Women’s Suffrage Time Line–1840-1920

Today is the 100th Anniversary of when women in the United States won the right to vote.  They fought hard and for many years to gain this basic right.  Though I would like to be writing more about this very special date, I am borrowing this timeline to share it with you instead.  Let it be a handy reference.  Its source was The Smokey Mountain News. Though the names Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are the names that are most well-known and associated with this cause, many, many women and prominent men as well were part of this movement. Matilda Joslyn Gage, you know by now, was deeply involved–even though you won’t find her name as often as it should be mentioned. Other’s names, belonging to both black and white suffragists, were part of this essential endeavor.  Think about these many forebears as you vote in the upcoming election, which is one of the most important in the history of our country.  I–and many others–fear that our democracy will be lost and The United States will be a failed experiment.  As I write this, Susan Rice is talking to Stephen Colbert about this very topic.  “Our allies don’t know what to make of us. People may not appreciate just how much we have lost.  We are incompetent….  It’s just nuts!  Everything is upside down.  If we have four more years of this, we would not be an America that anyone would recognize. The situation would be unsalvagable.  Our reputation in the world will be irreparably damaged…”  In contrast, it was so inspiring to hear words of compassion and empathy and care for our people that those who sang and spoke tonight expressed with sincerity.

  • 1840 — Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are barred from attending the World Anti-Slavery Convention held in London, which prompts them to hold a Women’s Convention in the U.S.
  • 1848 — Seneca Falls, New York is the location for the first Women’s Rights Convention. Elizabeth Cady Stanton writes “The Declaration of Sentiments” creating the agenda of women’s activism for decades to come.
  • 1849 — The first state constitution in California extends property rights to women.
  • 1850 — Worcester, Massachusetts, is the site of the first National Women’s Rights Convention. Frederick Douglass, Paulina Wright Davis, Abby Kelley Foster, William Lloyd Garrison, Lucy Stone and Sojourner Truth are in attendance. A strong alliance is formed with the Abolitionist Movement.
  • 1851 — At a women’s rights convention in Akron, Ohio, Sojourner Truth, a former slave, delivers her now memorable speech, “Ain’t I a woman?”
  • 1852 — The issue of women’s property rights is presented to the Vermont Senate by Clara Howard Nichols. This is a major issue for the Suffragists. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe, is published and quickly becomes a bestseller.
  • 1853 — Women delegates, Antoinette Brown and Susan B. Anthony, are not allowed to speak at The World’s Temperance Convention held in New York City.
  • 1861-1865 — During the Civil War, efforts for the suffrage movement comes to a halt. Women put their energies toward the war effort.
  • 1866 — Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony form the American Equal Rights Association, an organization dedicated to the goal of suffrage for all regardless of gender or race.
  • 1868 — Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Parker Pillsbury publish the first edition of The Revolution. This periodical carries the motto “Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less!”
  • 1868 — In Vineland, New Jersey, 172 women cast ballots in a separate box during the presidential election.
  • 1868 — Senator S.C. Pomeroy of Kansas introduces the federal Women’s Suffrage amendment in Congress.
  • 1868 — The Fourteenth Amendment is ratified. “Citizens” and “voters” are defined exclusively as male.
  • 1869 — The American Equal Rights Association is wrecked by disagreements over the Fourteenth Amendment and the question of whether to support the proposed Fifteenth Amendment, which would enfranchise Black American males while avoiding the question of Women’s Suffrage entirely.
  • 1869 — Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony found the National Women’s Suffrage Association (NWSA), a more radical institution, to achieve the vote through a Constitutional amendment as well as push for other women’s rights issues.
  • 1869 — Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell, Julia Ward Howe and other more conservative activists form the American Women’s Suffrage Association (AWSA) to work for Women’s Suffrage through amending individual state constitutions.
  • 1870 — The Fifteenth Amendment gave black men the right to vote. NWSA refused to work for its ratification and instead the members advocate for a Sixteenth Amendment that would dictate universal suffrage. Frederick Douglass broke with Stanton and Anthony over the position of NWSA.
  • 1870 — The Woman’s Journal is founded and edited by Mary Livermore, Lucy Stone, and Henry Blackwell.
  • 1871 — Victoria Woodhull addresses the House Judiciary Committee, arguing women’s rights to vote under the Fourteenth Amendment.  The Anti-Suffrage Party is founded.
  • 1872 — Susan B. Anthony casts her ballot for Ulysses S. Grant in the presidential election and is arrested and brought to trial in Rochester, New York. Fifteen other women are arrested for illegally voting. Sojourner Truth appears at a polling booth in Battle Creek, Michigan, demanding a ballot to vote; she is turned away.
  • 1872 — Abigail Scott Duniway convinces Oregon lawmakers to pass laws granting a married woman’s rights such as starting and operating her own business, controlling the money she earns, and the right to protect her property if her husband leaves.
  • 1874 — The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) is founded by Annie Wittenmyer. With Frances Willard at its head (1876), the WCTU became an important proponent in the fight for women’s suffrage. As a result, one of the strongest opponents to women’s enfranchisement was the liquor lobby, which feared women might use their vote to prohibit the sale of liquor.
