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"

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