Westport Suffragists: Neighbors, Crusaders

The Westport Library’s new exhibit — “Westport Suffragists — Our Neighbors, Our Crusaders” — opened in early March.

A week later, the library shut down.

Along with so much else, COVID-19 has robbed residents of the chance to visit an inspired, inspiring tribute to an astonishing group of women who worked creatively and energetically for years. Finally a century ago, the passage of the 19th Amendment changed history.

Fortunately this is 2020 — not 1920. Thanks to the internet, anyone anywhere can see the Suffragists exhibit.

And everyone everywhere should.

Designed by the library’s Carole Erger-Fass, in partnership with town arts curator Kathleen Motes Bennewitz, the exhibit is broad and deep.

In text and photographs, it shows the women (in Westport and beyond) who pushed suffrage forward; the places in Westport where significant events took place, and the (long) timeline during which it all happened.

Who knew, for example, that the then-brand-new library at the corner of the Post Road and Main Street was an important meeting place for early suffragists?

The original Westport Public Library

The exhibit notes:

On January 27, 1912, the public library’s handsome oak-paneled hall was transformed into a political theater bedecked with American flags and purple, white and green suffrage banners. The occasion was the Tri-County Crusade for Votes run by the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association (CWSA). From January through March, the campaign held rallies at every town with trolley service—46 in all—across Fairfield, New Haven and Hartford counties.

Among the artists — the first wave of progressive people to live in Westport — fighting for a woman’s right to vote was Rose O’Neill. Known today as the creator of the Kewpie character, she was also an illustrator dedicated to women’s empowerment. She even used her Kewpies to send a message: “Give Mother the Vote.”

Lillian Wald

Lillian Wald is revered for her work building awareness of, and helping solve, pressing social ills like child labor and racial injustice. She founded the Henry Street Settlement and Visiting Nurse Service of New York, aiding thousands of immigrants. She also worked tirelessly in support of world peace and women’s full franchise.

In 1917 Wald came to Westport as a summer resident. When she retired, she moved full-time to a house on the pond across from Longshore. There she entertained a steady stream of guests, including Eleanor Roosevelt.

Sara Buek Crawford

O’Neill and Wald get their due in the library exhibit. But so does Sara Buek Crawford, a Westporter I’d never heard of. She was a leading suffragist — and, 20 years after the 19th Amendment was approved, she became the first woman in Connecticut ever elected to statewide office.

It’s all there — plus much more — in the Westport Library’s suffrage exhibit. Everyone — of every age, and both genders — should click on, and learn from it.

(Click here for the “Westport Suffragists: Our Neighbors, Our Crusaders” exhibit. Click here for information about more Westport Library exhibits and galleries.)

6 responses to “Westport Suffragists: Neighbors, Crusaders

  1. Judith Richmond

    I remember her well. She was a friend of my mother’s. I have a campaign button that says “Reelect Sara B Crawford” which I sometimes wear a election time just for fun.

  2. Fascinating. I just learned looking at the online exhibit that the Sheffer family came to Westport because of Ann Sheffer’s grandfather’s connection to Lillian Wald. So you might say Lillian Wald ultimately had a significant impact on life in Westport in multiple ways.

    Does anyone know exactly where Lillian Wald lived? Was her home on Owenoke? Or perhaps Mayflower Parkway or Round Pond Road (which would have made her a neighbor of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald)?

  3. This NY Times obituary says that Lillian Wald passed away at her home in Westport named “House-on-the-Pond.” https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1940/09/02/112759113.html?pageNumber=15

  4. Kathleen Bennewitz

    Thank you so much for posting on this new online resource that the Library developed from the exhibit, currently behind closed doors, and helping to share with the community how this WestportREADS 2020 exhibition collectively honors our strident suffragists and their local efforts to change the course of history for American women. Hopefully, the example of these crusading Westporters will inspire our neighbors today, women and men of all ages, to champion the WestportReads 2020 slogan “Our Vote, Our Future.”

  5. When I was a child I heard from my folks that Lilian Wald was a well known individual in her day due to her charitable endeavors, but I never got the full story, Thank you for this post, Dan. Now I know she was truely an amazing woman!