Tuesday, November 24, 2015


While not quite as dramatic (OK, it was nowhere near as big or as formal) as the ceremony greeting the envoys’ arrival in DC, we had a lovely celebration on November 17th at the Cannon House Office Building, Room 121 to conclude my trip. Many thanks to Representative Chellie Pingree and her staff for helping us secure the space.
Cynthia, me, Sara Eliza, and Laura (left to right.)
Love those smiles!

The room was decorated in the CU’s purple, white and gold colors. Purple symbolized loyalty, constancy to purpose, and unswerving steadfastness to a cause. White signified the purity of their purpose, and gold was the torch that guided their purpose.[1] The descendants had pulled out all the stops; mounting some of the old photos on poster board for display, creating a program, and taking care of many other details I couldn’t possibly have thought of, even if I hadn’t been traveling. The Sewall-Belmont House brought copies of the Suffragist and some other artifacts that helped connect the spirit of the women from 100 years ago to the celebration that evening.

I did manage to put together a movie that combined photos from the original trip and mine- you can download that here (when it opens go to the "View" tab and click on "Preview Full Screen".) The movie looped on the screen on the wall above the podium.

Maine 1st District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree
who helped secure the room for us at the
Cannon House Office Building
As planned, Cynthia Matthews served as MC, thanking everyone for coming, and introducing the other three descendants. In her remarks she linked her interest in the event not just to her step-great grandmother, Sara Bard Field, but to her work for Planned Parenthood. She then introduced Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (Maine), and Congressman Sam Farr and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, both from California. We were honored that all three took turns at the podium to make some remarks, again linking the original trip and the sacrifices women made to earn rights we enjoy today, some of which we’re at some risk of losing. 

Anna Eshoo shared two stories from her experience in the US House. The first occurred after she was first elected, when she complained to a male colleague about a heavy revolving door in the House office building that was dangerous for women wearing heels. “Well, you got here,” was his response, suggesting that she didn’t have a right to complain about little things like safety. Grrr….

California Congresswoman Anna Eshoo

Her other story was about the son of her hairdresser, who came to DC to serve as a page on the floor of the House. After he returned from the trip he sat down to write a thank-you note, and didn’t know what to say. His mother encouraged him to say what he really felt about it, so he asked his mother “Do you think I could grow up to be a Congresswoman some day?” Treasure those moments…

In my remarks, I first made sure to thank all of the people who helped in so many ways, from meeting with me to feeding us or putting us up. I then summarized the original trip for those who were unfamiliar with it and talked about what I’d learned from mine. I also recognized the people in the room who have worked to protect and strengthen women’s rights, something I will never again take for granted after this experience.

One of the things that’s so humbling about knowing this history is how hard those women worked, and what obstacles and ignorant attitudes they overcame, to get us where we are today. For me, learning this history has been really empowering. As a result of this trip I’m I feel renewed responsibility for continuing the work our foremothers began.

And knowing about these amazing women somehow lets me tap into the energy they brought to whatever causes they worked for. It’s as if I now have all these extra hands on the shovel no matter what kind of crap I’m digging into.

It’s also important to know how long women have worked to achieve particular goals so that we can finally say- Enough! We’re done asking nicely for what should have been our right in the first place. Now we demand…we demand…

Thanks for coming along on this journey with me. I do plan to write a book about it but I still have a lot of research and thinking to do, so it won’t happen right away. Keep in touch!

[1] The Suffragist, Dec. 6, 1913,Vol. 1, No. 4.

Monday, November 23, 2015

On to Congress! (And to President Wilson)

The women on horseback representing the states that had already given
women the right to vote.
Photo courtesy of the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum.
“Shortly after eleven o’clock this morning a travel-stained motor car…rolled slowly over the Baltimore Pike and came to a halt just at the edge of the city.”[1] Gathered to meet them were women on horseback representing the states that had already given women the vote, and many hundreds more on foot and in automobiles. The women’s Justice Bell was also a feature. A marching band played rousing tunes in the winter chill, and when it launched into the “Marseillaise” the procession moved slowly up Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol.

“The famous four-mile [!] petition bearing 500,000 signatures, rolled up on huge spools, was in charge of Mrs. J. A. H. Hopkins and Miss Julia Hurlburt of New Jersey, the President’s home state. In the parade to the Capitol, and again on the march to the White House it was borne, unrolled to a length of 100 feet, by 20 petition bearers.”[2] 
A version of the "We Demand" banner, citing the names of the men submitting it in the US House and Senate,
leads the CU parade up Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol.
Photo courtesy of the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum.

At the Capitol Representative Mondell, who would introduce it in the House the following day, told them, “We trust that the pressure of other matters of importance will not be made an excuse for delaying or postponing action on the highly important question in behalf of which you present your petition. Under free government there can be no more important question than one involving the suffrage rights of half the people.”

