By Rachel Dworkin, Archivist
2017 is the 100th anniversary of the passage of women’s suffrage in New York. It was passed as a ballot initiative on election day, November 6, 1917. It was the second time such a referendum had appeared on the ballot. The first was proposed in 1915. It passed in Chemung County with 52% of the vote, but failed state wide. So, what made the difference between failing in 1915 and passing in 1917? The hard work of countless suffragists.
The Women’s Suffrage Party of Chemung County worked tirelessly throughout the spring and summer of 1917 to raise support for their cause. They went door-to-door to speak with potential voters. They lectured on women’s suffrage at local churches. They handed out informational brochures and free soft drinks out the county fair. Who were some of these women and what did they do when they weren’t crusading for the vote?
|Letterhead of the Women's Suffrage Party of Chemung County, ca. 1917|
Mrs. George Pickering
Pickering of Elmira was the chair of the Women’s Suffrage Party of Chemung County at the time of the referendum. Deeply concerned with politics, Pickering was also involved in the Women’s League for Good Government, an impartial group working to end political corruption, and ran for local office in the 1920s. She was active in the League of Women Voters for the remainder of her life. In addition to her political activities, she was also involved in the Women’s Federation for Social Services, worked as a fundraiser for various charitable causes, and enjoyed whisk. She was the wife of a prosperous dye manufacturer and thus had the money and time to devote herself to charity and politics.
Miss Clutha Ralyea
Ralyea was the treasurer of the Women’s Suffrage Party of Chemung County and organized various fundraising efforts including a stand at the public market. During World War I, she was also involved in fundraising for the Red Cross. A graduate of Vassar, Ralyea also took summer classes at Cornell. As the daughter of a wealthy tobacco dealer, she appeared frequently in the social pages hosting and attending parties and bridge tournaments. In 1918, she married a Rev. Charles E. McAllister of Maryland and moved away.
Mrs. Harriet Frasier
Frasier was a resident of Wellsburg. She volunteered as a census taker in that village for the Census and Inventory of the Military Resource of the State of New York in the spring of 1917. As part of her duties, she visited every home in the village and took the time to spread the suffragist message in the course of her official duties. In addition to her suffragist work, she was an active member in the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and served as the chairwoman of the Wellsburg Liberty Loan Committee. Her husband Robert was a commercial artist who served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army during the war.