This month’s post combines both our Collections Curiosities and regular monthly post. This month marks the 100th anniversary of the largest held suffrage parade (up until that point) in New York City. On October 23, 1915, over 25,000 women marched up Fifth Avenue to advocate for women’s suffrage. At that point, the fight had been ongoing for more than 65 years, with the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 first passing a resolution in favor of women’s suffrage.
The fight for women’s rights began in New York State. In Waterloo, on July 13, 1848, a tea party at the home of activist Jane Hunt became the catalyst for the women’s rights movement. Jane Hunt’s guests were Lucretia Mott, Martha Wright, Mary Ann McClintock and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. As the women drank their tea, they discussed the misfortunes imposed upon females – not having voting rights, not being able to own property, few social and intellectual outlets – and decided that they wanted change. By the end of the gathering, the five women organized the first women’s rights convention set for Seneca Falls, NY, and wrote a notice for the Seneca County Courier that invited all women to attend the influential event. Six days later, on July 19, 1848, people crowded into the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, NY. These participants partook in the two day historic event that catapulted the women’s rights movement into a national battle for equality.
Contrary to some thinking that women gained the right to vote only when the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920, women actually won the vote across the country at different times before this. For example, the territory of Wyoming allowed women to vote in 1869 and joined the union in 1890 as the first state where women could vote in all elections. By the time the women’s suffrage amendment was passed, 15 states across the country already had full suffrage, and more had partial suffrage – that is, women could vote in some but not all elections. In 1917, New York State granted women the right to vote. As was one of the first states to do so, the domino effect most likely helped lead to the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
We have a great collection of women’s rights items in our collection, including a 1917 yellow and white cotton twill sash and accompanying pin worn by the donor’s mother in a suffrage parade. It would have been worn over the shoulder and pinned close at the opposite hip, allowing the twice printed phrase to be visible in the front and the back. Unfortunately, we don’t know exactly when it was worn or to which event.
The League of Women Voters was founded by Carrie Chapman Catt in 1920 during the convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. The convention was held just six months before the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, giving women the right to vote.
The League began as a “mighty political experiment” designed to help 20 million women carry out their new responsibilities as voters. It encouraged them to use their new power to participate in shaping public policy. From the beginning, the League has been an activist, grassroots organization whose leaders believed that citizens should play a critical role in advocacy. It was then, and is now, a nonpartisan organization. League founders believed that maintaining a nonpartisan stance would protect the fledgling organization from becoming mired in the party politics of the day. However, League members were encouraged to be political themselves, by educating citizens about, and lobbying for, government and social reform legislation. This holds true today. The League is proud to be nonpartisan, neither supporting nor opposing candidates or political parties at any level of government, but always working on vital issues of concern to members and the public. The League has a long, rich history, that continues with each passing year.
Looking for more information on women’s suffrage and its local effects? Look no further! BNHV has a great sub-collection in their Archives dedicated to the League of Women Voters of Amherst, founded in 1939, as well as the League of Women Voters of New York State and the Erie County League of Women Voters. In fact, we are working on digitizing this material so it can be better accessed by the public. Working in conjunction with the Western New York Library Resources Council (WNYLRC), we are adding a digital collection to New York Heritage. We already have two collections available on New York Heritage and we invite you to check them out! We hope to continue adding collections to New York Heritage which will allow us to meet a long-standing goal of making our collection more accessible to the community and helpful to those wishing to access our holdings. We believe that our collection and archives serve a valuable purpose in educating the community not only through exhibits but by being open to the public for examination, research, investigation and inquiry as well as promoting much needed discussion and appreciation of history. So stay tuned for the launch of this collection online, available to all. Of course, not every archival document will be included but we urge you, if you are interested, to set up an appointment to view these documents at your leisure!
Check out this 1968 newspaper article that we found while working on this project. Quite relevant to the upcoming 2016 election!