Today in Feminist History: Harriot Stanton Blatch Leads the Way (July 10, 1908)

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.

July 10, 1908: Harriot Stanton Blatch and six young suffragists invaded Manhattan’s financial district earlier today, and had much better success with its inhabitants than they did with the police.

Harriot Stanton Blatch on the left, Rose Schneiderman on the right.

Before even arriving at the first stop, the one-vehicle automobile procession down Broadway attracted a good deal of attention as a small crowd of newsboys, messenger boys, and brokers’ clerks followed along behind the suffrage-yellow “Equality League of Self-Supporting Women” banner, held up by two of the machine’s passengers, attorneys Madeleine Zabriskie Doty and Helen Hoy.

When they reached Bowling Green Park, Blatch decided this was the perfect place to begin looking for converts. Telling the driver to park along the curb, then standing up in her seat, she said: “You will not come to our meetings, so we have decided to come to you. All we ask is your attention while we tell you what it is we want, and why we should have it.”

But a police officer then rode up on horseback and asked for Blatch’s permit to hold a meeting. She told him she didn’t think she needed one, as she had a right to free speech. The officer disagreed with the first, and to him the most relevant, part of her statement. Since her missionary zeal compelled a thorough exploration of this previously unpreached territory anyway, Blatch agreed to move on, still accompanied by newsboys, messengers, and clerks, plus a number of adults from the crowd. 

Going even farther south, the car eventually stopped in an alley near State and Pearl Streets, which soon became packed with listeners. This time it was 26-year-old Rose Schneiderman – in a pink dress, which the crowd definitely liked – who was chosen to do the speaking. Blatch kept an eye out for the law, and Florence Bradley distributed literature while Adelma Burd held up banners saying “Come, Let Us Reason Together,” and “Votes For Women.” 

After receiving a number of greetings from members of the audience, such as “Hello, Pinkie!” Schneiderman addressed the crowd, as well as many brokers in neighboring buildings who poked their heads out the open windows to listen. She began by saying:

“You say that men are far above women … (shouts of ‘Hurrah! Hurrah!’ from the crowd) … but we say that one is just as bad – I mean good – as the other, and therefore they should have equal rights in everything. Are the laws enforced in this country? No! You men have made a pretty bad job of it.”

The crowd seemed to agree on that last point, and shouted its approval.

Mary Coleman went next, but just as she said: “In this free or supposedly free Republic …” a man in one of the upper floors of a nearby building got out the megaphone he uses to call orders down to curb runners, and tried to drown her out with hoots and catcalls. This made the crowd get even noisier. But after a while Coleman was able to be heard above the din and said:

“Listen to me! You can hear hoots anywhere. Are things as they should be in this country? If they were, would we have [William Jennings] Bryan out in Denver declaring against all sorts of things? Would we have Socialists shouting out against our social order?”

She finished by saying: “All we women want you men to do is to take us out of our swaddling clothes and free our minds.”

Blatch then spoke, and asked her listeners if they knew ” … why we have the poorest city governments in this country of any civilized nation in the world?” Intuitively knowing the correct answer at this point, the crowd shouted along with her: “Because we don’t let women vote!”

The success of this rally, and absence of police, encouraged the invaders to push on, this time to the northeast. But they had apparently used up the day’s supply of good luck, as attempted gatherings in front of the New York World (Pulitzer) Building and at City Hall Park were immediately broken up by police. Still, it was quite an adventure, especially for the younger – but now a bit more experienced – members of the group. Though there are few “sure things” in the financial district, it’s a good bet that our advocates will be back to drum up support for the cause, with or without permits. 

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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.