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Assembly welcomed suffragist movement

Susan B. Anthony is in the front row left of the center.

Spiritualism and women’s rights were early mutual supporters of each other as they shared leadership, stages, and audiences across the country. As the issue and debates of voting rights for women began to spread throughout the country, Spiritualists became one of the predominant means for the dispersion of women’s rights advocacy across America.

Marian H. Skidmore first invited the Suffragists to meet at the Lily Dale Camp in 1887, and for the following yearly “Woman’s Day,” most of the prominent “Women’s Rights” advocates appeared on the platform, with Susan B. Anthony, the Rev. Anna Shaw (1891) and Isabella Beecher Hooker (1892) serving as guest speakers.

The grand lady of the Woman’s Suffrage movement, Anthony, made her first public appearance at Lily Dale in 1891. As reported by The Jamestown Post-Journal, “… Susan B. Anthony, with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, decided to visit Chautauqua Institution in the interest of the founding of the National Women’s Suffrage Institution. Upon their arrival in Chautauqua, the feeling was so great it was decided that no meeting could be held there. As the result, the ladies came over the hills to Lily Dale where they held their meeting.”

So emotion filled was the event at Lily Dale that Miss Anthony herself wrote about that special first day. “People came from far and near. Finally three thousand were assembled in that beautiful amphitheater, decorated with yellow, the suffrage color, and the red, white and blue. There hanging by itself, was our national flag, ten by fourteen feet, with its red and white stripes, and in the center of the blue corner, just one golden star, Wyoming, blazing out along. (Wyoming was the first state to recognize woman’s suffrage.)

Every cottage in the camp was festooned with yellow, and when at night the Chinese lanterns were lighted on the plazas, it was gorgeous as any Fourth of July celebration, and all in honor of Woman’s Day and her coming freedom.”

A photo from one of the Lily Dale gatherings.

Miss Anthony returned the following year for Woman’s Day. The Post-Journal reported that: “All seats were filled and aisles jammed with people. Women were out in full force, but many brought along their husbands, brothers and fathers, so there was a fine complement of men present, … and no boos.”

In the summer of 1894, New York state held a convention to revise its Constitution and Miss Anthony again spoke at Lily Dale during the camp’s season. Women suffragists had been lobbying as early as 1887 to participate in this Convention in order to support an amendment that would grant women in New York the right to vote. At the request of suffragists, both Gov. David B. Hill (1887) and Governor Roswell Flower (1892) recommended that women be allowed to sit as delegates at the Constitutional Convention. On multiple occasions, prominent New York suffragists such as Anthony and Mary Seymour Howell addressed the state legislature to promote the right of women to serve as constitutional delegates. The legislature’s final bill reflected the efforts of these suffragists. It provided that any citizen over the age of 21 — man or woman — was eligible to be elected as a delegate. However, the women’s victory was fleeting — only one woman was even nominated as a delegate. Democrats, a small minority in her district, chose Jean Brooks Greenleaf.

Undaunted by this setback, women’s rights activists proceeded with their plans to seek a suffrage amendment to the State constitution. By the end of 1893, they had devised a plan of work for a massive campaign in New York State. The campaign was designed to show New York state citizens’ overwhelming popular support for the suffrage amendment.

Appeals from suffragists to their supporters yielded $10,000 for the campaign. In order to use this money to the best advantage, the campaign’s committee worked out of the Rochester, home of Anthony and her sister, Mary, who was the campaign’s corresponding secretary. The committee, along with numerous clerks, worked tirelessly from December 1893 to July 1894, “sending out thousands of letters, petition blanks, leaflets, suffrage papers, etc.” They also planned mass meetings for all of the state’s sixty counties.

Women all over the state received the petition forms and canvassed their neighborhoods to secure signatures. By the time of the convention, suffragists had amassed more than 332,000 names in support of the amendment. This was in sharp contrast to the 15,000 signatures collected by the anti-suffragists, or “Remonstrants,” as they called themselves. The petition drive was bolstered by the mass meetings, where speakers included such locally and nationally prominent suffrage leaders. Anthony, now 74 years old, spoke in every single county.

Other campaign work included the collection of statistics showing women’s responsibility as taxpayers in the State. This was done in order to support the suffragists’ assertion that women, like their colonial forbearers, were subjected to “taxation without representation.”Statistics amassed for three-fifths of the state outside of New York City indicated that women property holders paid taxes amounting to over $348 million. The suffrage women of Chautauqua, including Lily Dale, added 13,993 names to the petition in addition to the 1,500 names secured by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. The canvass for these names revealed the there were 4,627 women in the county paying taxes on $4,618,655 of real estate and on $532,912 of personal property.

The Convention assembled on May 8, 1894 in Albany. Its president, Joseph H. Choate, appointed a committee in charge of suffrage amendments. Suffragists were appalled to find that the men on this committee were generally opposed to the idea of women’s suffrage. Suffragists nevertheless proceeded with their campaign to convince the Convention to grant New York women the right to vote. During the course of the convention, the petitions were presented. One eyewitness describes the event as such:

“The names were enrolled on pages of uniform size and arranged in volumes, each labeled and tied with a wide yellow ribbon and bearing the card of the member who was to present it….Often one after another would present a bundle of petitions until it would seem as though the entire morning would thus be consumed. They were all taken by pages and heaped up on the secretary’s table, where they made an imposing appearance. Later they were stacked on shelves in a large committee room. “

A number of women’s suffragists were invited to speak to the suffrage committee throughout the course of the Convention. Anthony and Jean Brooks Greenleaf, president of the State’s suffrage association, spoke on May 24. Suffragists from New York City addressed the committee on May 31, and on June 7, representatives from the state’s senatorial districts were each allowed five-minute speeches. One of these representatives was Mary Lewis Gannett, and Jean Brooks Greenleaf presided at the meetings.

On June 28, 1894, the final hearing in favor of suffrage featured Wyoming Sen. Joseph M. Carey, W.C.T.U. representative Mary T. Burt, and Mary Seymour Howell. Suffrage hearings were followed by a hearing given to the “Antis,” or anti-suffragists, on June 14, 1894.

At the conclusion of the hearings, the Convention’s suffrage committee wrote a report in opposition to the women’s suffrage amendment. Discussion on this report, held from Aug. 8 to 14, 1894, was attended by large numbers of suffragists. Following the discussion, the Convention voted on the suffrage amendment. Ninety-eight opposed it, while 58 voted in its favor.

The Albany headquarters of the campaign in favor of women’s suffrage closed the day after the vote. Although suffragists had lost the battle, they did not regret the work or the money they had expended. Anthony took little time to mourn the loss.

By September 1894, she, along with Greenleaf and others, appeared yet again to plead the cause of women’s suffrage — this time before the Republican and Democratic State Conventions. The fight for women’s suffrage continued, culminating with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment on August 18, 1920. Interestingly, this Amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1878 by California Sen. Aaron A. Sargent.

Today, the Lily Dale Museum in Lily Dale features the Susan B. Anthony women’s suffrage exhibit, noted as one of the best women’s rights displays in the country. The museum, housed in an 1890 one-room schoolhouse, also exhibits photos, artifacts and memorabilia from the founding of Lily Dale as a center for Spiritualism and from the first days of the Spiritualist movement. The grounds welcome all visitors, regardless of sex, gender, race, color, or creed, as is the tradition of Lily Dale.

Bob Reuther is a Lily Dale resident.

Here in Chautauqua County, the Woman’s Suffrage movement had a strong platform at Lily Dale.

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