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Retracing the New York Women's Suffrage Party steps from 1909 to 1919

Info: 3647 words (15 pages) Essay
Published: 16th Nov 2021 in History

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The New York City Woman suffrage party was created in October 1909 when a Convention of Disfranchised Women met in Carnegie Hall. The party's roles varied in society, it varied from local state politics to national politics. Their overall goal as a party was to pass the women's suffrage amendment in the federal constitution, this was first achieved by securing the amendment in New York State and into the Nineteenth Amendment. Due to men's reluctance to accept equality with women, the party faced numerous difficulties such as financial and organizational problems when political action was required, also the party struggled to win votes from religious and ethnic minorities in the city (Schaffer Ronald 1962, 269-87). However, the obstacles are dealt with and the goal is finally achieved in 1917 when women were granted the right to vote.

This essay will focus particularly on the influence of the Women's Suffrage party in New York City from 1909 to 1919 starting with its creation, its formation, the key member's roles and the overall accomplishments made by the party.

The New York State has and will always remain one of the centers for the suffrage movement. The very beginning of the suffrage movement as an organized political protest began in New York: in 1848, 300 women and men attended a pro-suffrage conference in Seneca Falls; a subsequent convention held in Rochester drew an even larger attendance (Wallace Mike 2018, 123-146). This was the landmark Convention of Seneca Falls, which created a Statement of Sentiments and Resolutions.

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This declaration deliberately echoed the hopeful and unfulfilled sentiments of the Declaration of Independence: "We find these facts to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal " (Wallace Mike 2018, 123-146). The centrality of New York's suffrage movement arose from a curious confluence of many causes. Influential suffrage activists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage are state residents (Schaffer Ronald 1962, 269-87).

Historians often wonder why New York appears to be the birthing place of the suffrage movement and the center of all battles women endured to fight for equality? Indeed, New York is the epitome of the women's suffrage party because of numerous reasons: the city was the home of influential suffrage activists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage which explains why most of the organization plans of the party were made in New York City (Schaffer Ronald 1962, 269-87).

From a more historical perspective, it is known that New York has its feminist tradition. Even though Wyoming was the first state the grant women the right to vote, the city's government was the first to liberate women from English common law restrictions by giving them property rights. It is also important to acknowledge New York geographical and architectural standpoint in the United States, New York was a regional phantom, it was immense in scale, the home of millions of people coming from all over the world and was vast in its natural resources (Peck, Mary Gray, 1911).

New York City was a cultural and intellectual center and the locus of most of the nation's newspapers, which is still the case today. New York also possessed an agricultural culture tradition: for instance, the hugely popular Chautauqua lecture circuit disseminated wide-ranging reading (Schaffer Ronald 1962, 269-87). And in every conceivable way, the Erie Canal so D&H Canal in the Hudson Valley opened up the region (Schaffer Ronald 1962, 269-87).

Not only did these networks support the free movement of commercial traffic, but its vast population and intellect ensure that new ideas and policies were constantly created and were spread out more easily (Schaffer Ronald 1962, 269-87). In the case of granting women the right to vote, after New York made that step, the women from neighboring states formed coordinated groups and demanded that same right and obtained it (National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, 1912).

The success of the Woman's Suffrage movement is partly due to its key members that made change possible. The first one being Carrie Chapman Catt, a Midwestern-born, Iowa-raised journalist, professor and activist (National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, 1912). Catt became involved with the suffrage movement in the late 1880s joining the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association at university, though her interest dated back to her teen years when she realized how little rights her mother had in comparison to her father's (National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, 1912).

She later became involved with the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and became its president. She was known for her outstanding speaker skills and was often tapped to give speeches nationwide and help organize local suffrage events (Schaffer Ronald 1962, 269-87). One of her key successes was that she was at the head of the right to vote campaign (Peck, Mary Gray, 1911). After fighting for women's rights in the United States, she recognized the international dimensions of the suffrage issue, in 1902 and founded the International Woman Suffrage Alliance to spread democracy and equality of women around the world (National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, 1912). Catt dedicated a huge amount of personal energy to women's suffrage in the municipal fight (Peck, Mary Gray, 1911).

The feminist Catt became a leading figure in the movement for women's equality and eventually succeeded the iconic Susan B. Anthony as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1900 (Peck, Mary Gray, 1911). Finally, Catt played a significant role in the creation of the Women Voters League and her wide-ranging passions and advocacy from child labor to women's rights to world peace are still remembered today.