Everyone seemed impressed by the envoys’ journey and by the signatures on the petition. “Nothing could be more impressive,” President Wilson told the women assembled at the White House later in the day. “This visit of yours will remain in my mind not only as a delightful compliment but also as a most impressive thing, which undoubtedly will make it necessary for all of us to consider very carefully what is right for us to do…” He said he would “consult most earnestly with his colleagues at the other end of the city.”[3]

Women hauling the partially unfurled (to 100 feet) suffrage petition up the steps of the US Capitol.
Photo courtesy of the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum.
At the start of his term in 1914 President Wilson had told suffrage leaders that that he hadn’t really given much thought to suffrage at all. Regular visits from suffragists representing both the CU and NAWSA made sure that he didn’t lack opportunity to think about the issue. Now, almost three years later, he seemed to be paying more attention. When New Jersey had voted on a statewide suffrage amendment just the preceding month he’d made a big show of traveling to the state to vote in favor of it, but had emphasized then that he still thought it should be up to the states. But New Jersey voters denied women voting rights, and here these envoys had driven clear across the country bearing a threat from the women voters of the west. Move the federal amendment through Congress or we’ll come after you in the 1916 elections.

Did some part of him feel a little shiver, a little icy breath on the back of his neck, thinking about the 1912 election? That year 6,294,284 voters had supported him, compared to 4,120,609 for Theodore Roosevelt and 3,487,937 for William Howard Taft. So- not exactly a landslide for him, and if enough of the 4 million women voters- and maybe some of their husbands or brothers- turned against him his victory in 1916 could be at risk. Maybe it was time to talk to his colleagues on the Hill…

Maria, Sara, Mabel, and Ingeborg. I think Ingeborg is actually smiling!
Photo courtesy of the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum.
So ended the first ever cross-country automobile trip undertaken by women for a cause. The celebration around their arrival was followed by the CU’s annual conference, and the envoys hung around to participate in that. It would be some time, in fact, before Sara made her way back to San Francisco. She was much in demand as a suffrage speaker, and I know she traveled to Minnesota in March 1916. Still broke and needing work to support herself, suffrage organizing might have been the best option available to her. California women already had the vote, so she had to stay in the east. She also ended up working as a personal secretary to Alva “Mrs. O.H.P.” Belmont, who was the CU’s primary benefactor. 

Maria and Ingeborg headed back to their home in Providence, struggling through a horrific snowstorm en route. Eastern and southeastern New York had been clobbered with two to three feet of snow right after the CU Convention ended, and they drove smack into it. “Not- Yet- have we recover [sic] from the terrible experience we must go through on our way home in the Snow Storm,” Ingeborg wrote Alice Paul after Christmas. “But we arrived!”[4] They sure were made of hardy stuff.

Despite the difficulties of the trip I think they were pumped at having been involved, and were committed to continue suffrage organizing in Rhode Island. They’d previously formed The Women’s Political Equality League of Rhode Island, and were considering turning it into a branch of the CU. Still more to find out there.

Their story ends here for now, as I continue doing the research I didn’t have time to complete during the trip. Mine continues into the next blog post, in which I talk about our own little event on Capitol Hill.

[1] “The Women Voters’ Envoys Present their Petition to The President and to Congress.” The Suffragist, December 11, 1915, pp. 4-5.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ingeborg Kindstedt to Alice Paul, December 27, 1915, National Woman’s Party Papers, Part 2, Series 1, Reel 22. 

The Penultimate Stop

Only Wilmington and Baltimore to go. What was it like for the three women to be so close to the end of their trip? Were they utterly sick of each other? Ready to be done with it all? Was there some part of them that would miss being on the road, all the drama, being in the spotlight?
Maria behind the wheel, looking grim as usual, and Ingeborg
standing beside her. Looks as if Sara is hopping out the other side. 

Hard to know. I haven’t found any correspondence from them relevant to this part of the trip. Yet. But I’m guessing they were ready to finish it up. I have to say that I got pretty tired of living out of a suitcase and wearing the same clothes day after day. And the relentless demand of the calendar that forced me to move on when I might have liked to linger and visit a world class art museum, or hang out with friends for a day or two, got tiring. As much as I looked forward to the people and the research in the next city, it was hard to part with people and places I only got to connect with for a day or two. But the final celebration in DC was scheduled and so I had to keep moving, and it was the same for Sara and the Swedes. They were due in DC on December 6 for a rendezvous with Congress and a meeting with President Wilson. You don’t schedule those and fail to arrive on the appointed date and time…They actually pulled into Baltimore on December 4 to give themselves some extra time to get ready.

I had a great visit with the LWV of Delaware at Gwenn and Brett Elliott’s lovely home in Lebanon. By chance the League had already been planning a wine and cheese party Saturday evening, and I happened to arrive the very same day, so they just wrapped me into it. Yay! Always up for wine and cheese. I got to talk about the original trip and what I was doing, and hear their thoughts about politics, voting, reproductive rights, and other matters. They’re very concerned about efforts to suppress voting rights, and the role of money in politics. They’d love to see the Millenials get involved in the League but (like everyone else) are unsure how to reach them. There seems to be general agreement that use of social media, rather than wine and cheese parties in people’s homes, is a better way to reach the younger folk but the details of how exactly the League would do this remain elusive. I thoroughly enjoyed talking with this smart and interesting bunch of people, which included several husbands.

