The Long & Winding Road: The Local Path to 1920 Women’s Right to Vote Nationally

This article is part of a year-long program recognizing the 100th anniversary of national women’s suffrage, other articles here:

By Bill Jeffway

Women across the US gained a right to vote that was equal to men on August 26, 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution was adopted. This expanded right happened at a tumultuous time. The deadliest war in history, the “World War,” formally ended in the summer of 1919. “Prohibition,” the prohibition of alcohol in the US by Constitutional Amendment took effect in January of 1919. The unprecedented global flu pandemic that peaked in September and October 1918 had taken more lives than those lost in the World War, whether measured in terms of the county, or country or world.

As a way to acknowledge the women’s suffrage milestone, DCHS is putting the spotlight on the broader issue of women’s history in Dutchess County through a year-long program called, “2020 Focus: Women’s Voices & Talents.” This article summarizes some local key moments and individuals on the path to 1920 national suffrage for women.

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Two Generations Work Across Two Centuries The Quaker Influence Influence of Amenia Seminary 1880 School Vote Influence of Vassar College World War as Tipping Point Parades & Pageants Women of Color 1919 & 1920

Two Generations Work Across Two Centuries

Two distinct generations of activists advanced the argument for women’s suffrage. In the 19th century, the 1848 Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention is considered to be the launch of organized efforts to effect equal rights for women, including suffrage. National suffrage for men of color was achieved in 1870, after the deadly and traumatic Civil War. Although barriers to voting remained significant. In New York State, in 1880, women in rural areas were given the right to vote in school elections. The law caused a good deal of confusion but was an important step in the process and animated much activity (and legal debate) in cities, such as Poughkeepsie.

The path to women’s national suffrage in 1920 was long.

Vail’s 1876 County Directory shows why Poughkeepsie was known as the “City of Schools” at the time, although important schools existed in the rest of the county. Green indicates women and girls accepted, green dot indicates women or girls only. DCHS Collections.

The Quaker Nine Partner Boarding School in the Town of Washington was where Lucretia Coffin Mott was a student, then a teacher. The school is where she met her husband. DCHS Collections.

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Vassar College, Poughkeepsie. Courtesy Library of Congress.

In the early 20th century, a new generation emerged to replace the elders of the first generation, most of whom had passed away.

A failed NY State vote on suffrage in 1915 was succeeded by a successful November 1917 vote, ensuring that women’s suffrage in New York State would take effect in 1918, two years prior to national suffrage. The US involvement in World War One, 1917 to 1919, accelerated the process. The War reminded everyone of the free and democratic ideals the US was fighting for (Make the world safe for Democracy!). And women participated very successfully in a wide range of varied roles.

In Dutchess County we see women active from the range of social-economic strata. The “River Estates”  were represented by women such as Ruth Morgan and Margaret Chanler Aldrich. Although the elite were represented in the public “Anti” side of the campaign, as well. The “Anti’s” included women like Mrs. James Roosevelt, FDR’s mother. Although a few Vassar students were reported to have tried to vote in the 1880 school elections, the emergence and visibility of Vassar College faculty, such as Laura J. Wylie, occurred only from 1910.  Then she, and other current or former faculty and staff, started to have a large public presence. Outreach to, and interest from the working class grew.

Three important schools committed to women’s equal education emerged in Dutchess County. In the 19th century, two highly regarded co-educational schools included the Quaker Nine Partners Boarding School and Methodist Amenia Seminary. The women-only Vassar College opened in 1865, but as mentioned earlier, its leadership and faculty remained intentionally quiet on the “political” issue of women’s suffrage until the early 20th century.

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Quaker influence 

Described as the largest Quaker population outside of Philadelphia in the 1800s, Dutchess Quakers were not only large in number but operated a highly regarded Quaker School, the Nine Partners Boarding School, in Millbrook.

