In 2020 we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution that allowed women to vote. Most history of the suffrage movement focuses on the 20th century and the triumvirate of Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the 19th century.
But there were hundreds of thousands of women who fought for their rights over multiple generations. They included many women in Albany.Generally the story of the women’s suffrage movement starts with the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 and “the Declaration of Sentiments”, the document that stated the principles of women’s rights. Over decades women chipped away at the ties that bound them. Along the way there were some small victories – changes to women’s property rights, divorce laws and guardianship laws that began to favor custody for mothers.
1880 School Suffrage Law
In the late 1800s states started to pass laws that allowed women to vote in school and some other municipal elections. Women who met the same requirements as men were allowed to vote. In New York State the initial “school suffrage” act was passed early in 1880.
The Albany Women’s Suffrage Society
The Albany Women’s Suffrage Society, in response to the new State law, was established under the auspices of the New York State Women’s Suffrage Association. The first general meeting on March 19, 1880, was held at the NYS Geological Hall on the corner of State and Lodge Streets before the proposed vote on April 15, 1880. About a hundred women (and some men) attended.The importance of the Suffrage Society in Albany can’t be under-estimated. In 1880 Albany had a population of 90,000 and was the 21st largest city in the country. It was a hub of industry and forward thinking commerce. Yet in many ways Albany was still the sleepy, totally traditional and “proper” town it had been before the Erie Canal propelled it into the 19th century. It was devoted to the status quo. Even newcomers quickly adopted the cultural zeitgeist of the city. Albany was in no way a “modern” city of thoughts and ideas. James H. Wilcox in the “Women’s Journal” (Boston) said, “Albany County was .. deemed almost hopeless, the conservativism of its social aristocracy being intense and powerful”.
Suffrage Society Officers
Mary Seymour Howell became the President. She was 35, lived at 1 High St. (corner of State St. opposite the Capitol) with her husband George Howell, who was the Assistant Librarian of the NYS Library in the Capitol. She had formerly been a teacher and employed by NYS to give training institutes for teachers. Mary would be the most active member of the woman’s rights movement in Albany for the next 2 decades. She served as an officer of the NYS Women’s Suffrage Society, did a lot of public speaking across the country, toured New York State with Susan B. Anthony, and testified to Congress. (There’s a description of the Society in its early years in a “Bi-centennial History of Albany County”, written by her husband and Jonathan Tenney in 1886.)
C. Mary Williams was the First Vice-President. She was African American, 48, and lived at 25 Lark St. with her husband Andrew and her daughter in the home of her father and mother, Susan and Michael Douge. Catherine had been a teacher in the segregated Wilberforce School for African-American children in Albany, and after the Civil War had gone into the south to teach Black children under the auspices of the Freedman’s Bureau. She would be an active member of the Society until her death from tuberculosis in 1884.
Hendrika Iliohan became the Treasurer. She was 30, and a naturalized citizen, born in Holland. Her husband Martin was baker (also born in Holland), and in 1880 they lived at 154 Livingston Ave. (near North Swan St.) with 1 son. She would remain an active member of the Society until the family moved west in the late 1880s.
Kate Stoneman was elected Secretary. Stoneman was 33, single and living at 134 Swan St. between Madison Ave. and Hamilton St. She was a teacher at the NYS Normal School. Kate was a lifelong women’s rights pioneer and member of the Albany Woman’s Suffrage Society, and then its successor, the Political Equality Club. She would become the first woman to graduate from Albany Law School.
The first order of business of the Society was to identify two candidates for run for school commissioner. The group nominated Emily Weed Barnes and Mary Pruyn. Barnes was 22, the granddaughter of Thurlow Weed. Weed had been the owner of “Albany Evening Journal”, the most widely read newspaper in the country in the 1850s, and a political king maker in the Republican Party, helping to elect Lincoln. Weed was a strong supporter of women’s suffrage. Mary Pruyn was 60; she the wealthy widow of Samuel Pruyn, a prominent Albany attorney and businessman. The couple had been well known for their philanthropy and charitable good works. After her husband’s death she spent many years in in Japan as a missionary. Alas, both women declined.
