“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.”
A vision of Albany’s future, circa 1914; Get the flux capacitor
In 1912, architect Arnold W. Brunner was asked by James B. McEwan, then Mayor, to prepare studies for the improvement of Albany. The results were collected into a 1914 book entitled “Studies For Albany,” which I found on Google Books.
Much of what Brunner proposed was grandiose beyond belief, while other proposals were more practicable.
Here are some excerpts from that publication, which contains some excellent and rarely-seen photographs of Albany circa 1914.
Brunner was critical of the eastern end of State, where it met the river, in ‘a tangle of mean streets and wretched buildings.” Although he knew there was a continuing desire to secure a view of the Hudson River, he acknowledged that clearing the area would only provide a view of the railroad yard. He recommended obliterating this view with a plaza that would screen the industrial scenario. This eventually became what we knew as the D&H Building.
THE STATE STREET PIER
The State Street Pier, containing the Albany Yacht Club building, was deemed isolated and improperly proportioned.. Brunner redesigned the pier, suggesting concrete paving instead of green fields, and discussed the ongoing replacement of the old bridge that connected the Pier with Quay Street.
THE RIVER FRONT
As for the waterfront, Brunner said, “The Albany water front had long been give up to commerce. Railways, steamships, factories and warehouses had siezed it and ruined it. Their activities were carried on in a slipshod manner without order or system, as may be seen in the accompanying photographs. The devastating ugliness of the old water front can no longer be endured.”
Brunner’s new waterfront would be one of “order and completeness.” He suggested elevating the railroad tracks and concealing them from view, a widened Broadway, freight yards screened away from view by walls and covered passages, and a uniform code of architecture, none of which came to pass.
Brunner thought the Rensselaer Bridge “awkward and aggressively ugly,”’ and a horrible introduction to Albany. “As we cross the bridge from Rensselaer,” he said, “we find the most deplorable state of affairs on reaching the Albany side, and we receive the worst impression of a neglected neighborhood. There is a dangerous grade crossing, bad roads and a complication of tracks, freight cars and unsightly warehouses. Nothing could be more shabby and unpleasant.”
The imposing structure he proposed was loosely based on the grand entranceways to Bordeaux and Barcelona. It would be high enough to hide the trains on the other side. It’s an amazing rendering.
Albany’s market place was an overcrowded mess. Brunner suggested expanding it eastward and installing a slightly elevated covered platform up to which vendors could pull up their trucks, and upon which shoppers could examine and purchase goods while being sheltered from the elements.
This was the name for that steep drop-off property between Dove and Swan, extending from Elk Street almost to Sheridan Avenue. Brunner proposed a walking terrace and esplanade with playgrounds and a vehicle scenic overlook.
This was the name for the three blocks between Lancaster and Chestnut, from Main to Ontario, which eventually became St. Mary’s Park. The recommendation was a sunken garden, with decorative flower beds, a fountain, trees, and pavilions.
Beaver Park, most of which was an unsanitary mess, would eventually become Lincoln Park. Brunner proposed an ambitious project incorporating an athletic field, a swimming pool, a children’s playground, and some monumental structures. There would be a broad flight of steps leading from the track to the top of the terrace; they would double as a grandstand. A pavilion would contain dressing rooms, baths, etc.
The swimming pool would have two parts, one for swimmers, and the other a children’s wading pool. “It is intended to secure the appearance of a natural lake with sandy shores and bottom and to provide all the delights of ‘the old swimming hole.’” At the lower end of the park would be a children’s playground, with wading pool, sand piles, slides, swings and a babies’ lawn “in front of a shady pergola for the mothers.”
A new bandstand was also recommended.
One of the few remaining old houses on the west end of the property was once the home of Dr James Hall, a noted geologist. It was to be remodeled and used for meetings and bad-weather recreation.
In time, much of what Brunner suggested for the park came to be.
Band concerts were popular here at the turn of the century, so a deluxe new bandstand was proposed, large enough to double as an open-air theatre for plays and cultural events.
From Al Quaglieri’s blog Doc Circe Died for Our Sins
The Story of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Albany The Final Chapter Part 3 – The Ups and Downs of Now or Never (1900-1917)
By 1900 the suffragists of the previous century had grown old or were gone. After 50 years of campaigning the movement was stalled. Although there had been significant changes in the laws that previously limited women’s rights, the goal of getting the vote appeared no closer than it had in 1848 when the Seneca Falls Convention met.
In New York the mantle had been passed to Harriot Stanton Blatch, the daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She famously said, “The suffrage movement was in a rut.. it bored its adherents and repelled its opponents…”.
Blatch tried to re-invent the movement, focusing on women who were self-supporting. Hundreds of thousands of women now worked in factories and the number of business and professional women was growing exponentially. Blatch started working with the newly created Women’s Trade Union League and other unions, following the model of Emmeline Pankhurst in England. But that too proved slow going. Immediate concerns of low wages and poor working conditions distracted from voting rights.
And as ever the case, although delegations from all over the State came to lobby the Legislature year after year, the movement in Albany sluggishly chugged along with no great vitality. And the wealthy anti-suffragists reigned across the city, discrediting and sometimes ridiculing their opponents.
