Article, Suffragents

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

January 31, 2018

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

Immortalized in bronze on a statehouse plaque are 83 veterans of the New York State women’s suffrage campaign—and nearly one fifth of those names also appear in the 1917 Social Register. Below, a century after the New York legislature granted women the right to vote, we look at just a few of the society dames who used their influence to make that happen.

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.