MARY STODDARD DOTEN
The information below has been compiled from a variety of sources. If the reader has access to information that can be documented and that will correct or add to this woman’s biographical information, please contact the Nevada Women’s History Project.
At A Glance:
Born: March 25. 1845
Died: March 12, 1914
Maiden Name: Stoddard
Race/Nationality/Ethnic Background: Caucasian
Married: Edward Sperry, Alfred Doten
Children: Five (three daughters, two sons)
Primary City and County of Residence and Work:
Gold Hill & Virginia City (Storey County), Austin (Lander County) Reno (Washoe County).
Major Fields of Work: Education (teacher, Vice-Principal, Reno High School, Reno Public Schools Board of Examiners, Curriculum Committee, Nevada State Board of Instruction)
Other Role Identities: Wife, Mother, Writer (journalist and poet), Suffragist
Mary Stoddard was born March 25, 1845, in Westville, Connecticut. Not much is known about her early life, other than what she wrote in her diary beginning January 1, 1858, and ending with her last chronological entry dated May 6, 1866. Fortunately we can glean some idea of her life and thoughts from her writings and reminiscences of life on the Comstock.
In Mary’s diary there are a number of entries and added writings that mention Edward Sperry and her love for him. There is an ambiguous entry dated Saturday, September 15, 1861, that says ”Mary Stoddard and Eddie Sperry.” This might possibly be the date she married Edward Sperry. Another entry in the diary, December 25, 1865, marked the occasion of the birth of their daughter Millie Abbott Sperry. Curiously no entries in the diary mention what happened to Edward Sperry. An added entry, written over an earlier entry in her diary dated May 14, 1869, from Camden, New York, ”Ah, me, Father and Grandmother dead, Goodwin in Connecticut, and I a poor assistant in a Public School, with a little child on my hands to support. No husband to help me….” Mary left her child Millie in the care of her mother, left the East, and with her education and teaching experience, went West where she had family. In an article for the University of Nevada’s The Student Record (June 5, 1896), Mary wrote that she arrived in Virginia City in December of 1870. She stayed with her Aunt Lucy Batterman, her husband General Batterman, the Superintendent of the Gould and Curry Mines, and their two children Christopher and Annie. Lucy Batterman was the sister of Mary’s mother, Sarah Stoddard.
Mary taught school in Gold Hill from 1872 to1874. We know nothing of Mary’s life during that time. What we do begin to know of Mary is from Alf Doten’s journal. He first mentioned Mary in an entry dated August 4, 1872, and then briefly mentioned other evenings with Mrs. Stoddard, as he called her, at the theatre or opera, and trips to Lake Tahoe. Alf wrote in the journal on July 24, 1873 that he and Mary Stoddard were married in the middle of Lake Tahoe on a steamer in the company of one hundred people, both invited and those who pulled their boats alongside to witness the occasion. They were married by the Reverend Mr. McGrath. After the champagne was finished, Alf wrote of the Reverend writing an account of the wedding, putting it in a bottle, and tossing the account overboard.
Until his death on November 12, 1903, Alf Doten’s journals provided an almost daily account of his life. After his marriage to Mary Stoddard, he frequently wrote of her and their family. He mentioned her health conditions, the births of their children (Bessie, July 13, 1875; Sam, December 14, 1876; Alf Jr. September 2, 1877; Mary Godwin, December 5, 1880), the dailiness of their lives, the arrival of Mary’s mother and daughter, Millie, in 1875. Through his journal we know: when he slept with her, when they bought furniture, when they moved to Austin, when Mary did laundry because she could not find help, and when Mary took charge of the first grades in the public school after the teacher resigned. In Austin, through the diary, we read of Mary taking the teachers’ examination which covered almost a week of intensive testing, earning her first grade certificate, and her salary of $100 in coin. It was during this time she suffered a miscarriage which almost cost her life. Alf Doten was not a man who provided well for his family. There is no doubt about his love for his family, but he was a man who was gregarious and drank his earnings. Mary was by necessity forced to resume her teaching career in order to make ends meet and to keep the family out of poverty.
