Tag Archives: women’s suffrage

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.)

Friday Flashback #26

Last month’s Women’s March on Washington was quite an event. It drew dozens of Westporters — some of whom had never participated in anything like it before. They returned home excited, energized and empowered.

Just imagine how the women of the Westport Equal Franchise League felt, when they participated in Suffrage Week activities right here in 1913.

Kathie Motes Bennewitz — the town art curator and cultural historian who unearthed all this information — provides a clipping from the Bridgeport Evening Farmer of November 13 of that year. It says:

A meeting of the Westport Equal Franchise League was held at the home of Mrs. Rose Barrell on Myrtle avenue yesterday afternoon. The final arrangements for the Suffrage Week which will be held next week was made. The first gun of the week will be fired on Sunday evening when the Rev. K. McKenzie will address the gathering at Holy Trinity church at 7:30 o’clock. On Monday a rally and parade will be held which will be followed by addresses.

The parade will form at the corner of Myrtle avenue and Main street and will march to the Square. A brass band has been secured and it is expected that a large number of women will be in line. After the parade a rally will be held at which the following will give addresses: The Wage Earning Women, Mrs. E. Gregory of South Norwalk; The Necessary of Mother’s Vote, Mrs. Robert Fuller; Probation Work by Mrs. D. O. Parker of Greenwich, who at present is probation officer of that town; Taxation Without Representation, Mrs. Rose Barrell. The other speakers of the evening will be Mrs. G. C. Brown, Mrs. Rufus Putney and others.

How did the parade and rally go?

We don’t know. There was no follow-up report.

However, Kathie did find out that the Westport Equal Franchise League — to support women’s right to vote — had been formed a year earlier, in March 1912.

And Kathie learned that the 1913 Suffrage Week events in Westport were part of a national movement, kicked off by a parade in Washington, DC.

The women's suffrage parade marches down Pennsylvania Avenue on March 3, 1913. The National Park Service did not offer a crowd estimate.

The women’s suffrage parade marches down Pennsylvania Avenue on March 3, 1913. The National Park Service did not offer a crowd estimate.

The Westport Equal Franchise League kept going. The participated in the Hartford Suffrage Parade on May 2, 1914.

Six years later, the 19th Amendment — giving women the vote — became the law of the land.

A poster for the Hartford suffrage event. Westport women participated.

A poster for a Hartford suffrage event.