By 1912 adult women residents of California had gained the right to vote. However, long before then, women held political posts. Frequently, those political offices were associated with education. The political career of one local woman, Margaret May Melvin, spanned both the pre- and post- women’s suffrage eras. Melvin and her life story were one of the few biographical sketches about local women included in the 1912 “History of Solano and Napa Counties, California” book.
Melvin’s political career began about a decade after her circa 1900 arrival in Napa County. She had moved from Lake County to accept a Yountville public schools teaching job. The history book author, Tom Gregory, provided the details about her path to a political career.
He wrote, “At the expiration of one year (circa 1901, as a Yountville school teacher), Miss Melvin was promoted to be principal and continued to fill the position with recognized ability and gratifying success until she was elected (Napa) county superintendent of schools.” Gregory continued, “As the nominee of the Republican party she was chosen for this office in November, 1910, and took the oath of office January 1, 1911, since which time she has concentrated her entire attention upon the work of the position.” At the time of her swearing in as superintendent of schools, Melvin was 33 years old.
Gregory also noted the community’s evaluation of Melvin’s job performance during her first year in office. He wrote, “Already she has become known as an intelligent, able county official and her advisory work with inexperienced teachers has won particular commendation.”
According to Gregory, Melvin also had aspired to surpass her predecessors’ achievements of attaining high scholastic and performance standards in the local schools. He added, “Devotion to educational movements has given her especial prominence in this field of usefulness, but she is also well known and highly honored in other lines of citizenship.”
Reflecting upon her social and personal life, Gregory wrote, “In social circles her position is one of assured influence, in religion in its broadest and most liberal sense Miss Melvin has been an uplifting factor in her community, while the maintenance of a high moral standard among the youth of the county has been one of her chief aims as a private citizen and as a county official.”
Her biography included other personal information. It stated Melvin was born on June 13, 1877. She was the third of six children—four daughters and two sons—born to Mary and Harrison Melvin. Margaret’s birthplace was the family home located on their Lake County ranch. However, her desire, or zeal, for the highest quality education possible resulted in her being sent to Mendocino, Sonoma and Napa counties’ public schools during her formative years.
To conclude his biographical sketch of Melvin, Gregory wrote a glowing and lengthy paragraph lauding her. “The qualities which have won for women of talent and steadfast purpose admission into the leading professions and occupations form noteworthy attributes in the character of Miss Melvin, who as county superintendent of schools wields a distant influence upon the educational upbuilding of Napa county and carries forward with intelligent resourcefulness measures for the promotion of the usefulness of the schools.”
Gregory continued, “The impression that she leaves with a stranger is of an educator singularly well qualified for the profession and fully equal to every emergency necessary to be met in the course of her work.” He added, “To her friends her presence brings with it a feeling of confidence and a realization of her thorough familiarity with every detail connected with the office which she fills with accepted dignity and tact.”