Quakers were plain in dress, but radical in thought and practice. Quakers believed in equal education among boys and girls. They banned slave ownership by “Friends” or members in the 18th century, while New York State allowed slavery until 1827. Quakers allowed women to travel as ministers in the 18th century while the handful of women seeking to be preachers in Churches of Dutchess in the 19th century were, for the most part, rebuffed. In general, the Quakers’ focus on “truth” accorded women greater authority and respect.

Four out of five organizers of the landmark meeting in Seneca Falls in 1848 had Quaker backgrounds, including Lucretia Coffin Mott. Given that motivations were based so much on broader principles, we find in the earlier years of the effort to establish equal rights for women, there was great overlap with the issues of the abolition of slavery, Native American rights, peace, temperance, and children’s health and education.

While the Quaker faith went into decline after a major internal split in 1828, called the Hicksite Separation, there is abundant evidence that local women of Quaker faith expressed their principles and energy through very effective secular organizations or other religious faiths such as the Universalist Church. The following women were all raised as Quakers, with noted exceptions.

The Town of Milan’s Julia Wilbur attended the Nine Partners Boarding School.  She was arguing for the equal pay of women teachers as early as 1857, specifically citing statistics that women were paid only “one half” or “one third” of what men were paid for the exact same work. She moved to Virginia during the Civil War where she was involved with abolitionist causes and cared for the sick and wounded. In 1869, she attempted to vote with five other women in Washington, D.C. Although unsuccessful, she gained visibility for her action.

The Town of Clinton’s Elizabeth Powell Bond became Dean of the Swarthmore College, a Quaker College, for 25 years. Also from Clinton, the licensed preacher, the Rev. Amanda Deyo was among only a handful of women in the country so licensed. Born into a Quaker family, she and her husband were licensed preachers in the Universalist Church. Together they lead the Dutchess County Peace Society which during its peak in the 1870s and 1880s brought together as many as 5,000 people at Wiley’s Grove in Clinton.

Lucretia Coffin Mott was greatly influenced by her education in Millbrook at the Quaker Nine Partners Boarding School where she was a student and then a teacher. She was involved in movements to abolish slavery but found a certain conference on the topic did not allow women. This is said to have accelerated her activities for women’s equality, including the right to vote. Library of Congress.

Local Quaker women such as the Town of Clinton’s Elizabeth Powell Bond (above left) and Amanda Deyo (right) poured their Quaker principles and energy into women’s equality in different ways. Bond became Dean of the Quaker College, Swarthmore, for a quarter century. Amand Deyo became one of the very few women licensed preachers. She was with the Universalist Church. Images from “A Woman of the Century; Fourteen Hundred-Seventy Biographical Sketches Accompanied by Portraits of Leading American Women in All Walks of Life.” F. Willard, 1893.

Amenia Seminary

Katie Lent was born in Columbia County but attended Amenia Seminary and then lived in Dutchess County for some time. She became a licensed preacher in the Methodist Church in a vote by the Poughkeepsie District in 1878. The license was revoked two years later by the National Methodist Conference. Undeterred, Miss Lent focused her energies on the WCTU. Perhaps as a kind of revenge, she emerges as Mrs. Katherine Lent Stevenson, ultimately in a major worldwide role with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. She is best known for having written the song “One Fine Day” that remains an anthem of the WCTU to this day. All the women mentioned will be among the women DCHS profiles next year.

Ophelia Shadbolt Amigh was not a Quaker. Born in Clinton, the Shadbolt family name had been associated with earlier Quaker settlers, but she appears to have been raised in the Presbyterian faith, her father a public advocate for the abolition of slavery. After being a nurse, deeply engaged in battles of the Civil War, she became a nationally known advocate for the protection of young girls. She was outspoken on the topic of “White Slavery.” She was involved in prison reform. She did return to Poughkeepsie for a few years in the late 19th century to operate a home for young boys and girls. But largely, as an adult, lived and worked in Illinois and Alabama.

