“Suffrage is the most discussed question of the season in the northern Adirondacks,” announced the New York Sun in July of 1915. While many local women joined the woman suffrage movement, it is not surprising that the suffrage campaign in Essex County was led by summer residents, mostly from cities. The Adirondacks have always been a major tourist destination and Essex County has always had a large summer population.
According to the Sun headline, the summer suffragists were "Carrying Suffrage's Message Into the Hills." With the influx of suffragists, regional newspapers made various claims. “Elizabethtown has become suffrage headquarters in the Adirondacks.” “Lake Placid is to be the suffrage center.” “Westport will become a center of the campaign to be waged throughout the Adirondacks this summer.”
My all-time favorite is the sub-head: “Equal Rights Speeches Will Compete with Fish Stories for First Attention.”
The promoter of this hub-bub in the 1910s was Katherine Notman of Keene Valley (and Brooklyn in the winter). She served as Vice–President of the New York State Suffrage Association, President of Suffrage for New York State District 11, and President of Suffrage for Essex County. She established the Suffrage Headquarters for Essex County at “Sunny Jim” in Keene Valley.
This amazing photo (above) shows suffragists preparing to canvass the Adirondack countryside for Votes for Women. The caravan was formed in front of Sunny Jim, a bright yellow house the Notmans had converted into a Dutch Colonial. Since the Notmans owned a separate summer house in Keene Valley, “Eagle Stoe,” and a camp at the Ausable Lakes, Sunny Jim was dedicated exclusively to suffrage activities from 1914-1917.
Every Friday afternoon, Katherine Notman held a Suffrage Tea at Sunny Jim. She also held a “suffrage school” two or three times a week to teach public speaking to women. In addition to canvassing door-to-door, the suffragists spoke to local women’s groups, such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and held auto rallies and street meetings. Under the direction of Notman, the suffragists conducted “a very successful booth at the County Fair at Westport,” too. They decorated the booth in suffrage “yellow” using golden glow and golden rod. Miss Bonnet Gaither of Lewis-Elizabethtown spoke every morning and afternoon, and a great number of people signed pledges favoring Woman Suffrage.
In an interview with the New York Tribune, Katherine Notman discussed the divide in class and culture between the groups she called the “summer people” from the cities and the “local” or “native” rural people. She explained that the city-bred suffrage campaigners considered the life of the local woman as “unreal and fantastic.” The country woman rose at 2am to make breakfast for her husband. She took care of the children and did all the housework, which included making bread and making most of the clothing and taking care of the gardens.
“These women are home bodies in the old-fashioned sense,” said Notman. Some of them had never heard of woman’s suffrage before Notman and her assistants came along, but they were “anxious to be awakened.” They are “fine and intelligent women,” she said.
Yet, Notman struggled to classify them. She began by saying, “They are home women, not working women.” Then she clarified that “great labor is done” by the country women. She followed that up by inserting her foot into her mouth, saying, “their husbands support them.” In desperation, she explained, “They are not working women in the sense of the 8,000 women who work in NY City and receive wages.”
According to Notman, the locals were quick to understand the conditions of the woman wage earner, and although the countrywomen had “no use for the vote,” they felt the patriotic desire to be of use to their sisters in the state of New York.
As for the men, Notman made a distinction between “the native mountaineer” and “the summer colony man,” whom were to be avoided because they would not take the suffragists seriously. The men who live and work in Essex County were a joy; “they are a surprising and unusual class” with a progressive attitude.
Notman believed the influx of city people in the summer had helped to make the “natives” more open to new ideas from those beyond the hills. Perhaps. More likely, the Grange had a strong influence. It was one of first organizations to admit women on the same footing as men and had been a supporter of New York suffrage since 1881. Why?
“The farmer’s wife has nobly done her work for the farm and the farming community, and the farmer is ready to show her justice by giving her a voice in the government. In the Grange, men and women work side by side. What better argument could we have for suffrage?”
Notman’s campaign was successful even though she did not fully understand the local women. Her service to the suffrage campaign in Essex County, in District 11, and in the state were invaluable. Although the woman suffrage proposal failed in New York State in 1915, the suffragists ramped up their efforts and in 1917, women won the vote in New York State.
As the federal amendment was being ratified by individual states in early 1920, the National American Woman Suffrage Association awarded Katherine Notman a place on the “Honor Roll” of brave women and men who “rendered distinguished service to the cause of Woman Suffrage in America.”