  • 1876 — Susan B. Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage disrupt the official Centennial program at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, presenting a “Declaration of Rights for Women” to the Vice President.
  • 1878 — A Women’s Suffrage Amendment is proposed in the U.S. Congress. When the 19th Amendment passes 41 years later, it is worded exactly the same as this 1878 Amendment.
  • 1887 — The first vote on Women’s Suffrage is taken in the Senate and is defeated.
  • 1888 — The National Council of Women in the United States is established to promote the advancement of women in society.
  • 1890 — NWSA and AWSA merge and the National American Women’s Suffrage Association is formed. Stanton is the first president. The Movement focuses efforts on securing suffrage at the state level.
  • 1890 — Wyoming is admitted to the Union with a state constitution granting Women’s Suffrage.
  • 1890 — The American Federation of Labor declares support for Women’s Suffrage.
  • 1890 — The South Dakota campaign for Women’s Suffrage loses.
  • 1890-1925 — The Progressive Era begins. Women from all classes and backgrounds enter public life. Women’s roles expand and result in an increasing politicization of women. Consequently the issue of Women’s Suffrage becomes part of mainstream politics.
  • 1892 — Olympia Brown founds the Federal Suffrage Association to campaign for women’s suffrage.
  • 1893 — Colorado adopts Women’s Suffrage.
  • 1894 — 600,000 signatures are presented to the New York State Constitutional Convention in a failed effort to bring a Women’s Suffrage amendment to the voters.
  • 1895 — Elizabeth Cady Stanton publishes The Woman’s Bible. After its publication, NAWSA moves to distance itself from Stanton because many conservative suffragists considered her to be too radical and, thus, potentially damaging to the suffrage campaign.
  • 1896 — Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and Frances E.W. Harper among others found the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs.
  • 1896 — Utah joins the Union with full suffrage for women.
  • 1896 — Idaho adopts Women’s Suffrage.
  • 1903 — Mary Dreier, Rheta Childe Dorr, Leonora O’Reilly, and others form the Women’s Trade Union League of New York, an organization of middle- and working-class women dedicated to unionization for working women and to Women’s Suffrage.
  • 1910 — Washington State adopts Women’s Suffrage.
  • 1910 — The Women’s Political Union organizes the first suffrage parade in New York City.
  • 1911 — The National Association Opposed to Women’s Suffrage (NAOWS) is organized. Led by Mrs. Arthur Dodge, its members included wealthy, influential women, some Catholic clergymen, distillers and brewers, urban political machines, Southern congressmen, and corporate capitalists.
  • 1911 — The elaborate California suffrage campaign succeeds by a small margin.
  • 1912 — Women’s Suffrage is supported for the first time at the national level by a major political party, Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party.
  • 1912 — 20,000 suffrage supporters join a New York City suffrage parade.
  • 1912 — Oregon, Kansas, and Arizona adopt Women’s Suffrage.
  • 1913 — In 1913, suffragists organized a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. The parade was the first major suffrage spectacle organized by the National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA).
  • 1913 — The two women then organized the Congressional Union, later known at the National Women’s Party (1916). They borrowed strategies from the radical Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in England.
  • 1914 — Nevada and Montana adopt Women’s Suffrage.
  • 1914 — The National Federation of Women’s Clubs, which had over two million women members throughout the U.S., formally endorses the suffrage campaign.
  • 1915 — Mabel Vernon and Sara Bard Field are involved in a transcontinental tour which gathers over a half-million signatures on petitions to Congress.
  • 1915 — 40,000 march in a NYC suffrage parade. Many women are dressed in white and carry placards with the names of the states they represent.
  • 1915 — Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts continue to reject Women’s Suffrage.
  • 1916 — Jeannette Rankin of Montana is the first woman elected to the House of Representatives. Woodrow Wilson states that the Democratic Party platform will support suffrage.
  • 1917 — New York women gain suffrage. Arkansas women are allowed to vote in primary elections.
  • 1917 — National Woman’s Party picketers appear in front of the White House holding two banners, “Mr. President, What Will You Do For Women’s Suffrage?” and “How Long Must Women Wait for Liberty?”
  • 1917 — Jeannette Rankin of Montana, the first woman elected to Congress, is formally seated in the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • 1917 — Alice Paul, leader of the National Woman’s Party, was put in solitary confinement in the mental ward of the prison as a way to “break” her will and to undermine her credibility with the public.
  • 1917 — In June, arrests of the National Woman’s party picketers begin on charges of obstructing sidewalk traffic. Subsequent picketers are sentenced to up to six months in jail. In November, the government unconditionally releases the picketers in response to public outcry and an inability to stop National Woman’s Party picketers’ hunger strike.
  • 1918 — Representative Rankin opens debate on a suffrage amendment in the House. The amendment passes. The amendment fails to win the required two thirds majority in the Senate.
  • 1918 — Michigan, South Dakota, and Oklahoma adopt Women’s Suffrage.
  • 1918 — President Wilson states his support for a federal Women’s Suffrage amendment. Wilson addresses the Senate about adopting Women’s Suffrage at the end of World War I.
  • 1919 — The Senate finally passes the Nineteenth Amendment and the ratification process begins.
  • Aug. 18, 1920 — Tennessee adopts Women’s Suffrage.
  • Aug. 26, 1920 — Three quarters of the state legislatures ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. American women win full voting rights.

