Meeting Harriet Backus Todd, Granddaughter of Two Suffrage Movement Greats

Latergram, October 5, 2017: The Harvard Crimson reports on the men who formed its campus Men’s League for Woman Suffrage. Read below about alumni who did the same.

September 15, 2017

The audience may have been small last night for my reading at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass., especially compared to The Suffragents launch extravaganzas on my home turf in East Hampton and New York City, For me, it was no less thrilling and for a number of great reasons. My highly distinguished friends of an adult lifetime, Alex Beam and Kirsten Lundberg (parents of one of my two godsons), were there, as was the wonderful Melissa Ludtke, whom I’ve known for years now but, until last night, only virtually.

My colleagues on staff at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Reporting, where I am a senior fellow, made a fuss over my coming to town. Director Florence Graves came, braving a deluge, and so did Deirdre Bannon, who is ambidextrous enough to have live tweeted and simultaneously recorded the event for Facebook Live. It’s archived now on the Schuster Facebook site.

Most heartwarming was the arrival of Katie Cella, a 2013 graduate of the MA program I direct at NYU, Global and Joint Program Studies. She is now doing important work developing curriculum for elementary school students in Nigeria and other countries in Africa. Katie’s master’s project on the stateless guest works of the UAE still stands out in memory. The Boston Review published it. Our students do such distinguished work.

I tailored my remarks to the locale, adding references to the participation of Harvard students as members of the Men’s League, the protests of alumni Oswald Garrison Villard and the poet Witter Bynner when the university refused to allow the visiting militant British suffragette, Emmeline Pankhurst, to speak on campus. I talked a bit about the Massachusetts Men’s League, which formed in 1910-11, mirroring the New York Men’s League model.

But my focus was on the New York league and its great figures, Villard, George Foster Peabody, John Dewey, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise (who I wrote about for Tablet), and, of course, James Lees Laidlaw, the national and effective New York Men’s League president, and husband of the important New York suffragist, Harriet Burton Laidlaw. The Laidlaws are featured in the vignettes I wrote for Town & Country.

Also present to my great delight were two special guests, Conrad Todd and his wife, Harriet Backus Todd, who is the granddaughter of James Lees and Harriet Burton Laidlaw. She also very kindly granted permission for me to quote from the papers of her grandparents, now housed at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe.

This is my second suffrage descendants encounter of the book’s first month in the world. Coline Jenkins, great granddaughter of Harriot Stanton Blatch and great-great granddaughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, came to call and even spent the night at our house in East Hampton.

The Todds:

The Suffragents won the Gold Medal in US History in the 2018 Independent Publisher Book Awards. Brooke’s “Summer Camp Newsletters” (with photos and often video) and Facebook posts from book-related appearances. Reviews, notices, and articles about her books under their titles here. National History Day contestants, please read this.

Next up: Scarsdale Women’s Club, March 13, 2019.