Enter a very different society woman who re-energized the movement by her status and pots of money. Alva Vanderbilt Belmont was a force of nature. She was first married to William Vanderbilt (whose claim to fame was the construction of Madison Square Garden). She shocked the work in the 1890s when she divorced Vanderbilt and married Oliver Belmont. Upon his death in 1908, Alva entered the world of women’s suffrage with guns blazing. Alva had notoriously bested “old money” society in NYC when she was married to Vanderbilt and re-invented herself after her divorce. She was determined to set the suffrage world on fire in the same fashion. Alva funded suffrage offices in NYC and Albany. She raised money from other socialites, embraced participation by immigrant and Afro-American women, staged huge demonstrations and rallies with factory workers and supported the massive NYC shirtwaist factory strike of 1909.
By 1910 Albany women were back in the game. The next seven years would be series of highs and lows. “Suffrage week” in Albany became a regular thing during the legislative session. News of women’s suffrage moved from the women’s sections of newspapers to front pages and Albany businesses advertised their support for suffrage through newspaper advertisements.
Rather than traveling the militant route (rock throwing and resultant forced feedings after arrest) that Emmeline Pankhurst and her followers adopted in England, suffragists in New York State went for the dramatic and newsworthy. With more money they were determined to win the propaganda war. In December 1912 there was a 10 day march in the freezing cold from NYC to Albany to present petitions to the incoming Governor, William Sulzer, a friend of suffrage. Newspaper reporters followed the march and there were newsreel films. Albany supporters met the marchers at South Pearl and Second Ave. as they entered the city and escorted them to the Capitol, accompanied by a band from St. Vincent’s Orphan Asylum. But Sulzer was elected with help of Tammany Hall and turned his back on them in favor of “good government”. He was impeached within 8 months, and the dreams of a statewide vote on women’s suffrage disappeared for 1913.
Undeterred, Albany suffragists, whose numbers now were in the hundreds, took to the streets. – They visited the West Albany Railroad shops, and factories across the city. They held open air meetings on street corners on Central Ave., State and Pearl, Delaware Ave, Arbor Hill and Pine Hills. Small groups of young women were dispatched to canvass neighborhoods. With enough money in their coffers they could print pamphlets and literature in multiple languages – French, Italian, German and Yiddish. The Yiddish language materials were incredibly important; the largely immigrant Jewish population in the South End was said to be universally supportive of a woman’s right to vote.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, other society women (not affiliated with the Old Guard Albany Anti’s) and their daughters discovered the suffrage movement was fashionable and there were suffrage balls, teas and receptions. The prospect of being invited to a weekend at Alva Belmont’s famous Marble House “cottage” in Newport had great allure.
In 1914 the suffragists of Albany decided to mass together for a large parade. On Saturday June 6 about 700 men and women from Albany, its environs and across the State, gathered in the late afternoon near the Capitol. They proceeded down Washington to State, down to North Pearl, over to Clinton and south on Broadway and back to State St. The suffragists wore white hats with yellow cockades and white dresses with yellow sashes. There were women on horseback and in automobiles as well as marchers on foot.
In a wonderful bit of irony, the Grand Marshal was Mrs. Joseph (Katherine) Gavit. (The other Mrs. Joseph Gavit, her mother-in-law, had been one of the founding members of the Albany branch of the National Association of Women’s Suffrage. ) Another leader of the group was Harriet Burton Laidlaw, graduate of Albany High; she attained several higher degrees and began speaking for women’s suffrage when she was barely out of school. She married James Laidlaw, head of the State Men’s League (for women’s suffrage) and a wealthy investment banker (the Laidlaw firm still exists), who accompanied her in the parade.
Other marchers included Elizabeth Smith who would become of the first head of the Albany Public Library System in the 1920, Elizabeth Lyons, one of the first women lawyers in Albany, and a teenage Frances Vosburgh, who would become one of Albany’s most prominent physician for 60 years and pioneer the birth control movement in the city in the 1930s.
So, by 1915, victory was just around the corner. There was confidence that the Legislature would agree to put the question of women’s suffrage to the voters. It did, and the referendum was defeated 57% to 43%. The city of Albany voted no.
Again in March 1917 the NYS Legislature again decided that the referendum to amend the NYS Constitution would go to voters. But that vote as not without high drama. At the last minute Assemblyman Clarence Walsh from Albany proposed new requirements for women voters that exceeded those of men (such an Albany thing). The Walsh amendment was resoundingly defeated.
By now a woman named Carrie Chapman Catt was chairwoman of the State Campaign Committee. A windfall dropped into her lap.
In 1914 Mrs. Frank Leslie, publisher of the wildly popular and profitable “Leslie’s Illustrated Magazine” died and left the bulk of her estate to Catt to promote women’s suffrage . After wrangling with other heirs and attorneys Catt finally received $900,000 in February 1917. Game on. Thousands of dollars went into the New York campaign and other funds were used establish the Leslie Woman Suffrage Commission to promote the cause of suffrage through greater visibility in the public eye and through education. It was called the largest propaganda bureau run by women.
Between the money left by Mrs. Leslie (and large donations by a number of men) and the public’s perception of the value of the work women were doing in the War (the U.S. entered World War I in April, 1917) New York State men voted yes to permit women to vote.
The men of Albany voted no, but this time it didn’t matter; there were enough downstate votes to carry the measure.
The dam was broken. Efforts across the country pushing for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution picked up steam. Suffragists ramped up their lobbying in Washington D.C. under the imitable Alice Paul (with help from Catt). In June, 1919 the U.S. Senate passed an amendment permitting women to vote. In August, 1920 the amendment was ratified by a sufficient number of states and a women’s right to vote became the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In November, 1920 8 million women in the U.S. voted for the first time.
Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor