Founding Feminists: September 17, 1909

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


It’s a new era in the battle for the ballot, and a new headquarters for the National American Woman Suffrage Association! After six years in Warren, Ohio, first at the home of Treasurer Harriet Taylor Upton, then in the Trumbull County Courthouse, N.A.W.S.A. has moved back to New York City, and is now situated on the 17th floor of 505 Fifth Avenue, at 42nd Street.

Rent for the entire floor – $5,000 a year – will be paid by Alva Belmont. Divorced in 1895 from her first husband, William Vanderbilt, and widowed last year by the untimely passing of Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont, she has since that time become quite active in the suffrage movement. On July 15th she made an incredibly generous contribution to the cause by agreeing to lease space for this “suffrage headquarters” to be used exclusively by organizations working to win the vote for women.

via the Library of Congress.
via the Library of Congress.

Today reporters and photographers were give a tour of all nine rooms – as well as free “Votes for Women” pins from N.A.W.S.A. President Anna Howard Shaw, who pinned them on each guest personally. Of course, many “won’t be able to get into the newspaper office wearing them,” joked Belmont.

Things are not yet in complete order, as the largest room in the suite is filled with 24 cases of suffrage literature, and the bookshelves lack books, but have a surplus of flowered hats upon them. The offices themselves are all quite attractive. In the “President’s Room” are fine portraits of pioneer suffragists, and the “Reception Room,” near the front, is furnished in black carved oak. Next to that is Alva Belmont’s office, appointed in mahogany.

Since so many reporters were gathered together, it seemed like a good time for Ida Husted Harper to address one of her pet peeves. There has been a great deal of publicity here lately about violent actions taken by British “suffragettes” who use the term to distinguish themselves from the more moderate suffragists. So Harper said: “We would be very glad if you would not call us suffragettes. The suffragettes are all right, and we have no quarrel with them, but we represent the suffragists of long standing, and the word suffragette is the one for the suffragists who have adopted militant methods.”

Anna Howard Shaw gave some comfort to elected officials who are suffrage supporters and fair warning to those who are not: “We are now going into practical politics. We are going into the districts where our friends are in the political field and try to elect them, and we are going to try to defeat our enemies. We are told that women have more influence without the vote, and we are going to try and use that influence.”

Shaw outlined an ambitious program, and specifically mentioned major suffrage campaigns to be carried on in Washington State, Oregon and South Dakota, as well as in the Territory of Arizona. Her organization will even try to have some sort of suffrage legislation introduced in the legislatures of all 42 non-suffrage States this Winter.

Now that the nation’s largest suffrage organization is situated in such a strategic location, and rent is not a burden, the future of the cause seems very bright. Though women can only vote in four of the forty-six States (Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Idaho), the long drought – 13 years without winning the vote in a single State – may be about to end, and a suffrage “renaissance” begin!

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