Several people mentioned that when they were younger they had to hide from their employers the fact that they were married, otherwise they would have been let go. In some cases this went on for a couple of years.

Sadly, because I was in Delaware on a weekend I wasn’t able to do any research at the archives or libraries, so I’ll have to go back another time. Mabel Vernon, the envoy’s advance planner, was from Delaware and I was hoping to dig up a little more information. Delaware, I shall return!

On Sunday morning I took off for Baltimore and my rendezvous with Sara Bard Field’s four step great-granddaughters, Sara Wood Smith, Laura Smith, Cynthia Matthews, and Eliza Livingston. They had graciously agreed to out to DC from their homes in California and Oregon to help organize and participate in the final celebration. I hadn’t known them prior to this trip, so it was kind of an adventure for all of us to figure out the agenda, how the room should be decorated, and who would do what. I have to say that if you ever find yourself in need of event planners I can highly recommend these four women! 

The envoys had arrived in DC amid much pageantry and ceremony, so I’d always thought that I should do something to commemorate their trip and mine when I reached DC. But I found the actual event planning daunting. I’m not so good at pageants and ceremony and decorating at the best of times, and trying to figure all that stuff out while I was traveling was a daunting prospect. Imagine my joy when Sara agreed to serve as liaison with the caterers and as point person for the RSVPs, and Cynthia offered to serve as master of ceremonies! My blood pressure dropped almost instantly and I went from dreading my arrival in DC to looking forward to it.

Sally Grant and I stand next to a portrait of Sadie Crockin.
Anne Curran in the foreground.
Anyway, after lunch in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor we all traipsed over to the Jewish Museum of Maryland, where the League of Women Voters of Baltimore City had set up a little event. The museum had recently honored Sadie Jacobs Crockin, who was a suffragist and the first president of the Baltimore League of Women Voters, among many other contributions during her long life. As the library brochure read, “She used her prodigious energy to rally women for women’s rights, aid to immigrants, Zionism, good citizenship, efficiency in government, and other causes. Leading by her own example, Crockin assured women that activism would bring them ‘a different outlook on life, a bigger, broader view,’ that would enrich their own lives and the lives of women and men in Maryland.” Food for thought for us all. It’s small wonder she was inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.

Showing my prop during our discussion in the Board room
at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.
There actually were other people in the room...
We had a great chat in the Board room of the museum, and those present shared their experience and thoughts about women’s rights. Sara remembered that following her divorce from her first husband she had difficulty getting credit. 

The following day “the descendants” (my shorthand way of referring to them) and I assembled at the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum in DC, which was the headquarters of the National Woman’s Party (which the CU became known as in 1917.) The Sewall-Belmont staff, especially Jennifer Krafchik and Jessica Konigsberg, had been super helpful throughout my trip serving as a sounding board, providing archival photos, and with publicity. Although Sara Bard Field may not have visited this particular location (the CU/NWP had moved offices several times before settling there in 1929) it was filled with history from her era. Jennifer gave us a long tour filled with fascinating details of this rich history. If you haven’t been to the Sewall-Belmont ever, or in the last five years, it’s well worth a visit. They re-did the museum about five years ago and it’s beautifully decorated with each room devoted to a slice of the history.
The descendants (from left to right Sara Wood Smith, Cynthia Matthews, Eliza Livingston, and Laura Smith.) Jennifer Krafchick from the Sewall-Belmont House is in front.
Later in the afternoon I met with Maine Senator Susan Collins in her office in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, conveniently located right next door to the Sewall-Belmont House! Senator Collins is well known as a moderate Republican and an important force for deal-making in the contentious environment on the Hill. I hadn’t known that she was also the lead author of a bill to establish the National Women’s History Museum; many thanks to her for that important leadership. Unfortunately, as with everything else related to women’s rights and claims to history this is promising to be a lengthy battle. That bill was first introduced 12 years ago and just recently a commission was established to study the possibility of maybe thinking about someday creating a national history museum. Part of the hang-up is funding, of course. The museum’s backers are proposing to use private money to build it, and then have the Smithsonian take over its operations, which would require annual appropriations.  It appears that many in Congress don’t believe women are worth the expense. So what else is new? Senator Collins agreed that perhaps this one needs to go into the “We Demand!” bucket…

I introduce the envoys to Senator Susan Collins.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Thanksgiving in New York and the Justice Bell

Courtesy of the Sewall-Belmont House
After Boston the envoys went down to Providence. I was hoping to stop there myself to look into Ingeborg and Maria a little more, since that’s where they lived, but I arrived on a Sunday and the local historical societies were closed, so I’ll have to go back. I did nip into Providence to see if I could locate the house that they lived in on 557 Westminster Street, but it seems to have been demolished for new multi-family housing. I went on to NYC Monday morning, staying out in Brooklyn where it was easier and cheaper to park my car. It’s a long drive, over 180 miles, so the little Overland Six got put on a boat and shipped to NYC, getting stored in a garage until it was needed. They had some time to play with because it was Thanksgiving week, and nothing could happen until that big holiday was over. The Swedes stayed in Providence so they could have Thanksgiving at their home, and Sara must have been hosted by someone in NYC.

