Mary Birdsall House

Cardinal Greenway

Politics, Policy & Justice Women's History

The Mary Birdsall House pictured from the southeast corner of the property. The house is now a guest house and retreat center for Earlham College’s School of Religion.

Now a guest house and retreat center for Earlham College’s School of Religion, this Italianate home was built by Thomas and Mary Birdsall in 1859. Mary Thistlewaite Birdsall (1828-1894) was a writer, editor, and activist for causes including emancipation and temperance, but most especially women’s suffrage. In 1855 Birdsall bought The Lily, a nationally distributed magazine that today we would call feminist for its focus on women’s rights, which she edited for two years. Throughout the 1850s, Birdsall was also involved in running the annual Indiana Women’s Rights Convention. At the 1858 convention participants drafted a petition to extend property and suffrage rights to women, and in January of 1859 Birdsall and two other women brought the petition before a specially-convened joint session of the Indiana legislature and read it for the assembled state senators and representatives. They were the first women to ever speak before the Indiana legislature. Despite this historical milestone, the House and Senate decided not to take any action. It would take until after the Civil War for women’s rights to again become an issue under consideration by the state. After Birdsall’s death her house became a meeting and worship space for the Religious Society of Friends and then a retirement home before Earlham acquired the property in 2010.


  • Source: National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), Mary Birdsall House, Washington DC, National Register #99001155, Section 8, Pages 2-6.

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