Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Friday, October 09, 2015

The Woman's Suffrage Movement in Pelham During the Early 20th Century

The 19th amendment to the United States Constitution, known as the woman's suffrage amendment, was ratified by Tennessee on August 18, 1920.  Tennessee was the 36th state to ratify the amendment, bringing the total number of ratifying states to the necessary three-fourths.  The presidential election of 1920 was the first presidential election during which women in all states were eligible to vote for president.

Women in the United States had been struggling for the right to vote for many, many years before ratification of the 19th amendment.  In 1840, after Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were barred from attending the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, the pair hosted a Women's Convention in the United States.  A few years later, in 1848, Seneca Falls, New York was the site of the first Women's Rights Convention for which Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote "The Declaration of Sentiments" outlining an activist agenda followed by women throughout the United States for many years thereafter.  

These early years of the Woman's Suffrage Movement in the United States eventually led the Congressional proposal of a Woman Suffrage Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1878.  Sadly, it took more than four decades thereafter for final ratification of the 19th amendment to the Constitution which was worded exactly the same as the proposed 1878 Amendment.

In the early twentieth century, as the women of New York intensified their efforts in support of women's suffrage, there were communities that granted women property owners the right to vote in local elections.  Pelham was one such community.  Women property owners in Pelham were granted the right to vote on matters that affected their taxes as early as 1881, if not earlier.  Cf. Patterson, Ethel Lloyd, Pelham Women Cast Fifty Votes, Ten Thrown Out, The Evening World [NY, NY], Feb. 17, 1909, p. 8, col. 1.  See also Thu., Jan. 29, 2009:  Suffrage for Pelham Women.  

The 1882 election for a seat on the local school board in Pelham is one particularly famous instance involving women voters.  In the years prior to 1882, some Pelham women attended and voted in local school board elections.  However, their numbers were small -- only nine women had voted in the school board election in 1881.  That changed, however, in 1882, when Pelham Manor feared that its candidate running for reelection as school board president, George H. Reynolds, might be ousted by an upstart candidate from Pelhamville.  In a surprise move, Pelham Manor women packed the election, voting for Reynolds, and ensuring his reelection.  For more about this historic and famous local election, see:

Tue., Oct. 14, 2014:  "There Is Endless Bitterness of Heart" -- Pelham Manor Women Pull a Fast One in 1882.  

Tue., Feb. 26, 2008:  Disputed Pelham School Board Election of 1882 Led to Charges of Fraud.

Voting in small local elections, however, was not enough for Pelham women as, of course, it should not have been.  Pelham women sought suffrage in State and National elections as well.  Thus, Pelham women were very involved in the Woman's Suffrage Movement at least during the decade leading up to the final ratification of the 19th amendment.  Records of this involvement are sparse and clearly incomplete, so it is difficult to piece together the involvement of Pelham women.  Incomplete records, however, should not discourage efforts to assemble what information can be found about such an important issue.  Since one purpose of the Historic Pelham Blog is simply to document research into aspects of Pelham history, today's posting summarizes the scant information available regarding the Woman's Suffrage Movement in the Town of Pelham.

By 1910, the Woman's Suffrage Movement in Pelham was in full swing.  The newly-established community paper, The Pelham Sun, reported on suffrage gatherings on its front page, detailing the events of such meetings.  A variety of women's groups advocated to the women of Pelham, New Rochelle, and Mount Vernon regarding what was known as the "militant movement in suffrage."  Such organizations included the Women's Political Union and the Woman's Trades Union League.  Other organizations also advocated for Woman's Suffrage including The Equal Suffrage League and the Woman's Suffrage Association of Westchester County.  

As one speaker noted in a suffrage meeting in a local residence on Pelham Road attended by Pelham and New Rochelle women on January 26, 1911:

"[T]he chief merit of the militant movement lay in its making a living and urgent issue of suffrage.  The militants . . . [see] clearly that the real obstacle to the suffrage lay not in any theoretic opposition, but in its practical acceptance as a fact realizable in the near future."

