Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column. Each day, we report on the history-making women’s rights milestones of generations and decades past.
Harriot Stanton Blatch and six young suffragists invaded Manhattan’s financial district earlier today, and had much better success with its inhabitants than they did with the police.
Before even arriving at their first stop, the one-automobile procession down Broadway attracted a good deal of attention as a small crowd of newsboys, messenger boys and brokers’ clerks followed along behind the suffrage-yellow “Equality League of Self-Supporting Women” banner, held up by two of the machine’s passengers, attorneys Madeleine Zabriskie Doty and Helen Hoy.
When they reached Bowling Green Park, Blatch decided this was the perfect place to begin looking for converts. Telling the chauffeur to park along the curb, then standing up in her seat, she said, “You will not come to our meetings, so we have decided to come to you. All we ask is your attention while we tell you what it is we want, and why we should have it.”
But a police officer then rode up on his horse and asked for Blatch’s permit to hold a meeting. She didn’t think she needed one, as she had a right to free speech. The officer disagreed. Since her missionary zeal compelled a thorough exploration of this previously unpreached territory anyway, she agreed to move on, still accompanied by newsboys, messengers and clerks, plus a number of adults from the crowd.
Going even farther South, she eventually stopped in an alley near State and Pearl Streets, which soon became packed with listeners. This time it was 26-year-old union organizer Rose Schneiderman – in a pink dress, which the crowd definitely liked – who was chosen to do the speaking. Blatch kept an eye out for the law, and Florence Bradley distributed literature while Adelma Burd held up banners saying “COME, LET US REASON TOGETHER” and “VOTES FOR WOMEN.”
After receiving a number of greetings from members of the audience, such as “Hello, Pinkie!” Schneiderman addressed the crowd, as well as the hundreds of brokers in neighboring buildings who poked their heads out of windows to hear. She began by saying:
You say that men are far above women …(shouts of ‘Hurrah! Hurrah!’ from the crowd) … but we say that one is just as bad – I mean good – as the other, and therefore they should have equal rights in everything. Are the laws enforced in this country? No! You men have made a pretty bad job of it.
The crowd seemed to agree on that last point and shouted its approval.
Mary Coleman went next, but just as she said, “In this free, or supposedly free Republic …” a man in one of the upper floors of a nearby building got out the megaphone he uses to call orders down to curb runners, and tried to drown her out with hoots and catcalls. This made the crowd get even noisier. But after a while Coleman was able to be heard above the din and said:
Listen to me! You can hear hoots anywhere. Are things as they should be in this country? If they were, would we have [William Jennings] Bryan out in Denver declaring against all sorts of things? Would we have the Socialists shouting against our social order?” She finished by saying: “All we women want you men to do is to take us out of our swaddling clothes and free our minds.
Blatch then spoke, and asked her listeners if they knew “why we have the poorest city governments in this country of any civilized nation in the world?” Intuitively knowing the correct response at this point, the crowd shouted along with her: “Because we don’t let women vote!”
The success of this rally, and absence of police, encouraged the invaders to press on, this time to the Northeast. But they had apparently used up their day’s supply of luck, as attempted gatherings in front of the New York World (Pulitzer) Building, and at City Hall Park were immediately broken up by police. Still, it was quite an adventure, especially for the younger – but now a bit more experienced – members of the group. Though there are few “sure things” in the financial district, it’s a good bet that equal-suffrage supporters will be back, with or without permits.