The Society established an executive committee and designated committeewomen in each election ward to canvass prospective voters. It printed a circular to be distributed, “Women’s Right to Vote in Albany and Other Cities and Villages”, that instructed women on the new law, how to register and vote, and concluded with the following. “Every woman who registers and votes this spring helps the cause of virtue and justice throughout the world”
We think over 100 women in Albany tried to vote in the 1880 school suffrage election. There are no official records, and all we have to rely upon are spotty newspaper accounts of the time. We know from these accounts that it wasn’t easy, and all sorts of obstacles were thrown in their path. First they had to register. While some women enrolled with ease, others were denied that right.
Inspectors refused to allow women to register in the Third Ward (including South Pearl and Arch Streets) and the Fourth Ward (including South Pearl and lower Hamilton Streets). In the Sixth ward (the heart of downtown Albany) 14 women tried to register, but were turned away. The “National Citizen and Ballot Box” newspaper reported that at least 50 women enrolled, but many others were refused that right. Despite impassioned pleas from about a half dozen women (and spectators) who tried to register to vote in City Hall they were denied. Even the local judges refused to intervene. (A newspaper observed that some of inspectors were store owners, and the fashionable and quite wealthy women among those denied the right to enroll made it known they and their friends would henceforth boycott those merchants.)
There is no way of knowing how many women were discouraged from enrolling when reports of the rudeness, mockery, ridicule and open hostility of the election officials were made known.
Yet other women enrolled with little problem. “… half a dozen colored females headed by Mrs. C. Mary Williams, Vice President of the County Woman’s Suffrage Society went to the place of registration in Eleventh Ward and had their names enrolled. They were followed by an immense crowd of white and colored people, and when they issued from the place of registry on the street, were cheered in an hilariously boisterous fashion. Mrs. Williams is a stately mulatto of considerable education and refinement.” “National Citizen and Ballot Box”, April 1880.
.On the day of the 1880election there were varying circumstances. A local newspaper reported that Kate Stoneman was the first woman to vote – bright and early at 8:30 AM, “just like a little man”. Other women were successful as well, but some were denied the right to vote. “In the 13th ward the inspectors refused to accept the women’s votes, even though they were registered.” “Albany Morning Express” April 15, 1880. (The area immediately surrounding the Capitol comprised the 13th ward.) The same thing happened in the 17th ward (almost everything east and north of Clinton Ave. down to the River).
The newspapers identified about 30 women who voted successfully. (We assume there were others.) We know some were members of the Suffrage Society: others we think were not. But they represented “Every Woman”. They were a remarkably diverse group. They were old and young and middle-aged. Many were married, some widowed, others single. Some were enormously wealthy, and others were probably barely scraping by (based on their address in the 1880 census); most of the women seemed to be middle class. (We suspect that there were more women who lived in North Albany and the South End, less economically advantaged areas, who tried to vote; but they lived in the wards where there appears to have been the greatest and most systemic voter suppression.)
Most listed their occupation as “keeping house” in census data, but some were employed as teachers; there were several seamstresses and paid/unpaid housekeepers; one woman was a laundress. Two women managed the House of Shelter, a refuge for women of “ill-repute” found by Mary Pruyn and her husband Samuel. The three female physicians in the city were part of the founding group of the Society, and we know 2 voted successfully.
Most were native born, but a few were naturalized citizens.
There was a dedicated contingent of African-American women, who had seen their fathers, husbands, brothers and sons get the vote a decade earlier under the 15th amendment. We know that these women had stood by the side with their male counterparts as they fought against slavery and for political equality. Yet they were not rewarded.
The women represented most areas of the City. The largest group lived in the upper middle class area that we think of as Center Square and Hudson Park today. Another group of women, Black and White, came from a middle class neighborhood in Arbor Hill, bounded by North Swan St, North Swan, Lark St. and Livingston Ave. Given the response of the election officials in the South End/River Wards and in North Albany, we’re not surprised no women from those areas were identified.
