More than a century ago, local women scaled mountains of opposition to win the right to vote, crafting statewide political strategy, educating young leaders and campaigning in all of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.
One of Pittsburgh’s most progressive families was a socially prominent, politically active clan led by Julian Kennedy, an internationally renowned steel engineer, his wife, Jennie, their three sons and two daughters, Eliza Kennedy Smith and Lucy Kennedy Miller. Newspaper readers of that era knew the sisters as Mrs. R. Templeton Smith and Mrs. J.O. Miller.
“They had the money to bring people together and galvanize them for the cause. They even announce Eliza’s engagement at one of their suffrage events in their home,” said Anne P. Madarasz, chief historian and director of the curatorial division at the Sen. John Heinz History Center in the Strip District.
Suffrage — the right to vote in elections — belonged to white American men and, after the 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870, to Black men. But in the South, literacy tests, lynchings, poll taxes and segregation suppressed Black voters. In England, the press coined the word “suffragette” to mock women seeking the vote; the proper word is suffragist.
Early leaders in Pittsburgh women’s battle for the ballot included Rachel Foster Avery, who traveled with Susan B. Anthony, one of the best known suffrage leaders. Soprano Sara Beatrice Writt Dunston trained at two conservatories, and used her talents to raise money for the movement. Emma Bell Writt Richards hosted meetings of the Lucy Stone Suffrage League in her home and raised money for scholarships.
In Pittsburgh’s East End, suffrage central was the Kennedy family’s large Squirrel Hill mansion, visited by nationally known movement leaders such as Carrie Chapman Catt and Anna Howard Shaw. The address was 5400 Forbes St., but the stone home stood on four acres on Darlington Road and overlooked Schenley Park. Today, the site holds seven homes built after World War II.
Women demanded the vote because they wanted to eliminate sweat-shop labor and obtain equal pay, better child care and protection from predatory sexual behavior, especially in the workplace. Those issues remain relevant today, Ms. Madarasz noted.
College-educated and outspoken, many of Pittsburgh’s suffragists epitomized the independent-thinking “new woman.” Mrs. Miller, a Vassar graduate, was a founder of the Allegheny County Equal Rights Association.
Organized in 1904, it included Mary Flinn Lawrence, a wealthy equestrian and philanthropist who learned about politics from her father, William Flinn, a general contractor and Pennsylvania state senator. The other two founders were Mary E. Bakewell, who trained to be an Episcopalian minister, and Hannah Patterson, a Wilson College graduate who studied finance at Columbia University and law at the University of Pennsylvania. Jennie Bradley Roessing provided political strategy and Edna Schoyer wrote pamphlets, kept the group’s finances and used her musical talents to entertain.
“It’s almost like they assembled this dream team of superheroes,” said Eliza Smith Brown, a Squirrel Hill resident and granddaughter of Eliza Kennedy Smith.
Pittsburgh women quickly rose to leadership in the movement. At a statewide suffrage convention in 1912, Mrs. Roessing was elected president, Miss Bakewell, vice president, Mrs. Miller, second vice president, and Miss Patterson, a committee chair. All were under the age of 31.
Besides challenging the Victorian mindset that women should stay at home, suffragists battled opposition from other women. Julia Morgan Harding, president of the Pittsburgh Association Opposed to Woman’s Suffrage, believed that if women voted, families would be divided. In a 1912 speech at the long-gone Fort Pitt Hotel, she said women who made public spectacles of themselves should be “spanked in the public streets.” She also claimed that women were more susceptible to bribery than men.
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The suffrage cookbook, first published in 1915, was organized by a Pittsburgh suffragist, Mrs. Elizabeth Kleber. The book featured recipes for hasty pudding by Lady Constance Lytton, a proponent of suffrage in England and the best way to roast a duck by Jack London, author of “The Call of the Wild.” Of the 57 recipe contributors, 30 were from Western Pennsylvania. Book sales generated money for The Equal Franchise Federation of Western Pennsylvania. First editions are being offered by antiquarian booksellers for as much as $2,500. The entire book can be viewed online at The Suffrage Cookbook.
