Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Big Top Suffragists

Circus quilts were popular for kids through the 20th century.  There's a wide variety of them that you can look at online.

During the early twentieth century, the circus was one of the most exciting events that occurred in a community.  A friend's father, who is nearly 100 years old, has talked about when the circus came to town.  Children were given time off from school so they could see the circus parade as the performers and animals traveled from the train depot to the location where the tent was set up.   

Along this route, the animals and circus folk performed as they traveled. They regaled the audience and drummed up free publicity. 


For many communities this was the only opportunity to see exotic animals and daredevil feats.


In 1912, a new group of women joined the ranks of the suffragists--the women performers of the Barnum and Bailey Circus.

"The circus women live in a little world of their own, " said Miss DeMott the president of the circus women's suffrage association, "roaming all over this country, and sometimes the world...We discuss the laws of the different States we visit.  From these debates we feel sure there is no other who needs the franchise more than ourselves.  And there is no class of women who could be of more assistance to the cause than we women, who are constantly travelling."


DeMott went on,  "there is no class of women who show better that they have a right ot vote than the circus women, who twice a day prove that they have the courage and endurance of men...We are all part of a great sisterhood, and that is what suffrage is."

The formation of the group was widely publicized in the United States and Canada.  There was even a baby giraffe named by the women, "Miss Suffrage."
Equally publicized was the reaction of the one of the men of the circus, a Mr. Seabert who stormed into one meeting and insisted his wife leave the meeting.  When the other circus suffragists booed him he retorted he "wouldn't have my wife participating in this nonsense...and I'm not going to wait all night for my grub."

Miss DeMott asked another performer, Katie Sandwina, "what would you do if your husband came here and ordered you away?"

"I'd put him out," replied Sandwina calmly. 

Katie Sandwina was the strong woman of the circus.






Monday, February 17, 2020

Happy President's Day!

At the beginning of the Civil War, a group of women and a few men in NY assembled to discuss what they could do to help the war effort.  The Sanitary Commission of the United States was the idea they came up with and yet the idea of citizens (particularly women) assisting in war efforts was not taken seriously in Washington.

Lincoln himself dismissed the plan as "a fifth wheel on a carriage."  

The truth is that the Union was unprepared to clothe, feed, and support a large army of volunteer soldiers.  Women from every background worked hard to support the effort by providing proper food, quilts, nursing care, and most importantly, raised funds.  "Sanitary Commission Fairs" particularly on the east coast raised millions of dollars---that's million of dollars back then--for the war effort. Estimates of the total assistance they raised in goods, services, and funding is now considered to be in the billions.

Sanitary Commission Fair


Suffragists put their campaign on hold during the war to join the war  effort.

Women also kept the country functioning by assuming the roles previously held my by men such as teaching, secretarial work, and industrial work--even if munitions factories and arsenals.
On September 17, 1862, the Allegheny Arsenal near Pittsburgh Pennsylvania exploded.  78 workers were killed--mostly young women--including 15 year old Catherine Burkhart and 17 year old Margaret Turney.



As the war continued, Lincoln admitted in a speech in 1864:

"I have never studied the art of paying compliments to women; but I must say that if all that has been said by orators and poets since the creation of the world in praise of women were applied to the women of America, it would not do them justice for their conduct during this war.  I will close by saying, God bless the women of America!"


Friday, February 14, 2020

Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine's Day!

 
There are a lot of valentine's day greetings that were suffrage related!
Some like the one above are pretty pathetic.  Give me the vote or marry me?  Maybe there was a threat there, I don't know :)

But the best story I found was this one from 1915.  In that year there were four states that had suffrage on the ballot for the (male) voters to decide.  This was part of the campaign in Pennsylvania.






Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Suffrage Quiltmaking and Service

The more I research suffragists, the more I am inspired by the many services they bestowed on their communities.

Americans have a long history of longing for isolationism but the truth is that no country lives in a vacuum and long before "global economics" became a catch phrase, there were certainly examples of how international events could impact another country.

In July of 1914, World War I broke out and despite the lack of U. S. participation, ripples of the war impacted families in the U.S.  By winter of 1914, thousands of sailors and longshoremen in Brooklyn, NY were idle because of the impact of the war.  It was particularly devastating to the families of the longshoremen:  "because they live hand to mouth at all times."

Many charities stepped up to help the families, not the least of which was The Woman Suffrage Party.  By December, the women had prepared hundreds of baskets of food and supplies to help the poor.



Later reports stated that the more baskets they filled, the more poor they found.  On Christmas day, the suffragists also set up 3 stations and gave out free bread to the needy.

