Snider, Mary (1863-1930)

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Mary Snider: career woman and church leader, was born 13 January 1863 on a farm near Waterloo, Ontario, Canada to Samuel S. Snider (9 October 1821-24 March 1912) and Anna (Snider) Snider (23 July 1824-23 April 1890). She was the eleventh child in a family of 15. She was a members of Berlin Mennonite Church (First Mennonite) in Berlin (Kitchener) and later of Stirling Avenue Mennonite. Mary, who never married, died 26 February 1930 and is buried in the Erb Street Mennonite cemetery in Waterloo..

Few Mennonite women had careers that placed them in the “world” in the 1890s but Mary did. She was named the first matron of the Berlin Orphanage in December, 1896. Mary was paid eight dollars a month and her two assistants received six dollars each. A local doctor provided free medical service, and free shoe repairs helped stretch the thirty-dollar monthly budget. Under Mary's leadership, the orphanage, which began with 15 children in 1894, had provided shelter for 100 children by May 1901.

One May morning in 1904 Mary discovered a newborn baby boy in a basket on the orphanage's front steps. She took him in and soon formed a strong bond with the infant. Although she was a single woman, Mary adopted him and named him James Edward. He was known as Edward, received a good education, was active at Stirling and was elected Sunday school superintendent in 1928.

In the 1920s, Mennonite Conference of Ontario leaders pressured ministers to discipline women who wore hats rather than the regulation bonnet. Mary raised her voice in this dispute, complaining that a dress code for women but not for men was unfair. Continuing to wear her hat, Mary was a model for other Mennonite women who had city jobs. The “bonnet issue” became a membership test at First Mennonite. Members who opposed the regulation were excommunicated. Some of these dissidents, including Mary Snider, formed a new congregation, Stirling Avenue Mennonite, in August 1924. Mary, active at Stirling, suggested new projects such as a cradle roll Sunday school department. She was named its first superintendent in 1927.

Mary Snider had been at the forefront in the formation of the Sisters' Aid (later Ladies' Aid) at Berlin Mennonite Church, partly in response to a need for clothing at the orphanage. Mary was elected assistant-secretary treasurer at the inaugural meeting in July 1908. After the church split, women from the two congregations continued to meet together until the Women's Missionary Society (WMS) of the Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church was formed on 25 March 1925. Mary was elected president. The WMS not only provided clothing and canned goods for the orphanage but also supported other organizations beyond the Mennonite world like the Women's Christian Temperance Union, the Victorian Order of Nurses, the Freeport Sanitarium and a leprosy mission.

Mary resigned as matron of the orphanage about 1927. Some months after her son Edward was married, he suffered a ruptured appendix. Peritonitis set in and he died on 23 February 1930. Mary died on the day of Edward's funeral, some say of a broken heart. The two deaths were a stunning loss to the Stirling Ave. Mennonite Church.

Mary was described as an energetic and capable leader in her church, aware of and responding to the needs in her city and community; she was interested in the wider world.


Good, E. Reginald. Frontier Community to Urban Congregation: First Mennonite Church, Kitchener 1813 – 1988. Kitchener, Ontario: First Mennonite Church, 1988.

Harder, Laureen. Risk and Endurance: A History of Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church. Kitchener, Ontario: Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church, 2003.

"Mary Snider." Waterloo Region Generations. Web. (accessed 2 January 2015).

Roth, Lorraine. Willing Service: Stories of Ontario Mennonite Women. Waterloo, Ontario: Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario, 1992.

Author(s) Ferne Burkhardt
Date Published January 2015

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Burkhardt, Ferne. "Snider, Mary (1863-1930)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. January 2015. Web. 20 Jan 2022.,_Mary_(1863-1930)&oldid=130364.

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Burkhardt, Ferne. (January 2015). Snider, Mary (1863-1930). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 January 2022, from,_Mary_(1863-1930)&oldid=130364.

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