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The Suffrage Movement in America

The 19th amendment which gave women the right to vote in America was ratified in 1920. What may not be generally realized is that the movement to give women the right to vote took over 80 years to reach fruition. The Suffrage movement began in 1840’s. The efforts were inspired by similar efforts in Europe, and initially organized regionally. In 1848, the regionally organized Seneca Falls Convention, the first women's rights convention, passed a resolution in favor of women's suffrage, albeit not unanimously.  Over the next 80 years, the movement would go through many changes – from regional groups to nationally organized groups, from discussion to protest, from an elitist cause to a movement that engaged working women and socialites alike. Like any campaign that spans this amount of years – there were points of disagreement and division. The energy behind the movement ebbed and flowed, as the original leaders of the movement aged and new leaders emerged.

In 1878, Senator Aaron A. Sargent, a friend of Susan B. Anthony, introduced into Congress a women's suffrage amendment. It took more than forty years, however, for that amendment to become the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, with no changes made to its wording. Meanwhile, the fight for woman’s voting rights was having some success on the regional level. Women were granted suffrage in Utah in 1870, Colorado in 1893, Idaho in 1896, Washington in 1910, California in 1911, Oregon, Kansas and Arizona in 1912; and Illinois in 1913.  Some states allowed women to vote in school elections, municipal elections, or for members of the Electoral College. Some territories, like Washington, Utah, and Wyoming, allowed women to vote before they became states.

The social changes in the late 1800’s aided the woman’s movement. Strangely, the adoption of bicycles, which gave woman new found freedom, raised the consciousness of Americans that women had a place that extended beyond the home.

Women’s suffrage was a movement across the world, not just in America. Women were granted the right to vote in New Zealand in 1893. The suffrage efforts in England were militant and well observed in America.

The social changes, regional adoption of woman’s voting rights, and the broader worldwide backdrop of woman’s activism shifted the social consciousness and inspired new American Suffragists to National action.

New York Suffrage

Although the Seneca Falls Convention was the first women’s rights convention to pass a resolution for woman’s suffrage, it would take a long time for New York State to ratify that right. It is clear from this 1915 poster (1) that the adoption of woman’s suffrage was happening in the western territories and states at a much faster pace than in the more entrenched east coast. In 1917, New York finally joined other states in granting women the right to vote.

In 2017, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the New York Vote, the Historical Society of Islip Hamlet decided to explore our local history and the part, if any, our town had in women’s suffrage. We didn’t have to look very far. One of our prominent citizens, Louisine Waldron Havemeyer, proved to be a treasure that we were honored to introduce to Islip residents who didn’t know her history. It is fitting in this year, the centennial of the New York vote, that we celebrate her great contribution to women’s suffrage.

Louisine Elder was born in New York City on July 28, 1855 to parents, George and Matilda Elder. George was a successful wholesale grocer merchant and partner with his father in George Elder & Sons. George died when Louisine was 18 years old. Shortly after his death, the family travelled to Europe for a three year stay. It was during this stay that Louisine displayed her ability to be an independent thinker and a woman who would push the status quo and champion future change. After Louisine was introduced to Mary Cassett, artist, and under Mary’s mentorship, Louisine began to hone her tastes in art and purchased what would be the first of many acquisitions of Impressionist Masters – a pastel by Degas.

Louisine came by her desire for social change early in her life. Her mother was interested in the suffrage cause and was friends with pioneers in the movement. Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Burns were familiar to the young Louisine. Later, in Paris, Louisine became a friend and roommate to Mrs. Harriot Stanton Blatch, daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. (3)

Louisine married Henry O. Havemeyer on August 22, 1883. (See Additional Note regarding Henry O. Havemeyer) Although Louisine was not an active Suffragist campaigner till after her husband’s death, Henry did support suffrage and encouraged Louisine to support the suffrage cause. "If a woman does not know how to vote, she’d better get busy and learn" he said. (4)

Louisine would pair her two interests, suffrage and art, and loan a large piece of her collection to an "Exhibition for Suffrage Cause" in April 1915. It was the only time Louisine allowed her collection to be viewed collectively (5), and speaks to her deep commitment to further the Suffrage Cause. Louisine agreed to speak about her art collection, the only time she spoke publically about it, allowing the cause to charge five dollars for entry into these talks, raising needed money. Her financial contributions alone are impressive, but Louisine did more than help finance the suffrage cause. Louisine became an active campaigner and speaker.

Louisine was often photographed at rallies, giving speeches and carrying what would be coined the "Liberty Torch", a piece of campaign publicity created by Mrs. Blatch. This torch, a replica of the torch of Lady Liberty was not immediately pleasing to Louisine. It was thrust upon her prior to a speaking tour in upstate New York. However it proved to be an inspiration. Louisine wrote "I lifted the torch as high as I could and for once I did not have to think – the words came to me as if by inspiration" (6).

