In Dover, Delaware, the last stop on our recent historic women’s landmark road trip, I was super excited to see the two-sided Delaware Women’s Suffrage Monument. A photograph of suffragist Mabel Vernon speaking on a street corner in Chicago and a quote*—“We are called Iron-Jawed Angels. Is that supposed to be an insult?”—are laser-etched on one side
of black granite. Located on the grounds of Legislative Hall, the monument was dedicated on October 17, 1921.
(*The quote is from the 2004 movie “Iron-Jawed Angels” in which Brooke Smith played Mabel Vernon. It dates back to 1917 when Representative Joseph Walsh of Massachusetts argued against creating a House Woman Suffrage because that would be yielding to the “the nagging of iron-jawed angels” who were “bewildered, deluded creatures with short skirts and short hair.”)
Mabel Vernon, a through-line suffragist in my book The Vote: Women’s Fierce Fight was described by suffragist Rebecca Hourwich Reyher as a “small” and “wiry” woman who “moved swiftly.” Her “gentian blue, sparkling eye” were “gay with laughter.” She was “certainly not beautiful in the convention sense, her nose a little long, her mouth a little large, but her radiant vitality left that impression. What a wonderful face, you thought.” A brilliant strategist and organizer, Mabel Vernon was a charismatic speaker, endowed with a “marvelous resonant voice,” and a stellar fundraiser. “I never saw a woman bleed an audience like Mabel did,” marveled suffragist Hazel Hunkins-Hallinan.
Mabel Vernon was with Alice Paul and
Lucy Burns from their start in 1913 with the National American Woman Suffrage Association’s Congressional Committee that would become the National Woman’s Party. She traveled the country stirring up public sympathy, participating in state conventions and referenda campaigns, recruiting new members. In 1915, she was the advance organizer setting up event for Sara Bard Field’s cross-country road trip, carrying a suffrage petition to Washington, D.C. At a July 4, 1916 event, she daringly interrupted President Wilson, asking, not just once but twice, in her clarion voice why he did not support national enfranchisement of women. Eject from the event and later chastised by her mother for being impolite, Mabel Vernon was undeterred from acting boldly. That same year, she was one of five suffragists who unfurled a banner from the gallery while Wilson was addressing the U.S. Congress. In large, bold letters the banner read: MR PRESIDENT, WHARE WILL YOU DO FOR WOMAN SUFFRAGE.
In 1917, Mabel Vernon coordinated the Silent Sentinels, the first-ever pickets to stand in front of the White House. On June 27, she was in the first group to be arrested and convicted. Shocking the judge, the six suffragists chose to refuse to pay the fine and went to jail. At a
time of rampant and legal segregation, the white suffragists were confined with Black inmates, an obvious attempt to humiliate the suffragists. The imprisoned women, however, got along. One day, a Black inmate persuaded the matron to let them leave their cells and listen to music. When she asked if anyone could play the jail organ, Mabel Vernon volunteered. The inmate told Mabel: “Ask Evelyn what she would like to hear.” Evelyn, a quiet girl with a drug addiction, requested, “God Be with You, ‘Till We Meet Again.” Mabel Vernon played the hymn, and, as she later recalled “We all proceeded to sing.”
Mabel Vernon’s post-suffragists life was equally rich in contributions to advancing international peace and women’s equality, especially Latin American women. In 1944, she received the “Al Merito” from the Republic of Ecuador in recognition of “distinguished service to justice and international cooperation. From 1951 until her death in 1975, she lived in Washington, D.C., with her companion Consuelo Reyes-Calderon. You can read Mabel Vernon’s memoir, Speaker for Suffrage and Petitioner for Peace at: https://archive.org/details/suffragepeace00vernrich/page/n11/mode/2up
Eleven photographs are etched on the back of the Delaware Women’s Suffrage Monument (click to enlarge image). In the top row, right side, I recognized Florence Bayard Hilles, a wealthy, prominent woman, who Mabel recruited to the Cause. Beside her a group of suffragists at the train station, heading for a suffrage parade in Washington, D. C. Annie Arniel is in front row, third from left.
A factory worker, Annie Arniel, an awesomely fierce fighter for the Cause, was in the first group jailed in 1917 and in the last group jailed in 1919, serving eight terms of 103 days, the most of any suffragists. She returned to the fray time and time again, even after being physically attacked by policemen.
Second row, left and right: I recognized two women—Mary Ann Shadd Cary and Blanche Williams Stubbs. Shadd Cary, a journalist, first Black woman publisher in North America, activist, lawyer, spoke at the 1878 National Woman Suffrage Association, founded by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Stubbs, a founder of the Equal Suffrage Study Club, a Black suffrage organization, was a teacher and civil rights activist.
Below Stubbs is Alice Dunbar-Nelson, a poet, journalist, and president of the Equal Suffrage Study Club. (See previous post for Wilmington markers for Stubbs and Dunbar-Nelson.)
Bottom row, left and right: Mabel Vernon is carrying the suffrage banner. Catherine Boyle is holding the suffrage flag.
(Note: Today there is a “belief” afloat that the 19th Amendment discriminated against women of color. It did not: Discriminatory laws in certain states and certain federal laws did that. Many women of color did vote after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, including Blanche Williams Stubbs and Alice Dunbar-Nelson in Delaware.
Another two-sided women's monument is close by—the Delaware Women's Service Monument, dedicated on November 3, 2018. (It is partially visible in the background behind me in the first image.) The first two images below are the front and back side of the monument. The next two are Information Panels—one has information about the 17 women pictured, the other is about women who died in service to the country. (Click to enlarge.)
I am pointing to the picture of Nancy Harkness Love, asking Linda if she remembers when we found the statue representing Love at the New Castle Country Airport. (She did. We actually visited it twice, each time finding the statue on a different pedestal.)
During World War II, Nancy Harkness Love, a test pilot and air racer, was commander of the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), based at what was then the New Castle Army Air Field. The WAFS transported every type of airplane from factories to air bases, and towed targets to train field artillery soldiers. On August 8, 1943, WAFS merged with the Women's Air Force Service Pilots (WASP).
Since New Castle was on our way home, we stopped to revisit the statue. But it wasn't there! Google sleuthing revealed that it had been relocated to the Delaware Military Museum. We detoured to find the museum, only to discover that it was closed! (Only open every
Wednesday and the second Saturday of every month the museum is hardly visitor friendly.) On the left, is my photo of the Nancy Harkness Love statue when it was located in front of the New Castle County Airport, New Castle, Delaware.
This is my last post about our recent four-day historic women's landmark road trip. We covered a lot of ground and visited an array of landmarks to women, creating images and stories and memories that inform, enrich, empower, and sustain us.
Thank you for reading my blog post, thus coming along with us.