Today in Feminist History: Enthusiasm for Suffrage Runs High (April 17, 1894)

April 17, 1894: Victory for the woman suffrage movement—and then equal pay for equal work—must be rapidly approaching if today is any example of the growing momentum that’s now being generated in favor of our cause.

ILLUSTRATION: Lillie Devereux Blake, who spoke at a suffrage meeting earlier today.

There were two suffrage meetings in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn, with enthusiasm running high at all three. The largest meeting of the day was held at the home of Dr. Egbert Guernsey, 528 Fifth Avenue, with Lillie Devereux Blake as the principal speaker. She sees a direct connection between unequal pay and political inequality, and believes that women must become more militant on both fronts: “Woman is the great unpaid laborer …men would be running over each other to see that women had equal pay if they had the privilege of voting.”

Blake then noted that women should be true companions to men, so couples should discuss the important legislation of the day together, as equals. Especially critical are those bills that pertain to household issues: “Give us reason to be interested in these things and you will see that we understand them.”

John D. Townsend gave personal testimony that the suffrage campaign is being waged with all the vigor that anyone could hope for: “There is no doubt that woman will succeed in obtaining the amendment to the State Constitution which she seeks. You cannot go anywhere now but someone meets you with a woman suffrage petition and asks you to sign it – and every one does sign.”

However, Townsend called for tact in regard to lobbying the men who can put a suffrage referendum on the November 6th ballot as part of a package of Constitutional reforms to be put before the State’s voters: “I would suggest to the women that they deal very gently with the men who are going to the Constitutional Convention. Treat them well and feed them well. They will do everything in the way of right laws. If they do not, then will be the time to speak.”

Theodore Sutro received a round of applause when he said: “That women do not have the privilege of the ballot seems to me contrary to all ideas of justice in this free country. It is only in accordance with principles of logic – and I might say grammar – that the word ‘male’ should be stricken from the Constitution.” The New York State Constitution currently grants the right to vote to “every male citizen of the age of 21 years.”

The Brooklyn Woman Suffrage Association also held a well-attended meeting, and there was another pro-suffrage gathering in the home of the Torries, at 64 West 55th Street.

After over two generations of continuous struggle, woman suffrage – at least in New York State – could be only seven months away if a suffrage referendum is put on the ballot and a majority of the State’s male voters approve it. With such a victory in the nation’s most populous State, the largest State delegation in Congress would then be accountable to women voters, and could clearly be a major force in pushing the Susan B. Anthony (woman suffrage) Amendment through Congress. This proposed 16th Amendment to the Constitution would then be sent to the 44 States for ratification, with approval by 3/4 (33) needed. 

But even without a Federal amendment banning sex discrimination nationwide in regard to voting rights, this could be a landmark year for woman suffrage if the Empire State joins the States of Wyoming and Colorado in assuring equal suffrage for women. Just over five months ago, on November 7th, Colorado became the first State in which woman suffrage was won through a Statewide ballot referendum, rather than by an act of the legislature, so we now have proof that male voters can be persuaded to support “Votes for Women.”

Once the ballot, guaranteeing women’s political equality is secured, equal opportunity and pay in all professions can then be won. So though long overdue, the goal of political, legal and economic equality for women appears to be in sight, but certainly not attainable without a good deal more work, and the same level of dedication that has brought the movement for women’s equality this far, and already reformed many discriminatory laws.


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.