While in the city Sara was hoping to connect with some literary agents on behalf of her lover, Erskine, who had written an epic poem called “The Poet in the Desert.” Although not everyone agreed with her Sara thought it magnificent and was determined to find a publisher for him. So she may have spent some of her down time in NYC doing that. The big parade was scheduled for the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

In the- by now- familiar format the automobile procession assembled at 83rd and Fifth Avenue and drove down Fifth Avenue to have a big meeting at Sherry’s at Fifth and 44th Street. Mrs. O.H.P. “Alva” Belmont and many other notable women were part of the automobile procession. 
Photo of Sherry's ballroom. 

It’s interesting to note that New York was one of three states in the fall of 1915 that had roundly defeated equal suffrage referenda; the other two were New Jersey and Massachusetts. Just as the envoys arrived in the city the New York Times published an article listing the amounts various groups had spent on the statewide campaign. The pro-suffragists claimed to have spent $87,131, equivalent to $2,025,684 in 2015 dollars. While it would have been easier to raise that in NYC than in, for example, Maine, that wasn’t chump change. And it also represented a vast undercount as that figure almost certainly didn’t value the labor of thousands of volunteers. If that wasn’t an argument in favor of a federal suffrage amendment, I don’t know what would be.

Frances Joliffe, who was supposed to have done the whole trip but bailed in Sacramento, rejoined the envoys in NYC although the press acknowledged that she’d come out from California by train due to her neuralgia. For the first time, too, people clamored to see the petition of which so much had been made. “Oh that,” said Sara airily. “Why, we sent that on to Washington by train.” Hmmm.

During my stay in NYC I got to see Female Hysteria: A Women’s Health and Comedy Affair put on by NOW of New York City’s Activist Alliance. The event was part of the NOW Foundation’s Love Your Body campaign. designed to be part informational, part inspirational, and a lot of fun, and it was all of that. There were a lot of us crushed into a small room in the Manhattan Theater Club Studios. The first hour or so was spent making the rounds of the tables staffed by participating organizations, which included:

Abortion Looks Like

During the second hour we were treated to three stand up comedians from Lady Parts Justice (LPJ), all three of whom were awesome. You have to love LPJ’s mission statement: “LPJ is a cabal of comics and writers exposing creeps hellbent on destroying access to birth control and abortion. Inclusive. Intersectional. Fun as Fuck.” Yeah baby, it was. Here’s a link to a dropbox folder with Lizz Winstead providing a bit of background on LPJ, and a couple of the comedians. Sorry for the rough quality- I recorded these on my phone and I don’t think I recorded the funniest parts, either. I was thrilled to see this event advertised because on my way across the country I had reached out repeatedly to local NOW organizations, hoping to interview someone, and never got a response. Apparently there are only a couple of NOW chapters that still have paid staff, and NYC’s is one of them (DC is the other.) While clearly there are lots of other organizations that have formed to address different women’s issues, it was helpful to have the NOW umbrella for this event.  

While in NYC I met with Dona Munker, who’s writing a biography on Sara Bard Field. She’s done meticulous research on Sara and it was really fun to swap stories and ask question of someone so knowledgeable and well-informed. Can’t wait to read the book!

Paulsdale, Alice Paul's childhood home and now home to the
Alice Paul Institute
From NYC I pushed on to New Jersey and Alice Paul’s birthplace, called Paulsdale by her father and now serving as the Alice Paul Institute (API.) It was sort of surreal to drive down this conventional suburban street and then turn into the driveway that leads to the beautiful house with its wrap-around porch. The API maintains a research library there that includes books that Alice Paul owned, original copies of The Suffragist, Amelia Fry’s research files, and lots of other materials as well. I spent several happy hours poring through them, stopping to chat with Executive Director Lucy Beard.

In addition to preserving the house and educating people about Alice Paul the API also offers leadership development programming, particularly around equal rights for women. I liked that their website hosts the Women’s Information Network of New Jersey, which provides a database of women’s organizations within the state that deal with issues related to women’s social, political, economic, educational, and legal advancement. It was great to see that they’re carrying on the spirit of Alice Paul in the house she grew up in. It’s a terrific organization and I know I’ll be back there soon for more research.

