Women’s Suffrage in the Champlain Valley

(Top image credit: Woman Suffrage Procession, Washington, D.C. Official program woman suffrage procession. Washington, D. C. March 3. Washington, 1913. Pdf. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/item/rbpe.20801600/.)

2020 marks an important election anniversary for the United States of America: it marks 100 years since women won the right to vote. That’s 25 presidential elections that most women have been able to vote in since the passage of the 19th Amendment, as well as many important federal and local elections. To mark this important anniversary, let’s explore what this journey was like right here in the Champlain Valley.

After an international abolitionist meeting in Britain failed to recognize its female contributors, a group of Americans organized the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention in Seneca, New York. At the end of the convention, they ratified the “Declaration of Sentiments,” which was signed by attendees including Lucretia Mott, Fredrick Douglass, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. It was the first to call for equality of the sexes and for the right of women to vote in the United States, controversial even within the convention.

Image credit: Our Roll of Honor. Listing women and men who signed the Declaration of Sentiments at first Woman’s Rights Convention, July 19-20. Seneca Falls, New York, May, 1908. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/item/rbcmiller001182/.

The legacy of women’s rights and the fight for suffrage in the Champlain Valley is a complex story, connected to and unique from national and global struggles for suffrage. It is a story of countless named and unnamed women and men who fought for fairness and equality, while sometimes falling into the traps of injustice themselves. Women’s suffrage is not a story of linear progress that ended when women received the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. It is a cycle of progress and pitfalls that continues to this day.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, Lake Champlain was the transportation corridor for regional and international exchanges of goods, ideas, and conflicts between New York, Vermont, and Quebec. Major events in other areas of New York State, including the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, often receive the most attention, but the hills and towns in New York’s North Country played their own important roles in the movement. Across the lake, Vermont was a bastion of progressive social and religious thought, and also a sheltered and conservative corner of the Northeast in the 19th century. And on the northern end of Lake Champlain, the women of Quebec were the last in Canada to gain municipal suffrage in 1940.

This image of a suffrage parade in Waterbury, Vermont during the early 1900s shows the grassroots and local efforts that made up the suffrage movement in the Champlain Valley.

Image credit: Women’s Suffrage during 4th of July Parade. Cardstock Postcard. July 4th 1912. Waterbury, Vermont. Courtesy of the Waterbury Historical Society

While deeply linked to other progressive movements, including abolition and temperance, the fight for full voting rights for women transected a complex web of causes, ideas, and cultural values that were shifting quickly in the 19th and early 20th centuries. After nearly a century of efforts, women received the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920. Today, efforts continue to secure women’s rights in the Champlain Valley and nationwide.

This post is part of the series, Women’s Suffrage in the Champlain Valley. Read the next post here: A Complex Movement.

Countless recognized and unrecognized people took part in the movement for universal suffrage and women’s rights in the last two hundred years. New York State produced many of the most important leaders of the suffrage movement in the 19th century, represented here, who went on to advance the cause along with co-leaders from Vermont and Quebec.

Image Credit: L. Prang & Co, and L Schamer. Representative women / L. Schamer del. Boston: L. Prang & Co. Photograph. ca. 1870. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/item/98508687/.

Alice Paul, leader of the National Women’s Party, toasts the Suffrage Flag with grape juice after the passage of the 19th amendment. Many suffragists were also in favor of prohibitions of alcohol.

Image credit: Alice Paul, full-length portrait, standing, facing left, raising glass with right hand. Sept. 3, 1920. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/item/97500088/.

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/.

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