Town & Country: A New Book Pays Tribute to the Society Women Who Paved the Way for Suffrage

September 5, 2017


The Suffragents: How Women Used Men to Get the Vote by Brooke Kroeger reveals the New Yorkers who used their status for social justice. Here, the author shares the stories of a few of those women.


Harriet Burton Laidlaw


By Brooke Kroeger

Alva Erskine Smith Vanderbilt Belmont

The Suffragents


The Socialite: The resident of Madison Avenue, Newport, and Long Island divorced William Kissam Vanderbilt and got a rumored $10 million settlement before marrying banker and congressman Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont. In 1883, she had 1,200 guests to a masquerade ball that was said to be the most expensive New York party of its time.

The Suffragist: As a widow, Belmont became a major benefactor of the National American Woman Suffrage Association before shifting her allegiance—and resources—to the more militant National Women’s Party.

Katherine Alexander Duer Mackay Blake

Katherine Alexander Duer Mackay Blake

The Socialite: The chatelaine of a Stanford White-designed home on Long Island—when she wasn’t in Paris, that is—she oversaw the refurbishment of the Roslyn Public Library and was the first woman to serve on the town’s school board.

The Suffragist: She was a founder of the Equal Franchise Society, and financed legislative campaigns in Albany in 1909 and 1910.

Harriet Burton Laidlaw

The Suffragents


The Socialite: An Albany native and a Fifth Avenue and Sands Point habitué, she studied at Barnard and Harvard before becoming a teacher in Manhattan.

The Suffragist: Held positions with National American Woman Suffrage Association, among others. Her husband, the banker James Lees Laidlaw, served as president of the National Men’s League for Woman Suffrage.

Laidlaw is pictured giving a speech in Columbus Circle.

Gussie Mabel (Narcissa) Cox Vanderlip

The Suffragents


The Socialite: The wife of the president of the National City Bank (now Citibank) was known for entertaining at Beechwood, her 77-acre Westchester spread, and Villa Narcissa, the Palos Verdes, California estate she once rented to the movie star Myrna Loy.

The Suffragist: She chaired the New York League of Women Voters from 1919 to 1923. Later, she was president of the New York Infirmary for Women and Children.

She’s pictured here on the right.

Vira Boarman Whitehouse

Mrs. N. Der. Whitehouse

The Suffragist: She chaired the New York State Woman Suffrage Party, among other groups, and during World War I was sent on special assignment to Switzerland by the US Committee on Public Information to “combat German propaganda.”

Mary F. Groot Manson

Mrs Thomas Lincoln Manson

AlamyNiday Picture Library/Alamy

The Socialite: Manson, who was immortalized by John Singer Sargent in one of his famous portraits, was a doyenne of East Hampton, where she and her Mayflower-descendant husband kept a summer home and entertained lavishly.

The Suffragist: She made her home the epicenter of the suffrage movement on the East End; in June, 2017, it was given a historical marker in her honor.


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 2019: October 17: Suffragents Panel, National Archives, Washington DC.

Upcoming 2020: January 30: Learning in Retirement Program at Iona College. 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).

Past 2019: September 23: January 29: 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. September 23: Bentson Dean’s Lecture, College of Arts and Science, New York University.