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Suffragists Road Trip: Natick & Framingham, MA, New Haven, CT

We recently drove to Natick, Massachusetts for an overnight stay.  With women’s fierce fight for the vote always on my mind, I did a Google search for suffragists in Natick. Olive Augusta Alger Cheney, who lived in Natick for 56 years, was a wonderful discovery. Augusta Cheney, the name she preferred, led an activist life as temperance advocate, suffrage leader, ardent feminist, editor, and author. In 1877, she founded the Women’s Suffrage Club of Natick, serving as president until 1891. In 1881, the Suffrage Club got a measure on the agenda of the town meeting that the “Town” ask the state legislature to “extend to women who are citizens, the right to hold Town offices, and to vote in Town affairs, on the same terms as male citizens.” Only men could vote at town meetings and they voted

“no.” And “no” again in 1882, and in 1883. Augusta Cheney kept up the fight at the local and state levels. On March 6, 1891, she wrote in her regular column in a Natick newspaper: “Home is not the place for every woman. If a woman can do more for her fellows by a public life (and many can), then it is her duty to live her life for the public: If she can do more at home, then her duty is there, and the same will apply to men. There are many men today who would do the country immeasurable good if they would sink into oblivion.” In 1916, four years before the battle was won, Augusta Cheney died at the age of 83. She is buried in Glenwood Cemetery, South Natick. Having included many local and state suffragists in my book The Vote: Women’s First Fight, I was happy to learn about another one—Augusta Cheney. (Click on an image to enlarge it.)

We then stopped in neighboring Framingham, home of Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller who lived on Warren Street. A prominent African American artist, Fuller, a

member of the Framingham Equal Suffrage League, was well known for her sculptures. In 1915, she created the Equal Suffrage Medallion that was

sold at fundraising fairs for the Framingham Equal Suffrage League. The coin-size medallion had a bas-relief profile portrait of a man, a woman, and a child, with the inscription: “Each unto each the rounded complement.” Fuller is pictured on the left and the medallion on the right.

Mary Ware Dennett lived on Gates Street. A divorced suffragist with two young sons, Dennett supported herself working as  the highly effective corresponding secretary of the National Woman Suffrage Association. Her sons handed out fliers, sold tickets to suffrage events, held placards, and endured abuse from name-calling to

spitting.  Image on left is Devon Dennett, c. 1909, holding an “I WISH MOTHER COULD VOTE” sign. I quote Mary Ware Dennett

in The Vote: “We claim in no uncertain voice that the time has come when women should have the one efficient tool with which to make for themselves decent and safe working conditions—the ballot.” Image on right is a widely distributed suffrage map that Dennett created and credited herself with her initials “By M.W. D.” Suffrage maps were produced throughout the fierce fight for the vote.

In front of the Edgell Memorial Library, I photographed the sign for “Mayo-Collins Square,” honoring

Louise Parker Mayo and Josephine Collins, two women who participated in suffrage demonstrations that I wrote about in my book The Vote.  Mayo, one of the silent sentinels who picketed the White House, was arrested along with 15 other women on July 14, 1917.  After refusing to pay the $25 fine, Mayo, the mother of seven and a former schoolteacher, and the other women were sentenced to 60 days in the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia. Succumbing to public pressure, President Woodrow Wilson pardoned the women after three days, an act he would never again repeat for imprisoned suffragists. One of Mayo’s daughter said, “Of course we feel terribly to have mother arrested. It seems like a disgrace, doesn’t it. But we don’t mind for it’s in a good cause.” In February 1919, Josephine Collins, the owner of several shops in Framingham, attended a demonstration in Boston, carrying a  sign inscribed, Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?  Collins and other women were arrested, refused to pay the fine and were sentenced to eight days in the Charles Street Jail.  After a few days, an unknown benefactor paid their fines. Determined to served their whole sentence, the women refused to leave. A headline in a newspaper in Phoenix, Arizona reported the outcome: FINES PAID THEY REFUSE TO QUIT JAIL—EJECTED.

An hour and a half from home, we spontaneously decided to visit the Yale Art Museum in New Haven, Connecticut. Much to my amazement, I serendipitously saw Hiram Powers’ statue The Greek Slave that he made in 1850, after his original statue of 1844.  It is the

version Lucy Stone saw in May 1851 at an exhibition in Boston. I wrote about her encounter with the statue in my book, The Vote, (p. 13):”‘Hot tears came to my eyes at the thought of millions of women who must be freed.’ That night she infused women’s rights in her anti-slavery lecture. An official of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society chastised her, saying, “people came to hear anti-slaver, and not woman’s rights.”

“I was a woman before I was an abolitionist, I must speak for women,” she replied.

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