New York and the Fight for Suffrage

For the past week, we have been exploring the history of Women’s Suffrage in the Champlain Valley at 100 years, the complexities of the movement, and what the fight was like in Vermont. Today, we dig into what the fight for women’s rights and suffrage was like in New York.

New York State produced many nationally recognized suffrage leaders including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Francis Willard, and Sojourner Truth. While the rural section of the state along Lake Champlain did not have the same progressive concentrations as New York’s major cities, they were fertile ground for reform movements like temperance and suffrage. The poet Helen Hinsdale Rich is credited by Francis Willard as “the first woman in Northern New York to embrace woman suffrage.” Susan B Anthony, who grew up near Battenville, NY, just south of the Champlain Valley, took a tour of the North Country in the winter of 1855, traveling so far and speaking so exhaustively about suffrage in the towns along Lake Champlain that she nearly collapsed. These early influences set the roots for later suffrage movements in the North Country.

As the Adirondacks and Champlain Valley became picturesque destinations for New Yorkers during the Gilded Age, the North Country suffrage movement developed during the later half of the 19th century. Suffrage clubs emerged along the lake, encouraged by progressive newspapers led by editor Hannah Straight Lancing of Plattsburgh, recognized as the “Mother of Suffrage in Clinton County” in the 1890s. Many other suffragists from northern New York are only now being rediscovered.

Inez Millholand, who became the face of the movement for the 19th amendment, had strong personal connections to the Champlain Valley. Her mother nurtured Inez’s independence and gender equality during her time along the lake. As an adult, she became an accomplished labor lawyer and participated in the 1913 Suffrage March in Washington and other suffrage events coordinated by Alice Paul. The distinct persona she embodied, the ideal of the “crusader for suffrage” clad in armour astride a white horse, had been used for many women’s movements during the previous century. Paul and Mulholland reinvigorated this trope in the new century, branding the new youthful movement in older idealistic imagery. Inez tragically passed away in 1916 at the age of 30, while campaigning for suffrage in the west.

Image Credit: Harris & Ewing, Washington, D.C. Inez Milholland Boissevain preparing to lead the March 3, suffrage parade in Washington, D.C. Mar. 3. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

In the early 20th century, a new group of educated women activists took up the effort to enfranchise women during the upheavals of the first world war. Leaders like Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, and Inez Milholland (pictured above on horseback) led the movement up to and beyond the passage of the 19th amendment, which was ratified in 1920. New York was one of the key ratification states, and supporters celebrated when it passed in the state on June 16th, 1919. These leaders would continue the fight for women’s equality beyond 1920.

This post is part of a series, Women’s Suffrage in the Champlain Valley. Read the previous post here. This series will continue tomorrow with: Modern Movements.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, two of the most important suffragists in the 19th century both centered their efforts in New York, beginning with the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention. They held the stage for decades before a new generation of advocates took the reigns in the 20th century.

Image Credit: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, seated, and Susan B. Anthony, standing, three-quarter length portrait. [Between 1880 and 1902] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/item/97500087/.

Women’s suffrage represented a threat to the traditional patriarchal system and was often satirized in the mainstream press, as seen here in a New York cartoon. The women in the image are shown to be both ridiculous, in carrying out traditional men’s roles, and also threatening, as they appear to leave their duties in the home to their husbands.

Image Credit: Currier & Ives. The age of brass. Or the triumphs of woman’s rights. [New York: Currier & Ives] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/item/90708465/.

Legend has it that Lucy Stone, famous suffragist of the early era, used this wagon on her speaking engagements through states like Massachusetts, Vermont, and New York between the 1870s and 1890s. Then in 1912, suffragists recovered it and turned it into a mobile billboard for the cause.

Image Credit: Woman Suffrage Wagon. Image courtesy of Division of Political and Military History, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_1444301

A new emphasis on gaining the vote in the early 20th century employed many novel strategies to attract attention, including a sculptural “suffrage torch” designed by socialite activist Louisine Havemeyer, which traveled throughout the state of New York in the hands of women. Havermeyer, a major art collector who went on to endow both the Women’s Party and art museums in Vermont and New York, entered the suffrage movement in her 60s but did not shy away from acts of civil disobedience.

Image Credit: Bain News Service, Publisher. Suffrage tug, Jersey City. [Between and Ca. 1915] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/item/2014698292/.

The women’s movement held memorial events for Inez Milholland at her gravesite in Lewis, New York, near Lake Champlain, some drawing as many at 10,000 people. An account of the event by the New York Times recounts a “Snub to Negro by Women’s Party” when Alice Paul failed to invite African American speakers to a memorial in Lewis in 1924: a reminder that racial disparities continued to play a role at both the local and national level.

Inez Milholland Memorial, Lewis, N.Y. [Aug] Photograph. National Woman’s Party Records. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/item/mnwp000449/

The text and images here are originally from a Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership traveling exhibit Women’s Suffrage in the Champlain Valley, researched and written by Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. For more information about the traveling exhibit, contact CVNHP: https://champlainvalleynhp.org/.