Tag Archives: 19th amendment

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.)

WestportREADS: Library Celebrates 100 Years Of Women’s Suffrage

The United States has never had a female president.

Then again, 101 years ago women were not allowed to vote.

As the nation celebrates the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment — women’s suffrage was ratified in 1920 — the Westport Library joins in. A year-long series of events looks back on that then-controversial decision.

They’ll also examine the current voting landscape. A century after half the country finally joined participatory democracy, our country grapples with issues like voter suppression, and the security of our ballots.

The library’s programs are part of its first-ever year-long WestportREADS initiative. Formerly a one-month event, it’s now expanded into a full campaign: “Westport Suffragists — Our Neighbors, Our Crusaders.”

More than a year ago, Westporters Lucy Johnson and Marcia Falk asked  director Bill Harmer if the library could note the upcoming 19th Amendment anniversary.

He embraced the idea, and suggested it fall under the WestportREADS umbrella. The program encourages the entire community to read the same book, and organizes events around that theme.

Last fall’s kickoff featured journalist Elaine Weiss. She discussed her book “The Woman’s Hour,” a riveting account of the far-harder-than-it-should-have-been political and social drive to pass the amendment.

The next book event focuses on fiction. On Tuesday, March 3 (7 p.m.), Kate Walbert welcomes Women’s History Month with a discussion of “A Short History of Women.”

Her novel explores the ripples of the suffrage movement through one family, starting in 1914 at the deathbed of suffragist Dorothy Townsend. It follows her daughter, watches her niece choose a more conventional path, and completes the family portrait with a great-granddaughter in post-9/11 Manhattan.

The battle for suffrage was long and hard.

But that’s only part of the WestportREADS schedule.

Here are just a few other events:

  • The League of Women Voters tells its story (February 9, 1:30 p.m., Westport Woman’s Club)
  • “Battle of the Sexes” video, about the groundbreaking tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs (February 18, 2 p.m., Westport Library Komansky Room)
  • Opening reception for an exhibit on Westport women central to the suffrage movement (March 6, 6 p.m., Westport Library Sheffer Room)
  • Talk about Lillian Wald, social activist and founder of the Henry Street Settlement who retired to Westport (March 18, 7 p.m., Westport Library Forum).

Lillian Wald: social justice warrior, and Westporter.

Authors, historians and journalists will present other panels and exhibits through August. That month — marking final ratification of the 19th Amendment (you go, Tennessee!) — WestportREADS sponsors a final, big program. Details will be announced soon.

Working on this project has been enlightening, Johnson says.

“The fight for suffrage began long before the 20th century,” she notes. “It took a long time. But without television, the internet or social media — through sheer will and determination, with marches and lobbying, state by state — people got it done. It was an amazing feat.”

The library has partnered with the League of Women Voters. Representatives will be at every event, to enroll new voters.

All women are encouraged to register.

All men, too.

(For more information on the “Westport Suffragists” WestportREADS program, click here.)