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Women’s Suffrage at Woodlawn

August 2020 commemorates the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. The fight for this right, however, began more than half a century before the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Seneca Falls, NY was the home to the first women’s rights convention in the United States. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and a group of local Quaker women organized the meeting, “a convention to discuss the social, civic, and religious condition and rights of women.” The event was held on July 19 and 20, 1848 and, the first day, 300 women attended. The convention was only open to men on the second day. Lucretia Mott and Frederick Douglas were featured speakers. The convention featured a discussion on 11 resolutions on women’s rights and, if not for the conviction of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Frederick Douglas, suffrage would not have been included. Susan B. Anthony did not attend the Seneca Falls Convention. She and Elizabeth Cady Stanton would meet in 1851. The two fought alongside each other for suffrage from that point on.


 Woodlawn has a rich history or should we say “herstory” when it comes to suffrage. Elizabeth Cady Stanton is interred here, along with her daughter Harriot Stanton Blatch. In 1907, Harriot Stanton Blatch founded the Women’s Political Union, and in 1910 as leader of this group, Blatch organized and led the New York Suffrage Parade. In 1916, the Women’s Political Union merged with Alice Paul and Lucy Burns’ Congressional Union and became the National Woman’s Party.


Alva Belmont, interred in the beautiful Belmont Mausoleum at Woodlawn became active in Women’s Suffrage after the death of her second husband, Oliver Perry Belmont, in 1908, the first husband being, William K. Vanderbilt. Alva Belmont hosted the English suffragette Christabel Pankhurst to the US in 1914 for speaking engagements, and she was a financial supporter of Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party, becoming the president of that organization in 1921. Alva Belmont was also credited with the saying, “Pray to God. She will help you.” Although Alva spent her later years in France, she was buried at Woodlawn.


Carrie Chapman Catt was instrumental in securing the right to vote for women. Her interest in suffrage began in the 1880s when she joined the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association and then the National American Woman Suffrage Association. She was a gifted speaker and gave speeches nationwide and helped organize local suffrage chapters. In 1900, she was elected NAWSA president filling the seat vacated by Susan B. Anthony. Suffrage was passed during her second tenure as NAWSA president (1915-1920). She founded the League of Women Voters in 1920 to bring women into the political mainstream.


Mary Garrett Hay was chief assistant to Carrie Chapman Catt. Hay headed the NAWSA’s suffrage lobbying within the Republican Party and was the first woman to chair the Republican convention platform committee. She was chair of the New York City League of Women Voters. In addition, Hay was the much-needed financial backing of Alva Vanderbilt Belmont.


Frank Leslie of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper was also committed to the suffrage cause. There were two Frank Leslie’s however. Frank Leslie (1821-1880), was an English-born American engraver, illustrator, and publisher of family periodicals. Leslie came to the US in 1848 working first in Boston and then moving to NYC in 1853 where he engraved woodcuts for PT Barnum’s Illustrated News. He then began publishing Leslie’s Weekly, The Boy’s and Girl’s Weekly, and Frank Leslie’s Lady’s Magazine. Frank Leslie’s second wife was Miriam Folline Squier who was the editor of Frank Leslie’s Lady’s Magazine. Frank and Miriam undertook a lavish coast-to-coast train trip in 1877 and Miriam chronicled this trip in her book From Gotham to the Golden Gate. The cost of the trip along with a business depression left Leslie’s business in $300,000 debt at the time of his death in 1880. Miriam took control of the business and legally changed her name to Frank Leslie in order to run the business. She turned the business around and made herself a profit. Upon her death in 1914, she left her fortune of $3million to suffragist causes. She and her husband are interred at Woodlawn.


Woodlawn also preserves the legacies of other inspirational women including Celia Cruz, Madam CJ Walker, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, and Gertrude Ederle. We hope their stories inspire you too!

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