In the subsequent years the school votes became more complicated and difficult. At every turn there were attempts to discourage and deny women the ability to vote in school suffrage elections. In the early 1880s both the New York State Attorney General and Assistant Attorney General rendered widely circulated opinions that were at odds with the actual law – if a husband was qualified to vote, a wife was not eligible. Some election officials believed that if there were other elections (besides a school commissioner vote) women were not eligible to vote. Election inspectors who opposed women’s suffrage became emboldened over time. In 1885 even Mary Howell was denied the right to vote. She attempted to get a judge to provide a legal remedy; he refused. This happened all over the state. A newspaper report from 1885 estimated that the number of women who voted in Saratoga Springs in 1880 dropped by more than half in 1885.
Nevertheless the Albany Women’s Suffrage Society persisted, and it acquired new members. It was provided the opportunity to hold meetings in the Assembly chamber of the Old Capital (before it was demolished) and then met in Tweddle Hall, a large theater/auditorium on the corner of State and Pearl. Besides the women’s franchise, they lobbied for pensions for the women who had served as nurses in the Civil War, supported the NYS Governor when he appointed women managers to one of the boards of a NYS insane asylum, and lobbied for a woman matron in the Albany Police Dept.
In 1884 a new suffrage group was formed in the City – the Political Equality Club. It included both men and women in its membership. Mary Seymour Howells became president, It included many of the same women who had been original members of the Suffrage Society. We suspect these women were members of the both groups.
Yet it wasn’t all roses. In 1885 Martha Winnie was elected president of the Society. Martha was a local woman who attended the NYS Normal School. She’d worked her way up through the Albany public school system and was the principal of School 17 (a rarity for a woman at the time). After her election she was fired by the Board of Education. (She was ultimately appointed as a school principal in Glens Falls in 1893.) Martha was called the “first martyr for the cause. Ironically, her successor as President was Joan Cole, wife of the Superintendent of Albany Schools. (Mr. Cole ensured that the Albany school manual include a copy of the 1880 school suffrage law.)
Around 1890 Society membership and activities began wane, despite the fact that the National Women’s Suffrage Association was formed that year. There are fewer newspaper references to the Political Equality Club as well. And then came buzz saw – the Anti-Suffragists of Albany organized to ensure that the NYS State Constitutional Convention in 1894 did not propose a change to the state constitution that permitted women to vote. The Anti’s were mostly rich women who ruled Albany society, and were supported by the Episcopal Bishop of Albany, William Crosswell Doane who wielded enormous influence.. They were loud, well-financed and married to men with enormous political clout. They often met in the building on State St. housing the Albany Historical and Art Society (now the Albany Institute of History and Art) , which it appears, from newspaper accounts, they considered their private club house.
The Anti’s were successful. There would be no proposed constitutional amendment to permit NYS women to vote until 1915. But, in a bit of delicious irony Mrs. Katherine Gavit was the grand marshal of the Albany Suffragette parade in 1914. Her mother-in-law Fanny was one of the most influential members of the Anti’s, and an officer in the New York statewide anti-suffrage association. (Tense Thanksgiving dinners we suspect.)
But the Albany suffragists carruied on. They re-formed in 1900 under the Political Equality Club banner. The new group included at least five of the original Suffrage Society members – Mary Howell, Kate Stoneman, Joan Cole, and Adeline and Julia Coley.
Who Were the Woman?
- Agnes Anable was 31, daughter of a wealthy local business man. She lived at 162 Hamilton St. with her 4 children and her husband Henry, who owned an insurance concern. Agnes voted 1880.
- Mrs. Emily Weed Barnes was 52, daughter of Thurlow Weed. She was married to William Barnes, a wealthy and prominent attorney; they had 5 children. The “National Citizen and Ballot Box” – newspaper of the women’s suffrage movement, published by Matilda Jocelyn Gage, described her as a political powerhouse as she lobbied the NYS Legislature for women’s rights.
- Anna Belle was African American, age 67, a laundress who lived in the household of her sister Diana Williams at 169 Second St. with her adult son Charles. She voted 1880.
