Historic New York Suffragists

Learn about the historic women who led the women's suffrage movement and carved the path for gender equality in New York State.

Susan Brownell Anthony
Born: 1820
Died: 1906

The most famous American suffragist during her lifetime and even today, Susan B. Anthony was an activist, advocate and organizer for abolition, temperance, women’s rights, and particularly women’s suffrage. Born in Massachusetts to Quaker parents, Anthony’s long association with New York State began in 1826, when her family moved to Battenville, in Washington County. She worked as a teacher at the Canajoharie Academy, became involved in reform movements, and was employed as an anti-slavery agent, but eventually narrowed her focus to women’s issues. After her meeting with Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1851 (Anthony was not at the famous Seneca Falls convention), the women formed a life-long partnership campaigning for women’s rights. Traveling across the state and the country, Anthony braved hostile crowds as she promoted unpopular causes. During the Civil War, she and Stanton suspended their efforts for women to work for the passage of the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery. However, they were bitterly disappointed when the vote was given to all men (regardless of race) by the 15th Amendment, and not to women. In 1868, Anthony and Stanton began publishing The Revolution, the official publication of the National Woman’s Suffrage which they had formed to fight for a federal constitutional amendment giving all women the vote. The weekly paper was influential, but struggled to survive financially, and stopped publication in 1872, the same year that Anthony broke the law by voting in a federal election in Rochester, New York. Tried in 1873, she was found guilty by an all-male jury, but never imprisoned. Based in Rochester, she continued to travel and campaign for suffrage; she also worked with Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Ida Husted Harper on their History of Woman Suffrage. In 1892, she became president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, an office which she held until 1900. That same year, the University of Rochester was forced to accept women students after Anthony raised $50,000 for that cause, including the value of her own life insurance policy. Anthony continued to serve as an inspiration for the following generation of suffragists who won the vote in an amendment they named after her, the Susan B. Anthony amendment, in 1920.

Alva Vanderbilt Belmont
Born: 1853
Died: 1933

Alva Vanderbilt Belmont, born in Mobile, Alabama, lived most of her life in New York City and Long Island, where she was a strategist, organizer and major financial supporter of the Suffrage Movement. She founded the Political Equality League and co-founded the National Women’s Party for whom she bought headquarters in Washington, DC. She wrote, had suffrage settlement houses, held retreats, paid fines, sponsored rallies, marched and more in order to give women the vote.

Amelia Bloomer
Born: 1818
Died: 1894

Amelia Bloomer was Women’s Rights and temperance advocate born in Homer, NY. She was the editor of the first newspaper for women, The Lily, from 1849-1853. The Lily began as a publication of the Seneca Falls Ladies Temperance Society, though Bloomer would eventually assume full responsibility for its editing and publication.

Carrie Lane Chapman Catt
Born: 1859
Died: 1947

As president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association from 1900-1904, and again from 1915-1920, Carrie Chapman Catt led two million members in the successful campaign for a federal amendment to the United States Constitution. The nineteenth amendment made women’s suffrage, which had previously been determined by each state (New York State had passed a referendum for women’s voting rights in 1917) universal. Chosen by Susan B. Anthony to succeed her as president of NAWSA in 1900, Catt was known for her organizational skills and in particular for her “Winning Plan” Developed in 1915, under this strategy NAWSA members worked simultaneously for suffrage at both the state and federal levels. Although she was born in Wisconsin and grew up in Iowa, Catt spent the most important part of her career in New York, where she achieved national prominence. After women won the vote, Catt founded the League of Women Voters, and served as its president. Catt purchased a home in Westchester in 1919, eventually moving to New Rochelle where she settled for the rest of her life.

Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis
Born: 1813
Died: 1876

Born and raised in Bloomfield, NY and raised near Niagara Falls, Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis was a Women’s Rights advocate, social reformer, and educator who, in the late 1830s, met Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Ernestine Rose, whom she joined in petitioning the New York State Legislature which eventually led to the passage of the Married Women’s Property Act of 1848. In 1850, Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis helped organize and served as president of the First National Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester, MA.