Cast at a foundry in Troy, N.Y., the Justice Bell symbolized women’s 72-year battle to obtain the ballot. The words, “Establish Justice” were engraved on it and the bronze bell did not ring until women won the right to vote. In 1915, Elizabeth McShane Hilles and Louise Hall, as well as other suffragists, drove the specially reinforced, flatbed truck that displayed the bell. The bell traveled to every one of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. Today, the Justice Bell rests in the bell tower of Washington Memorial Chapel, which was built to honor George Washington at Valley Forge National Historical Park.
In October 1915, thousands of Pittsburghers watch as 7,000 women parade through Downtown’s streets in support of winning the right to vote. The memorable spectacle, a sea of yellow and white sashes, features women on horseback, floats, cars, 100 grandmothers, children costumed as daisies and a group of supportive men.
During the 1915 World Series, Pittsburgh baseball fans became a captive audience for women campaigning for the right to vote. Prohibited from gathering in city streets outside newspaper offices to see the latest headlines, men crowded into the former Antler Hotel at 335 Fifth Ave. to hear news bulletins about the World Series, the Philadephia Nationals vs. the Boston Redsox. In between announcing scores and the latest plays, women gave speeches about why they wanted the right to vote.
Winifred Barron Meek Morris organized the Suffrage Shirtwaist Ball, billed as “the most democratic fete.” In November 1916, the party attracted 3,000 people for an evening of dining and dancing at Motor Square Garden in East Liberty. Society women and shopgirls, debutantes and dressmakers all danced to the music of Nirella’s Band, a 20-piece orchestra. Supporters of suffrage wore yellow and white boutonnieres, Russian turbans, neck ruffs, shoulder sashes or hat bands. Prizes for the most attractive shirtwaist, a popular long-sleeved blouse, were awarded to Miss Lillian Dermitt of Stanton Avenue and Miss T.A. Nielus.
The 19th Amendment is called the Susan B. Anthony Amendment in honor of the late suffragist.
The 19th Amendment becomes part of the U.S. Constitution.
Struggle required stamina. The Kennedy sisters and their comrades gave “silent speeches,’’ standing for hours in a May Drug Co. display window at Liberty and Fifth avenues, Downtown, holding signs promoting a statewide suffrage convention in October 1913.
Other suffragists spoke from Downtown’s Grand Opera House stage, addressing a captive audience more eager to hear operas or see vaudeville. To raise funds, women sold buttons, homemade food, cookbooks and literature. Some melted down their jewelry.
Mrs. Miller and Miss Bakewell opened a School for Suffrage Workers in January 1914. More than 100 students attended classes taught by University of Pittsburgh faculty on constitutional law, government, public speaking, taxation and women’s legal status.
Using her deep, authoritative voice, Mrs. Miller gave speeches. For national Suffrage Day in May 1914, she organized an integrated Pittsburgh parade that included marching bands, a 50-car motorcade and 10 young women in white dresses who symbolized the U.S. states or territories where women could already vote. Also in the procession were Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham University) students, 50 grandmothers and Black suffragists from the Lucy Stone League. More than 7,000 people watched and donated as hats were passed.
Every movement needs symbols, and in the spring of 1915, suffragists got one cast in bronze. On March 31, 1915, a foundry in Troy, N.Y., produced a bronze replica of Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell, minus the crack. Funded by Katharine Wentworth Ruschenberger, a wealthy suffragist from Strafford, Pa., the bell was engraved with the words “Establish Justice.” Its clapper was chained so it could not ring — yet.
On July 5, 1915, Mrs. Roessing drove into Pittsburgh in a flat-bed truck that displayed the one-ton Justice Bell. She parked it and joined thousands of suffragists as they walked over the crest of Flagstaff Hill in Schenley Park, where Americanization Day ceremonies were ending. Dressed in red, white and blue and forming a human flag, 2,000 children sang “America.”
