Who was a "redhot suffrage pioneer?
My smile reflects my delight in actually finding an out-of-the way-landmark for Louisine Havemeyer who appears in key suffrage-fight episodes in my most recent book, The Vote: Women's Fierce Fight. A very rich, white, older woman, mother, grandmother and a widow, Louisine Havemeyer fueled the suffrage movement with her money, energy, access to wealthy power-holding men, and, importantly, with the considerable publicity she garnered by her activism.
Privilege, of course, does not protect people from tragedies and death ravaged Louisine's family, taking her husband, mother and twin grandchildren in short order. Grief stricken and despondent, Louisine traveling on a trans-Atlantic ship attempted to jump overboard. An antidote for her despair came from her longtime friend, the artist and ardent suffragist Mary Cassatt, who urged Louisine to "work for suffrage, for it is the women who will decide the questions of life or death for a nation." Empowered with a purpose and the memory of her suffragist mother, Louisine Havemeyer enthusiastically embraced the Cause, joining the Women’s Political Union (WPU), founded by Harriot Stanton Blatch, the daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. (Guided by Mary Cassatt, who lived in Paris, Louisine was the first American to buy a painting by Edgar Degas. Together with her husband, she amassed a legendary art collection, including works by Manet, El Greco, and Rembrandt, much of which she donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.)
The historical marker, “LADY WITH THE TORCH” is located at the end of Ocean Avenue in Bayberry Point Park, Islip Hamlet, Long Island. It commemorates what Louisine dubbed a “megastunt” conceived by Harriot Stanton Blatch in 1915.
The stakes were high in 1915: In the Fall, male voters in four eastern states—New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts—would vote on a woman suffrage amendment to the state constitution, (all of which would be defeated). Thousands upon thousands of suffragists joined the fight, including Rose Bowers, the trumpet blowing suffragist on the cover of my book who came from the Black Hills of South Dakota to campaign in New Jersey. A myriad of multifaceted, visually engaging, and publicity-garnering events were launched in all four states, including the Torch of Liberty open-air speaking tour in June and July across New York State, traveling by automobile east to west from Montauk, at the tip of Long Island to Buffalo, at the head of the Niagara River across the Canadian border.
The Torch of Liberty, an obvious, and undoubtedly ironic, nod to the Statue of Liberty, was sculpted from wood and coated with bronze by suffragist Alice Stocks. The image on the right is from a newspaper account of Louisine Havemeyer giving her first outdoor speech. “If she hadn’t had the torch to hold on to,” she told a reporter, “she never could have gone through with it.” (“Fiery Signal of W.P.U.Scene Mrs. Havemeyer Waves Torch,”New York Tribune, June 10, 1915. P. 7) The image below shows Louisine having just passed the Torch of Liberty to Mina A. Van Winkle, president of the New Jersey WPU, during a rendezvous of their respective tugboats in the middle of the Hudson River (Evening Public Ledger, Aug. 25, 1915, p. 1).
The next image of Louisiana holding her "Ship of State" is from a Salt Lake City newspaper, (“New Suffragist Emblem,” The Broad Ax, Oct. 9, 1915, p. 2). She had designed and commissioned the novel, attention-getting emblem—the “Ship of State”—in the Fall of 1915. A replica of the Mayflower, the ship had an electric light at the end of each spar, and a green and red light at the port and starboard beams. The electric wiring was attached to a battery that Louisine carried in her automobile. The centerboard was taped onto a stick for her to hold so she could control the lighting with a handheld button. It was, she said, a surefire way to draw a crowd to hear her votes for women speech.
In February 1919, Alice Paul, the no-holds barred leader and strategist of the National Womean’s Party, summoned Louisine Havemeyer to come to Washington. Leaving her three-story mansion with its world-famous art collection, Louisine took the train, arriving on the day the NWP had announced a demonstration to burn an effigy of anti-suffrage President Woodrow Wilson. At NWP headquarters, Alice Paul asked Louisine Havemyer to do something that she had steadfastedly said she wouldn’t, couldn’t do —get arrested and go to jail. That way, Paul, explained, Louisine Havemeyer could go on the Prison Special, a uniquely Alice Paul idea—a chartered train trip stopping at 16 cities with suffragists who had been jailed in rat-infested cells for picketing and protesting. At each stop, suffragists, dressed in their prison uniforms, would describe the “brutal and lawless measures of the Administration to suppress suffrage.” Determined to enflame public opinion, recruit converts, raise money, galvanize supporters, and shame opponents, Alice Paul knew that 64-year-old, socially prominent (akin to today's celebrities) Louisine Havemeyer, would be a draw. “We need you, Mrs. Havemeyer, for our speaker on the Prison Special. . . Now will you carry the American flag and lead the procession?” Unable to resist Alice Paul with “her great, dark, earnest eyes,"Louisiana Havemeyer agreed. She and thirty-eight other women were arrested and incarcerated in a jail that had been declared unfit for human. They immediately went on a hunger strike, knowing that it would hasten their release. The government was loath to let them die, thus creating martyrs for the cause. That night as Louisine Havemeyer readied herself to lie down on a mat of dirty straw, a young suffragist, “a little slip of a factory worker,’ came to “say ‘Goodnight’” and slipped her a real little pillow she had smuggled in. At the last stop in New York City of the “Prison Special,” nicknamed “The Democracy Limited,” Louisine Havemeyer proclaimed, “The militants are here!”
Alice Paul was right: Louisine was a draw. Below is a newspaper article, “Trip of the ‘Prison Special’ illustrated with a sketch of Louisine Havemeyer that was reproduced in numerous newspapers across America. ("Trip of the 'Prison Special,' The Vian Press, Vian, Oklahoma, March 21, 1919, p. 3). At the stop in Chicago, a reporter proclaimed Louisiana "a redhot suffrage pioneer." ("Must Be Free" Chicago Tribune, March 7, 1919, p. 5). The final image is Mary Cassatt’s portrait of Louisine Havemeyer that I saw at the Shelburne Museum during a 2021 pandemic-break road trip to Burlington, Vermont.