Losing New York, 1915


Losing New York, 1915


Dissecting the failed 1915 New York suffrage referendum is like reliving the 2016 election. It’s still too soon. But take a deep breath and let’s dive in . .

Winning New York would require a three-step process: suffragists needed to pass a bill through the state Senate and the Assembly in 1913, pass the same bill in 1915, and then win a popular referendum with the men of the state.

We really thought we had it. Harriot Stanton Blatch & Carrie Chapman Catt, two towering figures in suffrage politics, devoted themselves to winning. They undertook more than three years of meticulous planning, fundraising, lobbying in Albany, and organizing throughout the state.

Carrie Chapman Catt had been focused on int’l suffrage for years, and now shifted her energy to NY. Catt & Harriot Stanton Blatch were oil & water. Catt liked total control; Blatch found Catt’s cautious conservatism enraging. They reached a chilly detente for the 1915 campaign.

Fundraising began in 1912 with a ball for 2,000, at the accessible price of 50c per ticket. The next year they sold out the Armory, mixing hoi polloi with “shabby little cash girls, waltzing in shirt waists” -- NY Tribune. The campaign raised more than $4 million in today’s $$.

Harriot Stanton Blatch spent 1913 and the winter of 1915 in Albany, shepherding the bill through with an army of lobbyists. When Sen. Elon Brown said that fewer than a dozen women in his district supported suffrage, activist Helen Todd arrived at his office trailed by hundreds.

The bill passed both chambers in 1913; and again in 1915. In 1915 it passed the Assembly 113-0. It was time to go to the voters.

Catt divided the state into 12 districts, and ran “suffrage schools” for organizers, who were assigned all the way down to the neighborhood level. Actions were organized with military precision. In addition to public meetings and leafleting, suffragists used new creative tactics.

Huge crowds gathered on a sidewalk near St. Patrick’s Cathedral to watch a “voiceless speech” -- a woman standing in a store window, slowly turning placards on an easel. Blatch’s group parked a Votes for Women lunch wagon on Wall Street and gave soapbox speeches from May to Nov.

They provided free child care at public events - which had the double benefit of capturing parents’ attention and demonstrating the kind of world women would make with their power.👇Suffolk County Fair, Long Island, 1914.

They canvassed relentlessly. Catt estimated that they reached 60% of NYC voters directly. A caravan traveled the width of the state, from Montauk Point to Lake Erie, bearing a suffrage torch. Victory seemed within reach.

But in November 1915, they lost the popular vote. Badly. Only 43% of the men in New York supported suffrage. All five boroughs of New York City voted against. Why? Well, sharing the ballot with an unpopular measure about a Constitutional Convention didn’t help.

But the only concrete reason for such a resounding defeat was that most of the men in New York didn’t want women to vote. Carrie Chapman Catt began preparing immediately for a new referendum. Not Harriot.

Harriot Stanton Blatch was done asking every man in each state if she could vote. From now on, she would devote herself to the Federal Amendment. #CenturyofStruggle #19thAmendment 


Daily Suffragist






Daily Suffragist, “Losing New York, 1915,” Daily Suffragist, accessed August 17, 2022, https://dailysuffragist.omeka.net/items/show/463.

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