When she was 41 years old, Mrs. Mary Quackenbos, married Mr. Howard Donald Humiston in Lima, Peru. What she was doing in Peru, is the stuff of headlines. And, there were a lot of headlines in the life of this woman. Yet, today, she is relatively unknown.
That’s one of the things that I love about this season of Timeless. The Time Team continues to travel in their pursuit of Rittenhouse. But, in doing so, they cross paths with some of the most interesting people from history – people whose stories deserve to be told and re-told in the world today.
Mary Grace Winterton Quackenbos Humiston is one such person. Known, later in life, as Mrs. Sherlock Holmes, Mary was once quoted as saying, “common sense and persistence will solve any mystery.” I certainly feel that way about family history research, which is really just uncovering and telling the stories of those who came before us. So, the Ancestry Research Team dug into the story of this woman to see what we could learn.
At the age of 31, Mary became a law student at New York University, at a time when very few women pursued that profession. She graduated in 1903, completing three years of course work in two years and graduating seventh in her class. She worked hard to establish a legal aid firm for the working poor. That, eventually, led her to uncover a horrific system of peonage in the southern United States.
Mrs. Quackenbos went to great lengths to bring the conditions of these camps to the attention of the Department of Justice. Her persistence got her hired by them as the first woman in a senior position with that organization. For the next several years, as part of her investigations, she traveled abroad trying to understand the means by which immigrants were enticed into this kind of forced labor.
Her 1909 passport application, found on Ancestry, lists Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, India, China, Japan, the Hawaiian Islands, and Canada as her destinations for this one trip. She may not have travelled in time but she certainly saw the world. And, she righted injustices as she went – even in the face of harsh criticism from politically influential men who sought to undermine her efforts because she implicated them in the crimes she brought to light.
Following her marriage, to Howard Humiston, in 1911, Mary continued to hone her investigative skills. In 1917, she took up the case of a missing 18-year old girl. When the New York Police Department failed to locate the girl, her father hired Mary, who took the case pro bono and solved it. This case led to her being named a special investigator to the NYPD and to her moniker, “Mrs. Sherlock Holmes.”
One headline in Jun 1917 reads, “Woman Mystery Expert Solves Problems When Policemen Fail.” Another article calls her, “pure enthusiasm…in the face of personal danger.” Mary Grace Winterton Quackenbos Humiston defied stereotypes, fought for human rights, and provided a great example for young women around the world. I’m excited to see what parts of her story are shared tonight on Timeless.