The Brooklyn Woman Suffrage Association was formed May 13, 1869 and the New York City Society in 1870. From this time various organizations came into permanent existence until in 1903 there were fifteen devoted to suffrage propaganda. In Manhattan (New York City) and Brooklyn these were bound together by county organizations but in order to unite all the suffragists in cooperative work the Interurban Woman Suffrage Council was formed in 1903 at the Brooklyn home of a pioneer, Mrs. Priscilla D. Hackstaff, with the President of the Kings County Political Equality League, Mrs. Martha Williams, presiding. The Interurban began with a roster of five which gradually increased to twenty affiliated societies, with an associate membership besides of 150 women. Under the able leadership of Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt, chairman, it established headquarters in the Martha Washington Hotel, New York City, Feb. 15, 1907, with a secretary, Miss Fannie Chafin, in charge, and maintained committees on organization, literature, legislative work, press and lectures; formed clubs, held mass meetings and systematically distributed literature. The Council was the first suffrage organization in New York City to interview Assemblymen and Senators on woman suffrage and it called the first representative convention held in the big metropolis.
The Woman Suffrage Party of Greater New York was launched by this Council at Carnegie Hall, October 29, 1909, modelled after that of the two dominant political parties. Its first convention with 804 delegates and 200 alternates constituted the largest delegate suffrage body ever assembled in New York State. The new party announced that it would have a leader for each of the 63 assembly districts of the city and a captain for each of the 2,127 election districts, these and their assistant officers to be supervised by a borough chairman and other officers in each borough, the entire force to be directed by a city chairman assisted by city officers and a board of directors. Mrs. Catt, with whom the idea of the Party originated, and her co-workers believed that by reaching into every election district to influence its voters, they would bring suffrage close to the people and eventually influence parties and legislators through public opinion.
The population of Greater New York was 4,700,000 and the new party had a task of colossal proportions. It had to appeal to native Americans of all classes and conditions and to thousands of foreign born. It sent its forces to local political conventions; held mass meetings; issued thousands of leaflets in many languages; conducted street meetings, parades, plays, lectures, suffrage schools; gave entertainments and teas; sent appeals to churches and all kinds of organizations and to individual leaders; brought pressure on legislators through their constituents and obtained wide publicity in newspapers and magazines. It succeeded in all its efforts and increased its membership from 20,000 in 1910 to over 500,000 in 1917.
In 1915, at the beginning of the great campaign for a suffrage amendment to the State constitution, which had been submitted by the Legislature, the State was divided into twelve campaign districts, Greater New York was made the first and under the leadership of Miss Mary Garrett Hay, who since 1912 ha served as chairman, the City Woman Suffrage Party plunge into strenuous work, holding conventions, sending out organizers raising $50,000 as a campaign fund, setting a specific task fo each month of 1915 up to Election Day, and forming its ow committees with chairmen as follows: Industrial, Miss Leonor O'Reilly; The Woman Voter, Mrs. Thomas B. Wells; Speakers Bureau, Mrs. Mabel Russell; Congressional, Mrs. Lillian Griffin the French, Mrs. Anna Ross Weeks; the German, Miss Catharine Dreier; the Press, Mrs. Oreola Williams Haskell; Ways and Means, Mrs. John B. McCutcheon.
The City Party began the intensive work of the campaign in January, 1915, when a swift pace was set for the succeeding months by having 60 district conventions, 170 canvassing suppers, four mass meetings, 27 canvassing conferences and a convention in Carnegie Hall. It was decided to canvass all of the 661,164 registered voters and hundreds of women spent long hours foiling up and down tenement stairs, going from shop to shop, visiting innumerable factories, calling at hundreds of city and suburban homes, covering the rural districts, the big department stores and the immense office buildings with their thousands of occupants. It was estimated that 60 per cent of the enrolled voters received these personal appeals. The membership of the party was increased by 60,535 women secured as members by canvassers.
The following is a brief summing up of the activities of the ten months' campaign.*
Voters canvassed (60 per cent of those enrolled): 396,698
Women canvassed: 60,535
Voters circularized: 826,796
Party membership increased from 151,688 to 212,223
Watchers and pickets furnished for the polls: 3,151
Numbers of leaflets printed and distributed: 2,883,264
Money expended from the City treasury: $25,579
Number of outdoor meetings: 5,225
Number of indoor meetings (district): 660
Number of mass meetings: 93
Political meetings addressed by Congressmen, Assemblymen and Constitutional Convention delegates: 25
Total number of meetings: 6,003
Night speaking in theaters: 60
Theater Week (Miner's and Keith's): 2
Speeches and suffrage slides in movie theaters: 150
Concerts (indoor, 10 outdoor, 3): 13
Suffrage booths in bazaars: 6
Number of Headquarters (Borough 4, Districts, 20): 24
Campaign vans (drawn by horses 6, decorated autos 6, district autos 4), vehicles in constant use: 16
Papers served regularly with news (English and foreign): 80
Suffrage editions of papers prepared: 2
Special articles on suffrage: 150
Sermons preached by request just before election: 64
A Weekly News Bulletin (for papers and workers) and the Woman Voter (a weekly magazine) issued; many unique features like stories, verses, etc.; hundreds of ministers circularized and speakers sent to address congregations; the endorsements of all city officials and of many prominent people and big organizations secured.
