Today in Feminist History: Suffrage Conversation in New York (July 29, 1915)

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 29, 1915: A suffrage victory in New York State on November 2nd now seems assured if the results of today’s “Telephone Day” poll are an accurate representation of public sentiment.

This new campaign innovation – calling up voters to ask their views on suffrage – found 75% support for the upcoming “Votes for Women” referendum, and lifted the spirits of everyone at the headquarters of both the Empire State Campaign Committee and the New York State Woman Suffrage Party.

The calls weren’t just being placed in those two offices. All New York suffrage supporters were asked to call at least five people today. Since there are 100,000 members of the New York State Woman Suffrage Party alone, the volume of calls must have been considerable. 

High-ranking government officials were targeted by the more prominent suffragists. New York Mayor Mitchel assured Helen Reid that he would vote “yes,” and Controller Prendergast told Vera Boarman Whitehouse that he hoped women would win – though like the Mayor, he wouldn’t make a prediction as to the outcome.

Physicians were quite supportive. Dr. Frederick Peterson said:

“I believe in votes for women because I believe in votes for men, and because I believe in democracy. Let the men who will vote against woman suffrage next fall remember they are lining themselves up with the saloonkeepers, the divekeepers, the gamblers, the ward heelers, and all the dark forces of evil in civic life. These forces are arraigned against woman suffrage.” 

Dr. Pearce Bailey, a noted neurologist, assured his caller that he did not subscribe to the theory that women’s brains were inferior to those of men, and said that those who did believe such a myth should still vote for suffrage, because increased involvement in civic affairs would give women a chance to improve their brains. 

Of the twenty newspaper editors in the city, eighteen were reached. Fourteen were in favor, two uncertain, and two opposed. “Every sane editor should be for woman suffrage,” said Mr. McAlarney. Ogden Mills Reid, Editor of the Tribune, said: “Suffrage is bound to come throughout the country, and I hope it will be settled favorably in New York in the fall. Social conditions will be bettered when women vote, and the conditions for the average person will be improved.”

“I am for woman suffrage and I scarcely hear of any opposition,” said Kenneth Lord, the Sun’s City Editor. 

Among the clergy who said they strongly favored woman suffrage were Dean William Grosvenor of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and Rev. Dr. Thomas C. Hall of Union Theological Seminary, with other favorable responses received from many other religious leaders.

The Police Commissioner seemed to be the only man in the city afraid to talk to suffragists. After some hesitation, his caller was told he was “not there,” then “on vacation.” When the caller said she’d be glad to call him up wherever he was staying, the story changed to a “walking tour” somewhere. Though the Manhattan officers seemed cool, there was quite a warm reception to the survey at a station house in the Bronx.

Lavinia Dock, a veteran of General Rosalie Jones’ suffrage hikes, was on the phone as well. She called up a real estate office where local politicians are known to gather, and asked the man who answered the phone to poll the room. “Boys, what are you going to do for suffrage ?” he asked. “They say they will do everything in their power,” he told Dock

On top of all the positive responses from the people of New York, telegrams came in all day from numerous Mayors, former Mayors, and Governors in the West, where women vote in 11 States, and have done so for many years in some of them. All wished the suffragists here (as well as in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New Jersey) the best of luck in the four suffrage referenda coming up this fall. 

Kansas politicians were especially supportive. W. J. Babb, Mayor of Wichita from 1913-1914 said:

“None of the woes predicted by some as sure to follow in the wake of woman suffrage, such as breaking up the home and other dire disasters, have befallen the people of Kansas, but our homes remain intact and happy, as before, and Kansas is still prosperous and progressive.”

C. W. Green, presently the Mayor of Kansas City, said:

“For more than a quarter of a century Kansas women have voted at municipal elections. Municipal ownership, commission government, public improvements, and better schools resulted. In 1912 equal suffrage was made Statewide with resultant good. Prohibition and other good laws came indirectly from woman suffrage in cities.”

Governor Arthur Capper noted:

“Kansas gave her women school suffrage and liked it. Afterward she gave them municipal suffrage and liked it better. Afterward she gave them full suffrage and liked it best. Suffrage in Kansas has broadened women’s views of social life. It has centered her thoughts on home and its needs, and has given a new and beneficial influence in the life of the State. It has in no way detracted from her womanliness or her character, but has strengthened both. Kansas will never go back to the rule of all the people by part of them – the men.”

Empire State suffragists are now awaiting Election Day with vastly increased optimism and enthusiasm, and pronounced today’s experiment such a success that the telephone may become a regular part of the campaign.


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About

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.