Louisine became a Suffrage speaker of National reputation. Initially reluctant, Louisine became a recognizable and effective communicator for the movement. Although Louisine was an active speaker, and host of fund raising salons, she laughingly said "no picketing and no prison for me. I don’t like the thought of either."(8). But when Miss Paul called on her to take part in a demonstration in Washington, Louisine agreed. What courage it must have taken to engage in this level of protest for a women who was a grandmother, and a gentlewoman!

It was to be the last demonstration before the Republican Congress passed the 19th amendment. It was the only demonstration in which Louisine would participate. In probably one of the most notable public acts of protest, the National Women’s Party descended on Washington, marched onto Pennsylvania Avenue, and burned the effigy of Woodrow Wilson, who at the time of the protest would not support suffrage.

Louisine’s participation in this act of protest resulted in her imprisonment. The imprisonment of women was well covered in the newspapers of the time. The country was incensed by the prior imprisonment in Occuquan, a place that was deemed "unfit" for prisoners. As Louisine wrote "the great club of publicity was in our hands and we were only waiting for an opportunity to brandish it". (9) Louisine was arrested with twenty-eight other women *1. She was given a sentence of five days, of which she served one, and paid the balance of her fine in lieu of her remaining days. Her stay in prison was brief, but to the chagrin of her family, well documented – making headlines in New York newspapers on Feb 11, 1919. Despite the family turmoil, her immediate family supported Louisine and within a week she was headed back to Washington to join the Prison Special, a train occupied by 29 women (for the number of women arrested) for a transcontinental campaign for the vote. The Prison Special transversed the country, stopping in states whose congressmen and senators could be won over, or states in which constituents needed to be ignited to the cause. The twenty nine day publicity tour was certainly one of the best covered, most effective efforts of the National Women’s Party.

The 19th amendment, which granted women the right to vote, was passed by Congress on June 4, 1919, and ratified on August 18, 1920.

Louisine Waldron Havemeyer

Louisine Havemeyer, Harris & Ewing, 1919 (2)
Louisine Havemeyer, holding the Suffragist “Torch of Liberty” (7)

Louisine Waldron Havemeyer died on January 6, 1929. She bequeathed a large portion of her art collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. She was an activist, a feminist, and a social benefactor who has earned her place in history through her words and actions.


*1 – Thirty Nine women were taken into custody that day. However after twenty nine women were sentenced, the judge grew weary of the process and the remaining women were released. I chose to use the number cited by Louisine in her accounting of events in Scribner’s Magazine, June 22 "the Prison Special". The NY times recorded 28 women arrested in an article published Feb 11, 1915. The book Jailed for Freedom by Doris Stevens, first published in 1920, records the number of women arrested that day at 26.

Additional Note:

Henry (Harry) O. Havemeyer solidified his fortune in the sugar business. He formed and led the Sugar Trust, a merger of sugar refining companies operating in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and New Orleans. His principle residence was in New York City, but his summer residence would be Islip. Inspired by other summer communities such as Tuxedo Park, Harry conceived a "little colony…an advanced social experiment, on a co-operative plan, entitling each participant to a voice" (10). The general plan for Bayberry Point was ready by 1897. Construction was begun in 1899 and lasted about 18 months. By the spring of 1901, Havemeyer and his family was ready to move into his new home. Although Bayberry Point was not the success Harry hoped, almost all the houses were rented by family and friends by 1907. (11)

  1. Title: Vote for the Woman Suffrage Amendment; Author: Unknown; Date:1915; Location: Cornell University Library, Division of Rare & Manuscript Collections: Persuasive Cartography: The PJ Mode Collection; Accession Number 1177.01; Public Domain

  2. Title: Havemeyer, Louisine Elder. Suffragette; Creator(s): Harris & Ewing, photographer; Date Created/Published: 1919; Medium: 1 negative : glass ; 5 x 7 in. or smaller; Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-hec-12065 (digital file from original negative);Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication; Call Number: LC-H261- 30261-A [P&P];Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA ; Notes: Title devised based on unverified caption data received with the Harris & Ewing Collection. Gift; Harris & Ewing, Inc. 1955; Format: Glass negatives; Collections: Harris & Ewing Collection; Part of: Harris & Ewing Collection (Library of Congress); Bookmark This Record:    Collection link

  3. Scribner Magazine, May 1922,  “The Suffrage Torch”, Louisine Havemeyer, pg 528

  4. Ibid., pg 529

  5. Ibid., pg 529

  6. Ibid., pg 534

  7. Scribner Magazine, May 1922, pg 533, photograph created by Underwood & Underwood

  8. Scribner Magazine, June 1922,  “The Prison Special”, Louisine Havemeyer, pg 663

  9. Ibid., pg 666

  10. Along the Great South Bay, Harry W. Havemeyer,  ISBN 0-8488-1736-2, pg 230

  11. Ibid., pg 231

New York Today: A Century of Women Voting
Click here to read a New York Times article about Louisine...
November 24, 2017 - Marker Dedication at Bayberry Point Park
In attendance (L-R):
Catherine Havemeyer, Tanya Thomas, Eugenie and Harry Havemeyer, Ann Havemeyer and Linden Havemeyer Wise