Source: National Women’s History Museum

Alice Paul vs. Woodrow Wilson: A Thanksgiving Story


Matilda Joslyn Gage worked many decades through the 1800s to gain suffrage for women; Alice Paul and her fellow suffragists finally accomplished the deed in the early years of the 1900s.  President Woodrow Wilson needed plenty of persuasion, however, before the 19th Amendment became a reality. It granted American women the right to vote, a right known as women’s suffrage, and was ratified on August 18, 1920, ending almost a century of protest.


I am currently reading Jon Meacham’s new book, The Soul of America:  The Battle for Our Better Angels. He begins chapter four with a “A NEW AND GOOD THING IN THE WORLD.”  His reference is to “The Triumph of Women’s Suffrage.”  He opens with this quote from Susan B. Anthony, said while arguing for the equality of women before the law in 1873:  “It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union.”

In this blog, I intend to convey this important landmark in history in mostly Meacham’s own words.  He begins by mentioning that “Like many American men, [Wilson] had hardly been an enthusiastic supporter of the decades-long struggle for a constitutional amendment on women’s suffrage, but, in the middle of a world war, Wilson had changed his mind and was now, in the early autumn of 1918, ready to take the case to the Senate.  After generations of activism—of appeals in the press, of marches and rallies, of vigils and hunger strikes—supporters of extending voting rights to women had at last convinced the most powerful man in the nation to stand up for them.

Meacham describes this momentous setting: “On Monday, September 30, 1918, Wilson went to Capitol Hill to deliver the speech he had composed on his typewriter.  His mission:  to urge lawmakers to approve the proposed Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution granting women the vote.  The war against the European imperial powers, Wilson told the Senate, was also a war for a more inclusive and enlightened era.  The people of the world…were ‘looking to the great, powerful, famous Democracy of the West to lead them to the new day for which they have so long waited; and they think…that democracy means that women shall play their part in affairs alongside men and upon an equal footing with them.’ Women had answered the call to service in war; they would soon be essential to the peace.  ‘Without their counsellings,’ Wilson said, ‘we shall be only half wise.”

Five years earlier, when Wilson arrived for his first inauguration, the president-elect “wondered why there were so few well-wishers at Union Station or on the streets.”

Wilson asked, “Where are the people?”

“Oh,” he was told, ‘they are out watching the suffrage parade.”

Meacham then described the scene: “The demonstration that day was enormous—and chaotic.  Angry men taunted the marchers and tried to break their ranks.  The suffragists, the Baltimore American reported, ‘practically fought their way foot by foot up Pennsylvania Avenue, through a surging throng that completely defied Washington police.’ Only the arrival of cavalry troops from Fort Myer, the army base across the Potomac, brought a semblance of order to the day.”

