They came from all corners of the state and were of every age and social strata. Some marched on Washington, others took a stand at home. They contributed time and money, words, wisdom and willpower. They did not always agree on strategy, but they had one goal in common: to achieve suffrage for women. And out of their work came landmark legislation including the 19th Amendment (1920), the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
A year ago, Women and the Vote NYS launched in Rochester to mark the contributions of the many women and men across the state credited with the foundation of the women’s rights movement.
The project is led by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Linda Moroney of Low to the Ground Productions, storyteller Lorraine Woerner of Four Cats Creative, community project consultant Laura Chekow and me.
More than 30 volunteer research assistants from across the state contribute to the project. WomenAndTheVoteNYS.com is home to their research and features an interactive map and directory of suffragists buried in New York.
“On Election Day, we want people all over New York State to be able to recognize the work of those who contributed to the passing of the 19th Amendment and those that continued to fight for political equality, post-19th Amendment,” says Moroney, who conceived the project. “This was an incredibly large movement in terms of scope and scale, and one that has many lessons still to teach us today.”
Research volunteers began attending weekly Suffragist Search Parties in February to cull through lists from historians and historical organizations to determine suffragist burial sites located in New York. The initial in-person meetings gave way to virtual meetings on Zoom once the pandemic hit, allowing volunteers from across the state and as far away as California to gather. The vetting process included tapping into resources such as Find-a-Grave, Ancestry, Fulton History, Alexander Street, and many other reputable sources.
“Even if we have the name of a suffragist, it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole trying to learn more,” Chekow says. “It’s rewarding when your research uncovers a suffragist who has not previously received the recognition deserved.”
Adds Woerner: “Most of the individuals featured are unknowns, not included in history books, yet they made remarkable contributions to the movement and to society.”
She points to examples like Dorothy May Day who, in her memoir, “The Long Loneliness,” detailed her ordeal as a Silent Sentinel, imprisoned with other suffragists, then beaten during the “Night Of Terror” at Occoquan Workhouse. Others include Ethel Cuff Black, one of the founders of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, which was the only African-American organization that managed to participate in the 1913 Woman Suffrage Parade in Washington, D.C. Sarah Read Adamson Dolley M.D., the second woman in America to become a doctor, helped found the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union, the precursor of Rochester Legal Aid Society.
The public can add the names of suffragists from their families or communities as well, along with their photos, contributions, and New York burial locations for inclusion in the interactive map and directory.
With the website, map, and directory online, Women and the Vote NYS has launched a Vote & Visit campaign to encourage people to visit suffragist gravesites after casting their ballot.
The Vote and Visit initiative was inspired by the film “Election Day 2016.” It was shot at Mount Hope Cemetery in 2016 when more than 10,000 people spontaneously showed up to pay tribute at the grave of Susan B. Anthony. The Rochester Documentary Group was onsite to capture interviews.
This year, filmmakers representing Women and the Vote NYS will return to Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester to ask nonpartisan questions that will form the foundation of a new documentary, “Election Day 2020|NYS.” Filmmakers will also be interviewing visitors at Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Westchester, and Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.
“Asking non-partisan questions is our way to create a space for civic dialogue on Election Day,” says Moroney, who will direct the film. “Our project bridges New York state’s rich and diverse suffrage legacy with contemporary voters and—hopefully—future voters. We anticipate the conversations will be varied, insightful, challenging, and honest, just as New Yorkers are known to be.”
For more information on this project and the film, visit WomeandtheVoteNYS.com.
Carol White Llewellyn is a marketing consultant, media producer and owner of CommuniVisiion Studio. She is the producer and host of the Telly Award-winning cable and online series, Conversations with Creatives.