Amenia Seminary. Courtesy the Amenia Historical Society.

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The Women’s Christian Temperance Union or “WCTU” was a major force in the advocacy for women’s suffrage. Suffrage was an essential means to an end. The end goal being the prohibition of alcohol. County WCTU headquarters on Cannon Street are shown above. DCHS collections.

December 1886 County WCTU Meeting Program. Click image to view. DCHS Collections.

1880 school vote

A victory of sorts was achieved when women got the right to vote in New York State for school positions. The motivation was simple. There was a feeling that women’s thinking and approach to school matters, and the education of young children, were a strength and perhaps even a distinct advantage over men. With a good deal of pushback, for example for the City of Poughkeepsie and its attorney, the law was shown to be unclear and caused a good deal of confustion. While there was activity all over the state, there appear to have been a number of instances of women voting in Dutchess County.

While there was activity all over the state, there appear to have been a number of instances of women voting in Dutchess County.

Union Vale elected a woman School District Clerk. Nancy Boyd Duncan was a school teacher in Dover and the daughter of Irish immigrants.

Stanford’s election of a School Trustee involved candidate Henry Carpenter advocating for the hiring of a woman teacher. Despite reported good turnout among women supporting him, he was defeated.

Coffin Summit in Millbrook, named for the Quaker family of Lucretia Coffin Mott, now Oak Grove, saw a woman nominated to be school trustee. Six women voted, the the female candidate lost.

In Arlington, six women voted. Most seem to have been students at Vassar College, among them, “Miss Wheeler,” who is said to have attended with her parents.

Three Wards in Poughkeepsie reported activity. In Ward 5, “Mrs. Welton” was refused. In Ward 6, two unnamed women were refused registration. In Ward 3, Helen M. Loder, Mariam Culver Mosher and Mary Mott all tried to register but were ultimately rebuffed. During the year, DCHS will expand on the profile of Helen Loder. A daughter of Irish immigrants, her husband was a freight handler for the railroad. They lived adjacent to the railroad tracks on North Hamilton Street. Loder was active as a speaker, journalist, organizational member, voter and candidate.

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Vassar College influence

In terms of the visible role of Vassar College in suffrage, there is greater visibility after 1910. In the earliest years of Vassar College, the founder himself, Matthew Vassar, commented on suffragist, Quaker speaker Anne E. Dickinson’s talk at the college in April 1868 entitled, “Idiots and Women,” with generally supportive comments in a private letter. Dickinson was referencing the law at the time that denied the vote to “criminals, paupers, idiots and women.” Vassar wrote that he felt some sympathy with the words of Dickinson, but he did not attend her talk. Matthew Vassar died two months later.

Vassar College students and faculty were strongly encouraged to refrain from visible political activity, which included suffrage. The Poughkeepsie Eagle News of 1909 shows the emergence of very visible leaders, including Dr. Grace Kimball (who had left Vassar by that time) and Vassar Professor Lucy Salmon.

The allowance of greater visibility of student and faculty voices on the topic perhaps came from the sheer scale of the pressure to allow suffrage that was growing everywhere. The transition from President Taylor to the more liberal President MacCracken at Vassar in 1915 created more space for this kind of sentiment to be expressed. But perhaps understanding the conservative  bias of the board of trustees, or for whatever reason, change even under MacCracken’s leadership was initially relatively gradual. The emergency of World War in 1917 demanded that all women step up in essential roles and pushed the suffrage effort into full view and over the top by 1920. The Governor specifically required at least two women to be on each of NY State’s County Defense Councils. Advice from the County Council to cities and towns was to have “at least one woman” on its board.

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“World War” is tipping point

Dr. Grace Kimball (for whom Kimball Road is named in Poughkeepsie) arrived in 1896 to serve at Vassar College as Asst. Physician. She left that position after four years. In addition to her private medical practice, Dr. Kimball was head of the Young Women’s Christian Association for 41 years. As part of the YWCA, she was involved in the creation of the local “League for Women’s Service” in 1917 to support the war effort. She was highly praised as the only woman in the state to lead the county’s military census in 1917 and was a member of the county Defense Council.