No fan of women’s rights at this point, Wilson met with Alice Paul in the East Room later that month.  Paul was a leading advocate for suffrage.  She and seven of her colleagues tried to reason with Wilson but he “refused to take up their cause.  The fact that the fight for the right to vote had been waged for seven decades—since, really, the founding convention of the movement at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1948—did not impress the president. “I do not care to enter into a discussion of that,” Wilson told his visitors, ending the conversation.”

Though this was not an auspicious beginning, Alice Paul “soon headquartered herself on Lafayette Square and launched a persistent campaign of protest at Wilson’s doorstep.  Born in 1885 to a distinguished Quaker family in New Jersey, Paul had been influenced by the more militant British suffrage movement during a stay in England from 1907 to 1910.”

Perhaps, many of my readers here saw the movie “Suffragette” a few years ago.  It portrayed the leadership of Emmeline Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union “women moved from speechmaking to active street protest, including face-to-face challenges to lawmakers.  If arrested, the suffragists…would refuse food in jail, leading to highly publicized force-feedings.  The gruesome details of prison officials jamming tubes carrying milk and much through the protestors’ nostrils to prevent starvation lent moral urgency to the suffragist cause.  ‘The essence of the campaign of the suffragettes,’ Paul told American audiences on her return, ‘is opposition to the government’—and a government that imprisoned and mistreated women for seeking the justice of the franchise was clearly worth opposing.”  She kept the pressure on.  Demonstrators known as “silent sentinels” stood outside the White House every day.  When arrested for interfering with traffic, “they, like their British counterparts, would refuse food in jail, leading to the dreaded force-feedings. During the 1916 State of the Union, suffragists displayed a banner that read MR. WILSON, WHAT ARE YOU DOING FOR WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE?  They had employed passive resistance combined with civil disobedience in a direct confrontation with the authority of the president.

They prevailed “when Wilson agreed to endorse the proposed amendment…” When it was ratified, worked many decades through the 1800s to gain suffrage for women; Alice Paul and her fellow suffragists finally accomplished the deed in the early years of the 1900’s.  President Woodrow Wilson needed plenty of persuasion, however, before the 19th Amendment became a reality. It granted American women the right to vote, a right known as women’s suffrage, and was ratified on August 18, 1920, ending almost a century of protest.Wilson wrote, “Will you take the opportunity to say to my fellow citizens that I deem it one of the greatest honors of my life that this great event, the ratification of this amendment, should have occurred during the period of my administration” to suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt in the summer of 1920. “Nothing has given me more pleasure than the privilege that has been mine to do what I could to advance the cause of ratification and to hasten the day when the womanhood of America would be recognized by the nation on the equal footing of citizenship that it deserves.”

Catt then wrote a letter to her staff on Thanksgiving Day 1920, a few weeks after women in all forty-eight states had the right to cast ballots for president for the first time. “As I look back, over the years,” she wrote, “I realize that the greatest thing in the long campaign for us was not its crowning victory, but the discipline it gave us all…It was a great crusade, the world has seen none more wonderful…My admiration, love, and reverence go out to that band which fought and won a revolution…with congratulations that we were permitted to establish a new and good thing in the world.”

“Though he was slow to join the side of the angels, Wilson got suffrage right.  The ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment was a landmark in American life,” according to Jon Meacham (and, I suspect, for most of womankind!)  “Women resisted the suffocating opinion of generations to create new opinion and new law, and a new nation.”

Let’s add this landmark for women to our list of things for which to be thankful this Thanksgiving Day!

Matilda at the State Fair

Yesterday I manned (womaned?) the Gage House’s table in the Arts and Food Building at the New York State Fair.  I got up early to drive to the special Orange Parking Lot at the Fair, making several wrong turns before I found the right area.  It was Maple Syrup Day at the Fair, but it was also Women’s Day and International Day.  Since the Gage House Foundation had only one shot at a tabling event, this was the best possible day.  The beautiful weather made for large crowds and lots of traffic passed our table.

The table had plenty of pamphlets and a large choice of woman power stickers to peel off and stick on one’s shirt.  There was a sign-up sheet available so people could get on our email list.  As Sally Roesch Wagner recently was rewarded with a grant for upgrading technology at the Gage House,  there will be many more woman-related events coming up at the house Matilda lived in for forty-four years in Fayetteville, New York. We volunteers and staff at the Gage House get together for “Mondays with Matilda” at the House in order to do some brainstorming for future projects and to share and compare notes with each other.

