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The Radical Rich

The Radical Rich

Encouraged by Blatch, who became her political mentor, Havemeyer eventually found her voice and began giving speeches. By 1915, when a referendum on woman’s suffrage was on the ballot in New York State for the November elections, Havemeyer went all out. In April, she contributed works by Degas and Cassatt to another exhibition for the cause, only this time she added her name to the program and gave a short talk. In her own modern motor car, she traveled through New York State, stopping on Main Streets to speak and holding aloft her self-designed “Ship of State,” a small model of the Mayflower lit by electricity and draped with “Votes for Women” symbols. Back in the city, she carried a “Torch of Liberty” onto a barge on the Hudson River, where, midstream, she handed it over to activists from the state of New Jersey.

During these same years, Rosalie Gardiner Jones (see slideshow first page) was making her mark as a suffrage maverick. Her family’s British and Dutch roots dated back to the earliest years of settlement in New York. Jones Beach and Gardiner’s Island were named after her ancestors. Rosalie, her parents, and siblings occupied a 1,000-acre estate in Oyster Bay, the largest private residence on Long Island. Out of such backgrounds few rebels emerge. Nobody in the Jones family actually worked. “They sat and looked at property,” as one descendent put it.

Jones clearly intended to transcend the customs of her class. She attended Adelphi College, then a women’s school, and graduated from Brooklyn Law School. Although her mother and sister were staunch anti-suffragists, Rosalie, another admirer of the militant British suffrage activists, joined an outdoor suffrage demonstration in Manhattan in 1911. Although Jones became a member of the mainstream National American Woman Suffrage Association, most of what she proceeded to do was entirely independent of any organization.

In the spring of 1912, she toured Long Island towns in a “Votes for Women” horse and wagon, speaking to gaping onlookers and passing out literature. That December, she organized a “pilgrimage” from Manhattan to Albany, a 140-mile trek, where she and her sister hikers planned to present a “votes for women” petition to William Sulzer, the new governor of New York. The hikers, garbed in plain, monkish robes and armed with yellow walking staffs, suffrage banners, and leaflets, set off from the northernmost point of Manhattan, heading north and accompanied by a band of reporters. They slogged through fog and snow, were welcomed in some places and hooted at in others. At one point, Rosalie’s mother threatened to send an emissary to drag her home. Rosalie herself fed the “highly amused” newspaper coverage by dubbing herself “General Jones” and her group “the suffrage army.”

In 1913, as the newly elected Woodrow Wilson was preparing for his presidential inauguration, a huge assemblage of activists from all over the country gathered to take over the streets of the capital with banners and floats and pageantry. Jones and her “army” walked to Washington from New York City, accompanied, again, by a corps of reporters. The Washington march turned ugly, with mobs of irate men pushing, shoving, and even beating some of the marchers. Any lingering ideas in the public’s mind that votes for women was a frivolous cause began to fade.

After the demonstration in Washington, the battle intensified. Even so, in New York State voters defeated the 1915 women’s suffrage referendum. Activists immediately regrouped, but they also divided ranks. Blatch joined the young Quaker Alice Paul in Washington, D.C., to press for a federal amendment to the Constitution. She endorsed Paul’s more militant tactics; she picketed the White House, she heckled President Wilson, who refused to endorse women's suffrage, she burned him in effigy—and she went to jail.

Both Alva Belmont and Lousine Havemeyer supported Alice Paul, politically and financially. Belmont’s luxurious residences became frequent meeting-places for Paul’s new group, the National Woman’s Party. Her fortune kept the party going, and she soon became its president. Belmont and Havemeyer also joined the picketing at the White House in 1917. Havemeyer was briefly jailed, and rode on the “Prison Special,” Paul’s whistle-stopping train that took former suffrage prisoners across the country, rallying, speaking, and gathering support. Rosalie Jones continued to stump independently.

By 1917, the momentum moved New York voters, and a second referendum on woman suffrage passed. But the impact of this victory went far beyond state borders: Due to New York’s enormous population, the victory doubled the total number of women in the entire country who could vote. This was clearly a tipping point on the road to the 19th Amendment that was passed three years later.

As for the three radical rich New York City women who were partially responsible for this triumph, Belmont moved to France to be near her daughter Consuelo and there she became instrumental in forming international councils for women. Havemeyer fell ill and retired from public life; and Jones eventually married a Congressman, divorced him, and then returned to Long Island, where she raised geese and was generally known as an eccentric. All three women were profoundly changed by “the Cause,” and they, in turn, changed the lives of their sister Americans.

Louise Bernikow is the author of nine books, the founder of two Women's Studies Programs, a Fulbright Fellow, and a women's history consultant. She has been bringing the forgotten activists of the past to life in lectures around the state.