2020 is the 100th anniversary of the ratification of 19th amendment allowing women to vote. The language is stunningly simple, but reflects over 70 years of struggles by generations of women (and some men).
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex.”
Beginning in the late 1840s women began to make some modest gains (married women were allowed to own property, divorced women could be granted custody of children, etc. ), and in some states women could vote in all elections and some in some elections (school board). But women met defeat in many states.
In the 1890s a NYS constitutional convention refused to ratify for referendum a woman’s right to vote. But the women of the state re-grouped, and by the early 1900s the campaign began anew.
By 1914 it was approaching full throttle. And so the women of Albany and the surrounding area mounted a huge demonstration in the form of a parade in June 1914 in downtown Albany.
Hundreds of women participated; most wearing white dresses and sashes of yellow as they marched through the streets. There were teachers, nurses, women from the trade unions, other working women, older married women and their daughters, single women, widows, college women. They came from all walks of life – rich and poor. And there was a men’s division.
The Grand Marshal, astride a horse, was Katherine Hulst Gavit. Ms Gavit had been president of the Albany Equal Rights Group for many years. She was a graduate of Syracuse University, and had worked at the NYS Library where she had met her husband (one of the librarians). (Her mother-in-law was one of the leaders of the anti-suffrage campaign mounted during the NYS Constitutional Convention of the 1890s.)
Other marchers included Elizabeth Smith who would become head of Albany’s first unified library system in the 1920s, and teenage Frances Vosbugh who would become a physician and start the first birth control clinic in Albany in the early 1930s.
Through the efforts of the women of the Albany area and others woman’s suffrage made it on the ballot in New York State in 1915. It was defeated (Albany County voted no). In 1917 it passed (the men of Albany County voted no again, but it didn’t matter), and women in New York State could vote.
Many of the women who participated in the suffrage movement, including Katherine Gavit, went on found the League of Women Voters.
Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor