One of History’s Unsung Heroines

Mary Preston Slosson isn’t one of the more well known women of the Old West, but to the prisoners in the Wyoming Territitorial Prison in Laramie, Mary was a rock star–and not for the reasons you might assume. She wasn’t the cook or a nurse. She didn’t help anyone escape–at least not in a physical sense. Mary was a chaplain–the first female chaplain in Wyoming and possibly in the United States.

Her story is unique for the day.  Born in 1858, Mary grew up with her minister father and her mother on a farm in New York state.  Her upbringing instilled in her a strong work ethic, religious values and hunger for knowledge that led her to pursue higher education. With her parents’ encouragement, she attended Hillsdale College in Michigan where she earned two degrees. Later she attended Cornell where she was the first women to earn a Ph.D. from that university. Her areas of expertise were philosophy and Greek, and her thesis was titled, “Different Theories of Beauty.”

Mary met Edwin Slosson in Kansas where she was serving as an assistant principal at a high school and he was finishing his MS degree. This is where the writer in me starts spinning tales. How exactly did they meet?  Were there immediate sparks?  Who spoke the first words?  That information is lost to history, but they were married August 12, 1891 and had a son in 1893.

What happened next is what gives Mary her unique place in history. Edwin’s career took them to the University of Wyoming in Laramie where he taught chemistry. Mary, who also went by May, saw a teaching opportunity of her own.  A firm believer that an idle mind was debilitating, she asked Pennitentiary officials for permission to conduct a lecture series for the prisoners.  The officials agreed, and the May Preston Slosson Historical Lecture Series was born–a tradition that continues to this day.

The prisoners loved Mary. One can only imagine the relief she brought from the hours of boredom, the encouragement from her faith, the interest she showed in individuals when they met in the prison dining hall to hear her speak. When the regular prison chaplain resigned, the prisoners petitioned to have Mary appointed in his place.  In 1899, she became the first female prison chaplain in the United States.

She spent at least four years in Laramie before moving to New York with Edwin, who added writing and editing to his list of career achievements. In Wyoming, women had the right the vote and were political equals. Wanting to share what she had  experienced in Wyoming, Mary became active in the women’s suffrage movement and was a popular speaker. She died in 1943, but she certainly left her mark on the world.

Mary is the kind of historical figure that fires up my imagination.  Can’t you see her as a heroine in a novel?  I sure can. I admire Edwin too.  He once filled in for an ailing Mary at a speaking engagement. When he was introduced as Mr. May Slosson, he smiled proudly and spoke eloquently of women’s rights, a tribute to his wife and her place in history.

 Don’t forget to leave a comment!  We’re celebrating our website make-over with a big giveaway to take place on Friday, Oct. 26th.  Winner #1 will receive a $100 gift card to either Amazon or B&N.  Winners #2 and #3 will receive $25 gift cards . . . Just leave a comment and you’re entered! 

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42 thoughts on “One of History’s Unsung Heroines”

  1. Thank you for a very interesting post. I hadn’t heard about her, so it was great getting to know a bit about her.

  2. That was so interesting,,your right would make a great story line for sure,,never knew any of those facts,those old prisons are nothing like todays are,ive visited Alcatraz an it was amazing the difference,so being a woman going to a place like that to give a speech had to be very scary,shows how much faith she had,thanks enjoyed the post

  3. Hello everyone! I’m going to be away from the computer for part of the morning–have a work commitment–rats! I’d rather stay home and play here in Wildflower Junction but duty calls.

    Keep the comments coming for a chance to win one of the gift cards!

  4. Remarkable woman. Fighting for the right to vote. We take everything for granted.

    Now I’m curious to know how she came up with this idea to teach the inmates. Did she know one of them? Have a friend who worked at the prison?

  5. I adore this story and must share since many of my friends are female chaplains and pastors! Totally made my dad.

    Peace, Julie

  6. I admire Mary Slosson, her husband and her parents! Gad is amazing! This would be a great story and I can’t wait to read it Victoria! 🙂

  7. your post was interesting. It is always great to see how women made history and get little notice. The women who went to prison in Penn for womens rights. Women serving as men in the civil war. No body knows these historys It is always great to read about them.

  8. One of the reasons I enjoy this blog is the little snippets we get of history. It’s just enough to be fascinating and not so long that I fall asleep while reading it! LOL!!!

  9. I always learn something when coming here. I had never heard of her but what an interesting story. I bet she had some fascinating stories to tell. Thanks.

  10. Super interesting, Victoria! That’s why I love this website! I get to find out all this interesting stuff! Thanks for the post. Can’t wait to read whatever your next book is 🙂

  11. Hi Vicki – I love to hear stories like this. Women in the west made a difference. And hearing about Mary’s tale and the strides she made, is inspiring. Thanks for the info. Great blog!!

  12. Mary reminds me so much of my Grandmother, Mary Eppa Box Hayes. Grandpa was the city cop of a small town in Nebraska and grandma was jailer when they had a woman prisoner. She also was decoy to catch a window peeker. She sat in the house that he was known to frequent and when he showed up she sot him with rock salt!! didn’t take long to figure out who he was!!

    Loved the blog!

  13. Hi Conni J! Your grandmother’s story could slide right into a romance novel…She sounds like an awesome lady!

    To everyone who enjoyed Mary’s story . . . All I can say is, “Me, too!” She was one strong woman!

  14. There are so many women in history that led fascinating lives. So many women, so little time! Anyway, each one has her own story and don’t we wish we knew them all?
    That was something unheard of at the time, for a woman or probably anyone, who cared for prisoners. Who would take the time to administer to them?
    Good post.
    Mary J

  15. Hi Mary J, The thing I love most about Mary Preston Slosson is that she walked like she talked. She took her education and used it in such a generous way.

    Hello Colleen — I first heard about when my hubby and I visited the Wyoming Territorial Prison. What a surprise!

    Hi Chey! There’s definitely enough “story” here for a book. Good stuff!

  16. This is the first time I have heard about her. Generally, I like learning about historical figures. Often their life journeys are interesting and the things they do brave.

  17. This was a great, real story from our history. So very interesting. And yes, my mind started spinning with questions about how they met and how they lived their life together. If I added correctly they were older when they married so having a son had to have been a blessing. Thanks for sharing what you learned.

    And thank you for the opportunity to win!

  18. Thanks for another bit of history I never would have known if I didn’t read Petticoats and Pistols.

  19. My Wyoming history is pretty sparse.. so this was very interesting… but then Wyoming seemed to be a very forward-thinking territory from the start!

  20. well the site is definitely different… Sorry to say I haven’t visited in awhile because of being busy

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