory Blog

#MarthaMakesHistory: A New Project From the State Archives

Posted by Megan Rohleder on Mar 23, 2019

By: Megan Rohleder, Senior Archivist

As part of 19th Amendment centennial commemorations, staff members at the Kansas Historical Society have been working to create a digital program that will highlight the words of one Kansan who worked tirelessly to earn the right to vote for women. Martha Farnsworth was a Kansan who documented life pre and post suffrage in Kansas. The Kansas State Archives is home to a collection of diaries written by her over a span of nearly 40 years.

Martha Farnsworth Portrait  

Martha was born in Mount Pleasant, Iowa on April 26th, 1867.  When Martha was three, her mother died while giving birth to the youngest Farnsworth daughter, Belle. Her father, James, remarried and together the family moved to Winfield, Kansas when Martha was five.

  In 1883, when Martha turned 16, she moved in with a neighboring family due to problems with her stepmother.  After five years of virtually independent living, Martha moved to Topeka, Kansas where she lived the rest of her life. 

It was in Topeka where Martha met her first husband, Johnny Shaw. The courtship and marriage were tumultuous and Martha often commented in her diaries that she was unhappy. 

 Martha Farnsworth Diary Entry September 19th, 1889

  During their four-year marriage, Martha suffered multiple miscarriages which added to her unhappiness. On January 24th, 1892, though, much to Martha's happiness and Johnny's displeasure, Martha gave birth to a baby girl, Mabel Inez Belle. It took just a couple months for Martha to realize that her baby girl was very sick and on June 27th, 1892, Mabel succumbed to her illness.

Martha lived with Johnny for two more years before consumption took his life in October of 1893. Her diary entries during this time were less about his emotional abuse and drinking and more about her unhappiness. This unhappiness was short-lived, though, as she cautiously started a relationship with Fred Farnsworth, a co-worker of Johnny's at the Topeka Post Office. 

Fred Farnsworth in Postal Uniform 

After their marriage in 1894, Martha wrote of her many community engagements. She was passionate about social reform movements, including campaigning for women's suffrage. In 1905 Martha was voted into the Good Government Club, a group crucial to the success of equal suffrage in Kansas in 1912. 

Good Government Club Flier for suffrage

Martha's diaries not only highlight one ordinary Kansan's extraordinary contributions to many social reform movements, they also highlight the social and political climates of the state during those times. To highlight the story of this special woman, our Senior Archivist, Megan Rohleder, will be tweeting words from Martha's 1912 diary in a new Twitter account starting April 1st. Followers will be able to read what was happening on this day (OTD) over 100 years ago as Kansans fought for equal suffrage. Follow along at @MFarnsworthKSHS to see history through the words of someone who lived it.

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