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:

National History Day contestants, please read this before you contact me.

The Suffragents won the Gold Medal in US History in the 2018 Independent Publisher Book Awards and was a finalist for the 2018 Sally and Morris Lasky Prize, presented by the Center for Political History.  See Summer Camp Newsletters” and Facebook posts from book-related appearances. Reviews, notices, and articles about my books are under their titles here. My articles are here.

Upcoming Events: September 23: Bentson Dean’s Lecture, College of Arts and Science, New York University. October 17: Suffragents Panel, National Archives, Washington DC.  [2020] March 27 Ephemera Society of America, 40th annual conference, Old Greenwich CT. June 4-6Métiers et professions des médias (XVIIIe-XXIe siècles),”  Université de Lausanne (Switzerland).

Happened 2019: Exhibition Opening Remarks: “Women Get the Vote: A Historic Look at the Nineteenth Amendment,“New York Society Library. February 23: Public Values in Conflict with Animal Agribusiness Practices,” UCLA Law School, Los Angeles.  March 13: The Suffragents,” Scarsdale Woman’s Club, Scarsdale NY. March 24: League of Women Voters, Albany County at the Bethlehem (NY) Public LibraryMarch 25:Judges, Lawyers, and Women’s Suffrage: Recognizing the Men Who Stood with Women on the Front Lines,” Gender Fairness Committee of the Third Judicial District, CLE, NY State Courts at SUNY Albany Law School, Albany NY. May 15: “The Republican Suffragents,” National Women’s Republican Club, New York City. August 7:  Panel, “From Emma Goldman to the Marketplace of Ideas: Marking the 100th Anniversary of Free Speech at the Supreme Court.” (page 40) AEJMC, Toronto. August 14: Webinar, National Park Service.