In December of 1883, Mary applied to the Reno public schools for a teaching position. On January 1, 1884, Mary and the children were off to Reno after she had accepted an offer. Mary Stoddard Doten was one of the pioneer teachers in Reno, where she taught from 1884 until her retirement in 1903. During that time she taught most of the subjects offered at Reno High School. She loved literature and she was devoted to her students. She felt it was incumbent upon teachers to be an example for their students, and inspire them to be lovers of good books and language. Mary’s career as a school teacher was long and prolific. She was re-elected annually to the Vice-Principalship of Reno High School. She was granted a life diploma in May of 1887, and that year also became the first woman appointed to the Reno Public Schools Board of Examiners. In 1888, she wrote a history of the Reno schools, which was printed in the Reno Evening Gazette. Mary was very active in the Nevada State Teachers’ Institutes, which became the Nevada Education Association in 1901. Several of her essays given as speeches were printed in the addenda to the Biennial Reports of the State Superintendent of Public Education. Click here to read ”The Duties of a Public School Teacher.”
In addition to her teaching, Mary Doten was active in the Nevada women’s suffrage movement. Click here to read “Woman Suffrage,” and a letter to the editor from December 6, 1894, Reno Evening Gazette. In the Saturday, May 18, 1895, edition of the Reno Evening Gazette, is a report of the organization and first public meeting of the state woman suffrage committee, in which Misses Susan B. Anthony, Hannah Clapp and Mary Doten were in attendance and made remarks. Her independence and working experience made her an outspoken suffragist. Click here to read her poem “Idiots, Lunatics, Paupers and Women!”
By this time Alf Doten was a confirmed alcoholic, catching writing assignments and jobs from friends as he could. A poignant entry in his journal from July 14, 1891, said ,”Got the two worst snubs of my Nevada life today — JW Haines told Bob Patterson that my wife’s application before the Board of Regents for a position in the State University is hanging fire on my account. She was considered competent enough but she had a drunken husband —-” One can only imagine how disappointed she must have been not to have been able to teach at the University, where she should have been teaching. This was also the period of time Mary told Alf he was never to come home again. She later relented, but continued to give him a monthly allowance for his living expenses away from the family home until his lonely death in a Carson City boarding house. All the while, Mary was a prolific writer of articles for the Reno Evening Gazette, a poet writing on a wide variety of subjects, and author of short stories about Comstock life.
In 1903, Mary went to see an eye specialist in San Francisco. The years of teaching had taken their toll on her eyesight and she resigned from her duties at Reno High School. She continued to live in Reno in her home at 305 West Street, gave speeches at the 20th Century Club, was a charter member of the Nevada Historical Society, and wrote her reminiscences of the glorious early days on the Comstock. Family tragedy continued for Mary. Daughter Bessie died in 1905 from thyphoid fever at the age of 31, and daughter Godwin committed suicide in 1911 at the age of 30, after the death of her fiancé. In 1912, Mary Doten was honored for her many contributions to public education with the opening of Mary S. Doten School, grades 1-8, with Echo Loder as Principal. The mission style school, located at West and 4th Streets in Reno, remained in use until its closure in 1974, and was eventually torn down.
Mary Stoddard Doten died March 12, 1914, and was buried in Hillside Cemetery. Mary’s two sons continued to live in Reno. Samuel was director of the University’s Agricultural Experiment Station, was a well-known professor, and died in 1955, at the age of 79. His brother, Alfred Jr., was part owner of a warehouse until his early death at age 48 in 1926. Alfred’s obituary mentioned his stepsister, Millie, who lived in Illinois. Neither brother had children. Mary’s only granddaughter was Bessie’s daughter.
Biographical sketch by Lynn Bremer
Sources of Information:
- Mary Stoddard’s diary, letters, speeches, poetry and scrapbooks. In the Doten Collection at the Nevada Historical Society, Reno.
- Nevada State Teachers’ Institute Bulletin. 9th annual session. November 26-30, 1889. Nevada State Archives, Carson City.
- Gold Hill News
- Reno Evening Gazette
- Territorial Enterprise
- The Journals of Alfred Doten. Edited by Walter Van Tilburg Clark. Reno, Nevada: University of Nevada Press. 1973.