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We Have A Perfect Right

Wednesday, September 14, 1910; Primary election polling place, New York City:

“Put those women out!” roared James Campbell. ”They’re interferin’ with the proceedings.”

“We have a perfect right to be here,” fired back suffragist poll watcher Lavinia Dock, while “smiling amicably.” Dock was one of thirteen suffragists recruited by candidates hoping to defeat Tammany Hall candidates. They were stationed at polling places in Hell’s Kitchen, Tammany Hall's stronghold in New York City. Many women were arrested after Tammany operatives filed complaints. Jeering crowds followed them to the police station. Local bosses shook their fist in the women’s faces. Fortunately, an honorable magistrate agreed with Lavinia Dock—the law did not specify a poll watcher’s gender. Once freed, Dock, a reporter noted: “Marched triumphantly back to the polling place and challenged more voters.”

Lavinia Dock was a pioneering nurse. Today May 6, 2020, is the beginning of National Nurses Week, a particularly important and poignant time to herald nurses both contemporary and historic. In the late 1880s, Lavinia Dock worked during a yellow fever epidemic in Florida and did flood relief work in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. In 1890 she published the first manual of drugs for nurses. She spearheaded the visiting nurse movement in New York City. Around 1908, when she turned fifty years old, she shifted her attention to the fight for the vote, believing that enfranchisement would empower nurses. In addition to poll watching, Lavinia

Dock served as the “Surgeon-General” on General Rosalie Jones’ hikes from New York City to Albany and to Washington, D.C. (left image). In 1915, she campaigned for the suffrage

referendum in New York (above). In June 1917, fifty-nine-year-old Lavinia Dock was one of the first six suffragists who were arrested and sent to jail for picketing the

White House. With victory in 1920, Lavinia Dock said, “I am proud to have been a soldier in the women’s war for independence and to have lived to witness . . .the issuing of the emancipation proclamation of American women.”

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