Today in Feminist History: The Progressive Woman Suffrage Union Opens Office in Manhattan (February 9, 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.

February 9, 1908: The Progressive Woman Suffrage Union opened its new 6 foot by 7.5 foot office at 63 West 14th Street in Manhattan to the press and public today.

An invitation being given out today for next week’s suffrage parade.

While the size of its second-floor headquarters may be modest, the ambitions of the group’s members are not. They used the occasion to announce a call for something unprecedented next Sunday: A parade of women in support of suffrage.

This first-of-its-kind event will begin in Union Square, then follow Fifth Avenue to Central Park, where if they can get some cooperation from police and the weather, there will also be speeches in the park at the end of the march. Regardless of the size of the parade, the Union’s members will be easy to spot, because they will be carrying a suffrage-yellow banner with “Votes for Women” inscribed on it. No one doubts that they’ll go through with their plan, because since December 31 they have been engaging in what many consider to be a quite bold activity by having women speak to crowds of men in the street at open-air meetings in Madison Square.

The Union’s headquarters, next door to a popular palm-reader, was filled to capacity during the reception. Admittedly, this was not hard to do, with people sharing the 45 square foot space with suffrage literature and a two-jet gas heater. Fortunately, none of the four visitors or five reporters had to wait outside because they all came at different times, and a member of the Union could step out to make room.

The group has no formal “leader,” but an Executive Committee composed of Anna Maley, Lydia Commander, Mrs. Boorum Wells, Maude Malone, Christine Roe Ross Baker and others. Wells said:

“But let not the public think too little of this movement because of its humble beginning. The beginning was made in England in even a smaller room than this. And now look at us over there! The parties are making advances to us to get our influence before they openly take up our cause. But we will make no alliances with political parties. Do men all join one party? They do not. They vote on different sides. So shall we. All we want is the right to vote. and we shall get it.”

Big ideas can originate in small places, so let’s hope that next week’s suffrage parade is a success, and will be followed by more and larger ones!

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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.