Suffragists stood silently for 15 minutes in a semicircle behind the dais, holding banners. One read: “We are grandmothers. Will our sons, the native sons of this state and the naturalized sons of other lands, deny us the right to vote?”
The bell became a key symbol in a campaign to stir support for a statewide suffrage referendum in November. Throughout the summer and fall of 2015, Uniontown native Elizabeth McShane Hilles and Vassar classmate Louise Hall drove an open-air truck with the Justice Bell through Pennsylvania, traveling 5,000 miles over dirt roads and mountains. In each county seat, the women and their supporters gave speeches. Mrs. Roessing and Miss Patterson participated in the tour, too.
“Women are not supposed to be driving and there aren’t many cars on the road. Imagine what a spectacle this was,” said Curt Miner, senior historian and curator for the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrrisburg.
After the statewide referendum failed in November, many blamed Pennsylania’s liquor and textile lobbies. One feared women would push for stronger enforcement of Prohibition; the other worried women would support banning child labor. Allegheny County voters approved the referendum.
Noting that the referendum failed by only 55,000 votes, Mrs. Roessing led Pittsburgh suffragists in on-the-ground politics by canvassing precincts.
“These women were taking a different approach at winning the hearts and minds of the voters,” said Mr. Miner, who organized the suffrage exhibition “Why Not in Pennsylvania?” that opened in March at the state museum.
“They got organized labor on their side. They persuaded Catholic clergy to issue letters to parishioners saying there is nothing inconsistent about Catholic teaching and suffrage for women,” he said.
Another suffragist, Winifred Barron Meek Morris, organized the Shirtwaist Ball at East Liberty’s Motor Square Garden in 1916. Billed as “the most democratic fete ever attempted in Pittsburgh,’’ it attracted 3,000 suffrage supporters ranging from dressmakers to wealthy matrons. Trophies were awarded for the best handmade shirtwaists, a popular style of long-sleeved blouse.
After America entered World War I in April 1917, Pittsburgh women set up a “suffrage service hut” at city hall. Soldiers could use the restroom, drink hot coffee, eat fresh doughnuts and get a copy of the suffrage cookbook to send to their mothers.
Suffragists also began selling Liberty Bonds to support the Allies. As head of the state women’s division of the Fourth Liberty Bond Campaign, Mrs. Miller led a group that sold more bonds than any other division in the country. Daisy Lampkin, Pittsburgh’s leading Black suffragist, organized the sale of $2 million worth of Liberty Bonds. An entrepreneur, lobbyist, organizer and recruiter of talent, Mrs. Lampkin was an officer in the 1920s of the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper, which had national distribution and a big audience.
Ultimately, a nationwide effort propelled women to the voting booth. On June 24, 1919, Pennsylvania ratified the 19th Amendment. More than a year later, on Aug. 18, 1920, suffragists gathered in Nashville, Tenn., where the outcome turned on one man’s vote. State Rep. Harry T. Burn initially voted against suffrage, then heeded his mother’s advice and supported enfranchising women, making Tennessee the 36th state to ratify the amendment.
On Aug. 26, U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed the 19th Amendment into law, making it part of the U.S. Constitution.
A month later, as the Justice Bell rang for the first time on Sept. 25, 1920, in Philadelphia’s Independence Square, Lucy Kennedy Miller was there. She knew the bell tolled for her and millions of other women. That same year, as the first state president of the League of Women Voters, she began educating Pennsylvania women on how to use their new power.
As the bronze Justice Bell toured Pennsylvania on a flat-bed truck in 1915, hundreds of thousands of people saw the one-ton symbol that symbolized women’s fight for the right to vote.
