By Sandra Storey / Special to the Gazette
Women got the right to vote in this country 100 years ago this coming August. The 19th amendment to the Constitution was passed by Congress on June 4, 1919 and was ratified on Au-gust 18, 1920 when the 36th state ratified it. Women’s suffrage supporters struggled for this per-manent change in the electorate for decades.
Fortunately for Jamaica Plain, where quite a few women’s suffrage advocates once lived and many political activists live today, the Loring Greenough House is holding a series of events where people can learn more about and celebrate women’s suffrage in its centennial year, with em-phasis on local participants and places. Sazama Real Estate is sponsoring “Suffrage at 100: A Cen-tury of Women and the Vote.”
Upcoming monthly suffrage celebration events at the Revolutionary War era house this spring will include: a screening of the 1999 Ken Burns documentary “Not for Ourselves Alone” about Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony; a presentation by local women’s history ex-perts Linda Dibble and Mary Smoyer of “Road to the Vote: the Boston Women’s Suffrage Trail”; and “I Now Pronounce You Lucy Stone,” a play portraying the Massachusetts suffragist who is buried in Forest Hills Cemetery.
A big lawn party at the house is planned for August 18, exactly 100 years after ratification. Other programs for the fall, including “Suffering for Suffrage” and one in November about the first Presidential election where women voted, are in the planning stages.
Part of the fun of learning about the suffrage movement is that it inspires thoughts about current movements and voting itself. Activities and difficulties are amazingly similar despite the different times. Suffragists marched and demonstrated carrying signs. They gave speeches. They wrote pamphlets. They organized buses to take people to Washington to lobby their representatives and senators and to demonstrate.
Sometimes suffragists were treated badly for their views, not only by the authorities but by friends and family. Some people declined to support women’s suffrage, sometimes citing issues they found more important, as though there is an issues competition.
Generations and thousands of women (and men) worked for suffrage before they finally succeeded. The earliest suffragists did not live to see the amendment pass.
“Intersectionality” of identities wasn’t a word or concept then, and the suffrage movement was and still is considered by many to have been composed of middle class white women.
A terrific first event in the Loring Greenough House series was scheduled to take place on Feb. 25 after this column went to press. “We Were There Too: African American Women Who Advocated for Universal Suffrage” is a lecture by Jamaica Plain resident, architect and author Rosalyn Elder. The owner of Jamaicaway Books from 1998 to 2012, she is the author of Explor-ing Our Legacy, a book about the contributions of African Americans to both our state’s and our country’s history.
Elder said in an interview that participation by African American women came with a heavy dose of societal protests to “stay in their lane.” Nevertheless, “quite a few African American wom-en were active in the process of getting the vote for women,” she said. Elder shares the stories of African American women who worked for woman suffrage, including Bostonian Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, wife of the first African American judge in Massachusetts.
Voting rights continue to be an issue today, with disenfranchisement of various groups, especially people of color, still a problem. Registering and voting could be made a lot easier and more accessible for everyone, too.
An art exhibition at the Egleston Branch Library through mid-March sponsored by Vio-lence Transformed is called “Unfinished Business: Your Reason to Vote.” Publicity talks about 2020 being a presidential election year and commemorating the 100th anniversary of passage of the 19th amendment. But it goes on to say that the battle for voting rights goes on in this this country today.
Dibble’s and Smoyer’s talk at the Loring-Greenough House will be based on a special Boston walking tour created by the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail with a guide to people, places, buildings and homes key to the suffrage movement over the years.
The Loring Greenough House itself was in danger of being torn down for development in 1924, but a group of women saved the property. The Jamaica Plain Tuesday Club purchased the house and its nearly two acres of landscaped property and has worked to preserve it since. In 1993 it opened membership to men.
“In 2008, the club articulated a vibrant, new community-oriented role for the House as a center for social, cultural, historical, and educational activities,” according to its website.
The board of the nonprofit has a community education committee, and it formed the Suf-frage Task Force with the goal of doing an entire series of programs in this anniversary year. Members of the task force are: Dorothy Clark, Sharon Kong-Perring, Nancy Leask, Vin-cent Longo, Stephen Pepper and Diane Spears.
Co-President of the board Spears said in an interview, “As a woman, I relate to the women of the Jamaica Plain Tuesday Club who saved the Loring Greenough House. It’s just natural that we want to highlight all women who are trailblazers. We are also all about history; we do a lot of history programs. We have a rich history in JP.”
Pepper agreed that it seemed to make sense that an organization that owes so much to women would want to lead the community in celebration and in learning more. “We wanted to re-flect the ongoing culture to celebrate what is a significant anniversary,” Pepper said.
When Pepper went through minutes of Tuesday Club board meetings during the time women’s suffrage was an issue, he made an interesting discovery. The club, which was to buy the Loring Greenough House seven years later, never went on record as supporting women’s suffrage. At a board meeting in 1917, one member asked others to write their congressman urging him to not support it.
And other minutes show that the Tuesday Club cosponsored a rally at Eliot Hall to oppose the amendment. In those days, the board met at Eliot Hall. Pepper said that the majority of Tuesday Club members then were white, upper-middle class, married women.
Some women said it was “unpatriotic” to support getting the right to vote while a war was going on, even before the U.S. entered it. Some said they should focus on sending necessities to Europe for refugees instead.
People proud of JP’s activist history should not despair at learning this. The JP Historical Society website (jphs.org) notes several suffragists who lived and/or are buried here, as provided to them by Smoyer. They include Judith Winsor Smith, a suffragist and abolitionist, who voted for the first time in 1920 at the age of 99, and her daughter Zilpha Smith. Susan Walker FitzGerald of Greenough Avenue was the first woman Democrat elected to the Massachusetts legislature. And there were more.
Times and dates of each event are on the Loring Greenough House website at
Suffrage at 100 Series – A Century of Women and the VoteTickets must be ordered ahead of time at the website for each of the Suffrage at 100 programs due to space limitations. Tickets are inexpensive, with discounts for Loring Greenough House mem-bers. People for whom ordering on line is difficult may also call 617-524-3158 for reservations. The Loring Greenough House is across from the Civil War Monument at 12 South Street.