Chester, Deep River, and Essex Historical Societies to Celebrate 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage
The Deep River Historical Society exhibit Celebrating Notable Women: 100 Years Since the 19th Amendment will feature notable items including this dress on loan from Kandie Carle. (Photo courtesy of the Deep River Historical Society )
The Chester Historical Society will share images like this image of the Ladies Aid Society, which formed during the American Civil War, as part of its Nineteenth Amendment centennial exhibit at the Chester Museum at the Mill. (Photo courtesy of the Chester Historical Society )
On May 21, 1919, a women’s suffrage amendment passed the U.S. House of Representatives. The Senate would pass it two weeks later, on June 4.
In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment was officially adopted, marking a turning point in a decades-long struggle for women aspiring to achieve equal voting rights.
The 100th anniversary of the amendment’s adoption this summer will not be overlooked by national, state and local organizations celebrating an important milestone in the ongoing push for gender equality—politically, socially, and economically.
“Women’s contributions in the community and society across the board are important during any time period,” said Joanie DiMartino, suffrage historian and curator at the Prudence Crandall Museum in Canterbury. “I’m glad that we’re using things like Women’s History Month and the anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment to draw attention to how important and involved women have been in their communities.”
In Chester, Deep River, and Essex, all three historical societies are planning to recognize the vital role that local women played in society during this time period and in suffragist activities.
Chester’s “No More Pink Teas,” a Delaney Series program, originally planned for late March to inform audiences about the more radical side of the suffragist movement, was rescheduled to the fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the talk, guest speaker DiMartino will discuss activist Alice Paul’s role in organizing demonstrations, picketing the White House, and leading hunger strikes, all of which helped drive passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in a more militant way.
In addition, the Chester Historical Society’s seasonal exhibit will focus on women who took active roles in the community during this time period. The exhibit will end with the town’s voting record from the presidential election of 1920.
“A few women stand out for their leadership, particularly in education and church activities,” said Sandy Senior-Dauer, exhibits co-chair at Chester Museum at the Mill, in email correspondence with the Courier.
According to Dauer, those leaders include Sarah Silliman, a member of the Female Benevolent and Praying Society of Chester in Saybrook, who, in 1814, organized 77 women to regularly meet and pray for the community, the world, and the poor.
Other examples include Sarah Hannah Davidson, who worked for the Baptist Church; author Kate Silliman; and teaching missionary Katie Wilcox.
“These are just a few notable women,” said Senior-Dauer. “There are librarians, photographers, shop and factory workers and others with stories to tell.”
In Deep River, the historical society’s summer exhibit Celebrating Notable Women: 100 Years Since the 19th Amendment, will feature historical objects such as a voting guide for women from the early 20th century. It will also highlight Deep River’s local contributions to the suffragist movement.
One example is Daphne Seldon, who graduated from Deep River High School in 1909. She worked with Katherine Ludington of Old Lyme to organize the New London Chapter of the Connecticut Woman’s Suffrage Association (CWSA).
The CWSA, which was founded in 1869, helped pass local legislation and advocated for the national women’s suffrage movement.
Meetings held by State Legislator Simon R. LaPlace is another example of suffragist activity in Deep River. LaPlace would hold large meetings of women at his store on Main Street to discuss the development of state legislation for their cause.
“Having him in their corner was huge because he was a voice at the Connecticut State Legislature, talking for them [when] they were not allowed,” said Deep River Historical Society Curator Rhonda Forristall.
What happened after the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, will also play an important part in Deep River’s exhibit.
“It’s not as if the flood gates were opened and everything was perfect from 1920 and onward,” said Essex Historical Society Director Melissa Josefiak. “In thinking about the last 100 years, obviously it has been an uphill climb.”
“Women got the vote in 1920 and it took them 30 years, the people of Deep River, to elect their first woman to a municipal position, which was town clerk,” said Forristall. “It took them 50 years to elect their first selectwoman, who was Lorraine Wallace.”
Work is still underway in developing key sections of the Deep River exhibit, specifically of women’s stories from the community.
In fact, all three historical societies would like to hear from the community about the local women of this time period, which will be shared at an event in the Deep River Town Hall auditorium, tentatively scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 15.
The event will feature banners from the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame exhibit titled Rise Up, Sisters! and Secretary of the State Denise Merrill will be a guest speaker.
“We realized very quickly that we don’t have a single [Essex] town story here, so we are banding together [for this event],” said Josefiak. “We have done that in the past and it has worked out very well.”
As far as a local suffragist in Essex, Josefiak admits, “as we keep looking and trying different avenues [for collecting information], it doesn’t mean the story is not out there.”
If you have a story or photograph of a woman in your family during this time period, please contact your local historical society. Visit deepriverhistoricalsociety.org, chesterhistoricalsociety.org, or www.essexhistory.org for more information.