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Mary Madden Lilly (July 18, 1859 in Roxbury, Massachusetts[1] – October 11, 1930 in Brooklyn, New York[2]) was a Progressive era activist who had a prominent role in New York City's social reform movements during the last decades of the 19th Century and early decades of the 20th Century. In particular, Lilly supported prison reform in the form of separate facilities for females who were first time offenders.[3][4] Lilly was an advocate for women's suffrage and other legislation to better the lives of women and children. After women gained the right to vote in New York in 1917, Lilly ran for elected office in the November 1918 election, and was one of two females elected to serve in the 1919 session of the New York State Assembly.[5][6]

Mary Lilly
Mary Lilly.jpg
Born(1859-07-18)July 18, 1859
Boston, Massachusetts
DiedOctober 11, 1930(1930-10-11) (aged 71)
Brooklyn, New York
Alma materHunter College, New York University School of Law
OccupationPolitician, Social activist
Spouse(s)John F. Lilly


Family and early lifeEdit

Mary married John F. Lilly. Mary and John Lilly were the parents of J. Joseph Lilly, an assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of NY.[3]

Lilly graduated from Hunter College teachers' school in 1876 and took a job teaching in the New York City public school system. While still teaching school, she attended New York University School of Law on a full scholarship, reported to be the first grant earned by a woman by taking a competitive exam.[3] In 1895, Lilly was one of ten women in a class of seventy law students to receive her Bachelor of Laws degree.[3][7]

Early careerEdit

Public school teacherEdit

Lilly graduated from Hunter College teachers school in 1876 when still a teen, and took a job teaching at P.S. 37 in Manhattan. In total, Lilly worked as a public school teacher for thirty-six years until she retired.[8] Lilly joined The Association of Retired Teachers of the City of New York and held the position of secretary.[3]


Attended the Seneca Fall Conference sponsored by the Women's Party to commemorate the Women's Rights Convention of 1848.

Community civic groupsEdit

Lilly belonged to and founded civic groups that advocated for social and political reforms. She was a member of The Society for the Aid to Mental Defectives and was the editor of its Journal.[3] She was a Founder of The Kickerbocker Civic League and served as its president.[3]

Additionally, Lilly was member of the political organization, The Women's Democratic Club.[3]

New York City Federation of Women's ClubsEdit

Lilly was the recording secretary and the Chairwomen of the Probation Committee of the City Federation of Women's Clubs. Through her affiliation with the Federation, in 1913 she worked to establish the Kingsboro House, a detention home for young women first offenders in Brooklyn.[3][4]

Later careersEdit

Law practiceEdit

Lilly was editor of the Women Lawyers' Journal from 1915 to 1916.[9][10]

For a brief time Lilly had a joint law practice with Eve P. Radtke who was admitted to bar in 1906.[3]

Political careerEdit

After women gained the right to vote in New York in 1917, she ran at the New York state election, 1918 for the New York State Assembly (New York Co., 7th D.). Along with Ida B. Sammis, Lilly was one of the first two New York assemblywomen, sitting in the 142nd New York State Legislature in 1919.[6][5]

New York State AssemblywomanEdit

Lily sponsored a number of bills regarding children. She introduced legislation to establish paternity of children born out of wedlock, to protect the rights for children, and worked to abolish the death penalty.

Late in Lilly's re-election campaign for her seat in the New York State Assembly, The Citizens Union charged that Lilly as an assemblywomen and superintendent of the women prisoners on Blackwell's Island drew two salaries contrary to state law. Lilly answered the charge by asserting that she was assured by her counsel that she had the right to accept a job with the City of New York while employed in a public office with the state.[11]

Superintendent of inmatesEdit

In 1919 Lilly was appointed as the superintendent of female inmates at the Workhouse on Blackwell's Island. By the time that Lilly retired in 1928, she had worked under three Commissioners: James A. Hamilton, Frederick A. Wallis and Richard C. Patterson.[3]

Later life and deathEdit

Lilly's residence for many years was Hotel St. Andrew.[3] Lilly died on October 11, 1930 at the home of her son in Brooklyn after a brief illness.[3][12]


  1. ^ "Massachusetts Births, 1841-1915". FamilySearch. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  2. ^ "New York, New York City Municipal Deaths, 1795-1949". FamilySearch. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m McCarthy, Thomas C. (2008). "V". Foursome of Ticket Firsts: Sarah Palin, Geraldine Ferraro . . . . Katharine Bement Davis? Mary M. Lilly?. New York Correction History Society. Retrieved 5 March 2010.
  4. ^ a b "BROOKLYN HOME FOR GIRLS.; Club Women to Found a Refuge for First Offenders" (PDF). The New York Times. New York, New York: The New York Times. 7 June 1913. p. 13. Retrieved 5 March 2010.
  5. ^ a b Alexander, Jon (January 6, 2010). "Four New Women Join Essex County Board, Gender Barriers Falling". WNBZ: Local News. Saranac Lake, NY: Mountain Communications. Archived from the original on 18 July 2011. Retrieved 22 February 2010.
  6. ^ a b "Women in Politics: Early Women Elected to the NYS Legislature". Women of Courage. St. Lawrence County, NY Branch of the American Association of University Women. 1989. Archived from the original on 28 January 2010. Retrieved 21 February 2010.
  7. ^ "BACHELORS OF THE LAWS; Degrees from the City University for Young Women and Men" (PDF). The New York Times. New York, New York: The New York Times. 11 June 1895. p. 5. Retrieved 5 March 2010.
  8. ^ "Educational Notes and News". Intellect. Society for the Advancement of Education. 8: 647. 30 November 1918.
  9. ^ Polenberg, Richard (1999). Fighting faiths: the Abrams case, the Supreme Court, and free speech. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press. p. 291. ISBN 0-8014-8618-1. Retrieved 5 March 2010.
  10. ^ Zimmerman, Mary H. (1975). 75 year history of National Association of Women Lawyers, 1899-1974. National Association of Women Lawyers. p. 46. Retrieved 5 March 2010.
  11. ^ "MRS. LILLY UPHOLDS HER TWO SALARIES" (PDF). The New York Times. New York, New York: The New York Times. 4 November 1919. p. 5. Retrieved 5 March 2010.
  12. ^ "MRS. MARY F. LILLY, NOTED LAWYER, DIES; First Woman Elected From City to State Assembly--First Woman Graduate of N.Y.U. Law School". The New York Times. New York, New York: The New York Times. 12 October 1930. pp. N6. Retrieved 5 March 2010.
New York Assembly
Preceded by
Abram Ellenbogen
New York State Assembly
New York County, 7th District

Succeeded by
Noel B. Fox