Back in 1998, Arlene Hinkemeyer and fellow members of The Hamptons League were preparing to march in East Hampton’s 350th anniversary parade, dressed as suffragists. A historian by training, Ms. Hinkemeyer rediscovered the joys and challenges of primary-source research and “was pleased to uncover information about suffragist leaders in East Hampton, Southampton and Sag Harbor.”That research will come in handy in 2017: Ms. Hinkemeyer, vice president of the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, is a member of state and local league committees that are planning celebrations of the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New York State.
“The year 2017 is going to see a big statewide commemoration,” the East Hampton resident said. It marks the centennial year when New York State voters—all men at the time, it should be noted—approved a referendum on November 6, 1917, giving women the right to vote. The referendum had been put forward two years earlier but had missed approval by 200,000 votes.
It would not be until August 18, 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was finally ratified, granting full voting rights to American women nationwide. Not to worry—2020 also will see centennial celebrations across the country, and it will also mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the National League of Women Voters. And that came one year after New York State had founded its own League to educate women on the issues.
Another New York community, Seneca Falls, is considered the birthplace of the women’s suffrage movement: It’s where the first Women’s Rights Convention was held in July 1848 to advocate for what its “Declaration of Sentiments” called a woman’s “sacred right to the elective franchise.”
But as Ms. Hinkemeyer found in her research, the East End had its own suffragists who helped pave the way for women’s right to vote. “I am in awe of the amazing suffagist leaders out here,” she said.
As part of the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons celebration of the centennial, Ms. Hinkemeyer will give a talk this fall titled “Long Island Women’s Suffrage and One Hundred Years of the Vote in New York State.” The talk on October 19, part of East Hampton Library’s Tom Twomey Lecture Series, will be introduced by Judith Hope, an East Hampton woman whose involvement in Democratic politics, at the local, state and national levels, runs deep.
She will be joined at the talk by Antonia Petrash, the president and founder of the Long Island Woman Suffrage Association, and the author of the 2013 book “Woman Suffrage Movement.”
Meanwhile, planning committees are hard at work, as of the start of the new year. The League of Women Voters of the Hamptons will partner with local and state associations and institutions, including historical societies, schools, libraries, government offices. Also included in the planning are individuals eager to commemorate an achievement that was such a long time in coming—decades of marching, canvassing, fundraising, petitioning, agitating, getting arrested, and often in the face of violence and steady opposition.
In a talk she gave in March 2013 at the East Hampton Historical Society, “The Suffragist Movement: Women Work for the Right To Vote,” Ms. Hinkemeyer noted that while 36 states, with New York being the fifth, delivered the three-fourths necessary to ratify the 19th Amendment in 1920, it took some Southern states quite a while to follow suit. In spite of the 1965 approval of the Voting Rights Act to prevent racial discrimination in voting, it was not until the 1960s and 1970s that Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina officially ratified the 19th Amendment, with Mississippi coming on board only in 1984.
Locally, Ms. Hinkemeyer said she expects the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons will mark the centennial in a variety of ways, including marching in this summer’s July 4 parade in Southampton Village. She said she’s also excited about the possibility of the League joining other community organizations to re-create the East Hampton Suffrage Rally of August 1913, and the June 1915 Suffrage Torch Relay, which started at Montauk Point with “our own famous local suffragist, Mrs. Thomas Lincoln (May Groot) Manson of East Hampton (1859-1917), who passed the torch on to others on the way to Buffalo.” Mrs. Manson, who was immortalized by John Singer Sargent in 1891 in an oil painting, lived on Main Street, across from the Presbyterian Church, and her house was the starting point of the August 1913 rally.
It took a lot of digging to find Mrs. Manson’s first and maiden names, Ms. Hinkemeyer notes, but the “Nancy Drew research experience” was worth it. She noted that, “sadly, after so much hard work, Mrs. Manson died in September 1917, two months before the New York State referendum was passed.”
Other research led to other suffragist leaders, including Lizbeth Halsey White and Mrs. Henry Medd in Southampton, and Mrs. Russell Sage in Sag Harbor. Though the suffrage movement originally drew women from the upper class, as it grew in the 1890s, it attracted advocates from all backgrounds. There were splits along the political spectrum, from progressive radical to conservative religious. Still, the combined forces would make history, some of it startling, such as the fact that the Western states led the way in giving women the right to vote.
State centennial plans also include readings from suffragist speeches by women’s caucuses in the State Legislature in March; a bus trip to Seneca Falls on June 9, in conjunction with the League’s state convention; a major women’s history and women’s suffrage exhibition opening on November 4 at the New York State Museum in Albany; and an expanding collection of resource materials—films, books, articles and photos—that will be available in print and online.
More information about centennial plans will be available at lwvhamptons.org, or lwvny.org.