Despite the women's initiatives, it was surprising to find that other charities refused the assistance of the suffragists because the baskets each had yellow ribbons and tags on them.


The suffragists were undaunted and in January they began a quilt drive to provide quilts to the needy of the region.  

"The actual cost is only the cotton wadding, plus a few hours of work; and the result be great comfort, perhaps even life, to some our citizens.  One thick quilt to a family might mean a staying away from the municipal lodging house in a cold snap.  It would be as good as filling of the coal box.  And best of all, it is the utilization of waste material."  

It is interesting that the technique to make these quilts went into great detail.  The women suggested using 3 lbs of cotton wadding to fill each quilt.  The technique suggested for quilting was actually tying the quilt; this seems to be a favored technique for charity  quilts needed in a hurry:
 A tied comfort from my collection.  The women around here often used wool circles to keep the string from damaging the cotton. 
It appears that the longshoremen did not forget the kindness of the suffragists.  In August of 1915, suffragist Oreola Haskell was interviewed.  She was a well known speaker and writer and recounted how years earlier, speeches by suffragists could incite riots.  Oreola elaborated about a recent experience:

"Do you know the audience I enjoyed talking to most?  A few weeks ago I spoke to a crowd of longshoremen.  It was luncheon hour, but still nearly every man missed his luncheon to come to hear us.  It was the nicest, most considerate crowd I have ever spoken to.  When we gave out our pamphlets every man took them--and I know that every man read them. "

This story warmed my heart and I hope it warms yours!  Have a great day!

Monday, February 10, 2020

ERA update

In January I wrote about the Equal Rights Amendment.  I just found out there is a new miniseries on the ERA and Phyllis Schafly coming out in April 15 on the FX channel.  The series features an all-star women cast including Cate Blanchett as Schafly.



Here is the commercial which my niece Betsy so kindly shared with me!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIpTIPKTOkU


Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Mrs. Smiley the Scold

 Ben Franklin said, "They who no voice nor vote in the electing of representatives do not enjoy liberty, but are absolutely enslaved to those who have votes."


The irony of Mrs. Smiley being charged as a scold hasn't escaped me. What did surprise me was that woman could still be arrested as late as 1913 for being a scold.  

In the United Kingdom during the 16th and 17th centuries, a woman could pay a heavy price for being a scold--not only forced to wear a "scold's bridle" but be repeatedly dunked in a lake or a pond.

An interesting insight on "scolding" was taken up in the state of New Jersey in 1972:

By definition only a woman can be a "Common Scold." A man might be "troublesome and angry" and by his "brawling and wrangling among" his "neighbors break the peace, increase discord and become a nuisance to the neighborhood" yet he could not be a common scold. Commonwealth v. Hamilton, 52 Pa. Dist. & Co. Rep. 485 (Quarter Sessions 1945). The discrimination between the sexes is obvious. It is senseless. It is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment. United States v. York.

It's important to note that "scolding" could be defined as a woman who voiced disagreement with her husband.  I suppose Mrs. Smiley was lucky that her husband didn't have her committed to an insane asylum--an action that in many states could occur without the usual process of going to court to commit someone involuntarily.  In these states, wives could be committed by their husband's without the usual legal process.  

If Mrs. Smiley went to trial, I wonder how the jury would have judged her.  Women weren't allowed to sit on juries before the 19th Amendment unless a special exception was made for what was called "A Jury of Matrons."  The matron juries were usually reserved only for pregnant women on trial.

You may think this was eradicated once the 19th Amendment was passed.  But it wasn't.  

Image from 12 Angry Men movie, 1957

Believe it or not,  women were not given the right to sit on a Federal Jury until 1957.  It wasn't until 1968 that all fifty states allowed women to sit on a jury.  Campaigns to provide women with this right were frequently organized by groups such as the League of Women Voters; the League was founded by suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.


Charles Dana Gibson's 1903 illustration:  
"The Jury of the Future--One that Might Temper Justice with Mercy"

Mrs. Smiley spent a few days in jail and was given "a wholesome lecture" by the residing judge and released.  Mrs. Smiley "promised to reform" and was sent on her way.  

How do you feel about Mrs. Smiley's story?

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Philly and Giveaway Winner!

Sam is the giveaway winner!  Congratulations Sam and hope you enjoy your prizes!

In other news, Philadelphia is the Greek name for "Brotherly Love"  but this year in honor of the Suffrage Centennial, the city will be referred to as "the city of Sisterly love."  Way to go Philly!  You can read the article here.