Dora Kelly Lewis
Her mild appearance was belied by her
tough actions on behalf of woman suffrage
I moved on to Philadelphia where I was able to do some research at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. I was particularly pleased to find there a collection of Caroline Katzenstein’s papers, including some wonderful photos of various suffrage leaders, as well as correspondence from Dora Kelly “Mrs. Lawrence” Lewis. Both women were very active as CU organizers; among other things they picketed the White House and were arrested and jailed on several occasions. I didn’t really learn much that was new about the envoys and their trip, but I liked getting to know these two women a little more. I love this photo of Dora- she looks sort of timid and saintly, doesn’t she? Yet she was jailed five times between 1917 and 1919, went on a hunger strike, and was force-fed. Quite a woman.

I also drove out to Valley Forge, PA, where the Justice Bell is housed in a lovely chapel that is somewhat incongruously part of the Valley Forge National Historical Park, site of the 1777-78 winter encampment of the Continental Army. The Justice Bell is a replica of the Liberty Bell, and was commissioned by Pennsylvania suffragist Katharine Wentworth Ruschenberger in 1915. Its inscription reads, in part, “Establish Justice,” and in some articles it was referred to as “the women’s Liberty Bell.”  It was used as a prop during Pennsylvania’s unsuccessful 1915 statewide suffrage referendum, and traveled over 5,000 miles around the state in the back of a flatbed truck. To symbolize women’s lack of political freedom the clapper of the bell was chained and silenced until the 19th amendment was ratified.
The Justice Bell in action in Pennsylvania's
unsuccessful 1915 suffrage campaign
Ever alert to the opportunities for symbolism and pageantry, the CU invited the Justice Bell to accompany the envoys from Philly to DC and participate in the parade to the Capitol.  Ruschenberger was glad to agree, so from Philly on there are a lot of references to the bell in connection with the envoys’ trip. Some members of the press confused it with the original Liberty Bell, the one with the crack in it.

I appreciate the connection to the country’s struggle for liberty, and that the bell is housed in such a beautiful place. But it does seem somewhat incongruous, as there’s very little other effort to connect the two struggles that were, after all, over 140 years apart, and almost no information about woman suffrage history. Later on, when I checked the gift shop, there were no photos of the bell and nothing in the shop that referred to women’s struggle for political rights. So I wonder if it’s in quite the right place…
The inscription reads, in part, "Establish Justice"

A Cool Reception in Conservative New England

The envoys rolled into New England two weeks before they were due to finish their trip in DC. Being in the east was a mixed bag. On the one hand the roads were better and the distances they had to travel a little shorter. Though the days were shorter and colder they could be assured of comfortable accommodations at night.

Lillian Ascough, Chair of the Connecticut
branch of the Congressional Union
But it wasn’t just the weather that was turning frosty. The eastern states had been working on suffrage for decades, and many women were solidly in the camp of the more conservative National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA.) So while there was a lot of expertise and interest in suffrage, the CU and the envoys had to tiptoe through some political minefields. They’d had a positive reception from the western politicians but as they moved east they found that mayors, governors, and congressmen were opposed to the federal amendment, so they  switched tactics. Instead of asking them publicly to sign, and have to deal with their public refusal, they simply asked them to be present at the reception so they could hear the demand, which they seemed willing to do.

Hartford wasn’t too bad. There were at least a dozen brave souls willing to drive their cars in the usual parade, and Lillian Ascough, the chair of the CT branch of the CU, joined the envoys in their car. Mrs. George H. Day hosted the weary travels at her lovely house on 27 Marshall Street.  The Colt’s Armory Band, loaded in the back of a large truck, led the parade and helped draw a crowd by playing rousing music.

At city hall the envoys were greeted by the Hartford’s Mayor Lawler, Governor Holcomb, and Congressman Oakey. While they were polite enough none of them was willing to sign the petition, preferring that states should be able to decide who should vote. They seemed completely unfazed by the threat of the western women’s votes being marshaled against them. Sara invited Congressman Oakey to join them on the remainder of the trip to DC, but he declined.

Undaunted, Sara and the Swedes headed across the East Hartford bridge and off to Boston. There had been intense behind-the-scenes negotiations with the NAWSA affiliate there in recent weeks, and an uneasy truce had been reached. As long as the event was marketed simply as a welcome to the envoys from the women voters of the west and their support for the federal amendment, the Mass. Woman Suffrage Association would help organize and fund the reception. They were adamant, however, that the event couldn’t be used to promote the CU or to actively recruit new members for it. The CU went along with this, and as a result Boston had a great showing of 200 woman suffrage supporters at the state house and city hall. There they were greeted by Governor Walsh, the Mayor being absent. The exchange was pleasant enough, even after Sara told him women were done begging and were instead “standing on their rights as citizens.” But he didn’t sign the petition, either.

From the Christian Science Monitor, Boston, 11.24.15
Just a side note, here’s another photo of Sara and the petition. I guess this is the petition itself, not the 500,000 signatures that went along with it? Still wondering about those darn petitions…

While I was in Boston I took a tour of the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study in Cambridge. Marilyn Dunn, the library’s Executive Director, graciously provided the tour. They have a great women's history collection and I'll definitely return there for more research when this trip is done. I also met with Barbara Berenson, an author who has written a couple of books on civil war era Boston, and is now researching Boston’s woman suffrage history.