- Matilda Wilkie Blair was 61, twice a widow, with several children living at 8 Delaware Ave., near Lark St. Matilda voted in 1880 and registered in the 16th ward in 1882.
- Martha Bradt was 42, married to a druggist who owned his own business. They lived at 43 Chestnut St. where she kept house and had 2 children. She voted in 1880.
- Ella Brown, 23, was married to a proof reader; they lived with her parents at 27 Hawk St. Her mother, Mary Melius voted with her in 1882. Mary’s husband worked for the county clerk and is listed in in the 1880 city directory as “supervisor of the 14th ward’, which may explain why many of the women were successful in voting in that Ward.
- Mary Brown voted in 1885 (We have no additional information.)
- Josephine Burlingame, age 54, lived at 322 Hudson Ave, with her husband, a lawyer, her children and her siste-in law Imogene Burlingame, a school teacher who registered in the 16th ward in 1882.
- Harriet V. Chapin, was 49, with one daughter. She was married to the assistant superintendent of the Boston and Albany Railroad (he was the son of the president of the company). They lived at 35 Chestnut St., (just down the block from Martha Bradt). Harriet was Vice President of the Society in 1885, but also a member of the Political Equality Club.
- Joan Cole was 35, with 2 children, married to Charles Cole, Albany’s school superintendent. They lived at 192 Elm St. Joan was active in the Society for at least 5 years, and was president in 1885.
- Adeline, Jane and Julia Coley were unmarried sisters who ran a private school at 23 Dove St. on the corner of State St. (The building is still there; most recently housing Bongiorno’s Restaurant.) Prior to opening their private school they had all taught in public school. Julia had been one of the first teachers at the Wilberforce School for African children. Jane was 60, Julia aged 50 and Adeline 48. All three sisters graduated from the NYS Normal School in Albany in the 1840s and 1850s. They were lifelong staunch supports of women’s rights and members of the Albany Women’s Suffrage Association, and Adeline served as an officer in various capacities over the years, and in its successor the Albany Political Equality Club.
- Catherine Cook was 50 with 1 child living at home at 235 Elm St.; her husband was a school teacher. The newspapers reported she registered in the 16th ward in 1882 and 1885. She became a member of the Political Equality Club.
- Teresa Corr, 37, was born in Ireland, the wife of a stone cutter working on the new Capitol. They lived at 361 Myrtle Ave. with their 6 children. Theresa voted 1880.
- Mary Dare was 40, lived at 48 Howard St., single and a naturalized citizen (born in England). She was the assistant matron of the House of Shelter, a refuge for destitute and fallen women. She was refused the right to register to vote in 1880.
- Adelia Dexter lived on Spring St., near Cortland Place. She was 48, married to a teamster (but also an owner of several pieces of property) and the mother of 4 children. Adelia voted 1880.
- Frances Dorsey was African-American, 39 and lived at 159 Third St. Her husband Sylvester served with a regiment of “Colored Troops” raised in Ithaca NY in the Civil War, and was the armorer of the National Guard unit in Albany in 1880. She was president of the Lovejoy Society, an African American women’s charitable organization. Frances voted 1880 and registered in 1882.
- Susan Douge was African-American, 74 and lived at 25 Lark St. (near the corner of Livingston Ave.) Susan was a person of great importance in the African-American community in Albany. In the 1830s she was a founder of the Female Lundy Society, the first African-American charitable organization in Albany. Her husband Michael, a barber, worked tirelessly in the Albany community for decades – founding the M.E. Church, working for equal education for children, working constantly in the context of the “colored conventions” for political equality. Susan’s work is less documented. Susan voted 1880 and registered in 1882. Her daughter Mary Williams was the first Vice-President of the Society.
- Mary Dubois, M.D. was 38, the first Female physician admitted to the Albany County Medical Society. She was single and lived with her sister Sarah at 194 Hamilton St. She registered in 1880.
- Matilda Fiedler, age 40, was born in Germany, and lived with her husband, a brewery clerk, at 212 Livingston Ave. She registered in 1882 in the 11th Ward.
