Known as “Queen Mary,” Mary Augusta Safford was a Unitarian minister and suffragist. She led a group of female Unitarian ministers known as the “Iowa Sisterhood” that started Unitarian congregations across the Midwest in the late 19th century.
Safford was born on December 23, 1851, near Quincy, Illinois. Raised on her family’s farm, she displayed her religious calling at an early age, often preaching from a tree stump. As a child, she befriended Eleanor Gordon, who would go on to become a fellow Unitarian minister and her partner in religious and social causes. Safford studied for a year at the University of Iowa before leaving due to illness. She returned to Illinois and worked as a teacher while studying on her own.
At the age of 18, Safford, along with Gordon, was inspired to start her own church. After speaking at the 1880 meeting of the Iowa Unitarian Association in Humboldt, Iowa, Safford became an ordained minister. She served Humboldt's Unitarian church from 1880 to 1885, along with various churches in Iowa for the next 25 years. Safford also served as president of the Iowa Unitarian Association for seven years and as its field secretary for six, supporting the emergence of new congregations across Iowa and Nebraska. She also directed the American Unitarian Association and the Western Unitarian Conference.
In addition to being a pioneering Unitarian minister, Safford was also a staunch supporter of the woman suffrage movement. She served as president of the Iowa Equal Suffrage Association and helped lobby Congress for the woman suffrage amendment. Even after she retired to Orlando in 1910, she served as president of the Florida Woman Suffrage Association, sat on the board of directors of the National Woman Suffrage Association, and helped found the Unitarian Church in Orlando.
Safford died of a stroke on October 25, 1927.
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Oelberg, Sarah. “Safford, Mary (1851-1927).” Edited by Dorothy May Emerson. Harvard Square Library. Harvard Square Library, March 30, 2017. https://www.harvardsquarelibrary.org/biographies/mary-safford/.
“Safford, Mary Augusta.” Sioux City History. Sioux City Public Museum. Accessed July 30, 2020. http://www.siouxcityhistory.org/notable-people/121-safford-mary-augusta.
“Safford, Mary Augusta.” The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa . University of Iowa Press. Accessed July 30, 2020. http://uipress.lib.uiowa.edu/bdi/DetailsPage.aspx?id=322.