Since my daughter Emma (aka the amazing artist Solei) lives in Somerville and went to Tufts, I asked her to pull together some of her friends so I could talk with them about their experience as young women thinking about careers, families, and so on. The five 20-somethings; Lisa, Ann, Krista, Paige, and Emma gathered in the library of the Democracy Center in Cambridge, which is described as a 21st century meeting house- very cool resource for a community! I foolishly neglected to take a photo of the group so you’ll have to make do with this one of Emma. They were all college graduates, smart and funny, and we had a very thoughtful discussion.
My daughter Emma in a mosque in Cyprus, earlier this year
I asked them broadly about their experience as young women, and they initially came back with stories of men they didn’t know somewhat inappropriately commenting on their appearance. Krista also mentioned an awkward exchange with a young man who told her in effect that she played guitar real good for a girl. But these were clearly not things they regarded as anything more than minor irritations. They didn’t perceive any particular barriers to their careers due to their sex, even if they didn’t know that some of those gains were won relatively recently and were the result of activism and hard work by the women who came before. We talked about access to birth control and abortion, which they regard as their rights, and while aware of conservative attacks on these they didn’t seem to feel a call to action to protect them. Not yet, anyhow.

I also asked about how they viewed Hillary Clinton. They aren’t fans. They weren’t willing to give her a pass because she’s a woman, and they didn’t like her hawkish-ness. They prefer Bernie. I did fill them in on a little of her background from my perspective, the work she did on a more universal health care system when Bill was first elected president, and how she and Bill have been the target of unrelenting attacks from Republicans ever since they first gained national prominence. They weren’t aware of her history and while I want them to make their own decisions I thought they ought to have a little more empathy and perspective on what Hilary has been through in her political life.

One of my favorite Solei pieces. 
Finally, we discussed whether they saw themselves having children some day, and if they were concerned about their ability to juggle work and careers. Emma observed that she couldn’t think of having kids until she could hold onto a cell phone for longer than 90 days, a useful metric and evidence of self-knowledge that made her mother happy. Paige and Lisa had role models in the women they worked for, who worked hard but had kids and seemed to be making it all work. It’s all a bit abstract for them at the moment but at least they weren’t seeing that having a career and a family would be impossible.  

I don’t get to be around this age group a lot so I really enjoyed our discussion. I hope they learned a bit about the history of woman suffrage and the connection to women’s rights today, and will continue to explore both.

Emma and I saw Suffragette while I was in Boston. I thought it was well done, although it’s important to note that British suffrage history unfolded a little differently from the way it did in the US. No one was breaking windows in this country, for example. However, (spoiler alert!) the scene in which the prisoner is force-fed tracks very closely to Alice Paul’s description of her own horrible experience when she was imprisoned for suffrage activities in England. That’s where she got her start in suffrage, actually, working with Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst. In fact, the Philadelphia Record in 1917 referred to her as “the Pankhurst of the Potomac.” (I’m not sure that was meant as a compliment, but the article was  pretty sympathetic.) Suffragette is well worth seeing, I recommend it!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Western New York Radicalism

I wrote about their trip to Ohio in a single blog, but the envoys actually drove from Toledo to Detroit and then back down to Cleveland before quitting the state for good. I don’t know if they had an inkling of the weather in store for them but they opted to load the little black car onto a boat bound for Buffalo. I suspect that Sara, at least, followed by train and maybe the Swedes went along by boat to keep an eye on the car, but I haven’t figured that out yet. In any case, western NY was settling into a normal pattern of early winter weather, with temps in the 40s during the day and dipping down below freezing at night. It couldn’t have been pleasant riding in an unheated car. In contrast, our trip through western NY was through an extended Indian summer; crisp mornings gave way to balmy afternoons, and we even had to turn on the AC from time to time. A very different trip!

After some dithering as to whether they had time to organize meetings there it appears they did have at least an open air rally in Buffalo (on account of the weather being so toasty.) Then they pushed on to Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, and Albany, stopping and getting signatures from mayors and other notables en route.

Sheri L. Scavone, Executive Director
of the 
Western New York Women’s Foundation
In Buffalo I had the good fortune to meet with Sheri L. Scavone, who is the Executive Director of the Western New York Women’s Foundation. The Foundation provides impact grants and advocacy around childcare, helping women get family sustaining jobs, providing high-quality out-of-school time programming, and empowering women leaders. I loved that they actually fund studies and research to collect data that they then use to direct their grant making decisions- and their advocacy.

Buffalo is undergoing something of a renaissance and thousands of new jobs will be opening up there in the coming years. The Foundation has had some success in pointing out that without affordable and high quality daycare women won’t be likely to take advantage of the new jobs. In a climate like Buffalo’s, that can see 7 feet of snow in a 3-day period, working parents need places to stash their kids not just after school and in the summer but on snow days as well. The city leaders have been busy planning new business campuses that will house thousands of jobs but making absolutely no provision for childcare. Filling these jobs will require single moms to join the workforce, and they’ll need help. I’m greatly simplifying it but that’s some of the advocacy Sheri and her board are up to, and it was great to learn about their model and hear how their having an impact.