Pelham women joined with other women of Westchester County in efforts to pressure local State legislators to support proposals to amend the New York State Constitution and other legislative proposals to allow New York women to vote in State elections.  Among Pelham women who, references suggest, seem to have been particularly active in the local Woman's Suffrage movement were Joan E. Secor, Evelyn Randall, and Mrs. Henry E. Dey.  All three were from Pelham Manor and were social and cultural leaders of the community with great influence.  

With the ratification of the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution in 1920, the Woman's Suffrage movement had achieved its long-sought objective.  Suddenly it was incumbent on women to vote in the upcoming presidential election.  The League of Women Voters was created with the object of encouraging better citizenship and better government through non-partisan political political education.  The organization was started in 1920 and was the direct "lineal descendant of the National Woman's Suffrage Amendment Association."  The League of Women Voters "took over the task of aiding the newly enfranchised 20 million, unpracticed in voting, to take part in the Presidential election of that year."  

Within a short time, Mrs. Henry E. Dey (who had been active in the Pelham Woman's Suffrage movement) established the Pelham Branch of the League of Women Voters.  Mrs. Dey served in that role for many years, continuing to carry the banner for women voters in the Town of Pelham.

Suffragette March in New York City on October 23, 1915.
Source:  Wikipedia -- The Free Encyclopedia:  Suffragette
(visited Oct. 4, 2015).  NOTE:  Click Image To Enlarge.

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Below is text from a number of articles relating to the Woman's Suffrage movement in Pelham and the surrounding region.  Each article is followed by a citation and link to its source.  


The Equal Suffrage League is to be congratulated on its happy choice of speaker for the meeting held on Thursday last at the house of the President, Mrs. Leigh H. French, Pelham Road.  A notable gathering which quite filled the big drawing room listened with enthusiasm to the brilliant speech of Mrs. Beatrice Forbes-Robertson Hale in behalf of woman suffrage, and it is safe to say that no more genial or persuasive advocacy of the woman's cause has yet been heard around here.  To the gift of clear and forcible expression, Mrs. Hale joins great eloquence, beauty of diction, and a gracious personality which from the outset won her audience to a sympathetic and charmed attention.

The tendency to look on woman as the weak, dependent creature and on man as the possessor of all the virile creative qualities is, said Mrs. Hale, a sentimental accretion of later centuries, justifiable neither by history nor by the facts of life,, and has resulted in a mischievous overstressing of sex.  The ealier ideals of the Greeks and Romans, until coloured by notions from the East, admitted no such conception; the German races made of woman the equal comrade of man.  The object of the present struggle is to restore this idea of mutual independence and comradeship and to establish a division in sex activities rather than in racial activities rather than in racial activities.  That the peoples which have reverted to this conception of woman have not suffered in their effectiveness is shown in the cases of the Scandinavian countries, which in their internal administration are actual objects of study on the part of other lands.

If women are weak to-day, Mrs. Hale says it is rather the result of artificial than of natural conditions.  The peasant woman, inured to hard labor, is physically the superior of the civilized woman, and performs her material functions with greater ease.  It is not rational work but aimless excitement that is the true enemy of health, and when the president of the Anti-Suffrage Association urged on the legislative committee at the Albany hearing the possible evil effect on women of political life, she might better have proposed and Anti-Bridge League or Anti-Afternoon Tea Association.  I have supposed myself, said Mrs. Hale, for a period of ten years, and never yet found a single day's work as fatiguing as a reception.

Says Spiritual Power is Highest.

Again, woman's weakness has been used as an argument against admitting her to the ballot on a conception of government based solely on physical force.  But, said the speaker, the history of such powers as ancient Greece and modern Japan demonstrates that it is spiritual and not physical force which rules the world.  If it were not so, we should be finding the strongest man in the highest office, a pugilist instead of a statesman.  I am sure, said Mrs. Hale, that Johnson could knowck out Mr. Taft before the second round.  And since many classes of male voters are now unfit for or excused from national defence, it would appear that even among men individual force is not an essential qualification for the franchise.

