Wilton ‘I voted’ stickers celebrate women’s suffrage
WILTON — Many things will be different about next week’s primaries, including the fact there will be no “I Voted” stickers distributed, a precaution due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But there will be virtual stickers available created with a hometown flair that celebrate women’s suffrage in Wilton. A set of six stickers features the images of four Wilton women known to have registered to vote here in 1920.
They are: Grace Schenck, Alice Merwin Eakland, Alice Haynes Bennett, and Hannah Raymond Ambler. A fifth sticker features a group of Connecticut suffragists and the sixth honors all Wilton women, known and unknown, who cast their first ballot 100 years ago.
The stickers say: “Wilton CT Suffrage Centennial, 1920-2020, I VOTED.”
The stickers were created by graphic designer Pamela Hovland, who said the idea grew out of meetings last month, held by First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice, that were intended to brainstorm ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.
Although the pandemic eliminated actual stickers, Hovland pursued the idea of virtual ones that people could display on their social media sites or print out and display in their windows or elsewhere.
With Julie Hughes, who works in Wilton Library’s history room, and Peggy Reeves, a member of the Wilton League of Women Voters who recently retired as the state’s election director, the three reviewed available information about who voted in that noteworthy election.
According to the U.S. Census, the population in Wilton in 1920 was 1,284, and the town registrar records for that year show 152 women registered to vote. An interesting side note is that those records separate the names of the women who registered from the men’s names.
“We were very lucky to have photographs in the Wilton history room of about 30 to 40 of the women who voted in that election,” Hughes said as the three gathered online to talk about the project last week. “We were able to choose the best, sharpest photographs, and we were lucky those women were ones we happened to find historical information about.”
An early consideration about who would be featured was a desire to make the project nonpartisan and as inclusive as possible, Hovland said.
“We looked very early for women of color, but sadly there is no record of that in Wilton that we could find,” Hovland said. Hughes added that census records show only two Black people with a permanent residence in Wilton in 1920, both of whom were men.
Hovland wanted to give recognition to some of the Black women involved on a state level.
“Mary Townsend Seymour is one of those women and also Maria Stewart,” she said. In 1920, Seymour was the first Black woman to run for a state assembly seat, although she was unsuccessful. She was also involved in labor movements and was a state representative for the NAACP.
There is less information available about Stewart, who was active in the suffrage movement in the 19th century.
“We’re still working on this as those women had significantly more obstacles in their pursuit of securing the vote,” Hovland said.
In keeping with the nonpartisan aspect of the project, two of the women featured are Republicans and two are Democrats, although they are not identified as such.
“With some of the women we knew, or I was able to find out what their party affiliation was because they talked about it in their diary, or they showed up on a list of electors of the town that was a Republican or Democratic list,” Hughes said. In other cases, they may have shown up as members of politically affiliated clubs.
But there was more to it than just the fact they may have voted.
“They didn’t just vote, not that that wasn’t significant in and of itself, but they also were movers and shakers in the community at large,” Hovland said.
Reeves said she felt it was important “to pick names that have relevance now. “Schenck’s Island people know,” shes said. “Ambler Farm people know.”
Alice Merwin Eakland is a member of the family connected to Merwin Meadows.
“Bennet is a name that shows up in Wilton history a lot as well,” Hughes said. Bennet eventually held elected offices in Wilton, including as registrar of voters, but it is not known if she was the first woman to hold that position. She also was a delegate for the 1940 senatorial convention and served on the Board of Education.
Grace Schenck is probably the best known of the four. She founded the Wilton Equal Franchise League and helped educate women on the importance of voting.
A supporter of the League of Women Voters, Eakland was also a teacher, Girl Scout leader, and assisted the Wilton Red Cross during World War I.
Hannah Raymond Ambler recorded her first vote in her diary. As owners of the Pleasant Hour Theater in Norwalk, her family rented space to the Norwalk Equal Franchise League. Ambler and her sister belonged to a club that supported women’s economic independence.
This project has been approved by the Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and has the support of Wilton First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice; state Sen. Will Haskell, D-26; Kim Healy, who is running in the primary to be the Republican candidate for the 26th District state Senate seat; and Stephanie Thomas, Democratic candidate for the 143rd state House seat.
Also supporting the project are:
The Wilton Historical Society, which is mounting an online exhibition about Grace Schenck and Hannah Raymond Ambler.
Wilton Garden Club, of which Grace Schenck was a founding member.
Ms President US, a club for girls that focuses on leadership skills.
Wilton League of Women Voters.
Democratic Town Committee.
Hovland is sharing the images with these organizations to distribute to their members and post them on their social media sites for people to download and share on their own sites. She is also willing to share the template for the stickers with other towns that might be interested in copying the initiative.
The stickers will also be available for the Nov. 3 general election.