Today in Herstory: Mass Meeting Held to Edit the US Constitution to Give Women the Vote

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


May 7, 1894: A lively and well-attended mass meeting was held at Cooper Union in Manhattan earlier this evening, and there certainly seemed to be plenty of people willing to do whatever it takes to remove a single word from the New York State Constitution, which presently grants the right to vote to “every male citizen of the age of 21 years.”

Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was given a rousing ovation even before she began speaking, and deservedly so, considering her nearly 46 years of work for suffrage. She noted just how basic a right voting should be, and the injustice of arbitrarily withholding it from entire groups:

“The State has no right to abolish the suffrage for any class of people. I remember when the enfranchisement of the Negro was the vital question of the hour. In one of the debates on the floor of the Senate, Charles Sumner said: ‘Do you tell me suffrage is a privilege? Allow that sentiment to crystallize in the hearts of the people and we have rung the death knell of American Liberty.’ “

She then addressed a common opposition argument that only those who may be called to serve on the battlefield should have a vote: “They talk of fighting. It seems to me those who have been able to meet persecution, ridicule and tears have done the best kind of fighting.”

Her daughter, Harriot Stanton Blatch, spoke next, elaborating on the point that military service has never been a requirement for male suffrage, and that during the Civil War, many voting men avoided military service by hiring substitutes:

“It was twenty years ago, and a gentleman was talking of this same question of suffrage to my mother. ‘But Mrs. Stanton,’ he said, ‘if you have the franchise you could not protect it. You cannot fight.’ ‘Yes I can,’ she replied. ‘I should fight just as you did. I should hire someone to go in my place.’ “

The meeting had a wonderfully wide spectrum of speakers. John Milton Cornell, of the Cornell Iron Works presided, and at one point in the program he introduced American Federation of Labor president Samuel Gompers. Cornell remarked: “What men have failed to do woman has accomplished with a wave of her hand. She has brought capital and labor together on the same platform.”

Woman suffrage petitions to the State Constitutional Convention in Albany were available for signing at numerous tables, and a suffrage resolution to the Convention was presented, then unanimously adopted by all present. It was then announced that the suffrage headquarters at 10 West 14th Street will be open all summer. The gathering concluded with the names of those willing to have parlor meetings in their homes being taken.

The widespread support shown for suffrage tonight gave everyone here hope that there will soon be a woman suffrage amendment on the Statewide ballot along with the rest of the constitutional propositions. If a suffrage amendment is submitted and then approved by the State’s male voters, the addition of New York as an equal suffrage State would be a huge victory for many reasons.

Presently, women can vote in only two States (Wyoming since 1869 when it was still a Territory, and Colorado since last November) so the addition of ANY third State would be significant in and of itself. But because New York has the biggest population of any State, it also has the biggest delegation in Congress. Having that many members of Congress who would need to win the “women’s vote” every time they ran for election would be quite helpful in getting the Susan B. Anthony (nationwide woman suffrage) Amendment passed by Congress and sent to the States for ratification.

An East Coast win would also prove that woman suffrage is not just a phenomenon unique to a couple of Western States (and Utah Territory from 1870-1887), but an idea that has been endorsed by the electorate in very different States thousands of miles apart. So a major effort will be made to make November 6, 1894 a red-letter day in the history of suffrage, and many people here tonight are eager to work hard to assure that victory.

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