Cast in Troy, N.Y., and engraved with the phrase “Establish Justice,” the bell did not sound until the 19th Amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution. On Sept. 25, 1920, nearly 10,000 people gathered to hear the bell ring for the first time in Philadelphia’s Independence Square. Among the revelers was Katharine Wentworth Ruschenberger, a Chester County woman who paid $2,000 for the bell to be cast at a foundry. Her niece, Catherine Wentworth of Roanoke, Va., did the honors.
“There was lots of pageantry with women from every state leading a procession around the bell,” said Amanda Owen, executive director of the Justice Bell Foundation.
In 1915, the bell began its tour in Sayre, Bradford County, then crisscrossed the state, stopping in all of of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. Two Vassar College roommates, Louise Hall, of Harrisburg, and Elizabeth McShane Hilles, of Uniontown, served as tour directors. They were drumming up support for a statewide suffrage amendment that was on the November ballot that year.
“Elizabeth joined the tour in Uniontown,” Ms. Owen said. “Louise Hall’s brother, Ollie, was the official photographer of the tour and also drove the truck.”
In each county, the Justice Bell drew crowds and a delegation of supporters who wanted to speak.
“Many women who were not with the tour all the way did speak from the bell truck,” Ms. Owen said.
An author and social worker, Ms. Owen learned about the Justice Bell in 2016. She found the bell at Washington Memorial Chapel, an active Episcopal parish in Valley Forge National Park.
“At the time, the yoke was really in disrepair. What I noticed was that there was kind of a little glass case with some information about the bell. It was dirty and coffee-stained. There was no other information about it,” she said.
So Ms. Owen made a documentary, “Finding Justice: The Untold Story of Women’s Fight for the Vote.”
Despite Philadelphia’s enthusiastic reception for the Justice Bell a century ago, Mayor Joseph Hampton Moore “was not a fan of women’s suffrage,” Ms. Owen said.
After the mayor saw two young men salute the bell, he ordered it destroyed. Instead, it was moved to a warehouse where sheep were sheared.
“Katharine and the women had been essentially lobbying to have a citizenship tower and wanted the Justice Bell to be near the Liberty Bell,” Ms. Owen said.
After Philadelphia leaders rejected that idea, the Justice Bell’s next stop was an automobile lot in southwest Philly. Then, it landed in Mrs. Ruschenberger’s backyard in Strafford, Chester County.
“She recognized its historical value, but no one would take it,” Ms. Owen said.
In the 1920s, Rev. Dr. W. Herbert Burk, a major collector of historic artifacts, took possession of the Justice Bell.
“He had a vision of building several American culture museums,” Ms. Owen said.
In 1903, Rev. Burk preached a sermon about George Washington that inspired the construction of Washington Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge. He had worked hard to preserve the Revolutionary War encampment and served as the chapel’s rector. But there was no provision made for the Justice Bell when he died in 1933.
The rest of his vast collection, including Washington’s tent, became the core of the Museum of the American Revolution, which opened in Philadelphia in 2017. But the bell sat outdoors in the woods for 59 years.
In 1992, the Rev. Richard Lyon Stinson, the chapel’s new rector, came upon the bell, housed in a chicken-wire cage in the woods. His mother had belonged to the League of Women Voters, which grew out of the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association.
“Had he not recognized what it was and its significance and had it brought into the bell tower of the Washington Memorial Chapel, I don’t think anyone would have known about it. Previous rectors had no interest in the bell,” Ms. Owen said.
Rev. Stinson did some research and notified Pennsylvania’s League of Women Voters.
“He said, ‘I have your bell.’ They said, ‘What bell?,’” Ms. Owen said.
A woman at the league told Rev. Stinson that she recalled seeing glass-plate negatives from the early 1900s showing a bell and crowds. Since then, those images have been preserved, and the Justice Bell has received a new wooden yoke and proper display.
Ms. Owen, who lives in Ardmore, a half-hour drive from the chapel, is thrilled that her search for the Justice Bell was so fruitful.
“I just could not believe that that whole story had been lost to history,” she said. “I was able to unearth a story that was literally in my own backyard.”
Laura Malt Schneiderman