Maria Kindberg is intertwined with the woman’s suffrage movement not only in Rhode Island but nationally because of her accomplishments during the early decades of the twentieth century.
Maria Albertina Kindberg was born in Ryd near the town of Skövde, Sweden on October 12, 1860; she emigrated to the United States arriving on June 25, 1889. Maria doesn’t show up in Rhode Island until 1895 when her name first appeared in the Providence Directory. The directory shows her living at 311 Blackstone Street in the South Providence section of the capital city. Maria was listed as a midwife. Soon she along with her companion Ingeborg Kindstedt were advertising a Swedish Home for Young Women, as well as an employment agency
The earliest accounts of Maria’s involvement in the suffrage movement are found in the newspapers of the day. By 1914, accounts of meetings of the Woman’s Political Equality League of Providence appear with Ingeborg as the league’s president and Maria its secretary. Regular weekly meetings were held at the Kindberg/Kindstedt new residence at 557 Westminster Street in Providence.
When it was announced that the Congressional Union would hold a Women Voters Convention from September 14-16 at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, Maria and Ingeborg were committed to attend.
The Congressional Union, under the leadership of Alice Paul, had been for some time collecting names on a petition to present to the U.S. Congress and President Wilson. The petition had approximately 500,000 names and the intent was to take the petition from San Francisco to Washington D.C. in time for the opening of Congress on December 6, 1915. Paul learned that Maria and Ingeborg had planned to purchase an automobile and drive back to Rhode Island. Paul thought if women envoys could drive the petition to Washington it would get good press coverage.
The cross-country, 3,000-mile, adventure set out from San Francisco on September 15. The trip took ten weeks, cut across eighteen states and the District of Columbia, and encountered all sorts of mechanical and navigational problems. The driver and passengers faced extreme heat in the deserts of Nevada. At each stop along the way the suffrage automobile was meet by large crowds, receptions with state and local leaders and covered with articles and photographs in the national press. For the time being Maria and Ingeborg were national celebrities.
Following their harrowing trip and reception in Washington DC Maria and Ingeborg returned to Providence where they continued to work for woman suffrage until the ratification of the 19th Amendment by the Rhode Island general assembly on January 6, 1920.
For Maria the afterglow of her women suffrage efforts was short lived. On March 25, 1921, she applied for a passport; her stated purpose was to return to Sweden in order to visit relatives. Their scheduled departure was to be on April 21 on the SS Stockholm, but unfortunately, she never went. By June 7, Maria was dead. Often overlooked today, this remarkable woman is worthy of inclusion in any listing of people who made a difference in the woman’s suffrage movement in the United States.
Russell J. DeSimone