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.

Monday, June 26, 2017

More on How Pelham Women Swung the Vote to Build a New Town Hall in 1909


The history of the Town Hall of the Town of Pelham located at 34 Fifth Avenue is rich and fascinating.  I have written about that interesting history before.  See, e.g., Tue., Apr. 21, 2015:  The Early History of Pelham's Town Hall, Built in 1909.  Designed by architect Frederick Roosevelt Loney of Pelham Manor and built in 1909 to replace the previous wooden Town Hall building that burned down on the evening of October 23, 1908, Pelham Town Hall likely would be very different today were it not for the efforts and involvement of Pelham women in the special election in 1909 that authorized construction of the building. 



Recent Photograph of Pelham Town Hall. Note the Brick
Facade at the Front Entrance and the Slate Roof that Now
Adorns the Building.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

I have written about the involvement of Pelham women in authorizing the new Town Hall before (in addition to the article referenced above).  See Thu., Jan. 29, 2009:  Suffrage for Pelham Women.  Today's Historic Pelham article provides a little more background on the involvement of Pelham women in the important special election.

The Town of Pelham scheduled the special election on February 16, 1909 to authorize construction of a new Town Hall.  There were, however, two propositions on the ballot:  (1) a proposal to authorize the Town to issue $25,000 worth of bonds to fund construction of the new Town Hall to stand where the old one stood before it burned; and (2) a proposal to authorize the Town to issue an additional $5,000 worth of bonds to fund the acquisition of a large parcel adjacent to the location of the burned courthouse to enable the Town to build a larger structure and to create a fitting "park-like" approach to the new building. 

In the weeks prior to the special election, it seemed that both propositions would pass easily with low voter turnout expected.  Shortly before the special election, however, two groups opposed to the propositions gained momentum in their efforts to defeat the proposals.  Residents of the Village of Pelham Manor and the Village of Pelham (today's Pelham Heights), wanted the new Town Hall located in their respective villages and, thus, opposed any effort to fund any building to be located on the same site as the structure that burned (located in the Village of North Pelham).  A second group of Town residents opposed the propositions on the simple ground that they did not want any increase in their taxes, even though it was pointed out that "the interest annually on $25,000 at four per cent, would be only $1,000, which, spread over a a total assessed valuation of over four millions of dollars, would amount to less than one-quarter of a mill on each dollar of assessed valuation." 

On the day of the election, Town residents watched as voters streamed in and tallied the changing results as the day wore on.  By mid-morning it was apparent that the opposition groups had been more successful than thought.  The propositions looked like they might fail. 

The women of Pelham sprang into action.  Word spread throughout Pelham that all eligible voters who supported construction of the new Town Hall had better get to the voting booths to vote for the proposals.  Within a short time, as noted in many newspapers throughout the nation, automobiles, carriages, and other forms of transportation were dispatched throughout the Town to pick up women who favored construction of a new Town Hall and bring them back to the firehouse to vote.  One account claimed colorfully that women "clad in expensive gowns and furs rubbed elbows with those who had left their washtubs and household duties to cast their ballot."  As the day wore on the running vote tally suggested an exciting race.  It turned out that the race was one of the closest special elections ever, up to the time.  The proposition to build the new courthouse passed by only four votes, 86 to 82.  The second proposition to acquire a lot adjoining the Town Hall lot failed, resoundingly, by a vote of 66 in favor and 92 against.

Newspapers throughout the nation recounted the involvement of Pelham women in the decision to build a new Town Hall.  Headlines (such as those that can be seen below) included "WOMEN'S VOTES WIN PELHAM TOWN HALL" and "WOMEN AT POLLS -- Some Come in Autos, Others Desert Tubs, to Cast Ballots" appeared on the front pages of newspapers throughout the nation.  (See below.)

Pelham would have a new Town Hall.  Pelham women were among the most important players principally responsible for that decision.  



Undated Post Card View of the Town Hall Showing It Shortly
After It Was Built. Note the Stucco Surface and the Spanish Tile
Roof of the Original Structure.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *

"WOMEN'S VOTES WIN PELHAM TOWN HALL
-----

PELHAM, Feb. 16. -- There was a lively time here to-day when the women of this place, Pelham Heights, Pelham Manor and North Pelham voted on a proposition to erect a new town hall.  Women in automobiles and wearing expensive gowns and furs rubbed elbows with those who had left their washtubs and household duties to cast their ballots for or against the proposition, as they saw fit.

When the votes were counted, it was found that the first proposition to build a new town hall to cost $25,000, had been carried by a vote of 86 for as against 82 in opposition.  The second proposition, to purchase an additional piece of ground for $5,000, was lost, however, by a vote of 92 to 66, some of the women not voting on this at all."

Source:  WOMEN'S VOTES WIN PELHAM TOWN HALL, The Evening World [NY, NY], Feb. 16, 1909, Final Results Edition, p. 1, col. 4.  

"WOMEN AT POLLS
-----
Some Come in Autos, Others Desert Tubs, to Cast Ballots.

NEW YORK, February 17. -- There was the liveliest kind of a time to-day when the women of Pelham, Pelham Heights, Pelham Manor and North Pelham voted on a proposition to erect a new town hall.  

Women in automobiles and clad in expensive gowns and furs rubbed elbows with those who had left their washtubs and household duties to cast their ballot for or against the proposition as they saw fit.  

When the votes were counted it was found that the first proposition, to build a new town hall, to cost $125,000, had been carried by a vote of 86 to 83 [sic].  The second proposition to purchase an additional piece of ground for $5,000, was lost by a vote of 92 to 66.

Now the selection of a proper site for this new building will occupy the attention of the local authorities, and it is expected much opposition will be developed unless the new town hall is built on the site of the old one, burned by an incendiary last October."

Source:   WOMEN AT POLLS -- Some Come in Autos, Others Desert Tubs, to Cast Ballots, The Times Dispatch [Richmond, VA], Feb. 18, 1909, p. 1, col. 5.

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