Wilton suffrage event looks at the people behind it
WILTON — The story of women’s suffrage is more complicated than might appear to the casual observer.
The opposition was not just because women didn’t give “the last full measure” to their country; that ended with World War I.
It wasn’t that women weren’t smart enough, although surely there were those who held that belief.
It wasn’t just that men were afraid of losing their dominance in a patriarchal society, although many were.
In Connecticut at least, it was all about the money.
According to Kelly Marino, a historian and professor at Sacred Heart University, the main opposition to women’s suffrage in Connecticut came from the liquor industry and other major businesses.
“They were afraid women would vote in favor of Prohibition,” she said in an interview regarding her upcoming talk at the Wilton Historical Society at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 29. Marino’s talk, “The Movement was a Great ‘Mosaic:’ Connecticut Women and Stories from the Suffrage Campaign,” will look at key leaders of the movement here and how some participants saw it as a means to a greater end.
Based on her research, Marino said there was very strong opposition to women voting in the late 1800s and early 1900s, not only by the liquor interests but by other big businesses as well.
Corporations in Hartford and New Haven, she said, worried women would vote for greater protections for women and child workers.
“They were exploiting cheap labor,” she said, and businesses did not want to lose that economic advantage.
Connecticut was an early player in the suffrage movement, Marino said, noting the Connecticut Women’s Suffrage Association was formed in 1869, one of the oldest state organizations in the nation.
It also played a major role in ratification, being the 37th state to ratify the 19th Amendment on Sept. 14, 1920, despite stalling tactics by Gov. Marcus H. Holcomb, a Republican.
The vote was important because although it was not one of the 36 states needed to ratify the 19th Amendment — Tennessee was the 36th — Tennessee’s vote was very contentious, passing by just one vote, and was the subject of lawsuits. Connecticut’s vote thus sealed the deal, Marino said.
“When Connecticut became the 37th state, that solidified it for the whole nation. I think that’s super significant,” she said.
Marino said her talk on Saturday will emphasize the diversity of voices that spoke up for ratification. “It’s not just elite white women, but women of all classes, races and ethnicities as well as men,” she said.
And it wasn’t just about suffrage. “When we learn about the movement, we focus on the activism, but suffrage organizations also did other reform work,” she said. Some supporters saw suffrage as a tool to advance other campaigns, such as temperance.
One woman she will talk about is Isabella Beecher Hooker, who came from a well-to-do 19th-century family. Well educated, she married an attorney and they lived in Farmington and Hartford.
“She became interested in suffrage when her husband read to her from his law books,” she said. “One thing that interested her was coverture” — a legal term that considers a married woman to be under her husband’s protection and authority — “when a married woman becomes her husband’s property.”
She helped found the Connecticut Women’s Suffrage Association and tried to vote illegally with Susan B. Anthony in 1872. She also believed women to be more moral than men, thinking they could bring that quality into the political realm, Marino said.
Another figure Marino will touch on is Augusta Lewis Troup of New Haven who went from rags to riches to rags, all in a matter of a few years. An orphan, she was adopted by a wealthy gentleman from New York City who just a few years later lost all his money in an economic downturn in the 1800s. As a teenager, she was forced to fend for herself, working as a journalist and newspaper typesetter, then getting involved in union activism.
Through her union activism she became acquainted with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but Troup’s goal reached beyond suffrage to advocating for women’s economic independence.
Suffragist Mary Townsend Seymour of Hartford was the first African-American woman in the United States to run for state office.
Closer to home, Marino will touch on Alice Paul of Ridgefield and Wiltonians Hannah Raymond-Ambler and Grace Schenck, who helped found the Wilton Equal Franchise League. The stories of Ambler and Schenck will be the focus of an exhibition opening at the historical society on June 20.
“My main argument,” Marino said, “is in thinking about the movement as a whole.” It’s important, she said, to recognize the women and men of different ages, ethnicities and soci-economic status that moved it forward.
A reception will follow the event at 224 Danbury Road.
In addition to recognizing the suffrage movement, the event will also celebrate the founding of the League of Women Voters on Feb. 14, 1920, plus the establishment of the Wilton chapter 40 years ago.
All are welcome but registration is requested by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 203-762-7257.