April 11, 1915: New York Suffragists Open “Suffrage Shop” On Fifth Avenue

Founding Feminists is the FMF’s daily herstory column.


Though New York State’s suffrage referendum is almost seven months in the future, anyone visiting the Suffrage Shop today would think it was this coming Tuesday.

Run by the Women’s Political Union, it’s at 663 Fifth Avenue, and there is always some sort of activity going on while suffrage items are being sold. Even those basic items are now more numerous and imaginative.

Louisine Havemeyer speaking to a crowd from a small, roving version of the Suffrage Shop.
Louisine Havemeyer speaking to a crowd from a small, roving version of the Suffrage Shop.

One of the shop’s newest offerings is “Suffrage Soap.” In addition to its practical use, it promotes the cause by including a small suffrage tract with each bar which says in the W.P.U.’s colors of green, purple and white: “Votes for Women. Equal Suffrage Means Clean Politics. Use This Soap and Do Justice to Women. Women’s Political Union, 25 West Forty-fifth Street, New York City.”

Getting people to go into the shop is still a necessary first step to purchasing items, so each day there is a theme. Today’s theme was “Roman Catholic Day” and its purpose was to show “that the Roman Catholic Church, as a church is not against woman suffrage.”

Joseph T. Ryan, Secretary of the Catholic Club, presided, and City Controller William Prendergast, who is Catholic, also attended to show his support. Father John L. Belford got a good reaction from the mostly female audience when he said:

I have looked for some good reason why women should not vote and I have been unable to find one. One of the best arguments against woman suffrage that has ever been presented to me was the long editorial that appeared in the New York Times on February 7th. I read the editorial carefully and became convinced that the writer had given much time and thought to its composition, but he said nothing convincing. I was talking with Controller Prendergast about the editorial just now and Mr. Prendergast said that it seemed to him that the writer had written the editorial fifty years ago, and then gone to sleep and waked up on February 6th. I think Mr. Prendergast was kind to the writer. It seems to me that he never waked up. I’m not sure he didn’t write the editorial in his sleep.

The whole trend of the editorial was that if women were let loose in politics they would be a danger to our government. But would they? Let us look at this government man has made and he is afraid women will injure. If we are honest we must admit that in the City and State of New York the political situation is pitiful. We have a legislature in Albany that seems to be the most grossly incompetent body the Lord ever let assemble …. Would women do any harm to this government men have established? I am in a position to know that women would take into politics a certain amount of uprightness, a certain amount of public conscience, that would inevitably be beneficial. Honest men certainly have nothing to fear from them.

He then noted that there was nothing in Catholic doctrine or any decree of the Pope that would restrict the right of woman to better herself and society, and that woman suffrage would better both women and society. There are other guest speakers scheduled for each day of the week, and “Artists’ Day” is day after tomorrow.

Close attention is also being paid to the Constitutional Convention meeting in Albany, and every day that it is in session each member will be presented with a different argument for suffrage.

Rev. Anna Howard Shaw has just sent word that she will be giving 30 speeches for the suffrage campaign in the four States where the issue will be voted on this Fall: New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Massachusetts. Two experienced women speakers from California, where women won the vote in 1911, will be arriving soon to work full-time in the four-State campaign.

The anti-suffragists are busy as well, however. At a meeting attended by representatives from ten of the State’s largest cities, they met at the headquarters of the New York State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage to plan their work against “the proposed suffrage amendment to the State Constitution that would force the franchise on all women of the State.” Their plan for victory is to convince the male voters that “Socialism” of the kind which “the American Republic repudiates and is trying to hold in check” is behind the campaign for woman suffrage. Time will tell which group’s philosophy and campaign methods will eventually win out.

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