Women’s History Month – Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Mary Flinn Lawrence

This guest blog post was written by Allegheny County Park Ranger, Deaglan McManus. 

Women have undoubtedly contributed greatly to the creation and conservation of our county parks. In no park is this more evident than at Hartwood Acres. It simply would not exist without Mary Flinn Lawrence. Over three-quarters of the present-day park was once hers, and her early work to improve the land is still evident today. In 1927, three years after purchasing Hartwood, she was named Pennsylvania’s second largest individual forest planter of that year. Mrs. Lawrence and her husband John Lawrence had planted 96,000 pine tree seedlings across their estate to prevent soil erosion and restore the health of the forest. She also hired Rose Greely, the first licensed woman architect of Washington, D.C., to design the landscaping around the mansion in 1938.

Mrs. Lawrence, second from right, planting an American Elm in Schenley Park on April 17, 1923. Credit: Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection

Mrs. Lawrence, second from right, planting an American Elm in Schenley Park on April 17, 1923. Credit: Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection


Mrs. Lawrence’s legacy is much larger than the park itself. She was an active suffragist, conservationist, and advocate for social welfare. In 1920 she was appointed to the State Forestry Commission, the second woman ever to serve on the commission and the first person from Allegheny County. Only a few months later, it was reported that her appointment was already bearing fruit in the consideration given her plan to reforest the hills of Allegheny county.”[i] That plan came to fruition soon after when she helped to establish the first municipal forest in the United States. Mrs. Lawrence announced that this forest, located in Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park, was “the beginning of a city movement back to the trees in Pittsburgh and in cities of the United States.”[ii] She continued to serve on the forestry commission through the terms of three governors, establishing roots not just in the forest she established around her Hartwood home, but across the state as well. In later years she served on the advisory committee of the Pennsylvania Parks Association, and as the legislative chair of the Garden Club Federation of Pennsylvania, where she championed the regulation of highway billboards which she argued detracted from the natural beauty of our state.

“Women are at the back of all great movements for benefiting humanity and they should be given this deserved and proper place in the affairs and government of the people.” [iii] – Mary Flinn Lawrence

From an early age Mary Flinn Lawrence was active in the suffragist movement. She believed that women should have the same rights as men, including the right to vote and equally participate in public affairs and their management. As a teenager, she co-founded the Allegheny County Equal Rights Association in 1904. In 1911, she was one of four Pittsburgh delegates to the National Women’s Suffrage Convention. The following year she took the stage at the end of local theatre performances to convince the audiences that allowing women to vote would be of great benefit to all. In 1915 she combined her love for riding – and her passion to win the right to vote – by leading the horseback delegation at Pittsburgh’s suffrage parade. Even after State Senator James McNichol told her in 1913 that “A woman’s place is in the home, not in politics” she was undeterred from the cause.[iv]  The Pennsylvania House of Representatives had just approved the measure to give women voting rights with nearly two-thirds in favor.  For that successful vote it was reported that Mary Flinn “was one of the most active agents of the suffrage cause, and many a wavering member willingly acknowledges the force of her persuasion as the cause of his final surrender to the suffragettes.” [v][/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

It is a shame and disgrace that a woman because of the sex alone, today may do the same work – and better work sometimes – and still be paid less wages than a man.”[vi] – Mary Flinn Lawrence

Mary Flinn Lawrence never took her power in our democracy for granted. Even after the 19th amendment was ratified, just over 100 years ago, she used her voice, her influence, and her time in numerous committees at the local, state and national level to advance the causes she deeply cared about. Mrs. Lawrence was good friends with Cornelia Bryce Pinchot and her husband Gifford Pinchot, who is known as the Father of American Forestry. Newspapers as far away as Honolulu credited her with advancing his first successful campaign for Governor of Pennsylvania. Throughout her life she was actively involved in many political and social organizations. In 1948 she described herself as “overextended” to the press, at which time she was serving on 12 boards. An incomplete listing of her committee involvements throughout her life includes: Allegheny County Planning Commission, National Board of the American Women’s Voluntary Services, Civic Club of Allegheny County, Daughters of the American Revolution, Family Service Association, Family Society of Pittsburgh, Fox Chapel Garden Club, Home for Convalescent Mothers and Babies, Industrial Home for Crippled Children, Juvenile Court Detention Home, Pennsylvania Children’s Commission, Pennsylvania Council of Republican Women, Pennsylvania Roadside Council, Pennsylvania War Fund, Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association, Pittsburgh Playgrounds Association, Pittsburgh Skin and Cancer Foundation, Pittsburgh Symphony Society, Pleasant Hill Farm Association, Public Charities Association, Red Cross, State Forest Commission, State Republican Committee, Twentieth Century Club, Volunteer Bureau, Western Pennsylvania Committee for Education on Alcoholism, and the Young Women’s Christian Association.

“No one group has a right to the landscape. It belongs to all. And if we preserve and promote natural beauty we are doing something of great value for posterity.” [vii] – Mary Flinn Lawrence

Mrs. Lawrence sold her 485-acre estate to Allegheny County in 1969 and remained at the mansion until her death in 1974. Her steadfast resolve to better our environment and social conditions can be celebrated every day in the beautiful Hartwood Acres Park. Mary Flinn Lawrence is one of many women who have been, and continue to be, instrumental in the conservation and advancement of our nine Allegheny County Parks.



  1. “To Reforest Our Hills,” Pittsburgh Daily Post, November 9, 1920, page 6. 
  2. “First of City’s 500,000 New Saplings Planted,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 18, 1923, page 21.
  3. Mary Flinn, “Why I am A Suffragist,” The Pittsburgh Press, January 8, 1912, page 15.
  4. ‘Suffragettes and Antis in Storm on State Senate,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 19, 1913, page 4.
  5. “Women to Vote, House Decrees,” The Franklin Repository, February 12, 1913, page 3.
  6. May Flinn, “Why I Am A Suffragist,” The Pittsburgh Press, January 8, 1912, page 15.
  7. Genevieve McSwigan, “Life a Busy One for Mrs. Lawrence,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 7, 1948, page 5.