Martha Edna Wright was born in Pierce City, Missouri, on January 29, 1912. Her father, Charles Elbridge Wright, was a rural mail carrier. Her mother, Nelle, served as a substitute carrier from the time that America entered World War I. Martha also had a brother, Edward.
University Years (1930-1940)
Martha attended the University of Missouri, where she met fellow student Hicks Griffiths (born in Amsterdam, New York on July 9, 1910). The two were married on December 28, 1933. They graduated from the University the following year.
Hicks convinced Martha to go to law school with him. Harvard University accepted Hicks, but not Martha, as they wouldn’t accept women. The couple decided to attend the University of Michigan Law School together instead. They both received their Juris Doctorates there in 1940. They then relocated to Detroit, where they worked as attorneys for American Automobile Insurance Company.
World War II and Early Post-War Era (1941-1954)
During World War II, Martha worked as a contract negotiator for the U.S. Army’s Detroit Ordinance District. Meanwhile, Hicks served as Chief Price Attorney for the U.S. Office of Price Administration. After the war, Martha ran for State Representative but lost. That same year (1946), she and Hicks formed their own law firm: Griffiths and Griffiths. G. Mennen Williams joined this firm in 1947. In 1948, Williams ran for Governor while Martha again ran for State Representative. Both won. Martha remained in the State Legislature until 1953. She left when Governor Williams appointed her a judge of the Detroit Recorder’s Court.
U.S. Congresswoman (1955-1975)
In 1954, Martha Griffiths was elected U.S. Representative of the 17th Congressional District of Michigan. Her term began in 1955, and she remained in the U.S. House for twenty years. Committees on which she served include Ways and Means, Banking and Currency, Government Operations, the Committee on Crime, the Committee on the Budget, and the Joint Economic Committee. She also served as Chairwoman of the Joint Economic Subcommittee on Fiscal Policy. She chaired the Joint Economic Committee hearing on the modern pension system and led an important study on welfare. The study produced a multi-volume work that would be researched and cited for years to come.
Griffiths was also a notable champion of women’s rights. She successfully argued to include anti-gender discrimination language in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. She also sponsored the Equal Rights Amendment and worked to pass it through Congress (Although passed by Congress, it failed to be ratified by the required number of states.).
Post-Congressional Years (1975-2003)
Griffiths retired from Congress in 1975. She then served on the boards of several corporations, including AAA of Michigan, Burroughs, Chrysler, Consumers Power, Greyhound, K-Mart and Verex. In 1982, she was elected Lieutenant Governor to Michigan Governor James Blanchard. As Lieutenant Governor, she chaired the Michigan Equal Employment and Business Opportunity Council (MEEBOC) and served as Chief Affirmative Action Officer. After two terms, Governor Blanchard informed Griffiths that she wouldn’t be his running mate in the 1990 election. Blanchard lost, and many felt that his decision to drop Griffiths from the ticket was a factor.
Martha Griffiths passed away on April 22, 2003. Her husband, Hicks, preceded her in death in 1996. The couple had no children.
Martha Griffiths Papers
Martha Griffiths donated personal papers to the Archives of Michigan. They include general correspondence, Christmas and birthday cards, transcribed speeches, biographical material, guest registers, scrapbooks, a diary, oral history interview transcripts and photographs. Click Guide to Martha Griffiths Papers to view a finding aid to the collection.
Reposted from Seeking Michigan, March 31, 2015