‘Banner county’ came from push
Editor’s note: This is the second of three parts. The first appeared May 30-31.
Elnora Monroe Babcock was perhaps the most monumental figure of the Political Equality Movement in Chautauqua County.
Babcock moved to the Dunkirk area from Pennsylvania with her husband, Professor John Babcock. In 1889, Elnora created the Political Equality Club of Dunkirk, and she was elected president. Due to the success of this organization during its first year, Babcock was elected as President of the Chautauqua County Political Equality Club, which held a reputation in the State of New York for organization and high levels of member participation. In 1891, the first Woman’s Suffrage meeting was held at the Chautauqua Assembly, at which Elnora M. Babcock presided. One of the guests of this Assembly was Susan B. Anthony, who dedicated her life to suffrage. Elnora M. Babcock reached out to the community in many ways to aid the campaign and a great many of her letters and correspondence were published in local newspapers. An issue of The Buffalo Evening News from 1901 contained a letter from Babcock (“A Few Suffrage Questions”) in which she questioned the reasons for discrimination against women. Babcock, one by one, refutes all possible claims against women’s suffrage, beginning with, “It cannot be her lack of intelligence, for in the United States more women can read and write than men.”
The greater levels of literacy among women would indicate that a woman might be more informed while placing a vote than the man beside her. She went on to say it could not be a lack of morals, for there were fewer women in jail than men. This indicated that women were making better choices concerning their communities than men at this time. Babcock wrote that it could not be a lack of physical power, because it does not take physical strength to cast a ballot. She suggested in fact, that men are suppressing women’s rights merely to preserve their own power and influence.
Most importantly, Babcock declared, “It cannot be because women do not want to vote, for there have been more petitions sent to the United States Congress and the various State legislatures asking for woman suffrage than all the other petitions combined, and furthermore, the women do vote at every election in the States where they have full suffrage in as great a proportion as do the men. The fact that some men do not vote is never made an argument why all men should be disenfranchised.”
In such writings, Elnora Monroe Babcock created a firm case for women’s suffrage, indicating that it was the only option to satisfy the rights of women, who were undeniably equal to men.
In an address at a Mayville Suffrage Convention, Elnora M. Babcock asserted, “We have just cause to feel proud of the work that has been done along these lines in the County, and the honor so justly accorded us of being the banner County of the U.S.”
In deeming Chautauqua County the “banner County” of the U.S., Babcock gave credit to the progress made in this small community. The collaboration of the many suffrage groups within the county is what enabled the strength and influence of the movement out of Chautauqua County.
Though Elnora Monroe Babcock played a key role in the Political Equality Movement on a local scale, Chautauqua County did not go unaffected by the leading women of the national movement. Susan B. Anthony participated frequently in Chautauqua County suffrage movement events. Anthony commented in her biography on the thousands of people that rallied at Cassadaga Camp for the discussion of women’s suffrage. Her description was quite grandiose, creating an image of a magnificently decorated amphitheatre where the suffrage campaign was discussed. Anthony also spoke at Chautauqua County Club meetings in Dunkirk and for the Chautauqua platform. The diary entry of Susan B. Anthony dated December 26, 1854 commented on the enthusiasm of the women present at the Chautauqua County Woman’s Rights Convention. In addition, an article published in an 1888 issue of the New York Times reports on Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton being guests at the Jamestown Political Equality Club. The brief article noted the rapid spread of Political Equality Clubs throughout the County by “women of the highest social standing.” The mere fact that women of such prominence in this movement visited a humble Chautauqua County supports the argument for the influence of the Political Equality Movement in Chautauqua County.
One of the many Chautauqua County Suffrage groups was the Women’s Suffrage Party of the First Assembly District, which was founded in Jamestown. This organization sought to, “aid all women of the United States to obtain their full rights of suffrage,” and also to “inform itself on problems of government in order that its members may use their new powers of citizenship to the greatest advantage of the town, city, county, and state and nation.” These objectives are so listed in the constitution of the organization, dated May 22, 1918. The meeting minutes begin March 10, 1914 and span to August 26 th 1918. Women’s suffrage was granted in New York State in 1917, and these minutes document the work of the women from the middle of the movement to the end. The business discussed in these meetings largely concerns administrative issues. Women often voted on financial matters, such as whether or not to tax clubs for use in campaign work, how much to charge for dues, and where to direct money that had been raised. These minutes reveal that the meetings were tremendously cooperative; each woman was allowed to voice her opinion. This reflects the larger sentiment of the organization as a whole, helping women to establish their own voice.
During these meetings, women would read correspondence sent from other organizations with the same goals. These letters not only helped the various organizations to stay in communication with one another, but also encouraged women to become better informed in areas of politics. On September 2, 1915, a letter was read from Mrs. Raymond Brown, the President of the New York State Suffrage Association in regard to the election of delegates at the Rochester Convention. This letter is one of the many read during meetings that expressed the cohesive interactions of the organizations throughout New York State towards the common goal. Women of the First Assembly District received political updates from surrounding districts such as Buffalo, and they hosted many women as visitors to sit in at their meetings. The women sent out delegates to various conventions, who then reported back. A 1916 report from Mrs. Haynes updated the club on “Press Work, Mrs. Sellstrono for Campaign Club, Mrs. Flitcher for City Committees and Mrs. A.S. Prother for P.E. Club.” Each woman had a different focus so each could adequately report back to the First Assembly District with updates from all organizations within the County. In November 1915, the women struggled to find ways to advance their cause, and it was suggested to form a City Convention composed of representatives from the First Political Equality Club and the Campaign Club to act as a central organization. Though at this specific time this fusion did not go through, smaller groups were regularly joining together in order to grow and to secure more power.
A second Suffrage Organization within Chautauqua County was the Kennedy Political Equality Club. Minutes from the Kennedy Political Equality Club are available at the McClurg Museum and Historical Society in Westfield, New York. This specific set of meeting minutes spans the dates 1881-1899. An entry from a meeting June 1897 noted, “A communication read from Miss Jeannie L Allen of Fredonia saying that an old lady in Lansingburg being much interested in “Woman’s Rights” and being desirous to help in a financial way had made a beautiful silk quilt — and wished to sell it — whereby she thought to raise $75 to $100, for the benefit of the state associations.” This is yet another representation of the way these organizations influenced members of the community to get involved with the movement, and in doing so, brought more financial support to the cause. The meeting minutes of the Kennedy Political Equality Club closely followed the structure of the Women’s Suffrage Party of the First Assembly District. The structure was as follows: roll call, approval of the minutes, reading of letters or articles, new business, discussion, and adjournment. The minutes of these meetings give the impression that they were highly organized and efficient in campaign work, publicizing material, and increasing membership.
Kathleen “Kate” Farrell graduated from SUNY Fredonia (2013) with a B.A. in history, and from the University of Buffalo Law School (J.D., 2016). Shecurrently resides in Boston, Mass. where she is an associate attorney with Melick & Porter.
This is an abridged version of the essay Kate wrote for her senior history honors seminar at Fredonia, which was published in “Nearby History: Tales of Chautauqua County” (2013). This essay is based on Elnora Babcock’s history of the Political Equality Movement in the Centennial History of Chautauqua County (1921), newspaper articles, and records of local suffrage organizations held at the McClurg Museum.