Editor’s note: This is the third of three parts.
As Elnora Monroe Babcock had mentioned, Chautauqua County was becoming the ‘banner county’ for the Political Equality Movement in the U.S.
Another reason behind Chautauqua County’s success in the Suffrage Movement was the liberal minded attitudes of the County’s greater population. Although the women’s suffrage movement sought to further the rights of women, many men of the area were also avid suffragists. C.R Lockwood of Jamestown was one man with close ties to the women’s suffrage movement. Stirred by the spirit of the local women, Lockwood opened up his Opera House to host meetings of the Chautauqua County Political Equality Club. At one convention, Lockwood opened with a “profound legal argument in favor of woman suffrage.”
However, the Chautauqua County Centennial History illustrates that while men may have supported the ideal of women having equal rights as men, some were hesitant to give women positions of “public trust or honor.” In 1889, for example, the women of Jamestown sought to place Mrs. N. Thompson and Mrs. Daniel Griswold on the school board to provide a better representation of women. In the face of opposition from leading local newspapers that stood against change to the school board, some men saw fit to support the Political Equality Club’s cause. The Morning News, a paper edited by Benjamin S. Dean, was one of the few to recognize the need for a change. Upon a successful election, The Jamestown Journal wrote, “The women had come to the front. They were going to show the men what they could do, and they did it.” Martha Fuller Procher, a local Suffragist and historian explained that, “strong men in both parties championed the women’s cause in Legislatures and political conventions and eventually the number of these became too large to be ignored.”
The support of men for the Political Equality Movement was crucial, since at this time, men were the only sex to have a political voice.
The voices, time, and signatures of women were consistently ignored and overlooked. Men such at Dr. J.T Williams of Dunkirk, Senator Vedder, Hon. W.C Glifford of the House, and Hon. J.T. Edwards in the Senate aided the Chautauqua County Club in securing the right for women to vote for County School Commissioners. Two years after this right was granted, it was declared unconstitutional by the Court of Appeals, further thwarting the efforts of the Chautauqua Club.
Delegates from Chautauqua County for the Constitutional Convention of 1894, Benjamin S. Dean and Louis McKinstry, voted and spoke for the interests of their local women. McKinstry of Fredonia offered his vote “for any of the propositions presented for equal suffrage, upon the plain principle of equitable right.” He further added, “I am best acquainted, that 90% of the male voters solicited, promptly placed their names upon the petition and very frequently with expressions of goodwill and Godspeed.” The second male delegate to the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin S. Dean, demanded that the convention recognize the intelligence and capability of the women of New York. Dean cited a census that reported only 6% of New York women remained illiterate; a minute percentage compared to the majority of knowledgeable, educated women. Both Dean and McKinstry, elected to represent Chautauqua County at the Constitutional Convention, proved to be staunch advocates of women’s suffrage. This representation of Chautauqua County demonstrates the advanced progressive attitude of the County by the late 1800s. Mrs. A S. Pratcher of Jamestown commented about the efforts of the men in the movement in 1894, “Perhaps this is an appropriate time to express the gratitude that is always in our hearts for the many, many men who unhesitatingly endorsed resolutions and petitions.”
Not all men were such keen advocates of granting Women’s Suffrage. Honorable Judge Lorenzo Morris of Chautauqua made remarks in Congress on the topic of the Fifteenth Constitutional Amendment. March 14, 1869, Morris opened his speech with, “the safety of New York, nay, the existence of New York, depends on the power of a majority of its honest, intelligent, patriotic citizens to regulate its suffrage. To surrender this right is no more, no less than State suicide. This remark, of course, concerns the vote for African Americans. However, securing the vote for African Americans was a political necessity on the path towards women’s suffrage. African American Suffrage was granted in 1870, a mere nineteen years before Elnora Babcock created the Political Equality Club of Dunkirk. The opposition African Americans faced as they sought suffrage was largely comparable to the opposition women faced. In an essay, Thomas Allen of Massachusetts wrote that upon securing the vote, women “grow bitter, aggressive, and antagonistic, liking the excitement of campaigning and finding their natural, proper duties “flat, stale, and unprofitable.” He added that, “Speaking from platforms and being constantly in the public eye, does not improve women.”
Still, these stale viewpoints did little to deter the overall movement, as Chautauqua County was predominantly liberal. The Chautauqua Suffrage Convention held Aug. 8 and 9, 1892, hosted Dr. Buckley, a local anti-suffragist. Elnora Babcock explained, “The management at Chautauqua arranged for addresses upon the pro and con of women suffrage by Rev. Anna H. Shaw and Dr. J.T. Buckley respectively. Each address was prepared upon the merits of the question irrespective of what the other might say. The enthusiasm that followed the address of Miss. Shaw and the absence of the same at the close of Dr. Buckley’s address told plainly on which side the audience stood.” The applause and warm regard that followed Anna Shaw, a suffragist, is clearly distinguished from the little response given to Dr. Buckley- indicating that the majority of people in attendance were in favor of women’s suffrage.
Women’s suffrage was granted to the state of New York in 1917. For the Nation, universal suffrage was at last granted in 1920, and “Twenty-six million women voted in the presidential election of 1920.” The national success of the suffrage movement would not have been possible without the cohesion of small local groups throughout the country. New York State, specifically, was particularly influential in securing universal women’s suffrage. National leaders such as fellow New Yorkers Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony kept the suffragists of New York State involved and motivated. Within Chautauqua County itself, Elnora Monroe Babcock was committed to seeing the cause grow and succeed. Babcock not only served as the first President of the first countywide Political Equality Club in New York, she also travelled and published material in other locations in her fight for the enfranchisement of women. The fight for women’s suffrage took place during a period when it was difficult to communicate the importance of such a progressive campaign on such a large-scale. It was the local organizations such as the Kennedy Political Club and the Woman’s Suffrage Party of the First Assembly District of Jamestown that were able to recruit numbers of women, publish literature, and hold conventions to spread the word about women’s suffrage throughout the county, then the state, then the country. The liberal attitudes that prospered in Chautauqua County allowed the population of both men and women to organize around the women’s suffrage campaign in support of national women’s rights. Chautauqua County had proven itself to be a hub of progressivism after the success of the Grange, the W.C.T.U, and the Political Equality Clubs. If one or more of the contributing factors were to have been absent, the Political Equality Movement might not have seen such success on a national scale. In order for a movement of such significance to prosper and thrive, several factors are required. There needs to be a coalition of strong leaders, a supportive community, progressive attitudes, and strategic actions. Chautauqua County possessed these features, and the county used them to its ultimate advantage, and the ultimate advantage of the National Movement. Through local efforts and attitudes, national progress was made.
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.
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