Mrs. Hale pointed out the inadequacy of an indirect representation, arguing that households made up of elements so diverse as, say, a solitary bachelor, a father with several dependent daughters, or a family of six male voters, cannot fairly be compared in representative power.  She excused the undemocratic view of those who maintain that the franchise is already too widely granted on the ground that Americans are too familiar with democracy to value it rightly; but the ideal of democracy is what other less favored nations are striving for to-day and the franchise, however faulty, is the real weapon in the hands of the weak and defenceless.

Mrs. Hale's address was received with warm applause, and at its conclusion the speaker answered many interested questions put to her by the audience.

At Mrs. French's request, Mrs. Jas. R. McAfee, President of the Woman's Suffrage Association of Westchester County, acted as chairman of the meeting, and Mrs. Arthur L. Livermore, of Yonkers, Vice-President of the State Suffrage Association, made a brief address introducing Mrs. Hale.

Among Those Present.

Among those present were Mrs. John C. Hazen, Mrs. Henry B. Welsh, Mrs. Gen. Wm. Smith, Miss Emily Lindsley, Mrs. Herman Kobbe, Mrs. Geo. P. Robbins, Mrs. Walter Marvin, Mrs. Edward P. Fowler, Mrs. E. C. Mueller, Mrs. William B. Randall, Mrs. H. L. Moore, Mrs. Chas. H. Margerum, Mrs. Jas. F. Secor, Miss Currie, Mrs. Jos. C. Wilberding, Mrs. M. L. Sullivan, Mrs. F. L. Peter, Mrs. Chas F. Roper, Mrs. John Massey, Miss [remainder illegible]." 



A public meeting of the Equal Franchise League was held at the residence of Mrs. Leigh French, Pelham Road on Thursday afternoon at which Miss Alice Perkins, of the Women's Political Union and Miss Rose Schneiderman, of the Woman's Trades Union League, spoke on the militant mmovement in suffrage and on Trades Unions for working girls.  The attendance was large and the audience put many interesting questions to the speakers at the close of the meeting.  

Miss Perkins, who is also a member of the English W. P. U., said that the chief merit of the militant movement lay in its making a living and urgent issue of suffrage.  The militants, she said, saw clearly that the real obstacle to the suffrage lay not in any theoretic opposition, but in its practical acceptance as a fact realizable in the near future.  They have, therefore, devoted their energies to rousing a sense of the immediateness of the sufferage claim, leaving to others the slow task of winning over popular approval.  We think we have enough popular approval, said the speaker, the real need is to put that popular approval to the practical test.  Hence with the militants, the question is not, 'Do you believe in the suffrage for women?' but 'Are you going to give it?'

Like the English, the American militant confines hersefl to practical ends, the attacking of the machinery by which the vote is conferred.  The Women's Political Union played a prominent part in the recent hearing at Albany in getting the suffrage bill out of Committee and so brining into the open the friends and opposers of Woman Suffrage.  Their campaign later against the New York Assemblyman who voted against the bill, further attested the practical nature of their activity.

Miss Perkins quoted the Newcomb bill for suffrage as, on the whole, the best suffrage measure yet proposed.  By applying the same qualifications to alien males and females.  Senator Newcomb, she said, had fairly met the objection of inequality raised to the striking out of the word 'male' from the constitution.  She urged the League to give the bill its hearty support by bringing it to the notice of all voters and by calling on the Assemblymen of Westchester County to stand for it.  

Miss Schneiderman spoke briefly of the conditions of the unorganized girl in factory and shop, the long hours, the inadequate pay, the intimidation of the boss which made to 'submit or get out,' the only alternative.  The remedy for all this, she said, was not in individual effort, but in organization.  Men have disbelieved in women's power for organization, and doubted the value of union for women, but the trouble has been largely in their manner of presenting the subject to the working girl.  'Girls,' said Miss Schneiderman, 'are not naturally business like, and must be appealed to on grounds of humanity, the wrong they inflict on others by refusing to co-operate.  The men also will have to see that it is to their interest to help women to organize since by consenting to a lower standard of living on the part of women, they are cutting the ground from under their own feet.'

