The 1915 Campaign

Voters in New York would go to the polls in 1915 to approve an amendment to the state constitution. On campus in January, a meeting of the Cornell Equal Suffrage Club featured talks by Jacob Gould Schurman, Law Professor Alfred Hayes, Jr., Jared T. Newman (Class of 1875), and Home Economics Professor Blanche Hazard. The Cornell group and the local Political Study Club also held joint meetings.

Local women and students founded an Ithaca branch of the Woman’s National Peace Party, and Cornell hosted a Conference on International Relations in June. While the Conference did not have an explicit link to the suffrage movement, women participated because of their interest in peace. In October, at the Cornell Equal Suffrage League, Gertrude Martin introduced Ethel Snowden, wife of an English politician, to an audience of 1,000. Noting that war in Europe had begun, Ethel Snowden observed that “it stands to reason that if man’s government ends like this, in blood, woman’s participation could not possibly make matters worse.”

The vote took place on November 2, 1915. Despite all the suffragists’ efforts, the Woman Suffrage amendment lost statewide, although it did win by 151 votes in the City of Ithaca. Only five counties in the state supported suffrage, all west of the Hudson River: Broome, Chautauqua, Cortland, Niagara, and Tompkins.

Suffrage leaders needed to regroup after the defeat. Nora Stanton Blatch DeForest analyzed the situation in a December 1915 article in The Cornell Women’s Review. “The vote was 43% for to 57% against upstate, and 44% for to 56% against in the greater city.” She was so discouraged that she suggested alternatives to the amendment, including federal actions like amending the 14th Amendment or a New York campaign for Presidential Suffrage only. Other suffrage leaders were not so gloomy. In January, suffragists went to Albany to lobby for a new amendment, and finally in April, the State Legislature passed a bill allowing a second woman suffrage referendum in 1917.

In 1914, the Sixth Campaign District of the Empire State Campaign Committee, with Helen B. Owens as chairman, sponsored a woman suffrage conference and school in connection with the sixth annual meeting of the Homemakers’ Conference at Cornell University’s Farm & Home Week. The two major speakers were Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the International Women’s Suffrage Alliance of New York City, and Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, president of the National Woman Suffrage Association. In addition to public lectures, they took up “questions relating to women and the state, county and city.” Events were held on and off campus throughout the week. Helen Magill White, wife of Cornell’s former president, gave a reception in honor of Carrie Chapman Catt. Faculty, alumnae, and prominent local and statesuffrage workers gave talks, and suffrage literature was exhibited. The Sun reported extensively on the conference. President Jacob Gould Schurman introduced Carrie Chapman Catt’s major speech in Sibley Dome, and, according to the Cornell Daily Sun, expressed “his sympathy with the cause of woman suffrage and said that women should have the vote from the point of view of justice, expediency and in behalf of international peace.”

Like many suffrage campaign items, both of these broadsides were published by the National Woman Suffrage Publishing Company for customization and use by local suffrage groups. The Empire State Campaign Committee in New York distributed these examples.

Frances Elizabeth Willard Searles (1895-1970, Class of 1918, Home Economics) pasted these broadsides in her student scrapbook. She was named for Frances Willard, the president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Association, who combined support for temperance and for suffrage. Frances Searles worked for various New York State Home Bureaus, and in 1924 became the Executive Secretary of the Erie County League of Women Voters.

By 1915 Jacob Gould Schurman had become a more active suffrage supporter. He spoke about suffrage before the Lawyers’ Club of Buffalo in April:

I desire to say that I am in favor of granting the women of our country a right to vote on the same terms as men, that I believe this policy can be supported by convincing reasons, and that I have no doubt whatever that the enfranchising movement, which has swept clean across the continent from the Pacific to the Mississippi… will in a measurably short time have overcome the united opposition of conservative prejudice and entrenched interests and established itself triumphantly in every state of the Union.

He also agreed to become a member of the Executive Committee of the Men’s League for Woman Suffrage of the State of New York. Prominent New York men issued a statement published in various newspapers, concluding: “We believe it is bad for democracy to put a check on the aspirations of a large portion of its citizens. We believe that women should vote, and that the community will derive an appreciable advantage when they do vote.”

The first large suffrage parade was held in New York in 1910. This 1915 photograph of the largest suffrage parade ever organized shows women marching on Fifth Avenue, just passing the New York Public Library. The lead banner, held by women in suffrage white, is emblazoned: “IMPORTANT / The Woman’s Suffrage Amendment will be NUMBER 1 on a Special Ballot / Marked QUESTIONS SUBMITTED BALLOT.”

Nearly 34,000 women marched, led by Ethel Stebbins (Class of 1895) as Grand Marshal. For her 50th Cornell Reunion, she wrote: “‘I was grand marshall [sic] of the largest suffrage parade ever held in New York City. Its organization was interesting and the march up Fifth Avenue through throngs of watching people, many in favor but some violently opposed was a thrilling experience.” While the parade captured public attention, the 1915 referendum failed at the polls.

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