Sarah Birdsall Otis Edey
Born: 1872
Died: 1940

A resident of New York City and Bellport, Long Island she was a leader in the suffrage cause. At the Edey house in Bellport many functions were held to make women aware of the movement. She was a talented poet and playwright who presented her works there. After suffrage was achieved, Edey became well-known as an early organizer and later President of the Girl Scouts of America.

Margaret Fuller
Born: 1810
Died: 1850

Born in Cambridge, MA., Margaret Fuller moved to New York City where she became a famous journalist, author, Transcendentalist, and Women's Rights advocate. Fuller wrote the first major American feminist book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845), which inspired the 1848 Seneca Falls Women's Rights Convention.

Matilda Joslyn Gage
Born: 1826
Died: 1898

Matilda Joslyn Gage was a suffragist, Native American activist, an abolitionist, freethinker, and a prolific author, who “was born with a hatred of oppression." Born in Cicero, New York, and raised in an abolitionist household, Gage, along with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was a founding member of the National Woman Suffrage Association and served in various offices of that organization (1869-1889). She helped organize the Virginia and New York State Suffrage Associations, and was an Officer in the New York Association for twenty years. From 1878 to 1881 she published the National Citizen and Ballot Box, the official newspaper of the NWSA.

Sarah J. Smith Thompson Garnet
Born: 1835
Died: 1911

Sarah J. Smith Thompson Garnet was a Brooklyn-born suffragist and educator who was the first African American woman to found a suffrage organization (the Equal Suffrage League). She was also the first black woman to become a principal in the New York public school system.

Julia Ward Howe
Born: 1819
Died: 1910

Julia Ward Howe was a Suffragist, lecturer, playwright, and poet who wrote the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Born in New York City, Julia Ward Howe eventually moved to Boston where she began her writing career. In 1861, after visiting Abraham Lincoln at the White House, Ward Howe wrote the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which cemented her legacy forever. In 1870, she founded the weekly suffragist publication Woman’s Journal.

Hester C. Jeffrey
Born: 1842
Died: 1934

Hester C. Jeffrey was an organizer and activist based in Rochester, NY. She established several African American women’s clubs in Rochester. In 1902 she organized the Susan B. Anthony Club for Colored Women, which advocated for women’s suffrage.

Rosalie Gardiner Jones
Born: 1883
Died: 1978

Rosalie Gardiner Jones, a Long Island-born Suffragist, was famous for doing the unusual and unexpected. Gardiner Jones used marches, parades and wagons to lure crowds and draw attention to the Suffrage movement. Two notable marches took place in 1913 as supporters hiked, with Jones leading them, to Albany to deliver a petition to the new governor and to Washington, DC to participate in a protest parade before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration.

Edna Buckman Kearns
Born: 1882
Died: 1934

Edna Buckman Kearns was a grassroots suffrage organizer in New York City and Long Island, and a Quaker writer and speaker best known for her ‘Spirit of 1776’ suffrage campaign wagon, a symbol of the movement’s patriotic protest theme.

Victoria Earle Matthews
Born: 1861
Died: 1907

Born into slavery in Georgia, Victoria Earle Matthews went on to become a Suffragist, journalist, author, lecturer, social worker and missionary based in New York City. In 1892, Earle Matthews founded the Woman’s Loyal Union and in 1895 helped to found the National Federation of Afro-American Women.

Rose Schneiderman
Born: 1882
Died: 1972

Polish immigrant Rose Schneiderman was a renowned feminist, labor activist, talented organizer and speaker based in New York City. She was a leader of The Women’s Trade Union League, which supported Women’s Suffrage by achieving gains for working class women. Rose traveled throughout the State promoting suffrage and unionism, advocating strongly for the passage of New York’s 1917 referendum.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Born: 1815
Died: 1902

