Written by Dolores Kazanjian O’Brien Thursday, 28 May 2009 10:58
Town Clerk Leslie Gross, ably assisted by Town Historian Joan Kent, presented the story in words and pictures of the suffragettes, those courageous women (and some men, too) who won for women the right to vote. The presentation, written by Kent, was held at the Port Washington Library as part of the celebration of Women’s History Month. It featured movement leaders who resided in or who had a connection to the Town of North Hempstead. The presenters also arranged for a library exhibit to celebrate women’s suffrage. It was interesting to see that the audience included a number of mother-daughter pairs. Young readers take note: It was less than 100 years ago that women were finally deemed worthy of the right to vote.
The event was, appropriately, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Port Washington-Manhasset (LWV). Of the suffragettes, the LWV wrote, “They marched on Washington and Albany, dropped leaflets from planes, rode horses down Fifth Avenue and helped found the League of Women Voters.” The presentation included many wonderful historic photographs, which Kent said came from the Port Washington Library’s web site.
New York State gave women the right to vote in 1917; the nineteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted in August 18, 1920. About six months previous to the ratification, Carrie Chapman Catt, an early leader of the women’s movement, founded the League of Women Voters.
Two of the early activists were Jules and Lucretia Mott. Jules was born in Cow Neck, and was related to the family who founded Mott’s Foods. Both were Quakers and were also active in the abolitionist movement. The Quakers generally were very involved in advocating for the women’s vote and the abolition of slavery. Other local suffragettes mentioned included Harriet Laidlaw and Alva Smith Vanderbilt of Sands Point, who used her castle to house suffragette retreats. Harriet’s husband James became president of the New York State Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage. Another local was Katherine Duer Mackey, a socialite who was elected to the Roslyn school board in 1905.
Gross and Kent also discussed the “firsts.” The first elected female mayor in the U.S. was Susana Salter of Argonia, Kansas in 1887. Gross said, “She was nominated as a joke, but she was elected.” The first woman mayor in New York State (1927) was Louise Udall Eldridge of Saddle Rock, who helped to build the Great Neck Library, now the Great Neck House. More than 100 years after the first woman mayor, May Newburger was inaugurated as the first female Supervisor of the Town of North Hempstead.
A bright spot of the evening was the sharing of personal stories. Rita Tanski, for example, talked about the awesome experience, as a young woman, of actually getting to know someone who had marched for women’s right to vote. Others spoke of other examples of the power of women. Some shared interesting tidbits of historical information.
Joan Kent reminded us of how hard and, indeed dangerous, was the work of the suffragettes. She said, “We did this at a local level so that we didn’t have to include all of the horrible things that happened to women. Some were killed.”