- Hannah E. Flansburgh, 48, lived at 80 Jay St., with 1 son at home. She was the wife of a printing press manufacturer. She voted 1880, 1882 and 1883.
- Isabella Frank registered in 1880. No further information.
- Sarah Fry, 52, was a widow, acting as a housekeeper for her retired brother. They lived at 231 Livingston Ave. She registered in 1882 in the 11th Ward.
- Catharine Goewey, MD was 60, lived at 286 Hudson Ave. She specialized in pediatric and woman’s homeopathic medicine. She registered in 1880.
- Jennie Green registered in the 17th Ward in 1882. (We have no additional information.)
- Mary Hall was 31, and a widow, with 2 young sons, living at 159 First St. with her mother. She registered to vote in the 17th ward in 1882.
- Jane and Elizabeth Hoxsie: Jane was 60 and Elizabeth, 30, was her widowed daughter-in-law. Jane’s husband was a foreman on the construction of the State Capitol. They lived at 198 Hudson Ave, with Elizabeth’s son. Jane was the last of the old guard of women’s rights activists; she’d been involved with Lydia Mott and Anthony in the preceding decades. (In 1873 when Anthony was indicted in 1873 in federal court in Albany’s City Hall for voted in a Congressional election in Rochester local newspapers noted that Jane was in the gallery, sitting next to Lydia. ) Jane and Elisabeth voted in 1880.
- Mrs. Martin Johnson was 56, a widow with 3 children who lived at 230 Livingston Ave, She registered in 1882 in the 11th Ward.
- Elizabeth Jones, 42 was a widow and the Matron of House of Shelter. She shared lodgings with Mary Dare at 48 Howard St. Elizabeth was denied the right to enroll in 1880.
- Helen Knapp lived at 448 Washington Ave., near the corner of N Lake Ave (we think she was a school teacher). She voted in 1880.
- Helen Knight, 43, lived at 60 Howard St., near Mary Dare and Elizabeth Jones. Her husband John was the foreman in charge of gas lighting at the new Capitol. She was denied the right to register to vote in 1880 Newspapers referred to her home as the headquarters of the Society in its earliest months in the 1880s.
- Sarah Le Bouef was the Vice President of the Society in 1885. She was a graduate of the State Normal School who married Peter Le Bouef, part owner of a collar factory in Troy. They lived at 299 Washington Ave. with their 3 children. Her daughters Emma and Mary would be active members of the suffrage movement into the 20th century.
- Matilda Leggett was African-American, 29 and single. She lived at 158 Third St (across the street from Frances Dorsey) in Arbor Hill with her father Henry. He had been employed by the Delavan House Hotel, along with Stephen Myers, who was the head of the Underground Railroad in Albany. Matilda voted in 1880 and registered in the 11th Ward in 1882.
- Rachel Martin was a physician, age 60 and a widow. Her homeopathic practice was located on Canal St., (Sheridan Ave. today) and largely devoted to hydrotherapy and undergarment dress reform. She was on the Society’s executive committee in 1880.
- Mary McClelland was in her mid-30s, single and a teacher at the NYS Normal School, living at 321 Hamilton St. She was an officer in the Society from about 1883 to 1885. Marty worked for the State Normal School in almost 50 years – retiring in 1917 as an history teacher and the librarian of the School.
- Phebe and Susie Milbank were twins, age 50, who were dressmakers living at 270 First St. They registered in 1882 in the 17th ward.
- Experience Miller 60, a widow, living at 122 Washington Ave, just west of Lark St. She would be active in the Albany Women’s Suffrage Association until her death in the late 1880s. She voted 1880, 1882. 1883 and 1885.
- Ella Moore was 35, single, a naturalized citizen (born in Ireland) and lived alone at 188 Spruce St. She was on the executive committee of the Society in 1885.
- Elmina Mount, age 64, lived with her husband, a grocer at 30 Dove St., across the street from the Coley sisters. She voted in 1883.
- Amelia Morgan was 65, a widow living at 30 Lexington Ave with her daughter, May Dayton (34) and her husband, a railroad conductor and their 6 children. Both women registered to vote in the 1th Ward in 1882.
