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Many women paved the way for Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton this week is expected to become the first woman to lead a major party's presidential ticket, but women have been angling for the honor for more than a century - even before the 19th Amendment secured their universal right to vote.

Susan Ryerson led a demonstration at the RNC in Chicago in 1916, urging that women be given the vote.
Susan Ryerson led a demonstration at the RNC in Chicago in 1916, urging that women be given the vote.Read moreBryn Mawr College Archive

Hillary Clinton this week is expected to become the first woman to lead a major party's presidential ticket, but women have been angling for the honor for more than a century - even before the 19th Amendment secured their universal right to vote.

Belva Lockwood, the first female lawyer to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court, twice sought the presidency in the 1880s. And she wasn't the first; that honor belonged to Victoria Woodhull, an Ohio native who ran in 1872.

Many other women - including famed abolitionist and women's rights advocate Lucretia Mott of the Philadelphia area, ardent suffragist Alice Paul of Mount Laurel, and M. Carey Thomas, the former president of Bryn Mawr College who for a time led the National College Women's Equal Suffrage League - figured prominently in helping women achieve equal rights.

Lesser-known women played roles, too. Caroline Katzenstein helped female teachers secure better salaries, championed suffrage, and later excelled at a Philadelphia insurance company.

A group of local libraries, some based at the region's universities, recently secured a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to educate the public about these and other notable women. They plan to assemble an extensive online collection of women with ties to the region who laid the groundwork for the 19th Amendment, not just by demonstrating in the streets for suffrage, but by their accomplishments in fields long dominated by men, such as law, medicine, and religion.

"We want to look at the region's tradition of women working to expand their rights and opportunities to understand how many different women were working in many different spheres to move forward," said Margery N. Sly, director of the Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries.

With efforts to abolish slavery, assert property and legal rights, and campaign for access to professional training and employment, the women raised public awareness and created a support network that made suffrage possible.

"Suffrage didn't happen in a vacuum," said Heather Willever-Farr, manager of digital services for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. "Our hope is to unearth those intersections between political rights for women and social and cultural movements where they are trying to support women."

The libraries expect to have a preliminary report and online site developed by June and to build on it as the centennial of the 19th Amendment nears, Sly said. The project will focus on developments from 1820 to 1920, the year the 19th Amendment was passed.

Their project could generate interest as Clinton - whose mother, Dorothy Howell Rodham, was born the day Congress passed the 19th Amendment - potentially ascends to the White House.

What would Lockwood and these other pioneering women have thought about that?

"I'm sure they thought it wouldn't be such a long time," said Wendy E. Chmielewski, curator of the Swarthmore College Peace Collection.

Swarthmore's collection includes correspondence between Lockwood and her nephew, pamphlets created during her presidential run, and photographs. Lockwood, a native of Upstate New York, first ran for president in 1884, drawing fewer than 5,000 votes, and again in 1888.

It was the Lockwood collection that brought Chmielewski and researcher Jill Norgren together for a project that sought to trace U.S. women who ran for local, state, and national offices before the 19th Amendment passed.

"We thought there would be less than 100," Chmielewski said.

Not even close.

The project - Her Hat Was in the Ring - has uncovered 3,327 women who ran in 4,572 campaigns. And Chmielewski believes there are a couple of thousand more they haven't found yet.

The website,, includes short bios of the women, like Olive Rose, the first woman they could find who was elected to an office. She became register of deeds in Lincoln County, Maine, in 1853, beating her opponent, 73-4. That's even though she herself did not have the right to vote.

"Even most historians, most women historians, don't know about these women," Chmielewski said.

Also based at Swarthmore College is the Friends Historical Library, which includes correspondence from and photographs of Mott, a major figure in the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, the first women's rights forum.

Among the collection at the Historical Society library are files on Katzenstein, a North Carolina native who moved to Philadelphia in 1907 and got involved in the suffrage movement. There's an account of a 1913 protest she attended with Paul.

"Without a permit, [Katzenstein] audaciously set up a soapbox on Kensington Avenue in downtown Philadelphia and decried the disenfranchisement of women," according to a short biography of her. "While Paul gave her fiery speech, Katzenstein handed out pamphlets to the raucous crowds."

The files also include an honor roll of insurance agents from Philadelphia Insurance Co. with the three leading agents at the top. Katzenstein is depicted between two men with the caption "leader of leaders" under her name.

"I've never seen anything like this," Willever-Farr said. "It was a male-dominated industry, and here she is with two men. It just says it all, right?"

Drexel University, home to the archives of the first degree-granting medical school for women, has little direct connection to suffrage in its materials but shows that its graduates played a role.

Its alumni association endorsed suffrage.

Among the women credited in Susan B. Anthony and others' History of Woman Suffrage is Ann Preston, an early graduate of the college.

Frances C. Van Gasken, a professor, wired President Woodrow Wilson about "dangerous" treatment Paul endured in prison after being arrested during a demonstration.

Hannah E. Longshore, another early graduate, named her daughter Lucretia Mott Longshore, a trend at the time.

The collection also highlights how the school's graduates persisted despite discrimination. Longshore writes of visiting a pharmacy in the early 1850s after she got her degree. She placed her business card on the counter and ordered medication.

"Go home and darn your husband's stockings," the pharmacist told her, refusing to sell her the drugs.

Bryn Mawr, a women's college, served as a hub for the suffrage movement, its collection shows. Thomas, the president, brought prominent women's rights activists, including Susan B. Anthony and Carrie Chapman Catt, to campus to speak.

But Thomas' legacy was complicated. She, like some other suffragists, was focused on expanding rights for white, privileged women. She refused to admit black students to Bryn Mawr, noted Monica Mercado, a former Bryn Mawr scholar who teaches at Colgate University.

"Thomas, for all of her flaws, is a dynamo," Mercado said, "and she is increasingly comfortable with being on a national stage, and she's speaking out, and that helps Bryn Mawr in a lot of ways."

The collection also shows that Bryn Mawr students and alumni played prominent roles in the suffragist movement. Pauline Chapman edited a weekly newsletter called the Suffragist. She also got arrested picketing outside the White House in 1918. Another alumna, Alice Henkle, served as "captain of the picket on Congress."

Thomas' niece led the Bryn Mawr suffragist group and kept a diary of her experiences, including a description of a trip she and her aunt took to Buffalo in 1908 to attend the 40th annual convention of the National American Woman's Suffrage Association.

"I was crazy to go," wrote a niece of Thomas', Mary Whitall Worthington. "All the great people in the suffrage world were there."

She writes of a division between working-class and educated women over how to campaign for voting rights.

One critic, she said, opined: "College women weren't worth a pea and that any working woman was worth 50 college women."

Worthington didn't like that.

"It pained me awfully to see such an ungenerous, jealous spirit among people working for a great cause," Worthington wrote.

Still, the experience stirred passion in the young college student and gave rise to a new generation of women's rights advocates.

"It all interested me intensely," she wrote, "and I reveled in it."





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