In order to accomplish the work indicated by this table a large number of expert canvassers, speakers, executives and clerical workers were required. Mrs. Catt as State Campaign chairman was a great driving force and an inspiration that never failed, and Miss Hay in directing the party forces and raising the money showed remarkable ability. Associated with her were capable officials-Mrs. Margaret Chandler Aldrich, Mrs. Wells, Mrs. Martha Wentworth Suffren, Mrs. Robert McGregor, Mrs. Cornelia K. Hood, Mrs. Marie Jenney Howe, Mrs. Joseph Fitch, Mrs. A. J. Newbury, and the tireless borough chairmen, Mrs. James Lees Laidlaw, Manhattan; Mrs. H. Edward Dreier, Brooklyn; Mrs. Henrietta Speke Seeley, Bronx; Mrs. Alfred J. Eno, Queens, and Mrs. William G. Willcox, Richmond.
The spectacular activities of the campaign caught and held public attention. Various classes of men were complimented by giving them "suffrage days." The appeal to the firemen took the form of an automobile demonstration, open air speaking along the line of march of their annual parade and a ten dollar gold piece given to one of their number who made a daring rescue of a yellow-sashed dummy-a suffrage lady. A circular letter was sent to 800 firemen requesting their help for all suffragists. "Barbers' Day" produced ten columns of copy in leading New York dailies. Letters were sent in advance to 400 barbers informing them that on a certain day the suffragists would call upon them. The visits were made in autos decorated with barbers' poles and laden with maps and posters to hang up in the shops and then open air meetings were held out in front. Street cleaners on the day of the "White Wings" parade were given souvenirs of tiny brooms and suffrage leaflets and addressed from automobiles. A whole week was given to the street car men who numbered 240,000. Suffrage speeches were given at the car barns and leaflets and a "car barn" poster distributed.
Forty-five banks and trust companies were treated to a "raid" made by suffrage depositors, who gave out literature and held open meetings afterward. Brokers were reached through two days in Wall Street where the suffragists entered in triumphal style, flags flying, bugles playing. Speeches were made, souvenirs distributed and a luncheon held in a "suffrage" restaurant. The second day hundreds of colored balloons were sent up to typify "the suffragists' hopes ascending." Workers in the subway excavations were visited with Irish banners and shamrock fliers; Turkish, Armenian, French, German and Italian restaurants were canvassed as were the laborers on the docks, in vessels and in public markets.
A conspicuous occasion was the Night of the Interurban Council Fires, when on high bluffs in the different boroughs huge bonfires were lighted, fireworks and balloons sent up, while music, speeches and transparencies emphasized the fact that woman's evolution from the campfire of the savage into a new era was commemorated. Twenty-eight parades were a feature of the open air demonstrations. There were besides numbers of torchlight rallies; street dances on the lower East Side; Irish, Syrian, Italian and Polish block parties; outdoor concerts, among them a big one in Madison Square, where a full orchestra played, opera singers sang and eminent orators spoke; open air religious services with the moral and religious aspects of suffrage discussed; a fete held in beautiful Dyckman Glen; flying squadrons of speakers whirling in autos from the Battery to the Bronx; an "interstate meet" on the streets where suffragists of Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York participated. Ninety original features arranged on a big scale with many minor ones brought great publicity to the cause and the suffragists ended their campaign valiantly with sixty speakers talking continuously in Columbus Circle for twenty-six hours.
On the night of November 2, election day, officers, leaders, workers, members of the Party and many prominent men and women gathered at City headquarters in East 34th Street to receive the returns, Mrs. Catt and Miss Hay at either end of a long table. At first optimism prevailed as the early returns seemed to indicate victory but as adverse reports came in by the hundreds all hopes were destroyed. The fighting spirits of the leaders then rose high. Speeches were made by Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, Mrs. Catt, Miss Hay, Dr. Katherine Bement Davis, Mrs. Laidlaw and others, and, though many workers wept openly, the gathering took on the character of an embattled host ready for the next conflict. After midnight many of the women joined a group from the State headquarters and in a public square held an outdoor rally which they called the beginning of the new campaign.
The vote was as follows: necessary to obtain re-submission, for which
the City Party worked incessantly until the amendment was re-submitted
by the Legislatures of 1916 and 1917 and preparations were again made for
a great campaign.
Two days after the election the City Party united with the National Association in a mass meeting at Cooper Union, where speeches were made and $100,000 pledged for a new campaign fund. The spirit of the members was shown in the words of a leader who wrote: "We know that we have gained over half a million voters in the State, that we have many new workers, have learned valuable lessons and with the knowledge obtained and undiminished courage we are again in the field of action." In December and January the usual district and borough conventions for the election of officers and then the city convention were held. At the latter the resolution adopted showed a change from the oldtime pleading: "We demand the re-submission of the woman suffrage amendment in 1917. We insist that the judiciary Committee shall present a favorable report without delay and that the bill shall come to an early vote." Much legislative work was necessary to obtain re-submission, for which the City Party worked incessantly until the amendment was re-submitted by the Legislatures of 1916 and 1917 and preparations were again made for a great campaign.
The History is indebted for this part of the chapter to Mrs. Oreola Williams Haskell, former president of the Kings County Political Equality League; head of the Press bureau of the New York City Woman Suffrage Party through the two campaigns, 1915-1917 and of the League of Women Voters from its beginning until the present time.
* Extended space is given to the two New York campaigns because they were the largest ever made and were used as a model by a number of States in later year.-Ed.