January 20. 2016 8:17PM

Looking Back with Aurore Eaton: The Cornish Equal Suffrage League takes action

By AURORE EATON


 

THE STRUGGLE for equal voting rights for women began in the mid-19th century and concluded with the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution on Aug. 18, 1920. New Hampshire played a significant role in this epic struggle.

During the decades leading up to ratification, the issue of voting rights for women was a hotly contested subject in New Hampshire, both in households and in the public arena. Many women’s suffrage groups were established in the state to press for equality in the voting booth. The Cornish Equal Suffrage League was one of the later groups to be organized. It was founded at a meeting in the Plainfield Town Hall in November 1911 as an auxiliary of the New Hampshire Woman Suffrage Association. By Dec. 1, 1911, it counted 68 members.

The league was notable for its association with the famous Cornish Colony. The Colony was an informal community of artists, writers, and other creative people who lived (either part- or full-time) in the towns of Cornish and Plainfield in western New Hampshire. Most of these people came to New Hampshire from New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and other major cities, where they maintained important social, business and political connections.

Not all of the Cornish Equal Suffrage League’s members were Cornish “colonists,” but many of the most active ones were. These included its president, Juliet Barrett Rublee. Juliet was an influential figure who espoused liberal causes throughout her life. Her husband, George Rublee, also joined the league. He was a prominent attorney and powerful political advisor who was involved in Progressive Republican politics in New Hampshire and on the national stage. Juliet was honored to be the Grand Marshal for the massive parade organized by the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage that took place on May 9, 1914, in Washington, D.C.

The Cornish organization’s vice president was the writer, poet and editor, Witter Bynner. He had been active in the women’s suffrage movement before the league was founded. As he wrote in his journal, he believed that “Every artifice of inequality and privilege must be broken down.” Witter led the male marchers in the giant equal suffrage parade in New York City on May 6, 1911, and he later traveled around New Hampshire to speak on the suffrage cause.

The organization’s treasurer was Mabel Harlakenden Churchill. She was the wife of the best-selling novelist Winston Churchill, who was a leader among the Progressive Republicans in New Hampshire. Other Cornish Colony members who were active in the league were Adeline Pond Adams, a biographer and poet; journalist Philip Littell and his wife Fanny; landscape architect Rose Standish Nichols; and the illustrator Maxfield Parrish, his wife Lydia, and his aunt, the sculptor Anne Parrish. Anne was the organization’s corresponding secretary.

Another Cornish Equal Suffrage League member, Frances Duncan, participated in women’s suffrage rallies in New York and London. She was the first garden editor of Ladies Home Journal magazine. The painter Barry Faulkner, a native of Keene, was also a member of the league. He was a close friend of Homer Saint-Gaudens, son of the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, from their college days at Harvard. In 1942 Barry would paint the historical murals that adorn the Senate chambers in the New Hampshire State House. Homer, a writer on contemporary art, and his wife, the artist Carlota Dolley Saint-Gaudens, were members of the league, as was his uncle, Louis Saint-Gaudens, and wife Annetta Johnson Saint-Gaudens. Both Louis and Annetta were sculptors.

In the summers of 1913, 1914 and 1915, President Woodrow Wilson leased Winston Churchill’s Cornish property, Harlakenden House, as a vacation home. In July 1913 several suffragists, no doubt associated with the Cornish Equal Suffrage League, attempted to visit his wife, Ellen. Mrs. Wilson declined to let them into the house. She wrote to her husband in Washington, “(They) were extremely disappointed, of course, saying that they did not expect me to put myself on record for them, but it would ‘help them greatly for me just to receive them.’ Doubtless it would, for it would be considered putting myself on record!” President Wilson would be in office in 1920 when the 19th Amendment was ratified.

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Next week: The 19th Amendment — the road to ratification in New Hampshire.

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Aurore Eaton is a historian and writer in Manchester. Contact her at auroreeaton@aol.com.