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Women’s Suffrage at the Local Level

According to historian Delight Dodyk, by 1912, the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association had evolved into a modern political pressure group. The first suffrage parade in New Jersey was held in Newark on October 12, 1912. Eight hundred to 1,000 men and women representing twenty-two local suffrage organizations participated. In Middlesex County, the New Brunswick Political Study Club was founded on March 4, 1912 at a meeting at the New Brunswick Public Library. Emma McCoy (1884–1945) of New Brunswick was elected temporary chairman and fellow teacher Saidee Smith (1880–1942) temporary secretary. The group resolved to support the resolution in favor of women’s suffrage that had recently been turned down by the state legislature in the spring 1912 session. The women were soon busy inviting speakers, organizing rallies, and distributing literature. The New Brunswick Political Study Club was well represented in another Newark suffrage parade at the end of the month. McCoy herself carried the club’s handsome yellow banner, which apparently was much admired. She was joined by her sister Lillie, fellow teacher Chrissie Bartle (1865–1947) of New Brunswick, and Lucy Wilson (b. 1885), a farm owner from Fresh Ponds (today South Brunswick).

Meanwhile, the suffrage movement continued to grow in strength and numbers in Middlesex County. The New Brunswick Political Study Club was represented by seven members at the great suffrage parade in New York on May 4, 1913. The parade was led by the beautiful young war correspondent and feminist Inez Milholland Boissevain riding a white horse. The New Brunswick women who participated, led by Sarah DeMott Stevens (1881–1941), the daughter of suffragist Margaretta DeMott, who carried the banner, included Elizabeth D. Hill (1866–1948), Kate Garland (1887–1954), Alison Janeway (1890–1952), and Sarah Atkinson (1861–1956). Stevens was elected chairman of the Middlesex County Republican women’s organization in 1913 and president of the Political Study Club in 1915. Hill who ran a boarding house known as “The Bayard” in New Brunswick with her mother, was herself elected president of the club, renamed the New Brunswick Equal Suffrage League, in 1916. Kate Garland, the daughter of a local organist and music teacher, served on the advisory board of the NJWSA teachers’ section.

Women’s suffrage organizations were soon founded in cities and towns throughout Middlesex County including Perth Amboy (1913), Old Bridge (1913), Sewaren in Woodbridge Township (1914), and Dunellen. The Perth Amboy club was founded at the Water Street home of Ruth R. Benton (1861–1932), the wife of a prominent local attorney, with the support of the mayor of the city. Benton remained active in the organization, later renamed the Equal Suffrage League of the Amboys, hosting Lillian Feickert and Anna Howard Shaw, the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Tiny Sewaren adjacent to Perth Amboy, in turn, became a surprising hub of suffrage activity. After a visit by Mina Van Winkle and Minnie J. Reynolds of the Women’s Political Union to the home of Margaret E. Perry (1852–1928) in Sewaren, the Sewaren Equal Suffrage League was established with Minnie Adams (1879–1985) as president and Katherine B. Lacy (b. 1886) as secretary/treasurer. Often working with the local suffrage organization in Perth Amboy, the league raised money and sponsored speakers and rallies. After one such meeting, a local woman opined, “two hours were not long enough for such a meeting, that she could have remained half the night to listen to such arguments.”

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Anti-Suffrage Cartoon

The New Jersey Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage was founded in April 1912 in Mercer County. Ambassador’s daughter Anna L. Dayton (1836–1924) of Trenton represented New Jersey on the board of the National Association, which had been founded in New York the previous year. Indeed, many female supporters of anti-suffrage lived in the Trenton-Princeton area. Local anti-suffrage clubs were founded in Montclair, South Orange, Plainfield, Newark, Princeton, and Trenton. Anti-suffragists tended to be better-off women, including wealthy and prominent figures like Jennie Tuttle Hobart of Paterson (1849–1941), the widow of Vice President Garret Hobart. The anti-suffragists believed that women were above the rough and tumble world of politics and could best make a contribution to the public good by simply staying out of the political arena.

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New Brunswick Political Study Club

The New Brunswick Political Study Club was founded in April, 1912 as a branch of the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association. The organization's goal was “to advance the industrial, legal, and educational rights of women, and to secure suffrage to them by the appropriate State and National legislation.” The choice of name was deliberate in that the women believed that the press would be more likely to cover the club’s activities if it did not bear the label of suffrage.

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Rally in Monument Square

Suffragists Alice Carpender, Beatrice Broffe, Ida Waters, and Emma McCoy are pictured at this suffrage rally in Monument Square in New Brunswick on August 15, 1912. The women are decked in purple, green, and gold, among the suffrage colors. The New Brunswick Political Study Club organized the rally, which about 200 people attended. Beatrice Broffe was still in high school when this picture was taken.

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Sarah Atkinson

Sarah Atkinson (1861-1956) grew up in New Brunswick. Along with her sister, she had the opportunity to work as an English teacher and stenographer in Argentina. In 1898, Atkinson served as a translator at the Paris Peace Conference. Atkinson became involved with the New Brunswick Political Study Club in April 1913. She attended the annual New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association convention in Newark that year, and marched in the October 1915 New York suffrage parade. She later petitioned State Senator W.E. Florence and anti-suffrage Senator David Baird for suffrage. On February 9, 1920, Atkinson watched as the New Jersey legislature ratified the Nineteenth Amendment. After ratification, Atkinson continued to be involved in the League of Women Voters and local New Brunswick politics until her death at age 94.

