Today in Herstory: New York City Suffragists Begin Final Election Push Marching by Torchlight

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


October 28, 1915: Standing in the large, cheering crowd at 59th Street and 8th Avenue tonight watching the torchlight suffrage parade, it’s hard to imagine how the New York campaign could possibly get more intense that it has been up until now.

But that’s exactly what’s about to happen in the five days remaining until Election Day on November 2nd. Tomorrow is when the unprecedented push actually begins, and today all the major suffrage groups were busy making sure that everything goes just as planned when the final offensive is launched.

There is a quite impressive alliance of organizations arrayed on the pro-suffrage side in New York: The National American Woman Suffrage Association, Empire State Campaign Committee, Woman Suffrage Party, Women’s Political Union, Equal Franchise Society, and the Political Equality Association. All of them have been working hard for months, but far more ambitious plans are now being finalized for everything from huge rallies in the city’s largest halls to actions in the subways.

Improvisation brought about the subway event. Originally, suffrage groups wanted to simply post conventional subway ads by buying space and using some other space donated to them by a business that has a long-standing contract to post its own ads. But Ward & Gow, the advertising firm that places ads in subways refused to sell space to suffrage groups, or allow them to use the space donated by one of the company’s regular clients. The Public Utilities Commission has just ruled that it has no power to compel Ward & Gow to allow the ads. So instead, women will ride around all day tomorrow holding big placards in their laps for their fellow passengers to read, in order to counteract the numerous anti-suffrage ads the company has allowed to be displayed in the cars.

Not all sign-carriers will be underground, however. Tomorrow, from 2 p.m. until 7:30 p.m., women wearing “sandwich boards” front and back, advertising that night’s huge rally in Carnegie Hall, will be walking around town. And just to be certain they’ll be noticed by as many people as possible, they’ll be preceded by a bugler.

Though small in comparison to events to come or the massive pageant five days ago, tonight’s parade was still quite impressive, with large, colorful banners, band music, decorated automobiles, and at the end of the parade route even a cartoonist, Lou Rogers, turning out drawings lampooning the opposition. A “Victory” banner led the procession, with four U.S. flags following. The best float showed “Miss New York” bound to “Ignorance,” “Prejudice,” and “Vice” due to women not having the vote. At various points along the route, individual automobiles would drop out, park, then speakers would stand up in them and hold street corner rallies for the spectators.

Even the enormously popular "Kewpies" have been recruited into the suffrage campaign thanks to the strong support of their creator, Rose O'Neill.
Even the enormously popular “Kewpies” have been recruited into the suffrage campaign thanks to the strong support of their creator, Rose O’Neill.

While still confident about winning the State in general, a few places are now being conceded to the “antis.” Unfortunately, one of them is Monroe County. Its county seat is Rochester, which was the home of Susan B. Anthony. The Rochester Herald is strongly opposed to suffrage. “The odds are heavily against us here, although we have worked hard and had good audiences. I fear Monroe is gone and our only hope is that the majority against us will not be too heavy,” said Alice Cramer Clement. But in other nearby rural counties, the outlook is far more optimistic. She thinks suffrage will carry in most of them. In Ontario and Wayne Counties, she said that 90 per cent of those surveyed favored woman suffrage.

But while prospects in Monroe County may look gloomy, there was plenty of optimism at a suffrage rally in Oyster Bay, where a letter from former President Roosevelt was read to the crowd. He wrote:

The opponents of woman suffrage say that it will take women away from the home. If this were so I should certainly not favor it, just as if giving man the suffrage took him away from his business I should not favor it, for making and keeping the home must always be the chief work for both man and woman. There is, however, in my opinion, nothing whatever in this objection. Undoubtedly some foolish women may believe that getting the vote will excuse them from the performance of home duties just as in every democratic extension of the suffrage some foolish men have believed that getting the vote somehow entitles them to live without working. But it is no more possible to base action on an argument of this kind on one case than the other.