Sojourner Truth was also a key member of the suffrage movement and the abolitionist movement.

She was born in the county of Ulster and was sold in Esopus, not in the south (Peck, Mary Gray, 1911). Her abolitionist advocacy intersected entirely with the fight for the rights of women (Schaffer Ronald 1962, 269-87).

Susan Brownell Anthony, another significant figure, was born in Massachusetts in 1820. She dedicated her life to fighting against women's rights, temperance and the abolition of slavery but particularly on women's suffrage (Schaffer Ronald 1962, 269-87). It is only when she became a teacher that Susan started to get involved in reform movements, then she became an anti-slavery agent and found herself slowly moving towards women's inequalities (National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, 1912). Then, Susan met one of the key members present at the Seneca Falls convention: Cady Stanton and built a friendship with her.

Both traveled across the country to promoted important causes, however when the Civil War broke out, their efforts to women ceased and focused on abolishing slavery. When the right was given to all men in the 15th amendment, women were still forgotten (Schaffer Ronald 1962, 269-87). Both women decided to continue their fight for women's suffrage and created in 1868 a newspaper dedicated to the National Woman's Suffrage, it was called the Revolution(National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, 1912).

This newspaper was one of the only ways for these women to survive. The newspaper was shut down when Anthony broke the law by attempting to vote in a federal election in Rochester, New York in 1872 (Schaffer Ronald 1962, 269-87). This altercation with the law did not stop her from traveling and campaigning until 1892 when she became president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, an office which she held until 1900 (Schaffer Ronald 1962, 269-87). Anthony was an inspiration to all the suffragists who then decided to name the vote in an amendment after her, the Susan B. Anthony amendment, in 1920 (Miller Joe C 2015, 437-82).

Lastly, Alva Vanderbilt Belmont was born in 1853 in Mobile, Alabama (Schaffer Ronald 1962, 269-87). However, having spent most of her life in New York City and Long Island, she is considered one of the most significant suffragists of New York at the time. Belmont not only founded the Political Equality League but co-founded the National Women's Party (Dolton, Patricia F and Aimee Graham 2014, 31-36). Her accomplishments vary, as her help was crucial in the movement, she owned multiple suffrage settlement houses, held retreats, paid fines, sponsored rallies, marched in order to give women the vote (National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, 1912).

The Women Suffrage Party (WSP) was a party dedicated to women's suffrage in New York City. WSP named itself "a democratic coalition with established egalitarian suffrage societies in New York City." WSP was the first contact of many women in New York in politics and "contributed directly to the adoption of a woman suffrage law in New York State" (Dolton Patricia F and Aimee Graham 2014, 31-36). The Woman Suffrage Party began with the Disfranchised Women Convention (Schaffer Ronald 1962, 269-87).

On October 29, 1909, the Convention took place in Carnegie Hall and was funded by the Interurban Suffrage Council (ISC) (Dolton, Patricia F and Aimee Graham 2014, 31-36). The ISC was a group composed of smaller suffrage organizations — Local women's suffrage parties sent to meet 804 delegates — in New York City, created by Carrie Chapman Catt (Schaffer Ronald 1962, 269-87). Mrs. Clarence Mackay introduced the framework for the conference that was accepted at the meeting, she began by stating that her only wish was for equality between men and women, that they should be treated in the same ways, that the cooperation between men and women was natural, that laws tended to restrict women's access to education and full independence, and that taxing women was unlawful when they had no voice in government (Dolton, Patricia F and Aimee Graham 2014, 31-36).

The conference established a vote to select its leader, that vote resulted in Catt being the new party leader (Schaffer Ronald 1962, 269-87). The name of the party was changed from the Woman's Faction to the Female Suffrage Movement (Miller Joe C 2015, 437-82).

Sources such as newspapers reveal that the WSP was clearly and strictly organized by Carrie Chapman Catt, the party as compared to a political machine, very efficient (Schaffer Ronald 1962, 269-87). The party was organized in that every level had a specific purpose: the bottom level of the group included individual party members, who then selected district leaders to represent them at borough and city conventions and rallies (Miller Joe C 2015, 437-82). WSP's top level was a committee of all seats in the area, there was a maximum of 804 representatives and 200 alternates.

