March 14, 1916: The resilience of the suffrage movement was never more in evidence than today. Just over four months since the biggest setback in its 68-year history–when suffrage referenda in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts went down to defeat–the campaign is back on track.
Today, the Assembly of the nation’s most populous state, New York, voted to put another woman suffrage referendum on the ballot, and not by a razor-thin margin but an overwhelming vote of 109 to 30. Though the state Senate must still consent, and the Senate Judiciary Committee is blocking the bill, vigorous lobbying of legislators and large public protests are expected to dislodge it. With passage, all energies can be turned toward working for a victory in 1917.
Assemblymember Harry E. Brereton, co-author of the bill, opened the debate by saying that the New York legislature owed it to the thousands of voters who endorsed woman suffrage, and to the women as well, to put the question on next year’s ballot again. He immediately ran into a storm of protest from antisuffrage colleagues. Assemblymember Martin McCue called resubmission “an insult to the voters of this state” and suggested that the suffragists might wait a while. Socialist Assemblymember Abraham Shiplacoff, a supporter of suffrage, then asked how long they should wait. “Oh, about 5,000 years,” said O’Hare, of Queens, joining the debate.
Mr. Welch of Albany viewed the resolution as “nothing more than an attempt to heckle the voters,” even though other issues that went down to defeat in November were already approved for the 1917 ballot. Mr. Pratt then began to recite the familiar maxim “If at first you don’t succeed …” at which point the entire body loudly intoned “Try, try again … .” The vote was finally called, and one by one the members of the Assembly gave their votes and their reasons for support or opposition.
Assemblymember Bush’s statement of conditional approval gave evidence of just how intense the lobbying had been:
I’m going to vote for this, because the majority of my constituents want it. But I want to serve notice right here that if these women keep pestering me around this Capitol, it’ll be the last time I’ll vote for the resolution.
As might be expected, there was great cheering and waving of flags in the galleries when the final vote was announced. With this battle won, the two hundred suffragists immediately went to camp out in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s room. After waiting several hours, they learned that the room was empty and that members had gone out a side door to a hearing. They patiently waited two and a half more hours until the hearing was over. At 6 p.m. it was announced that there would be no action on the bill today, and Vira Boarman Whitehouse of the New York State Woman Suffrage Party climbed up on a chair to announce that there would be a mass meeting at Cooper Union to protest the delay.
There was a great cheer from the other suffragists, followed by another example of their persistent lobbying: One member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Alfred Gilchrist, was cornered by a group of “Votes for Women” advocates while attempting to make his way down the crowded halls to his office. When his explanation for the delay proved inadequate, one member of the group asked “What’s your name?” “Gilchrist, Madam,” he replied. “Where are you from ?” she asked. “Kings [County],” he said. “Thanks, Mr. Gilchrist of Kings. We have got your number,” she said solemnly while writing on a pad.
Most observers expect the bill to pass the Senate as well, and if so it will certainly be signed by Governor Charles Whitman, whose wife was among the suffragists lobbying here today. Then, building on the base of 533,348 votes won during the 1915 campaign, it will hopefully be on to a major victory in New York that will provide enough momentum to get Congress to pass the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. When ratified by 36 of 48 states, the amendment will enfranchise women nationally–and what a great day that will be!
Photo of New York governor Charles Whitman, whose wife was a suffragist, from Wikimedia Commons