The Stackpole women: Mary Hayes Stackpole

Mary Hayes Stackpole. (Credit: Suffolk County Historical Society)

The daughter of Caleb and Harriet Hayes of Castle Creek in Broome County, N.Y., the future Mrs. George F. Stackpole was born March 18, 1860.

Valedictorian of her class at Oswego Normal School, she married Mr. Stackpole July 28, 1886, and started a family on Court Street in Riverhead. 

Three of the couple’s five children — George, Franklin and Virgil — died before their second birthdays. Their only daughter, Syrena, and youngest son, Philip, survived to adulthood.

For several years, with the help of a teacher they hired, the Stackpoles ran a private kindergarten out of their home for 24 Riverhead children. The school eventually expanded to a second class and moved to various spaces downtown.

Mrs. Stackpole was active in both the temperance and suffrage movements, making her one of Suffolk County’s most prominent women of the time.

“To glance, even hurriedly, at what Mrs. Stackpole accomplished in her busy life, is to call the roll of Suffolk County’s activities for a generation,” read her obituary in the Riverhead News.

She volunteered with the Riverhead Lecture Association, the Suffolk County Historical Society, the Red Cross, the Girl Scouts of Suffolk County and at the Sunday school at Riverhead Congregational Church. She founded the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Like her husband, who never took a drink, Mrs. Stackpole was a staunch supporter of Prohibition, having served as president of the town and county chapters of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and as state superintendent of Scientific Temperance Instruction, the educational arm of the movement.

She was also founder of the Riverhead Woman’s Club and was heavily involved with the Long Island Federation of Women’s Clubs. Among her greatest passions was the fight for a woman’s right to vote.

“Into this crusade she entered with characteristic enthusiasm,” her obituary stated. “She was faithful to it in its days of struggles, of scorn and of ridicule.”

In July 1918, the first general election after women won the right to vote in New York State and two years before ratification of the 19th amendment, Ms. Stackpole announced her intention to run as the Republican candidate for tax receiver in Riverhead Town. Republican incumbent Albert Conklin’s campaign slogan in the primary was “Choose a man for a man’s job.” While Mrs. Stackpole lost the four-way primary by 50 votes to Byron Rogers, she finished 45 votes ahead of Mr. Conklin. More than half the residents in attendance when the votes were tallied were women.

At the time, no woman had ever been elected to a public office in New York State, a trend Syrena Stackpole would break in 1931.

Her mother wouldn’t live to see that historic day. She died at Norwich Hospital in upstate New York on Dec. 21, 1924. She was 64 years old.

The headline of her obituary referred to her as “Riverhead’s best known woman.”

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