This made the WSP the highest representative suffrage body ever organized in New York State (Schaffer Ronald 1962, 269-87). To collect funds for the events organized by the party made contributions from people, funded services, and also created many in order to obtain financial support, for instance, the "self-denial week" was introduced and participants were asked to save money by consuming ten hundred sandwiches and where they rode instead of driving (Schaffer Ronald 1962, 269-87). Also, on August 7, 1914, "Sacrifice Day" had people attending a luncheon where jewels and watches were given to further the cause (Peck, Mary Gray, 1911). Contrary to other political parties at the time, the WSP achieved all of its objectives without the use of force which was deemed to be one of their most respected qualities (Dolton, Patricia F and Aimee Graham 2014, 31-36).

In order to attract as many people as possible, members of the WSP raised awareness by holding broad gatherings in numerous towns and cities, on a day to day basis they circulated material relating to suffrage, and finally, they organized parades to draw even more attention to their cause (Dolton, Patricia F and Aimee Graham 2014, 31-36). These parades were open to the public, anyone wishing to join the party was included, ethnic and religious minority women as well (Schaffer Ronald 1962, 269-87).

Another mean used to appeal to people was the door-to-door technique, members frequently went to people's houses throughout New York (Peck, Mary Gray, 1911). This was particularly useful for spreading the word of future WSP events and encouraging men to sign petitions for women's right to vote for example (Wallace Mike 2018, 123-146). At the time, New York was the home of 3.5 million migrants (in 1875 there were only 1 million migrants in New York) coming from all over the world especially Italy, Russia, Poland, China and Austria Hungary (Wallace Mike 2018, 123-146). Thus, the WSP published their aims and texts in multiple languages so all New York residents were able to understand their objectives and for migrant women to join the fight for equality.

In addition to that, the WSP also reached out to Catholic women by distributing leaflets with testimonials from the supportive Catholic clergy, as well as by supporting the pro-suffrage St. Catherine's Welfare Society(Schaffer Ronald 1962, 269-87). While WSP recruited women and minorities from the working class, historians argue that many WSP members were strongly socially conservative and did wish to mix with the city minorities and the less fortunate ones (Schaffer Ronald 1962, 269-87).

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The WSP did not become influential on its own, it needed to be big to be heard, this lead to the party running a model woman suffrage campaign in the summer of 1915. This campaign consisted of 5,225 outdoor meetings, 13 concerts, and 28 parades and processions and by 1915the party had more than one hundred thousand members (Schaffer Ronald 1962, 269-87). During this active campaign, the WSP funded a ferry sailing between Coney Island and Brighton Beach with a tenfoot banner asking people to support women's suffrage (Schaffer Ronald 1962, 269-87). However, this campaign was not as successful as women were still denied the right to vote in 1915.

The WSP persisted and continued to fight and made another campaign two years later demanding that same right (Peck, Mary Gray, 1911). This 1917 campaign was a resounding victory for women's suffrage in New York on November 6, 1917, as they were granted the right to vote. This was the biggest win of the party, its president named it the "decisive battle of the Modern women's suffrage movement" (Miller Joe C 2015, 437-82). After this monumental victory, women won the right to vote in New York and the WSP helped women plan to exercise their rights (Peck, Mary Gray, 1911). Two commissions were set up to help women register to vote: the Americanization Commission, headed by Mary E. Dreier, and the Women's Voters Council, chaired by Hay, which helps women learn about the process of voting and elections (Miller Joe C 2015, 437-82).

Furthermore, The Americanization Committee taught English classes to women who were born outside the United States (Schaffer Ronald 1962, 269-87). They also visited tenements, seeking to help women gain citizenship, and helped educate entire families (Schaffer Ronald 1962, 269-87). WSP's literacy activities were entirely non-partisan. Another accomplishment was made two years later, the WSP participated in the national suffrage movement and became in 1919 the League of Women Voters (Schaffer Ronald 1962, 269-87). Indeed, the WSP's New York branch also published The Woman Voter as their official newspaper until 1917 when it combined with other newspapers to create The Woman Citizen (Schaffer Ronald 1962, 269-87).

The Women's suffrage party encountered numerous obstacles, one of the most important ones being the reluctance of men regarding the freedom of women, in fact, the women's suffrage movement was not at all accepted at first. There was strong and often completely contradictory non-theological resistance to women entering the public sphere, men feared that social roles would alter if they obtained to much, they feared that women would seek to begin working and change their political agendas if granted the right to vote (Wallace Mike 2018, 123-146).

