Suffragist Leaders To Be Remembered

Photo By Robin Weinstein

The Votes for Women 2020 project will soon put on their first main event, presenting the original letters between clashing suffragist leaders Susan B. Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage.

“Brimstone, Booze and the Ballot” will take place on Friday, March 22 at 7:30 p.m. at the Rosendale Theatre. Admission is $20.20 and will serve as a fundraiser for the Susan B. Anthony House, the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation and Votes for Women 2020.

Votes for Women 2020 is a not-for-profit organization created by New Paltz Town Supervisor Susan Zimet in an effort to educate and celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote. Zimet came up with the idea after reading an article about the 90th anniversary two years ago and realizing what a “big deal” the 100th anniversary would be in 10 years.

Zimet traveled to Rochester seeking support from major players in the suffragist field to help with her initiative to teach about the battle women fought for the right and to stress the importance of women voting and taking on leadership roles.

After taking a private tour of the Susan B. Anthony House, Zimet truly understood the struggles women went through and felt a deep connection.

“I’m not really an incredible lover of history, however, I found myself for the first time…standing in the house of the woman who gave her life over to give me the right to be who I am, by being a woman who could be an elected official,” Zimet said. “As we went through the house, it was just more and more. It was just this amazing feeling and it sort of grew from there.”

As one of their first events while they build and introduce the project, “Brimstone, Booze and the Ballot” will feature Deborah Hughes, president and CEO of the Susan B. Anthony House, reading Gage’s letters, and Dr. Sally Roesch-Wagner, executive director of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation, reading Anthony’s.

Hughes and Roesch-Wagner have presented this dialogue before and created it several years ago after meeting and discussing the value such a presentation would have.

“We decided that it would be really great to show people how to have a dialogue when you feel passionately about an issue and disagree and how to open up understanding,” Hughes said. “But also to tell the story of this really significant conflict and what happened in the 1890s between Matilda Joslyn Gage and Susan B. Anthony. We’re very committed to sharing the story.”

Despite fighting for the same cause, after their falling out, Anthony wrote Gage out of history, Zimet said. Zimet said the temperance movement, played a large role in the conflict between Gage and Anthony, as many involved also sought to join the suffragist movement.

While Anthony saw this as “hundreds of thousands” of women joining the suffragist movement, Gage viewed the temperance movement as somewhat religious, which conflicted with her steadfast belief in separation of church and state and that the church held women down, Zimet said.

“Gage had spent a lot of her life…really feeling that the church, at its worst, was at the core of the oppression and violence against women. She was really afraid that this would be the end of democracy,” Hughes said. “She didn’t want to empower Christian women to take a broader vision, so Anthony was the person who traveled, was the icon and was really recognized. Gage had been one of the key people even before Anthony…but Anthony had the audience.”

Zimet said Hughes and Roesch-Wagner will begin by reading the letters and having a dialogue about them and their feelings, which they will then open up to the public. Zimet said they will discuss how to talk about a “contentious” issue and how to go forward in a “productive” way.

For Hughes, the presentation is a way to put Gage back into history, while also discussing questions currently facing our society, such as where religion and the state influence each other and what the dangers of crossing those lines are.

Executive Director of the Rosendale Theatre, Ann Citron, said she decided to host the event in honor of Women’s History Month and because of her appreciation for Votes for Women’s initiative.

“It’s an auspicious occasion,” Citron said. “I am expecting a packed house and deservedly so.”

Zimet said the event is not only a unique chance to gain insight into Anthony and Gage’s history, but is particularly necessary given the issues women are dealing with today.

“I think it’s only more important because look at the war on women, look how women are under assault, look how our rights are being eroded. If ever there was a time to start to empower our women…it’s now more so than ever,” Zimet said. “Women have to step up to the plate…and they have to be diligent every minute of the day that they get their due and that they fight for their rights because very few other people are going to fight for them.”