April 17, 1894: Empire State Suffragists Build Momentum for Federal Action

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


Victory for the woman suffrage movement – and equal pay for equal work – must rapidly be approaching if today is any example of the momentum that’s now being generated in their favor.

Illustration: Lillie Devereux Blake
Illustration: Lillie Devereux Blake

There were three suffrage meetings held in the New York City area, with enthusiasm running high at all three. The largest meeting was held at the home of Dr. Egbert Guernsey, 528 Fifth Avenue, with Lillie Devereux Blake as the principal speaker. She sees a direct connection between unequal pay and political inequality, and believes that women must become more militant on both fronts: “Woman is the great unpaid laborer … men would be running over each other to see that women had equal pay if they had the privilege of voting.”

Blake then noted that “women should be companions for men,” and couples should discuss the important legislation of the day together. Especially critical are those bills that pertain to household issues: “Give us reason to be interested in these things and you will see that we understand them.”

John D. Townsend gave personal testimony that the suffrage campaign is being waged with all the vigor that its supporters could hope for:

There is no doubt that woman will succeed in obtaining the amendment to the State Constitution which she seeks. You cannot go anywhere now but someone meets you with a woman suffrage petition and asks you to sign it – and every one does sign.

However, Townsend called for tact in regard to lobbying the men who can put a suffrage referendum on the November 6th ballot as part of a package of Constitutional reforms to be put before the State’s voters:

I would suggest to the women that they deal very gently with the men who are going to the Constitutional Convention. Treat them well and feed them well. They will do everything in the way of right laws; if they do not, then will be the time to speak.

Theodore Sutro received a warm round of applause when he said:

That women do not have the privilege of the ballot seems to me contrary to all ideas of justice in this free country. It is only in accordance with principles of logic – and I might say grammar – that the word ‘male’ should be stricken from the Constitution.

The New York State Constitution currently grants the right to vote to “every male citizen of the age of 21 years.”

The Brooklyn Woman Suffrage Association also held a well-attended meeting, and there was a pro-suffrage gathering at the home of the Torries, at 64 West 55th Street.

After nearly 46 years of continuous struggle since the first Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, woman suffrage – at least in New York State – could be only 7 months away if a suffrage referendum is put on the ballot and a majority of the State’s male voters approve it. With such a victory in the nation’s most populous State, the largest State delegation in Congress would then be accountable to women voters, and could clearly be a major force in pushing the Susan B. Anthony (nationwide woman suffrage) Amendment through Congress. The proposed 16th Amendment would then be sent to the 44 States for ratification, with approval by 2/3 (30) needed.

But even without a Federal amendment, this could be a landmark year for woman suffrage if the Empire State joins the States of Wyoming and Colorado in guaranteeing equal suffrage for women. Just over five months ago, on November 7th, Colorado became the first State whose voters approved a woman suffrage referendum, so male voters can clearly be persuaded to support “Votes for Women.”

With the ballot guaranteeing women’s political equality, equal opportunity and equal pay in all professions should logically follow. So though long overdue, the end of political, legal and economic inequality for women appears to be within sight, but certainly not attainable without a good deal more work, and the same level of dedication to equality that has brought the movement so far in less than half a century.

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