In Albany New York's Governor Whitman and his wife gave the envoys a very friendly reception, even hosting a luncheon for them and over 30 other guests. Despite the fact that New York voters had just tanked yet another statewide suffrage referendum, Whitman was optimistic that they would ultimately prevail, though he didn’t hazard a guess as to when that might happen. “It is dear to my heart and also dear to the heart of the little lady who presides over the Executive mansion,” the Governor assured the gathering as he signed the petition (which Sara is quoted the day before as saying was over 3 miles long.)[1]  

In Utica we happened to stay in the same lodgings the envoys had used; the Hotel Utica. It was built in the Renaissance Revival-style and was almost brand new when they arrived there so it must have been stunning.  Utica’s fortunes have dwindled since then and the hotel suffered too, kind of like a movie star who gets strung out on heroin for a while but kicks the habit and emerges clean and well pressed but looking a little frayed around the edges. Anyway, it was fun wandering around in the faded elegance and imagining Sara and the Swedes and Mabel eating in the restaurant. If you find yourself in Utica for some unknown reason, we recommend Hotel Utica!

Hotel Utica

Back in the day western New York was a hotbed of all sorts of newfangled ideas- from abolition of slavery to women’s rights, communes, and new religions (including Mormonism.)  Although it wasn’t part of their itinerary (the museums didn’t exist yet) we stopped at several museums that are a tribute to this history.

The first was Susan B. Anthony’s house in Rochester, which has been restored and turned into a museum. Here my cousin Matthew Rand joined Rick and me for a special tour given by Executive Director Deborah L. Hughes. Deborah L. Hughes. Deb clearly knew her history and it was great to have her guide us through the women’s rights movements earliest history. I got the feeling that Susan would have approved of the CU’s gumption in organizing this trip and she certainly would have empathized with the envoys’ road weariness at this stage. She herself had traveled tens of thousands of miles all over the country in support of suffrage campaigns.
Deborah Hughes, Executive Director of the SBA House and
Museum. And me- one of us looks very professional and the
other looks like she's been on the road for 6 weeks.
You decide.
Next we stopped at Seneca Falls and the Women's Rights National Historical Park.  There’s lots of women’s rights-themed activities there, including the Museum, the National Women’s Hall of Fame, Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s home, and self-guided walking tours. I thought they did a nice job with a complex history strung out over many decades, though I know there are complaints that US suffrage history gets “whitewashed.” Suffrage leaders did complain that illiterate men (of all colors) and “lunatics” were able to vote when educated women could not. Their careful wording of the proposed federal amendment would prevent voting rights from being denied on the basis of gender alone, and give states the option of using other voter suppression tactics like poll taxes or the Jim Crow laws. Some of their comments could be construed as straight-up racism.
Rick and me, standing in the park near the SBA
Museum; the statues are Susan having tea with
her buddy Frederick Douglas

Still, it’s also true that many early suffragists fought hard to abolish slavery, and were betrayed when the 15th Amendment to the constitution gave the vote to black men only, not to women as well. Introducing the word male into the Constitution was a dangerous precedent for all women going forward. And I think it’s important to understand their behavior in the context of the time in which they lived. The Southern states were opposed to giving black women the vote, and they had to figure out a way to move the federal amendment forward. Were they racist? Maybe. Would you and I have been similarly racist had we lived 100 years ago?  Quite possibly. Would those suffrage leaders be more likely in 2015 to reach out to and include women of color in a sort of rainbow coalition? Maybe not all of them, but I believe a majority would. So it’s complicated. I want to think and read about that some more.

The last museum we went to was the former home of Matilda Joslyn Gage, who broke with Susan B Anthony when Susan brought the Women’s Christian Temperance Union into the suffrage movement. I was somewhat aware of this history, but had focused more on the WCTU’s temperance efforts. Matilda was much more concerned about the “Christian” part of their name, aware that their stated purpose was to inject God into the Constitution and make the US a Christian nation. Sounds weirdly similar to 2015, doesn’t it? 
Matilda Joslyn Gage

Matilda thought that Christianity was a much greater threat to women than the lack of voting rights was, and she headed in a different direction. There were some great quotes from Matilda on the walls of the museum, each room of which was dedicated to a different part of her activism (and one to Oz- she was L. Frank Baum’s mother-in-law, as I mentioned in an earlier blog.) I hadn’t known a lot about Matilda and she clearly deserves to be better known, especially in this time of right-wing religious extremism in the US.

“The most stupendous system of organized robbery known has been that of the church towards woman, a robbery that has not only taken her self-respect but all rights of person; the fruits of her own industry; her opportunities of education; the exercise of her judgment, her own conscience, her own will.”

