Student Voices

While student suffrage groups left no records, and women rarely noted suffrage activities in yearbook entries, some women did comment in letters home. These letters have been excerpted in First-Person Cornell: Students’ Diaries, Letters, Email, and Blogs by Carol Kammen, published by Cornell University Library in 2006.

Jessie Mary Boulton, Class of 1883

Jessie Mary Boulton reported in a letter home to her parents on March 9, 1880 that the boys—young men, she corrected herself—had put up ballot boxes to vote for their choice of President. “This morning we found one up at the ladies’ room [a reception room in Sage College] requesting the ladies votes. I deposited mine immediately. I did not care much whom I voted for but I gave Blaine 1st and Sherman 2nd. It may be the only time that I will have an opportunity to vote for the nomination of President and I thought I might as well embrace it.”

February 27, 1881, referring to Matilda Joslyn Gage: “Mrs. Gage, Maud’s mother, lectured here on Woman’s rights last night, you remember that I told you she was a member of the Woman Suffrage Association.”

November 19, 1881, when Lillie Devereux Blake came to talk in Ithaca: “There is a lecture on women’s rights in town tomorrow night, but it is too near examinations to attend and aside from that I should be most afraid to go for fear the students [meaning the men students] will make some fuss.”

Jessie Mary Boulton Letters

Ruth Nelson, Class of 1897

October 11, 1893:“I have voted for once in my life if never again. It was a vote in regard to The Sun question…. It is very exciting I assure you. At one o’clock I vote again for class officers and I have my ballot all ready.”

Gertrude and Ruth Nelson Papers

Gertrude Nelson, Class of 1896

May 6, 1894: “Miss Crandall thinks ‘Marcella’ is flat & she & another woman in the Cornell Library have started a petition against woman suffrage and left it in the library for girls to sign!! What do you think of that? Nellie Reed signed it & Blanche said she was going to do so.”

Gertrude and Ruth Nelson Papers

Adelaide Taber Young, Class of 1899

April 20, 1899: “Saturday night … we went to a … show in the Botanical Lecture Room. It was funny and I should think could easily be copied or adapted. The curtain rose on a session of a certain debating society composed of different typical women. Susan B. Anthony, which Margaret Bailey did very well, being the President.”

Adelheid Zeller, Class of 1916

February 13, 1914: “Went to the new auditorium [Bailey Hall] and heard Mrs. Catt and Dr. Anna Shaw, suffragettes who are here this week.”

January 3, 1915: “Went to lecture by equal suffrage Club. Their speeches were very good very well given.”

October 8, 1915: “In the evening went to Bailey to hear… [Ethel Snowden] wife of the Labor Party leader of Parliament in an appeal for woman suffrage and she certainly was fine.”

Adelheid Bertha Marie Zoe Zeller Papers

Katherine Lyon, Class of 1916

March 14, 1913: “Tonight Catharine and I are going to a debate on Woman Suffrage… I imagine it will be interesting. I am getting to be an ardent suffragette, by the way, and Lucy and I have frequent discussions with May and Belle who don’t see it our way.”

March 17, 1913: “Friday night, Belle, Catharine and I went to the Suffrage Debate. It was very interesting and I enjoyed it immensely…. If it was only this summer that the suffragists were going thru Hudson I’d go part way with them. Father dear are you in favor of Suffrage. If not—I’ll take great pleasure in argufying you when I get home.

You see Belle and May are antis while Lucy and I are valiant progressives and we sure have lively discussions…. F’rnstance Belle had been quizzing and pushing Lucy to beat the band and finally Lucy yelled in desperation. ‘Well, if you think I’m going to shine mahogany furniture, polish brass beds and wash windows all my life you’ve got another guess coming.’ It was so sudden and unexpected that we all simply rocked with laughter.”

April 10, 1914: “Catharine Bard has just dragged me into a suffrage lecture and so I am going to write to you during it and improve the time, if it grows too dull for my edification…. There are a great many very interesting people here, mostly women, considering that the subject is ‘Woman and her Opportunity,’ and likewise professors who I suppose are here to keep up their reputation of broadmindedness….”

October 11, 1915: “In the evening, Bert and her sister and I went up to Bailey Hall to a big Suffrage Meeting. Mrs. Snowdon, an Englishwoman and Mr. Graves, Editor of the N.Y. American spoke.

November 8, 1915: “Tuesday being election day, oh yes, I forgot to add that I watched at the polls for an hour and distributed Suffrage literature in the good cause that went down to an undeserved defeat….”

Katherine Lyon Papers

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