102 years ago, New York women voted for the first time

Posted On Tue, November 3, 2020 By

Posted On Tue, November 3, 2020 By In History, Policy

Suffragists marching, probably in New York City in. New York, 1915. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress

With New Yorkers and the nation showing up to the polls in record numbers this year, it’s hard to imagine a time when being female made this illegal. Nearly 102 years ago to the day, Catherine Ann Smith was among the first women to vote in the state of New York, as the New York Times reminded us. Ms. Smith joined Mary Waver at the front of the line, both cast their ballots in the early hours of November 5th, 1918.

Women in the state of New York won the right to vote in 1917, three years earlier than the ratification of the 19th amendment. At this time, New York was the most populous state in the nation, according to the New York Times. It’s important to note, though, that by 1917, women in these 11 states had already received this right: Wyoming (1890), Colorado (1893), Utah (1896), Idaho (1896), Washington (1910), California (1911), Arizona (1912), Kansas (1912), Oregon (1912), Montana (1914), Nevada (1914). In 1913, women in Illinois were allowed to vote solely for the President.

However, females (and males, too!) in New York had been at the center of women’s suffrage for decades. In fact, on October 23, 1915, tens of thousands of women, all dressed in white, marched the nearly three miles along Fifth Avenue from Washington Square to 59th Street, becoming the largest suffrage parade to date. And on November 5, 1918, their passion came to fruition.

Ms. Smith had a family connection to the voting booth on that day: Her husband, Alfred E. Smith, would be elected governor by the close of the day–enough reason to show up a half-hour before the polls opened at 5:30 A.M. at Public School 1 at Oliver and Henry Streets in Lower Manhattan. The candidate’s mother, Katherine, waited until after breakfast to cast a vote for her son in Brooklyn.

The aforementioned early birds weren’t the only women flocking to the polls; suffragettes were eager to exercise their hard-won right to determine the course of American democracy. Mary Garrett Hay remarked after voting on Manhattan’s West Side, “It seemed as natural as breathing,” she said, “and I felt as though I had always voted.”


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