She cited the gains already manifested in such unions as the book-binders and hatters and urged all purchasers to ask for the union label on clothes.  Finally she referred her audience to the headquarters of the Trades Union League, 43 East 22nd street, for all information concerning the various unions for women.  Both speakers were greeted with hearty applause."



A meeting of the Westchester County Woman's Suffrage Association was held in White Plains Club Hall, corner of Railroad and Mamaroneck avenues yesterday afternoon at 3.30 o'clock.  There were good speakers and all friends and others were invited."

Source:  COUNTY SUFFRAGISTS MEET, The Pelham Sun, Feb. 11, 1911, p. 3, col. 5.  


The Woman's Suffrage meeting held at the White Plains Club rooms on Friday afternoon was well attended.  

Mrs. Arthur I. Livermore, State Vice President of the Woman's Suffrage Association presided.  She said White Plains being the County Seat, the members of the Westchester County Woman's Suffrage Association felt that they had some claim upon the people here, and it was very essential that a suffrage organization should be established in this vicinity for where the centre of the county is, there is the political influence, and women being affected by legislation the same as men, they should be represented, and she hoped before the close of the eeting there would be established in White Plains a Woman's Suffrage organization.  

Mrs. James R. McAfree, of Mount Vernon, President of the Westchester County Woman's Suffrage Association, Mrs. H. A. Robinson, of Yonkers, and Mrs. Carl Osterheld address[ed]  . . . reasons why women should have equal rights with men, and stated the advantages to be gamed thereby.

Dr. G. F. M. Bond of Yonkers, delighted the audience by a recitation of two poems on Woman's Suffrage."

Source:  FORM SUFFRAGE SOCIETY, The Pelham Sun, Feb. 18, 1911, Vol. 1, No. 46, p. 3, col. 4.  

"Women's Organizations of the Pelhams

The Pelham Branch of the League of Women Voters, is one of the most active and interesting of the local women's groups.  It was founded in 1922 by Mrs. Henry E. Dey, who is now honorary president of the Branch.

Miss Eleanor Seed of Pelham, who succeeded Mrs. Dey as chairman in 1926, held that position through consecutive years of service until last Spring, when she formally resigned her post.  Miss Seed is acting as temporary chairman of the League branch until the appointment in the near future of a permanent chairman.  

The League of Women Voters, which is active in 42 states, the District of Columbia and Hawaii has for its object better citizenship and better government through non-partisan political education.  Started in 1920 the organization is the lineal descendant of the National Woman's Suffrage Amendment Association and it took over the task of aiding the newly enfranchised 20 million, unpracticed in voting, to take part in the Presidential election of that year.

It is the contention of the League that intelligent interest and personal responsibility in matters of government are the duties of every citizen and that honest and wise government is the best safeguard for human welfare.

The League of Women Voters, which numbers about 125 members in the Pelham Branch, is not a political party, nor is it connected with any party.  It does not support or oppose candidates, but holds that for the nomination and election of members citizens should join the parties of their choice and work actively in them.

By means of round-tables, discussion groups, open meetings and the publication of brief, up-to-date information on current questions, as well as radio lectures, the organization seeks to keep its members informed.  

The League of Women Voters tries to increase intelligent interest in public affairs and an outgrowth of such study and interest is naturally action for improved government methods, increase in social services and interest in international cooperation for the prevention of war.

The county and local branch of the League have been especially interested in the Child Labor Amendment, Unemployment Insurance, Women's Juror bill, State Aid to Education and the bill to raise the age at which children are permitted to leave school.

The Pelham Branch will hold its first meeting of the season in November and monthly meetings thereafter.  Meetings are held at the Manor Club and the homes of the members.  The local League sponsors one social function annually, a bridge party, musicale, fashion show, etc.

Mrs. James Kennedy is corresponding secretary; Mrs. Harold Bulkley, recording secretary and Mrs. George Cusack, treasurer.  It is planned to form a junior committee for the Pelham Branch this season."

