In August, the United States commemorated the centennial anniversary of the 19th amendment, which guaranteed women the constitutional right to vote and was adopted only after years of relentless fighting by suffragists across the country.
Although women earned the right to vote in New York nearly three years earlier, on Nov. 6, 1917, the success of smaller suffrage movements contributed to the national win.
In Bedford, a 200-person majority voted in favor of granting women the right to vote in New York, according to an article published Nov. 9, 1917, in the Katonah Record, a now-discontinued newspaper. The article reported, “Katonah and the Town of Bedford played their part in the result as to women's suffrage,” due largely to the dedication and tireless fighting of Bedford suffragettes.
Florence Jaffray Harriman, a resident of Bedford Corners known as “Daisy,” is remembered nationally for her role fighting for women’s voting rights.
As part of her contribution to the movement, Ms. Harriman led a women’s suffrage parade down Fifth Avenue in New York City, according to the Bedford Historical Society. She later founded the Women’s National Democratic Club, which advocated for voting rights after the women’s suffrage win and is still active today.
For her dedication to suffrage, labor reform and her diplomatic roles, which included serving as ambassador to Norway where, in 1937, according to a New York Times obituary, she was the first to send notice of the German invasions, Ms. Harriman received the first Citation of Merit for Distinguished Service in 1963 from President John F. Kennedy.
Katherine Bement Davis, another Bedford resident who served for 13 years as the first superintendent of the Women’s Reformatory in Bedford Hills, where Ms. Harriman was also a board member, used prominence in positions of power to advocate for women’s suffrage.
After the Bedford reformatory received international recognition under her guidance, Ms. Davis became the first female commissioner of corrections for New York in 1914. At that time, Ms. Davis was the highest-ranking female municipal agency executive in the country, according to “Correction’s Katharine Bement Davis: New York City’s Suffragist Commissioner” by Thomas C. McCarthy and the New York City Department of Correction.
Using this platform, Ms. Davis became a public face for the suffrage movement, speaking at meetings and attending parades and rallies. She became a national vice president and Manhattan borough leader for the movement and the suffrage party’s candidate for a state constitutional convention, Mr. McCarthy wrote.
Ms. Davis helped found both the Women’s City Club of New York and the League of Women Voters, alongside national suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt, which prepared women for their political responsibilities once they earned the right to vote.
One of the places Ms. Davis spoke, on Jan. 13, 1917, was Katonah’s own suffrage club, according to the Katonah Record. Known today as the Women’s Civic Club of Katonah, it was founded in 1913 to help secure women’s voting rights.
An article published in the Katonah Record on Jan. 12, 1917, explained, “the club has grown from a mere handful until it now has a membership of over one hundred.” As its size increased, so did the club’s dedication to suffrage.
The club convened for monthly meetings, hosted for at least 10 years by the club’s vice president, according to the Katonah Chronicle, a feature published for Katonah’s centennial celebration.
The club held its first “suffrage school” in March 1917, which educated the community and garnered support for voting rights. It invited women from across the county to speak. The Katonah Record described their talks, in an article published the following month, as, “vigorous and able, punctuated with witty and keen anecdotes here and there to arrest the attention and prove the point. Special emphasis was laid upon the rapid spread through the western states of the suffrage idea, and the absolute certainty of its eastern acceptance in the near future.”
The club also joined local and national suffrage organizations in protesting political decisions, including emergency war measures, and picketing at the White House. An article in the Katonah Record Oct. 19, 1917, noted, “they are doing their share loyalty and unitedly.”
In the weeks leading up to the November vote in New York, the club organized large meetings and conducted widespread canvassing. Seven members of the club worked as poll watchers on election day, “ready to go over the top at the first sign of a voter” to convince anyone undecided to support suffrage, the Katonah Record reported following the successful vote.
A year later, after arriving at the polls at 6:02 a.m., just minutes after they opened, Ms. Paul Loizeaux became the first woman in Katonah to vote, according to historical records, a testament to the passion and dedication of Bedford’s fearless suffragists.