- Mary Mull was a vice president of the Society in 1883. She was in her mid-thirties, wife of a carriage maker, living at 387 Hudson Ave. with 4 children.
- Julia Myers was African American, 35, had 2 children and lived at 169 Third St. (very close to Frances Dorsey and Matilda Leggett). She was the wife of Stephen Myers, son of Stephen and Harriet Myers who ran Albany’s Underground Railroad. Julia voted in 1880.
- Jane O’Connor, 38 was born in Ireland, and a widow with 5 children, livings at 107 Green St. between Bleecker and Herkimer Streets in the Pastures. She voted 1880.
- Anna Parks was a public school teacher who lived at 129 ½ Clinton Ave; she was member of the Society in 1886.
- Harriet Perry was 40, the widow of the former U.S Consul in Panama, with 3 children at home. She lived at 372 Hamilton St. She voted in 1880.
- Mary Garrison Pomeroy, 57, was a single, self-styled homeopathic physician who lived across the street from Jane Hoxsie at 197 Hudson Ave. She voted in 1880.
- Martha Ann Pulz was in her mid-30s, lived at 336 Lark St. (near Dana Ave.), and was a teacher in school 2 (with Mary McClelland). She registered to vote in the 16th Ward in 1882.
- Elizabeth Reese was one the youngest members of the Society in 1885. She was 21 and lived at 357 Hamilton St with her family; her father was a carpenter.
- Maria Reston was a widow who lived at 221 ½ Hamilton St in her mid-50s. She was an active member of the Society in 1885.
- Anne Shelve was African American, aged 43, living at 49 Lark St. (close to Susan Douge and her daughter Catherine Williams) with her husband Dyer, a hotel waiter and their 3 children. She and her husband were relatively recent transplants from the District of Columbia. Her hudband was active in Republican politics for many years after the 15th amendments was enacted. Anne voted in 1880.
- Lucy Smith was 35, with 4 children, the wife of a druggist who lived 246 Washington Ave. She was on the executive committee of the Society and successfully voted in 1880.
- Sarah Smith was African American, aged 58 living at 410 Madison Ave. just below Lark St. It’s quite possible Sarah’s husband, Joseph A. Smith, is the same J.A. Smith listed on a broadside advertising an event in Albany in 1863 to celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation. Sarah voted in 1880.
- Lillian Taylor, age 30 lived at 26 Chestnut St, and the wife of a printer. She voted in 1883.
- Eliza Theis was a widow of about 70, born in Ireland, who lived at 44 Chapel St. In 1885 she attempted to register in the 6th Ward, but was denied.
- Jemima Watkins, 51 was born in England. She lived at 90 Beaver St. with her 4 children and her husband James, a piano maker. Jemima was Vice president of the Society in 1885-1886.
- Emma Werner was only in her mid-20s, but in charge of membership (as part of the executive committee in 1880) when the Society was first formed. She lived at 56 Eagle St with her husband Charles who was clerk in a railroad office.
- Lavina Willard shared rooms with Kate Stoneman at 154 Swan St. We think she may also have been a teacher at the Normal School. She voted in 1883.
- Elizabeth Winhold was 26, and living with her husband, Louis, a cigar manufacturer and seller, at 297 Hudson Ave. Her husband was very active in Republican politics. She voted in 1883.
- Diana Williams, African American, was 60 and lived at 169 Second St. with her husband John. It is impossible to underestimate the role of her husband in the African American community in Albany. He had been a close associate of Stephen Myers, and we believe he was active in the UGRR, He was very politically active after the Civil War. Diana voted in 1880.
- Margaret Williams, 63, was the wife of a jeweler with business on Broadway. They lived at 203 North Pearl St.
- Margaret Wiltsie, 42 was the wife of retired coal merchant who lived at 486 Madison Ave. We think she was related by marriage to the Coley sisters. Margaret voted in 1882.
- Martha Van Vechten was about 80, a widow living at 4 Lodge St., with her 2 adult children when she and 6 other women attempted to register to vote at City Hall in 1880, but was refused that right.