Pennant from the 1914-1915 Woman Suffrage movement
York County suffragists led strong organized campaign to gain vote
We will mark the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution this June. Before that women and men all over the country had spent years trying to get individual states to allow women to vote. By 1914, woman suffrage was in effect in only 11 states, virtually all newer western states. So the push was on in the east, including in Pennsylvania. Thanks to a substantial woman suffrage file at the York County History Center, most of which was donated by local leader Anna Dill Gamble, we can follow the local suffragists in their 1914-1915 campaign. My recent York Sunday News column on that effort is below. I will be also sharing some related incidents in future blog posts.
The 1914-1915 York County campaign for woman suffrage
Anna Dill Gamble was undoubtedly one of the most organized and capable leaders to ever grace York County. I have written before about her outstanding civic and religious involvement, including attending the 1932 Geneva Disarmament Conference as a representative of the National Council of Catholic Women. Another column reported her success heading up the local Liberty Garden movement during World War I, getting citizens to raise $130,000 (in 1918 dollars) worth of extra food in the city of York alone. Last year I outlined how she and fellow local suffragists orchestrated the travels of the Justice Bell, a full size brass replica of the Liberty Bell with “establish justice” added to the inscription, through York County communities large and small in support of woman suffrage.
This year marks the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, finally granting voting rights to American women from coast to coast. It is a good time to recap the tireless, albeit unsuccessful, campaign a few years earlier to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution for the same purpose.
By 1914, women were allowed the vote in only 11 states, almost all in the West. Women all over the United States believed they deserved that privilege, and the choice to change state constitutions to allow universal suffrage was scheduled to be on the ballots in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts in November 1915.
In November 1913, the Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association asked Anna Dill Gamble to chair the York County Committee. Gamble’s papers at the York County History Center Library and Archives are available for reference. They include considerable correspondence, clippings and other documents from the 1914-1915 effort.
The first big “Votes for Women” York County rally was held on February 11, 1914 at the York County courthouse. Local attorney Robert C. Bair spoke, then Gamble introduced Margaret Foley of Boston, and Horace J. Bridges of London, the first two of many well-known suffrage advocates speaking here. Foley pointed out that women are as sensible as men and deserve an equal voice in democracy. The York Daily, the York Gazette and York Dispatch all covered this first rally, and they would continue to do so, often joined by the York Labor News.
There was also an anti-suffrage movement, with both men and women, though not nearly as strong locally as the suffragists. Like the suffragists, the “antis” shortly kicked off with a similar courthouse rally, with attorney Richard E. Cochran speaking, followed by out of towners: Grace Goodwin, Washington, D.C. and John A. Matthews of Newark, N.J. Matthews claimed suffrage was a “menace to home and womanhood of America.”
Indoor and outdoor meetings continued throughout 1914 and 1915 until Election Day, ranging from “parlor meetings” to public gatherings attended in large number. Gamble’s committee made the detailed arrangements, securing venues and scheduling appearances and making sure the state speakers were transported, fed and housed. Localsuffragists also often spoke themselves. They were at many events, enrolling both women and men to support suffrage and passing out brochures. They also provided speakers, literature and sold suffrage souvenirs at the annual fairs at Fawn Grove, Stewartstown, Red Lion, Hanover and the extremely popular October York Fair.
Fundraisers were important since the local Committee was expected to supply transportation around the county for the many state speakers; rent had to be paid for event venues and fair booths. Large quantities of literature purchased from state headquarters were distributed, for example, 12,000 pieces during York Fair week. They bought fans, pins, whistles, buttons, napkins, pencils, pennants, hat bands, balloons and other novelties for resale. Mrs. McClean Stock and Mrs. A. H. Hayward were in charge of a community junk day for collection and sale of old papers, magazines, iron, zinc and rubber. A community tea with speeches, songs, skits and 24 girls and boys performing a lawn maypole dance was held at the Out Door Club at Madison and Belvidere. They organized an outdoor picnic conference at McClellan Heights off County Club Road. The suffragists also engaged a New York theater troupe, the Ben Greet Players, to perform “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on Mrs. Annie McConkey’s lawn. Local girls took the parts of fairies and the suffrage committee ushered.
The African American community was supportive. Gamble and Myra Manifold were invited to speak at a People’s Forum held at A.M.E. Zion Church on East King Street. The widow of famous African American poet Paul Dunbar was scheduled to speak for suffrage at the courthouse right before the crucial November election.
Women worked tirelessly throughout the county. For example, Elizabeth Hawkins managed the southeastern part of the county from her Delta home, and in the summer from their farm, which did not even have a telephone. Still, she organized suffrage activities at the Pen-Mar Agricultural Fair (Fawn Grove) and hosted state speakers.
Many men supported woman suffrage. The Pennsylvania Men’s League for Woman Suffrage provided the York County women with a long typed list of York County men, annotated as to what they were willing to do, such as “Will Parade” “Distribute Literature” “Help organize” and “Watch.” The women were not allowed to be watchers at the polls to guard against improprieties. Local members of the Men’s League then vowed to attempt to have watchers at every voting place in the county “pledged to see women get fair play.” The men also called in results from each polling place to headquarters at Gamble’s York home.
The YCHC files report the November 2 vote in York County was Yes–6,278, No–11,556, for a plurality of 5,278 against passage of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Amendment. Ten districts carried for suffrage: First district of Fawn Township; Lower Chanceford, Peach Bottom, Cross Roads, Delta, Fawn Grove, Lewisberry and Stewartstown; Fifth precinct of Wellsville and Ninth ward and First district of the 11th ward in York. The vote was close in some districts of Fairview Township, West Manchester Township, York New Salem and a few of York City’s other Wards.
Gamble said that male illiteracy in York was “enormous,” so many men just voted as they were told. Gamble also stressed that women, and those men that supported woman suffrage, were not going to give up. The question also failed in the three other states. Focus then shifted to amending the U.S. Constitution. That 19th Amendment was passed by Congress June 4, 1919 and ratified by the necessary three-fourths of the states on August 18, 1920. Finally, on November 1, 1920 all women across America could vote.