[1] “Suffrage Workers Ride 4,000 Miles,” Utica Observer, 11.18.15, p. 12.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Detroit Welcomes the Envoys

I’m dreadfully behind on the blog at this point, but trying to catch up! Blogging has had to take a back seat, as it were, to travel, research, visiting with old friends and family, and planning the celebration in DC. I’m in Boston right now, staying with daughter Emma, who has been helped me with website and blog design. Back to Detroit…

I’ve spent decades working in affordable housing and community revitalization so I was eager to see Detroit, which has been struggling to manage a city footprint that is far larger than its shrinking population and tax base will support. In community development circles Detroit’s housing vacancy woes are legendary, as is its solution; to simply demolish blocks of housing and turn them into fields. We stayed in the Jacob Arms, less than a mile from the city center and a stone’s throw from the Comerica Park. In just about any other city the view from our 6th floor window would have been rooftops; instead, we looked down on quite a bit of open space.
Photo from our rental unit in Detroit, courtesy of Rick Leavitt

Still, I found myself more upbeat about Detroit than I had expected. There were lots of signs of new development going on. Much of the remaining housing in the neighborhood we stayed in was gorgeous and many units had been restored. All the open space has supported a new locavore movement and we ate at a great restaurant on Cass Street with delicious food at reasonable prices. And you can’t beat the street art! I know lots of challenges remain for Detroit but it seems as if it’s moving in the right direction. If I was looking to homestead somewhere, that’s where I’d go.
Beautifully restored Victorian house a block from where
we stayed in Detroit. Photo courtesy of Rick Leavitt.

Sara had grown up in Detroit though she’d left in 1900, when she married her first husband Albert. But her parents were still there and I thought perhaps there’d be a big celebration for her homecoming. On a Saturday evening 40 autos, decorated with lanterns flags, yellow balloons and the CU colors of yellow, white and gold, assembled at the corner of Woodward Avenue and Edmunds and Place. Led by the little black car and the envoys, they sped to the steps of the county building.[1] There they were met by a number of local dignitaries, including Detroit Mayor Ira W. Jayne and Mrs. Jennie Law Hardy, the local CU president. During the event beautiful young women kept red lights burning in 4 urns on the building’s steps (might be hard to pull that off today.) The Detroit Times described the effect as being “like pictures of Rome in the time of the Caesars.” Those suffragists surely knew how to stage a mass meeting…

Unusually, at the event the envoys were also presented with 4,000 signatures for the petition. I’m not sure what prompted this, since no other city had done gathered signatures in advance. Perhaps that was their way of welcoming their prodigal daughter.
If Sara had a moment to visit with her parents there’s no record of it. She was somewhat estranged from her father, but had remained close to her mother.  

The street she’d grown up on was about a half mile from where Rick and I were staying, so we walked over to see if we could find her house. In her oral history Sara spoke glowingly of her childhood home. “No one who knew Detroit as I knew it could dream of it now. It was so lovely. It was half-city, half-town. Every street was tree-lined…” The street was paved with cedar blocks for the horses, which sent a nice fragrance into the air. Their house on Charlotte Avenue had a porch that to her childish eyes had seemed like the “great prow of a ship.”[2] It was then a quiet side street that met Woodward Avenue at one end, which was a bustling thoroughfare. When she’d gone back after her father died to help her mother move, she was shocked at the changes and never returned. The street had been widened and paved for cars, the trees had been cut down and an ill-kept boarding house had been constructed in the yard next to her house. That was pretty much the state we found the street in. Her home had been torn down and the few that remained looked in need of some TLC.

In the Bentley Library at the University of Michigan I was delighted to find the papers of Lucia Isabelle Voorhees Grimes. I’ve had difficulty finding collections of papers from women who had been active in the Congressional Union. My theory is that when the vote was finally won, NAWSA president Carrie Chapman Catt directed all the local affiliates to preserve their histories and write them up. Alice Paul didn’t do that, so most of the women who were involved in the CU just moved on to whatever they wanted to work on next.
From the Lucia Isabelle Voorhees Grimes Papers,
Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan
But Grimes had been active in the Republican Party for decades, and had even run for the state legislature in 1924, so her family must have felt her papers were worth preserving. I couldn’t find any mention of the 1915 visit from the envoys; I think it’s because she was in DC, putting together the system the CU used to track and record every member of Congress’ stance on suffrage and getting ready for the envoys’ arrival there. She’d brought her six-year old daughter Emily with her; I loved this photo of Emily outside of CU headquarters in DC holding signs advertising the mass meeting that would feature the suffrage envoys.

Grimes’ collection at the Bentley was rich in all sorts of material, but I was also thrilled to find a couple of old NWP sashes that hadn’t seen the light of day too much. They retained their bright colors of purple, white, and gold.

Sash from the Lucia Isabelle Voorhees Grimes Papers, 
Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan 

[1] “Women Voters Envoys Reach the East”, The Suffragist, November 20, 1915, p. 3; also “Suffrage Party Reaches the East,” Detroit Free Press, Nov. 13, 1915, p. 9
[2] Sara Bard Field, Oral History