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a brilliant writer and theorist for women’s rights, most famous as one of the key organizers of the first Women’s Rights Convention, held in Seneca Falls in 1848. She was not the first woman, or even the first New Yorker, to argue for women’s suffrage (six women in Jefferson County had signed a petition asking for the vote in 1846). However, at Seneca Falls she was the most insistent that their demands include enfranchisement, as well as educational, political, and social reforms. Elizabeth’s revolutionary ideas were developed during her childhood in Johnstown, New York. After witnessing the fate of married women with no rights in her father’s law office, she learned the power of the law, and that it had to be changed for women to receive justice. Also an abolitionist, Stanton formed a close personal alliance with Susan B. Anthony after they met in 1851. While Anthony, a single woman, was free to travel around the country publicizing and organizing their movement, Stanton (married and eventually the mother of seven children) stayed with her family but took the lead in writing and strategizing. They suspended their efforts for women’s rights during the Civil War in favor of working for passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, permanently abolishing slavery. After the war, disappointed in the refusal of former abolitionists to support women’s suffrage along with voting rights for men of African descent, she and Anthony formed the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869 in New York City. Stanton served as president of this organization, and later (when the National merged with its rival American Woman Suffrage Association in 1890) as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association until 1892. In 1878, she drafted a federal suffrage amendment that was introduced repeatedly to Congress, in substantially the same language as the one that was adopted in 1920. Stanton also worked with Anthony and Gage on their History of Woman Suffrage. Toward the end of her life, however, Stanton began to focus on issues of marriage, divorce, and religion, in contrast to Anthony, who decided to concentrate her effort on gaining the vote for women. Both women died before that goal had been achieved.

Mary Morris Burnett Talbert
Born: 1866
Died: 1923

Born in Ohio, Mary Burnett Talbert was an educator, suffragist, reformer, and civil right leader whose influence spread around the world. Talbert graduated from high school at the age of 16 and went on to receive a degree at Oberlin College. In 1887 she was elected the vice principal of Union High School in Little Rock, Arkansas – an amazing achievement for a woman of color at that time. Talbert developed her commitment to feminism and civil rights after her marriage and move to Buffalo, New York. She became a founding member of the Phyllis Wheatley Club, the first club in Buffalo affiliated with the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (NACW). Talbert herself served as President of NACW from 1916 to 1920. After the Club helped to organize the first chapter of the NAACP in Buffalo in 1910, Talbert also became a member of its Board of Directors, and eventually national director of the NAACP's Anti-Lynching Campaign. She worked on multiple movements for racial uplift, nationally and internationally – from penal reform in the U.S. South to the preservation of Frederick Douglass’s home in Washington, D.C. Talbert was also an ardent suffragist, challenging both the NAWSA (the National American Woman Suffrage Association) and the NWP (National Women’s Party) to welcome the participation of black women. In 1920 she was the first African-American delegate to the International Council of Women. During her lifetime she was called “the most famous black woman in America.”

Sojourner Truth
Born: 1797
Died: 1883

An inspiring abolitionist orator, Sojourner Truth is most famous for her 1851 speech at a Woman’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. Although she probably never spoke the words, “Ain’t I a Woman?” Truth did describe her life of hard labor and her belief in gender equality in powerful terms. Born into slavery as Isabella Baumfree in Ulster County, New York, Truth had walked away from her enslavement in 1826, a year before she would have been freed under New York State law. After working as a domestic servant in New York City, in 1843 she experienced a religious conversion, renamed herself Sojourner Truth, and started life as an itinerant preacher. Walking through Long Island, then travelling into New England, she met many prominent reformers. Truth was illiterate, but had her life story recorded by Olive Gilbert and published in 1850. Truth sold both her “Narrative” and her picture on speaking tours in order to support herself. By the time of the Civil War, she had become a national figure, meeting President Lincoln and fighting segregation on Washington streetcars. She spent her later years in Battle Creek, Michigan, where she unsuccessfully attempted to vote in 1872.

Frances E. Willard
Born: 1839
Died: 1898

Frances E. Willard was born in Churchville, NY who became a nationally significant leader of the temperance and Women’s Rights movements. She became the National President of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in 1879 and remained President until her death. She was instrumental in the passage of both the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Amendments to the Constitution.