Sunday, March 24, 2019 at the Bethlehem Public Library in Delmar, NY
An invitation from Patricia Sibilia to speak to a chapter of the League of Women Voters, especially Albany County, which includes the state capitol—so key to the suffrage victory in New York State and, in effect, the nation—is a date not to miss. The Bethlehem Public Library, the event’s co-sponsor and venue, has a superb facility, making it a doubly good way to spend a Sunday.
The LWVAC brought decor, a table full of suffrage and women’s movement ephemera, including books, photographs, pins and badges, and—my hands down favorite—a chic silver ERA, as in Equal Rights Amendment, bracelet from the 1970s. Have a look:
In the audience were Judge Rachel Kretzer (Ret.) and John Caher, strategic communications consultant to the New York State Unified Court System. They organized the panel I’ll be part of on Monday, March 25, at Albany Law School about the judges and lawyers who engaged in the fight for women’s rights.The ancillary question is if judges are allowed to speak out on controversial issues today.
The wonderful Donna Dixon of SUNY Press came to woman the books table.
The room was full of LWVAC members and friends, including a solid contingent of men.
The library’s Public Service Librarian, Michelle Waldermaier ,doubled as emcee and tech wizard.
Here’s a link to my entire speech and what follows is a quick review of the material I covered:
I spoke about how the laws of New York State discriminated against women in all rights governing property, inheritance, personal rights, and the custody and religious training of their children, which pretty much takes the romance out of the struuggle for the franchise.
I discussed the falling out of Susan B. Anthony and her friend, Frederick Douglass, over the 14th Amendment’s exclusion of women and quoted Douglass in his unanswerable response to her fury over what turned out to be the 50 more years women would ultimately wait to be granted the same rights.
“When women because they are women, are hunted down through the cities of New York and New Orleans, when they are dragged from their homes and hung upon lamp-posts; when their children are torn from their arms and their brains dashed out upon the pavement; when they are objects of insult and outrage at every turn; when they are in danger of having their homes burnt down over their heads; when their children are not allowed to enter schools; then they will have an urgency to obtain the ballot.”
I reviewed the formation and history of the Men’s League, much as I often do, but this time with special attention to its members in the Albany area. The most significant among them was was George Foster Peabody, the New York State Men’s League for Woman Suffrage president. He had a Saratoga Springs residence and strong local connection via his relationship with Katrina Trask, the founder of Yaddo. Katrina Trask was the widow of Peabody’s late business partner, Spencer Trask. Peabody eventually married her.
And of course I mentioned James Lees Laidlaw, my favorite suffragent, the League’s national president. Although he was from New York City and Sands Point, he had an important tangential Albany connection, too. His is the only man’s name that appears on the bronze plaque in the State House lobby to the great women of suffrage.
There were incisive questions and at least one expression of displeasure with my decision to give any attention at all to the men of suffrage when so many women’s stories from the movement remain untold. It’s a viewpoint I’ve encountered before. “Who cares what the men did?” My response: the women, then, and I would say now. The decision to recruit men—elites in general—was smart social movement strategy. Men controlled every single avenue of power and influence in government, in society, in business and in the culture at large. Their willingness to organize and to engage, to share that influence, and power was simply crucial to the victory to come. It was, as Carrie Chapman Catt said of herself and her movement sisters, “a blessing to us.”
As I finished, I received a lovely gift bag that contained some excellent swag. Monogrammed, even.
Thank you, LWVAC!
For National History Day contestants. Upcoming — January 30: Iona College. February 4: Sagamore Hill. March 27: Ephemera Society of America. March 30: TBA April 4: Avon-on-Sea Public Library, Avon CT June 4-6: “Métiers et professions des médias (XVIIIe-XXIe siècles),” Université de Lausanne. Link to past appearances.
Coming March 2020: Front Pages, Front Lines: Media and the Fight for Women’s Suffrage, Linda Steiner, Carolyn Kitch, Brooke Kroeger, eds.