SAVAGERY TO "CIVILIZATION" THE INDIAN WOMEN: We whom you pity as drudges reached centuries ago the goal that you are now nearing. WE, THE WOMEN OF THE IROQUOIS: Own the land, the lodge, the children. Ours is the right of adoption, of life or death; Ours is right to raise up and depose chiefs; Ours the right of representation at all councils; Ours the right to make and abrogate treaties; Ours the supervision over domestic and foreign policies; Ours the trusteeship of the tribal property; Our lives are valued again as high as man's.
Women of the Iroquois Confederation of the Haudenosaunee ignited the revolutionary vision of early feminists by providing a model of freedom and agency. This illustration shows Haudenosaunee women on a rock overlooking white women marching with a banner labeled "Woman Suffrage."
Most of the Champlain Valley is the homeland of the Haudenosaunee people. We need to protect and honor the history and people of the land that surrounds us and is part of who we are.
Early Women’s Rights
The Woman Suffrage Movement was part of the broader movement for women’s rights. In the early 1800s, reform movements flourished, particularly abolition, prohibition, and women’s rights. Since these reforms were interrelated, many women advocated for more than one cause. For example: women abolitionists were generally prevented from speaking at meetings, so they formed their own anti-slavery organizations. These groups tended to discuss and address women’s rights in addition to abolition. For example, in 1837 Lucretia Mott started the Female Anti-slavery Society of Philadelphia for black and white women. These groups of women generally held meetings, conferences, and petitioned for rights, such as equal pay, widows’ support, divorce entitlements, property ownership, and guardianship of children.
The Peru Female Anti-Slavery Society held their third annual meeting in 1837 with 200 women attending.
Susan B. Anthony grew up in Battenville, Washington County, NY. Her father, Daniel, built a large house for the family in 1833 but he added a room for home-learning after Susan’s teacher told her to learn needlepoint instead of long division.
As a young adult, Susan worked as a teacher and was paid $1.50 weekly—a far lower wage than her male predecessor’s $10 per week. Then, while spending a few weeks working in her father’s cotton mill spooler, she learned that the women’s wages were paid directly to their husbands or fathers.
In the 1850s, she worked as a speaker for Anti-Slavery and for Women’s Rights.
While most men opposed woman suffrage in the 1800s, there were plenty of exceptions even then. At the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, James Mott officiated, Frederick Douglass spoke in support of the suffrage resolution, and 32 men signed the Declaration of Sentiments under the heading "…the gentlemen present in favor of this new movement." By the early 1900s, there were men marching in suffrage parades and a group of powerful New York men formed the Men’s League for Woman Suffrage.
In Essex County, New York, the Men’s Committee of 100 supported the suffragists. The list of 100 prominent men included:
Melvil Dewey (founder of Dewey Decimal System and Lake Placid Club)
John Milholland (one of the founders of the NAACP, owner of Meadowmount Estate in Lewis)
O. Byron Brewster (long-time resident of Essex County, NY State Supreme Court Judge)
George Levi Brown (long-time prominent resident of Elizabethtown, author of history of Pleasant Valley (Elizabethtown)
Judge William H. Wadhams (Justice of the Court of General Sessions (of NY County), son of Commodore A.V. Wadhams of Wadhams, NY
Rabbi Stephen S. Wise (prominent U.S. Jewish leader, member of NAACP, summer resident of Lake Placid)
The major reasons for resistance to women’s rights had to do with long-held conventional notions about the roles of men and women, the roles of blacks and whites, and the interpretation of the Bible. In general, these views supported a white patriarchy and contested any threat to the perpetuation of its authority.
As surprising as it might seem, many women did not want to be voters. They reasoned that God ordained woman’s sphere, and husbands represented wives’ welfare. Some women simply wanted no part in the squalor of politics. A few believed that not all women were qualified to vote, intellectually.
In early August of 1914, citizens of Keene Valley wanted to hear the arguments of those opposed to suffrage. Two nationally prominent anti-suffragists responded to the call and a meeting was hastily arranged. The speakers were: Miss Alice Hill Chittenden, president of state Anti-Suffrage Society, who was spending a few days at the Ausable Club, and Mrs. Prestonia Mann Martin, who had a summer home on East Hill. Such a large crowd had never been seen in Keene Valley, and Chittenden hoped to start a local anti-suffrage chapter.
Many women already had voting rights prior to 1920 and the enactment of the federal woman suffrage amendment. In the previous 50 years, several states passed laws for full or partial suffrage. Western states were the first to grant full suffrage while other states granted partial voting rights in school board or state elections or presidential elections.
For example, women in New York State had limited local/county voting rights that varied from district to district, but they could not vote in presidential elections prior to 1917 when NYS granted full voting rights to women.
When Plattsburgh was incorporated as a city in 1902, the city’s charter gave women the right to vote on “special taxation propositions.” The right was said to have been granted due to the influence of the George William Curtis Club (previously the Political Equality Committee).
In 1917, the State of New York became the first state east of the Mississippi to grant full voting rights to women. The tremendous support from New York City overcame the lack of support from most upstate counties. Essex County was one exception, approving woman suffrage by a margin of 15 votes: 2838 to 2823.
“Newcomb is the Banner Suffrage Town” announced the Adirondack Record. The town “did her bit” for the ladies, casting 73 votes for suffrage and only 6 against. “Newcomb is certainly most chivalrous.”
The “mere privilege of voting” did not satisfy some women; they aspired to take a more active participation in politics and to gain equality. In 1923, Alice Paul of the National Woman’s Party wrote the Equal Rights Amendment: “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and in every place subject to its jurisdiction.” President Coolidge agreed with its principle but did not endorse the amendment. When the ERA was proposed to Congress in December, it was rejected. The NWP worked to get the ERA inserted into the platforms of political parties, but the Republicans and Democrats refused to accept it.
Part of the problem: Although there were more than 20 million women voters, there was only one woman representative in Congress.
The NWP took a new approach in 1924, which was an election year. On July 14, 1924, the New York Times announced that the NWP had called a conference for the express purpose of devising ways to get women elected. “Women for Congress” was the slogan for the national conference to be held in Westport, New York, on the shores of Lake Champlain.
More than 200 delegates of the NWP attended the “Women for Congress” Convention on August 15-16, 1924, at the Westport Inn (owned by renowned California suffragist Alice Lee). Suffrage teas were held for the delegates at the gardens of Sarah Pell in Ticonderoga and Cora Putnam Hale in Elizabethtown. The Conference produced a declaration that the National Woman's Party would “endorse for Congress and do its utmost to elect all women nominees, irrespective of their political affiliations,” so long as the women seemed “qualified” and would support “the equal rights amendment and a general feminist program."
The day after the Conference, August 17, some delegates visited the Inez's grave in the Lewis Cemetery and then gathered for the Forward Into Light Pageant at the Milholland’s summer estate, Meadowmount.