Today in Feminist History: Suffragists Speak Up for Women of Color

Today in Feminist History is our daily recap of the major milestones and minor advancements that shaped women’s history in the U.S.—from suffrage to Shirley Chisholm and beyond. These posts were written by, and are presented in homage to, our late staff historian and archivist, David Dismore.

February 6, 1910: Winning the battle for suffrage in New York State will benefit women of all races! That was the pledge made today by Alva Belmont in a speech to an audience gathered at the Mount Olivet Baptist Church on West 53rd Street, in Manhattan.

Invited to speak there by I. L. Moorman, President of the Negro Women’s Business League of New York, Belmont urged all her listeners to join with suffrage groups in the battle to strike the word “male” from the section of the New York State Constitution which grants voting rights to “every male citizen of the age of 21 years” who meets the standard length of residency requirements for their State, County and Election District. 

Belmont told her audience that: “Unless this cause means freedom and equal rights to all women, of every race, rich or poor, its doctrines are worthless, and it must fail in its achievements.”

PHOTO: Alva Belmont

Though giving credit to Washington, Lincoln and others for achieving partial victories in the fight for freedom, Belmont noted that: “The woman suffrage movement has higher aims than any that even the greatest of these men ever attained, for it demands the emancipation and freedom of all human beings – women and men of every race, creed and station.” In concluding her speech, she said: “As President of the Political Equality Association I extend to all present, both women and men, an earnest invitation to join my association.”

Helen Frances Garrison Villard, daughter of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, spoke as well, saying:

My father remarked, during the early days of the agitation against slavery, that there was still a mountain of prejudice to overcome. It is the same with the women’s suffrage movement today. But the public is getting more aroused every day over this agitation. They talk of women’s rights, I say that what we ask for are human rights!

Also in attendance today were Ella Hawley Crossett, President of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association, and Mrs. F. R. Keyser, President of the New York State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. At the conclusion of the speeches, about half of the 200 women in the audience said they would be accepting Belmont’s invitation to join the Political Equality Association, so it was quite a successful afternoon, and will certainly help produce the kind of united, diverse effort needed for victory in the nation’s most populous State!


David Dismore is the archivist for the Feminist Majority Foundation. His journey from would-be weather forecaster to full-time feminist began with the powerful impression made by a photo and a few paragraphs about the suffragists in his high school history textbook; years later, he had his first encounter with NOW—in which he carefully peeked in a window before opening the door to be sure men were allowed. He was eventually active in the ERA extension campaign of 1978, embarked on a cross-country bikeathon for it in 1982 and even worked for pioneers Toni Carabillo and Judith Meuli.