Source:  Leary, Margaret, Women's Organizations of the Pelhams By MARGARET LEARY -- PELHAM BRANCH OF THE LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERSThe Pelham Sun, Oct. 25, 1935, p. 10, cols. 5-6.  

Mrs. Frank Ewing Tells Civic Club Group 'Women Must Think in Terms of Progress;' Mrs. William Lough Among Speakers at Meeting Wednesday.

'We need optimism among women for our government outlook,' Mrs. Frank Ewing, County chairman of the League of Women Voters told members of the Civic Section of the Manor Club and their guests at a meeting held on Wednesday afternoon in the clubhouse.  'Don't think that one or even two administrations could ruin our country,' she said.  'We must think in terms of progress.  Let no one tell us that we are going to be dead before things are better.'

Mrs. John C. Duncan, chairman of the club civic group, presided and introduced the speakers who included also Mrs. William Lough, chairman of the Westchester County World Affairs Institute, former county chairman of the League of Women Voters, and only woman member of the Westchester County Government Commission; Mrs. Henry E. Dey, founder of the Pelham League of Women Voters and Miss Eleanor Seed, local chairman of the group for many years.

'Let women be a real part in the project of the reorganization of the government in Westchester County,' Mrs. Ewing urged, reminding her audience that the reorganization of county government has been a major project of the League of Women Voters.

The forum typie of 'discussion' meeting is becoming more popular with women, Mrs. Ewing said.  They have gotten a little tired of listening to speakers and have something to say for themselves.  'I am not alone in the opinion that we have entirely too many women's organizations today,' the speaker said.  She advocated women belonging first to a spiritual type of group, secondly to an organization that has the interests of the family at hand, and third to a cultural group.

Describing the functions of the League of Women Voters, a non-partisan national organization, Mrs. Ewing described its conventions as 'study propositions,' and advised women joining the League to identify themselves with one of the special committees, the working end of the organization.

Mrs. William Lough, prominent county woman leader, told soething of the 'Marathon Round Tables,' a project sponsored by Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt, 'to create a sufficiently informed public opinion.'

The benefit from the Round Tables is 'that you get facts before you get your prejudices,' Mrs. Lough said.  She emphasized the importance of the attitude of facing facts in all problems, including the proposed changes in county government.

War and peace, economics, the evolving foreign policy of United States, the situation in the Far East have been some of the topics discussed at the Round Tables almost 800 of which were held throughout the country in the past year.

Mrs. Henry E. Dey, first chairman of the Pelham Branch of the League of Women Voters, recalled her work on behalf of the Woman Suffrage movement, out of which grew the League of Women Voters to educate women in their new capacities as voters.  The first convention of the County League was called in 1921 by Mrs. Casper Whitney, the speaker said, and three years later Mrs. Dey formed the Pelham Branch of the League.  She remained its chairman until 1928 when Miss Eleanor Seed succeeded her.

Miss Eleanor Seed, who recently resigned the chairmanship of the local league, expressed the opinion that 'management of the home prepares women for almost everything in life.'  Women, she said, know extravagance and waste won't cure economic ills, they know the importance of living within one's means.  'The primary purpose of the League is to make real citizens' Miss Seed said, 'those who will leave the world better than they found it.'

Mrs. John C. Duncan, chairman of the group, who introduced the speaker, also presented Mrs. Manning Stires, the local chairman of the Pelham Branch of the League.  

Mrs. Duncan and members of the group present signed a petition to Gov. Lehman to exercise his power of executive clemency on behalf of Dorothy Sherwood, convicted of the murder of her child, to commute the death sentence and have her committed to a suitable institution under the State Board of Parole.

Tea was served with Mrs. E. B. Thomas and Mrs. Charles Bolte presiding at the tea table."

Source:  OPTIMISM NEEDED IN OUTLOOK OF WOMEN OF TODAY -- Mrs. Frank Ewing Tells Civic Club Group 'Women Must Think in Terms of Progress;' Mrs. William Lough Among Speakers at Meeting Wednesday, The Pelham Sun, Mar. 13, 1936, p. 4, col. 1.  

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