A Day for Women

ECHO underway, posted Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Today marks the hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day. First observed in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland as International Working Women’s Day, this annual event was established by the Second International Conference of Socialist Women meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1910. The conferees agreed that the “foremost purpose” was “to aid the attainment of women’s suffrage.” Sixty-five years later, the United Nations, in the International Women’s Year of 1975, set the annual observance of this day as March 8.

Women’s fight for the right to vote in the Constitution State may be dated to 1869, when the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association (CWSA) was organized. Led by Isabella Beecher Hooker (1822-1907) of West Hartford, the CWSA by the first decade of the twentieth century made gains for women in local elections, such as voting for school board members and library issues. Thwarted by a conservative state government, women remained voiceless on statewide issues.

Yet in 1910 the CWSA was reinvigorated by a new generation of leaders, all college educated and career minded. Katharine Ludington (1869-1953), of Hartford, Caroline Ruutz-Rees (1865-1954) and Grace Thompson Seton (1872-1959), both of Greenwich, adopted new strategies to win the vote for Connecticut’s women. They joined forces with the Connecticut National Woman’s Party, the more militant organization founded by Alice Paul (1885-1977) and in 1920 led by Katharine Martha Houghton Hepburn (1878-1951) of Hartford. Together they petitioned, picketed and published to persuade the General Assembly to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment.

The Connecticut General Assembly approved the Amendment on September 14, 1920, after the law was ratified by achieving three-quarters of the states’ votes on August 18, 1920.

Yet the CWSA’s efforts were recognized by the national movement. In Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s History of Woman Suffrage (Volume V: 1900-1920) we learn that

Connecticut women made a magnificent campaign for Presidential suffrage, failing by only one vote in the Legislature. The strength displayed by the suffragists, the obtaining of 98,000 women’s signatures and the dignity and ability shown under the leadership of Miss Katherine [sic] Ludington, so advanced suffrage in that State as to make the battle seem a victory rather than a defeat.