Vassar Professor Laura J. Wylie emerged as a leader in the suffrage movement in 1910. She was head of the Equal Suffrage League of Poughkeepsie.

A New York State 1915 referendum on women’s suffrage failed. But a 1917 referendum passed, allowing women in New York State to vote. They were allowed to vote for local, state and national level elections, as long as they were residents of New York State.

Laura J. Wylie emerged in 1910 as a visible advocate for women’s suffrage, while at Vassar as Professor of English. She headed the local Equal Suffrage League. When New York State suffrage was won, she channeled her energy into leading the local Dutchess County City and County Club. Photo Vassar College.

Dr. Grace Kimball served as Vassar College Assistant Physician from 1896 to 1900 but is best known for leading the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) for 41 years. She was one of two women on the County Defense Council in World War One and the only woman in the state to lead a county military census operation. DCHS Collections.

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Parades and Pageants

At this time, pageants had become a popular means of education and information in the US and Britain. Combined with parades, these activities gave Suffragists greater press coverage and visibility. Both were used frequently during the “World War” to serve aims like patriotism, bond sales, and Red Cross and other volunteer organization recruitment efforts.

Each State that had granted women suffrage is portrayed by a woman depicting that state at Troutbeck, Amenia. Background iformation courtesy the Amenia Historical Society.

As a precursor to her 1913 march to Washington D.C., “General” Rosalie Jones led a parade from New York City to Albany to petition the Governor on suffrage, making five overnight stops in Dutchess County in December 1912.

DCHS 1917 Pageant Japan 01

On July 4, 1917, over 200 children participated in the pageant “Columbia’s Reception” in Poughkeepsie’s Eastman Park. It portrayed the reaching out of Europe to the US for protection, and demonstrated what was called at the time, the importance of “Americanization.” C. Fred Close Collection, Reuben Van Vlack photographer, DCHS Collections.

“Americanization” efforts were targeting the issue described by former US President Theodore Roosevelt, as the problem with “hyphenated Americans.” Singularity of purpose and identity was essential to win the war, and yet the US, and Dutchess County had many immigrants. C. Fred Close Collection, Reuben Van Vlack photographer, DCHS Collections.

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Women of color

The Dutchess County Equal Suffrage League held an outreach meeting at the AME Zion Metropolitan Church in Poughkeepsie on March 12, 1914, addressing issues related to suffrage for women of color. Sadie Johnson Peterson read an original poem entitled, “A Suffrage Call.” She would go on to be Chief Librarian at Tuskegee Veterans Administration Hospital. In photo at right, she is shown receiving an honorary Doctorate at Atlanta University.

Sadie P. Delaney. Courtesy Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.

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Click above to read. Opens in new window. Women’s City & County Club Annual Report. DCHS Collections.

1919 to 1920

After New York State  suffrage was achieved, Wylie focused less on what could be seen as the obvious the next step of national suffrage for women, and instead focused  on the specific tasks at hand locally. She became President of the “Women’s City & County Club” of Dutchess County. The League of Women Voters emerged as another post-suffrage group that remains active to this day.

These stories are only just emerging as the program, “2020 Focus: Women’s Voices & Talents” in Dutchess County evolves! We welcome your input, help us tell the stories by sharing yours.

As almost an afterthought, the Governor of New York decided to suggest that two women sit on each county Defense Council in 1917. He suggests drawing one from the National League for Women’s Service and one from the Suffrage Party. Courtesy Adriance Memorial Library.

The county council in turn advised towns to have “at least one woman” on their town level councils. Courtesy by Ancestry.

Click above to read. Opens in new window. Courtesy of Eleanor Charwat.

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This article is part of a year-long program recognizing the 100th anniversary of national women’s suffrage, other articles here: