NYS Suffrage Campaign 1893-1894

In the summer of 1894, New York State held a convention to revise its Constitution. As early as 1887, women suffragists had lobbied for a place at this Convention in order to support an amendment that would grant women in New York the right to vote.

At the request of suffragists, both Governor Hill (1887) and Governor Flower (1892) recommended that women be allowed to sit as delegates at the Constitutional Convention. On multiple occasions, prominent New York suffragists such as Susan B. Anthony and Mary Seymour Howell addressed the state legislature to promote the right of women to serve as constitutional delegates.

The legislature’s final bill reflected the efforts of these suffragists. It provided that any citizen over the age of twenty-one — man or woman — was eligible to be elected as a delegate. However, the women’s victory was fleeting — only one woman was even nominated as a delegate. Democrats, a small minority in her district, chose Jean Brooks Greenleaf.

Undaunted by this setback, women’s rights activists proceeded with their plans to seek a suffrage amendment to the State constitution. By the end of 1893, they had devised a plan of work for a massive campaign in New York State. The campaign was designed to show New York State citizens’ overwhelming popular support for the suffrage amendment.

Appeals from suffragists to their supporters yielded $10,000 for the campaign. In order to use this money to the best advantage, the campaign’s committee worked out of the Rochester, New York home of Susan B. Anthony and her sister,Mary Anthony, who was the campaign’s corresponding secretary. The committee, along with numerous clerks, worked tirelessly from December 1893 to July 1894, “sending out thousands of letters, petition blanks, leaflets, suffrage papers, etc.” (Harper, 760-761). They also planned mass meetings for all of the state’s sixty counties.

Women all over the state received the petition forms and canvassed their neighborhoods to secure signatures. By the time of the convention, suffragists had amassed more than 332,000 names in support of the amendment. The petition drive was bolstered by the mass meetings, where speakers included such locally and nationally-prominent suffrage leaders as Carrie Chapman Catt, the Rev. Anna Howard Shaw, and Mary Seymour Howell. Susan B. Anthony, now seventy-four years old, spoke in every single county.

Other campaign work included the collection of statistics showing women’s responsibility as taxpayers in the State. This was done in order to support the suffragists’ assertion that women, like their colonial forbearers, were subjected to “taxation without representation.” Statistics amassed for three-fifths of the state outside of New York City indicated that women property holders paid taxes amounting to over $348 million.

As the time for the Convention drew near, the committee’s petitions for suffrage were supported by the work of other organizations. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.) provided 36,000 of the over 332,000 names collected. In addition, “the New York Federation of Labor sent in a memorial representing 140,000; the Labor Reform Conference, 70,000; several Trades Unions, 1,396; [and] Granges, 50,000” for a grand total of 593,544. (Harper, 766-67). This was in sharp contrast to the 15,000 signatures collected by the anti-suffragists, or “Remonstrants,” as they called themselves.

The Convention assembled on May 8, 1894 in Albany, New York. Its president, Joseph H. Choate, appointed a committee in charge of suffrage amendments. Suffragists were appalled to find that the men on this committee were generally opposed to the idea of women’s suffrage.

Suffragists nevertheless proceeded with their campaign to convince the Convention to grant New York women the right to vote. During the course of the convention, the petitions were presented. One eyewitness describes the event:

The names were enrolled on pages of uniform size and arranged in volumes, each labeled and tied with a wide yellow ribbon and bearing the card of the member who was to present it….Often one after another would present a bundle of petitions until it would seem as though the entire morning would thus be consumed. They were all taken by pages and heaped up on the secretary’s table, where they made an imposing appearance. Later they were stacked on shelves in a large committee room. (History of Woman Suffrage, IV 850 [footnote])

A number of women’s suffragists were invited to speak to the suffrage committee throughout the course of the Convention. Susan B. Anthony and Jean Brooks Greenleaf, president of the State’s suffrage association, spoke on May 24th. Suffragists from New York City addressed the committee on May 31st, and on June 7th, representatives from the state’s senatorial districts were each allowed five-minute speeches. One of these representatives was Mary Lewis Gannett, and Jean Brooks Greenleaf presided at the meetings.

On June 28, 1894, the final hearing in favor of suffrage featured Wyoming Senator Joseph M. Carey, W.C.T.U. representative Mary T. Burt, and Mary Seymour Howell. Suffrage hearings were followed by a hearing given to the “Antis,” or anti-suffragists, on June 14, 1894.

At the conclusion of the hearings, the Convention’s suffrage committee wrote a report in opposition to the women’s suffrage amendment. Discussion on this report, held from August 8th through14th, 1894, was attended by large numbers of suffragists. Following the discussion, the Convention voted on the suffrage amendment. Ninety-eight opposed it, while fifty-eight voted in its favor.

The Albany headquarters of the campaign in favor of women’s suffrage closed the day after the vote. Although suffragists had lost the battle, they did not regret the work or the money they had expended. Susan B. Anthony took little time to mourn the loss. By September of 1894, she, along with Jean Brooks Greenleaf and others, appeared yet again to plead the cause of women’s suffrage — this time before the Republican and Democratic State Conventions. The fight for women’s suffrage continued.

Bibliography of Suggested Books & Articles
Anthony, Susan B. and Ida Husted Harper, eds., The History of Woman Suffrage, v. IV, Rochester, NY: Susan B. Anthony, 1902 (Reprinted New York: Source Book Press, 1970)

The History of Woman Suffrage also refers to “Record of the New York Campaign of 1894,” a pamphlet published by the New York State Woman Suffrage Association published in 1895. It describes this pamphlet as 250 pages long and notes that it was “placed in many libraries throughout the country.” (v. IV, 847[note]).

Harper, Ida Husted, The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony, v. II, Indianapolis: The Bowen-Merrill Company, 1898.