November 8, 2017
Update: The NYU Center for the Humanities has posted a recap, with audio, of the November 7, 2017 presentation.
Video of the entire event:
If one counts by Tuesdays, November 7, 2017 was the 100th anniversary of the granting of the vote to the women of New York State. The actual date of the referendum was November 6, 1917, which this year fell on a Monday.
This is how I celebrated: With a trip to the polls at the 92nd Street Y in the morning,
where I got my suffragist General Rosalie Jones “I Voted” sticker. (Awfully sparse crowd at 9:30 am.) I then spent the day preparing for this long planned NYU Center for the Humanities event, being held in the Journalism Institute space at 20 Cooper Square. (The Humanities Center offices are just below Journalism at 20 Coop.)
A nasty, driving rain worked against the 150 RSVPs the Institute received, but we still had a fine crowd, including a strong showing of alumni and students of my NYU graduate program in global journalism, known as GloJo. Thank you, beloved students. The same to my more senior rain-braving friends and colleagues, too, and to HumanitiesNY, SUNY Press, and Yale University Press for joining in the sponsorship.
The subject matter was certainly a draw, but so was the presence as moderator and presenter of the amazingly versatile Gail Collins, New York Times columnist and my friend of many decades. Among Gail’s numerous books are two on women’s history and a third on the way: America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines, and When Everything Changed: the Amazing Journey of Women from 1960 to the Present. Who better to lead the discussion about the one known time in history that men stepped forward of their own volition and organized to support a perceived women’s cause? Here’s the incomparable Gail as she arrived from the Times‘s editorial offices, just in time:
I was so pleased she agreed to join the panel with Christoph Irmscher, my friend of several years now from the work we were both doing at the Lilly Library at Indiana University. Both of us were combing the papers of Max Eastman, though Christoph’s immersion was many months and years longer than mine.
My interest in Eastman is as a central figure in the creation of the Men’s League for Woman Suffrage. As John Dewey’s protege in the philosophy department at Columbia, he was tapped to become the Men’s League’s first secretary-treasurer. In that role, he, with the help of his mother, the Rev. Annis Ford Eastman, did all of the league’s initial recruitment. The membership rose from an initial 150 men in November of 1909 to 500 great men of New York State by 1912. After that, it rolled into thousands in chapters across 35 states.
Eastman also was one of the movement’s most sought-after orators and pamphleteers, male or female. Christoph’s biography, Max Eastman: A Life, provides the context and background to understand Eastman’s involvement with feminism and suffrage, largely inspired by his mother and his sister, Crystal Eastman.
I framed my remarks around highlights of some of the arguments men made on behalf of suffrage in the 1910s, organizing the material by the professions of some of the key players. Here’s the video/powerpoint Adrian Mihai tarted up for me. It starts with the book trailer:
Gwynneth Malin, director of the NYU Center for the Humanities, opened the panel with context and introductions. (A huge shout out also to Caroline Osse, who did all the organizing and publicity, and to Aviva Crystal, Adrian Mihai, and James Berry of the NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, who stepped in to help with everything related to the event space and AV, respectively. Thank you all.)
Each of us on the panel did short presentations and a lively discussion ensued, centered on the significance of men stepping for a women’s cause. Christoph’s expertise enabled us to deploy the story of Eastman’s life and experience as a guide. Questions from the audience hit the “allyship” theme several times, seeking among us to understand how these prominent, influential men of the 1910s were able to perform so flawlessly as allies of this “despised.”
Despite their own high station, these men did so deferentially and without taking credit or seeking acknowledgment. The question arose: what women’s issue today could motivate such a response? Remember, suffrage was a simple proposition: in New York State, where the suffrage centennial is being celebrated this week, it was a matter of removing one four-letter word from the state constitution: male. What issue today is that clear cut?
Here’s Carmen Russo‘s tweet:
Summation: It was an excellent night, all around.