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Home News Special Issue

On October 19, 1912, Emma McCoy edited a special suffrage edition of the Daily Home News, entitled Lovely Woman’s Idea of a Newspaper (the editor of the Home News supported women’s suffrage). In her editorial, McCoy wrote. “Why should there be one standard of morals for men, and another for women? It has been said that women will never get the ballot because it would injure them morally and socially. Is it immoral to stand for decency and good government? That is what the suffragists are standing for.” Four days later, the New York Herald, a newspaper with a circulation of 300,000, reprinted the edition’s front page.

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Monument Square

Suffrage rallies in New Brunswick were often held in Monument Square, where speakers competed with the noise of trolleys, passing cars, and police activity.

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George Street

George Street, New Brunswick’s busy main thoroughfare, also saw its share of suffrage parades. During the 1915 referendum, both the suffrage and the anti-suffrage campaigns had offices nearby.

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Perth Amboy

The historic port of Perth Amboy on the Raritan Bay was a commercial and industrial center in the late nineteenth century. Like New Brunswick, the city became a locus of both suffrage and anti-suffrage activity during the early twentieth century.

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Inez Milholland Boissevain

Inez Milholland Boissevain (1886–1916) was an American labor lawyer and suffragist. Born to a wealthy family in Brooklyn, New York, she graduated from Vassar College and received a law degree from New York University. She is best known for leading the 1913 Washington women’s suffrage parade dressed in white and riding a white horse, but she got her start leading New York suffrage parades as seen here. Tragically, Inez Milholland Boissevain died in 1916 at the age of 30 from pernicious anemia, exacerbated by exhaustion and overwork.

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Profile: Emma Augusta McCoy

Emma Augusta McCoy (1884–1945) was born in Franklin, Somerset, New Jersey. She was the youngest of the five daughters of Goyn D. McCoy, a merchant tailor, and his wife Louisa T. McCoy. McCoy said that her family were conservative Democrats. She was valedictorian at New Brunswick High School and graduated with a degree in art from Cooper Institute in New York City. Emma McCoy never married, living for much of her life with her sisters Jeanette and Eliza “Lillie” McCoy. In 1896, McCoy began working at North Plainfield Public School, where she was an active and vocal member of the teaching profession. In 1906, she was elected Railroad Secretary of the State Teachers Association of Atlantic City, and in 1909 she spoke out in the Daily Home News in favor of teacher tenure. McCoy did not become a suffragist until 1910, when she discovered that a much junior male colleague made substantially more than she did. Henceforth, she was a member of the New Brunswick Political Study Association (NBPSA). McCoy’s sister Lillie also joined the NBPSA, later becoming its corresponding secretary. In 1911, Emma McCoy became president of the Middlesex County Teachers Association.

On August 15, 1912, McCoy, now president of the NBPSA, organized a suffrage rally at Monument Square. At this event, the NBPSA formally endorsed Theodore Roosevelt for president. On October 12, McCoy, along with Mary Pattison and Margaretta DeMott (1847–1916), helped found the Women’s Progressive Party in support of Teddy Roosevelt. Finally, in April 1913, McCoy was voted to the executive board of NJWSA. Emma McCoy’s suffrage career ended in a series of unfortunate events. In late 1913, she lost the majority of her retirement fund due to bad investment advice from Arthur Millbury of the State Teachers’ Retirement Fund. McCoy was drawn into a lengthy lawsuit against Millbury, which she eventually won, and continued to campaign for reform of the Retirement Fund statewide. After the death of her sister Lillie in 1918 and her own health problems, McCoy retired from public life almost entirely. In an August 1920 interview celebrating the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, McCoy said, “There has been no time in the history of the world, as during the recent war [for suffrage], when women showed such marked efficiency and resourcefulness; and I have faith to believe that next November, when the ‘Call to the Colors,’ in the form of a presidential election occurs, there will be no ‘slackers’ among the women of New Brunswick and Middlesex County.”

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Profile: Minnie Adams

Minnie Adams (1879–1985) was born Wilhelmina Katherine Lapp in Baden-Baden, Germany, in 1879. She was brought by her parents to New York in 1882. In New York, Minnie attended school and met and married a young architect, Frederick J. Adams in 1905. The couple moved to Sewaren in Woodbridge Township, at that time a fashionable seaside resort with mansions by the water, a hotel, and a dock for steamers from New York. The couple remained in Sewaren, where they raised their three children.

In 1914, Minnie Adams and her friends founded the Sewaren Equal Suffrage League, which would grow to 150 members. The group held frequent meetings sponsoring suffrage speakers such as Anna Howard Shaw, the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Adams later recalled that one of the proudest moments of her life was to sit on the same stage as Shaw and Carrie Chapman Catt (1859–1947) of NAWSA. Adams was active in various women’s clubs and other local organizations in Sewaren throughout her life. When the U.S. entered the First World War in 1917, Adams got her suffrage group together and formed what became the Woodbridge Chapter of the Red Cross, sitting on the board for many years. Additionally, she was an active member of the Sewaren Land and Water Club and of the Salmagundi Literary and Musical Society, Woodbridge Township’s oldest social organization. She also helped found and was a charter member of the Sewaren History Club. Adams became the first woman to be elected to the Trustees of Free School Lands, where she led the drive to convince the Board of Education to build a school in Sewaren, which her younger son later attended.

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Sewaren in Woodbridge Township, between Port Reading and Perth Amboy, has a shore front along the Staten Island Sound. In the late nineteenth century, it was developed as a beach resort. Social life for its affluent residents centered on the Land and Water Club, incorporated in 1892, which held yachting competitions and elaborate balls. Sewaren’s luxury hotel is shown in this postcard.