Women’s 100-Year Suffrage Struggle Celebrated in Newburgh
By Michael Lebron
On Veterans Day we celebrate the men and women who sacrificed to defend our Constitution and the principles and values it stands for. Among those principles is the according of one vote to every person. In New York State, this year is special because it marks the Centennial Anniversary of the legalization of “women as persons” within the meaning of its constitution, and the extension of voting rights to them in the State of New York.
Newburgh holds a unique place in this struggle as the site where over 100 delegates gathered for the Women’s Suffrage Convention of 1895. Although it was more than a quarter century after Susan B Anthony had founded the National Women suffrage Association, it was still a time when only two states – Colorado and Wyoming – had granted these rights, and Anthony never lived to see her dream of a 19th Amendment realized.
To mark the occasion, a group of about 20 women gathered on bicycles at the Courthouse at the corner of Robinson on a chilly but sunny Veteran’s Day, a group which included this reporter’s wife, who chose the occasion to take her new vintage bicycle out on its maiden ride. Many came dressed in the colors of the American women’s suffrage movement: white (for purity in home and politics), gold (for knowledge and victory), and purple (for sacrifice and sincerity).
From the Courthouse, these women – along with some of their children and a handful of skateboarders who came along in solidarity – rode down Broadway to the corner of Grand, pausing in the parking lot on its northwest corner. It is there that the old Academy of Music once stood and where the convention was held. They then headed north to the library on Grand Street, formerly the site of the grand old Palatine Hotel and where women attending the convention stayed.
Outside the library, about a dozen bicycles and helmets were raffled off as people mingled over hot cider and snacks.
Why the bicycle, you might say?
The bicycle holds a prominent place in the women’s movement, their long years of early evolution running roughly parallel with each other. The first bicycle – called the draisine – was invented exactly 200 years ago, in Germany in 1817. In 1880’s England, the “safety” bicycle was invented, so named because it afforded the rider the ability of being able to put their feet on the ground and to brake comfortably (today’s basic bicycle design principles are little changed), paving the way for popular acceptance and mass production. Thus the bike boom of the 1890s was born, providing unprecedented mobility for tens of thousands of men…and women, who saw in the invention a tool for liberation. Said Susan B Anthony: “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”
Speakers Presentations at Newburgh Free Library
The rest of the afternoon was spent inside the library with presentations about other important leaders and issues in the women’s movement. It began with a reading of “Ain’t I A Woman” by Melody Rashada. The speech was first delivered extemporaneously by Sojourner Truth at the Akron Women’s Convention in 1851. Then Dr. Cruz Caridad Bueno moved into a history of the leaders of feminism’s First Wave, which formally began with the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 and included but was not limited to the women’s suffrage movement. Dr Diane Hariford picked up with the cultural, economic, statutory, and constitutional struggles of Feminism’s Second Wave during the 1960s and 70s. As the bicycle provided women with a new-found sense of independence during Feminism’s First Wave, so too did technology play a role during the Second, as contraceptive innovations change the lives of so many.
In exchanges with the audience during Q & A, Ms. Karen Eberle-McCarthy spoke eloquently about her own experience buying a house in the late 1970s. Even though she was paying for it with her own money, she was told that she could not purchase the home in her own name. She had to have her husband’s name on all the documents. Many of the 40 or so in attendance were amazed that something like that could happen at that time.
Diane concluded with a discussion of issues facing today’s women, including defunding of Planned Parenthood, slashing maternity coverage, equal consideration for jobs, equal pay, and revising Title X protections.
During a meeting at The Negro Baptist School in Indianola Mississippi in 1964, Fanny Lou Hamer famously said that “You can pray until you faint, but unless you get up and try to do something, God is not going to put it in your lap”. To that end, the organizers of this event, Naomi Hersson-Ringskog, Laura Garcia, Chuck Thomas, Ophra Wolfe and Johanna Yaun are planning an even bigger event for the Centennial of the 19th Amendment in 2020 and to continue to push women’s issues to the political forefront.
Support for the event was provided by Chuck Thomas the library director, Bike Newburgh and People’s Bicycles in Beacon.
Group portrait of the women on Saturday’s ride, including Ophra Wolfe, who led the ride. The writer’s wife, Liz Vega Lebron, is at the far left.
(Photo by Michael Lebron)
Olivia on the new wheels she won at the raffle”
(Photo by Naomi Hersson-Ringskog )
Dr Cruz CaridadBueno
(Photo by Michael Lebron)
Charlotte Mountain, long time resident, active community member and mother of City of Newburgh Police officer, and Ms. Karen Eberle-McCarthy, Alumni MSMC, President of the Downing Park Planning Committee listening to Dr Cruz CaridadBueno
(Photo by Michael Lebron)
Newburgh Academy of Music
(Historic Postcard, photographer unknown)
(Photo from Newburgh Restoration)
A Couple Seated on an 1886 Coventry
(Photo from Wikipedia)