In Pennsylvania, where there is also a suffrage referendum coming up on November 2nd, Eudora Ramsey gave a fine speech at an open-air meeting tonight in front of Rhodes Drug Store in Wampum, near New Castle. She made some excellent observations about the unfairness of restricting the vote to men, beginning with the fact that every year in almost every town she visited, more girls graduated from school than boys. Why should a woman not vote is she has more education than a man? And “why should a woman who owns property and pays taxes not be able to vote when a man votes whether he owns property or not?”

Ramsey then addressed some of the anti-suffrage arguments, and like Col. Roosevelt, began with the principal one that voting would interfere with a woman’s duties at home and thereby cause great harm to the family and society. She noted that no one thinks businesses collapse or that men can’t be excellent employees if they take a little time out once a year to vote. As to the “ballots = bullets” argument: “Some men are physically unable to go to war but yet they vote. A preacher is not supposed to fight, yet he votes …. Many under 21 fight but do not vote, therefore fighting and voting do not go together.” She concluded by telling the audience:

Would a woman vote for war? No, and this is why we need women’s votes. Remember the women on Tuesday. On Amendment Number One we find yes and no. Put a cross by the sign of yes, and you’ll pay tribute to the womanhood of the State, and by doing this you will line up with God’s progressive people.

In Massachusetts, the third State that will vote on suffrage on Tuesday, there are at least 50 women typing away every day at the Boston headquarters of the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association, with volunteers coming in and out all day and well into the evening. One of their goals is to send out 630,000 circulars, so they’ve been busy on that for a while and will keep working until every last one is mailed. Among the things mentioned in the flyer is that all the candidates for governor favor suffrage.

The gubernatorial nominees of the Progressive and Socialist parties have gone a step further than endorsement, and given suffrage speeches. And though the two major party candidates have only given their endorsement, and not campaigned for the issue, the prestige of having Governor Walsh and his principal rival on record as favoring suffrage should be of great help on Election Day. President Wilson’s support for woman suffrage, at least on a State-by-State basis, is also prominently mentioned.

Boston suffragists are often cheered by the positive, free publicity given the movement by the local newspapers, who are “rooting for the cause” according to W.H. McMasters, a leading suffragist who can usually be found at the Boylston Street headquarters.

In addition to press support, organized labor is also on board. The State branch of the American Federation of Labor has endorsed suffrage, and many of its well-known leaders have given speeches calling woman suffrage a labor issue.

Of course, as everywhere else, saloon interests in Massachusetts are freely opening their wallets and quietly bankrolling anti-suffrage organizations. One of them, the Massachusetts Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, has its headquarters just a block away from the pro-suffrage group. Their campaign is much more low-key than the sophisticated, aggressive, and overtly political campaign being waged by suffragists because they don’t believe in “the woman politician.”

Rev. Anna Howard Shaw, president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, addressed a mass meeting at Associate Hall in Lowell tonight. The program opened with the band playing “America” while the audience waved small American flags provided to them. She eloquently pleaded not just for suffrage, but for every progressive reform that woman suffrage could help bring about. She also noted that the present European war might have been averted if women had been part of the political establishment:

What a different world it would be today if those few men in Europe had just consented to come together and talk the matter over. Women would have talked the matter over until it was settled. It might be wearisome, but it wouldn’t have been death.

Shaw challenged the male voters of Massachusetts to live up to the principles of a republic:

All we are asking is that men should look the truth in the face, to believe the thing they believe. Do we believe the republican form of government is desirable? If we do, then let us have it. If we do not, then let us say so, honestly, like men, and say that we believe in an aristocracy. When did the people of Massachusetts ever elect representatives? Never in the world!

The men of Massachusetts have elected representatives, and men are people, admirable people, as far as they go; but then, you see, they only go half way. There is still another half of the people who have never elected their representatives. When one-half the people elect representatives to represent the whole of the people, it is not a republic but an aristocracy.

As in New York and Pennsylvania, the Republican and Democratic parties are observing an official “hands-off” policy, so with the political machines standing on the sidelines in all three States with upcoming suffrage referenda, there’s a good chance of victory if, as suffragists believe, that’s what the average male voter wants.

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