Men believed women should be spared from politics and its vicious and negative atmosphere, they believed that by granting women to vote, their nature of being loving, peaceful and naive would change which made men unwilling to want to alter 'women's nature' (Wallace Mike 2018, 123-146). The war had a significant effect on changing female gender roles and had introduced women to the workforce. During the war, large number of women had jobs, such as were telephone operators, nurses, telegraph messengers, elevator operators, letter carriers, conductors, etc... (Wallace Mike 2018, 123-146) Women found out how to be self-efficient and loved that liberty and did not want it to end once the war ended. Women were part of society and joined the workforce and the war effort, they were valuable in war times and this gave women a taste of equality.

However the women's suffrage party has made key political victories in the years between 1909 and 1919, the first being that Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive Party becomes the first national political party to adopt a women's suffrage plank, a year later Alice Paul and Lucy Burns (female activists) organize the Congressional Union (later known as the National Woman's Party) (Dolton, Patricia F and Aimee Graham 2014, 31-36).

These members use hunger strikes and picket the White House, among other forms of civil disobedience, to publicize the suffrage cause. In 1916, Jeanette Rankin of Montana becomes the first American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (Dolton, Patricia F and Aimee Graham 2014, 31-36). A year later, New York State grants women the right to vote, one of the first to do so and finally, in 1920 The 19th Amendment is ratified. Its victory accomplished, the National American Woman Suffrage Association ceases to exist, but its organization becomes the nucleus of the League of Women Voters (Dolton, Patricia F and Aimee Graham 2014, 31-36).

It is important to recall these victories because it was these battles that resulted in political changes that everyday women keep fighting to obtain equality in every single aspect of society, which remains a current fight, 100 years later.

In conclusion, during these ten years, the New York City Woman Suffrage Party is remembered due to its life-changing accomplishments on the road to achieving equality between both genders. Significant members of the party mentioned remain pillars of the feminist movement. The party is to have "displayed most of the characteristics which typify the progressive era". Even though the suffragists ensured lasting changes in the lives of American women, this party was more than just political, it was the beginning of a women's revolution which transformed the status of women in modern Western Society.

This mass movement made women get out of their homes, educate themselves on politics and society and gave them a chance for the first time to express themselves whether it was at political marches or conferences, they spoke out about their wishes for equality and made sure they were heard.

Suffragists protest President Woodrow Wilson's opposition to Women's Suffrage.

"The Women's Suffrage Movement: Made in New York." Hudson Valley Magazine. Accessed December 17, 2019. http://www.hvmag.com/Hudson-Valley-Magazine/November-2017/The-Suffrage-Movement-Made-in-New-York/.

Bibliography

Wallace, Mike, and Edwin G. Burrows. Greater Gotham: a History of New York City from 1898 to 1919. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2018.

SCHAFFER, RONALD. "THE NEW YORK CITY WOMAN SUFFRAGE PARTY, 1909-1919." New York History 43, no. 3 (1962): 269-87. www.jstor.org/stable/23153512.

"Home." National Women's History Museum, January 30, 2020. https://www.womenshistory.org/.

Miller, Joe C. "Never A Fight of Woman Against Man: What Textbooks Don't Say about Women's Suffrage." The History Teacher 48, no. 3 (2015): 437-82. www.jstor.org/stable/24810524.

Dolton, Patricia F., and Aimee Graham. "Women's Suffrage Movement." Reference & User Services Quarterly 54, no. 2 (2014): 31-36. www.jstor.org/stable/refuseserq.54.2.31.

History.com Editors. "Women's Suffrage." History.com. A&E Television Networks, October 29, 2009. https://www.history.com/topics/womens-history/the-fight-for-womens-suffrage.

Women's Suffrage: a Survey, 1908-1912. Manchester: Manchester and District Federation, 1912.

Peck, Mary Gray. The Rise of the Woman Suffrage Party .. Chicago: M.S. Hartshorn, 1911.

"The Women's Suffrage Movement: Made in New York." Hudson Valley Magazine. Accessed December 17, 2019. http://www.hvmag.com/Hudson-Valley-Magazine/November-2017/TheSuffrage-Movement-Made-in-New-York/.

 

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