I loved engaging in conversation with the Fair-goers who paused at our table.  There is so much to share about Matilda!  But an obvious opening question to ask in order to draw them in is “Do you know who Matilda Joslyn Gage was?”  A few locals know of her, but mostly in an incomplete hazy way.  But the New York State Fair-goers who came long distances to experience the Great New York State Fair—which was the very first state fair and is still the biggest state fair—were not familiar with our heroine.  Well, there is so much to say about Matilda that it is impossible to do more than scratch the surface.  Fortunately, we were in a corner of the building and did not get as much noise and interference as other areas had.  Also, we had for sale (just $5.00!) copies of Matilda’s booklet Woman As An Inventor. On the cover is written:  “In history written by men, the women who have most largely influenced the fate of the nations are but alluded to.  Many women are almost entirely ignorant of the deeds of their sex in the past.”

What’s a booth without an activity to incentivize people. We also had a big black trifold board on which our “customers” were asked to mount a sticky note onto it with the name of a woman (past or present) that also was/is rather forgotten by history.  [My theory is that, unless you write your own autobiography or someone else writes a biography of you, you may be forgotten by history, even if you weren’t purposely “kicked out.”]  As I researched Matilda, I discovered many lesser-known names that have been forgotten, even though they were not “lost” on purpose.  But I am especially excited tonight about an amazing woman who, against all odds, rose to prominence and lived to be 108. My friend Joanne Verone just happened to send it to me as I started to write this article.

Her name was Clara Belle Drisdale Williams.  I had never heard of her. Have you?  And yet she has been mostly forgotten or never became famous enough to cross my radar.  But, unlike Matilda who was purposely ignored in the history books until lately, Clara even had a street named after her.  Read about her here:

Clara Belle Drisdale Williams [1885-1993] was the first African-American graduate of New Mexico State University. Many of her professors would not allow her inside the classroom, she had to take notes from the hallway; she was also not allowed to walk with her class to get her diploma. She married Jasper Williams in 1917; their three sons became physicians. She became a great teacher of black students by day, and by night she taught their parents, former slaves, home economics. In 1961, New Mexico State University named a street on its campus after Williams; in 2005 the building of the English department was renamed Clara Belle Williams Hall. In 1980 Williams was awarded an honorary doctorate of laws degree by NMSU, which also apologized for the treatment she was subjected to as a student. She died at 108 years old.

I would appreciate it if you would reply to me on this website where my blog offers a space for comments.  If you know of someone who was mostly forgotten in history, please share it with me.  Tell me what you know about her.  I might get around to researching her more deeply and blog about her here.

The problem often is that it is not that women were written out of history but that they were never recognized in the history books in the first place!  This conundrum coincides with “The Matilda Effect.”  Named after our Matilda Gage, because she wrote a small book called Woman as an Inventor back in the year 1883, “The Matilda Effect” applies when a woman has invented or created something but a man gets the credit for it.  As women could not sign contracts nor apply for patents, a man’s name went on most of these documents.  Yet, even now, The Matilda Effect is still apparent among women scientists, artists and other areas of creativity.  This seems to happen especially when women are part of a team.  Even if they did most of the work or were the ones that came up with the solution, a man’s name is often identified with the project instead of any women participants.

I hope to hear from you so we can all get acquainted with additional unsung heroines!

Gage Protest at the Statue of Liberty

The statue stands 151 feet high (on top of a 154-foot-high pedestal) and depicts Lady Liberty raising a torch in her right hand and holding in her left hand a tablet inscribed with the date of the publication of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.

MANY protests and protest marches have been happening.  And there is A LOT to protest.  I have been participating in several and will participate in one this coming Friday night.  It is being dubbed “Lights for Liberty.”  My understanding is that there will be similar protests all over America that night—despite the fact that it is a difficulty for people of the Jewish Faith.  Candles will be lit and speeches will be given.

Growing up in the Midwest in a small town near St. Louis, I never experienced any protest marches or demonstrations.  We watched on TV Vietnam protests and women’s rights demonstrations.  The closest I came at that time was a small contingent of SDS members on the quad of my teacher’s college, Illinois State, doing a silent protest.  The closest public demonstration that I participated in was going to the state capitol in Springfield with a small group of women who had formed a group we called “Housewives for the ERA.”  When I lived in Pennsylvania, near Scranton, there were no demonstrations in which I participated or even remember.  The closest I came then to activism was written protests against the building of a trash incinerator.

Things changed when I moved to Syracuse.  Maybe its that New York vibe.  Certainly, when I lived in the Midwest, most of “the action” seemed to be happening on the west coast or on the east coast.

Since moving here, I have made quite a few bus trips to Albany for various causes.  Many of them concerned environmental issues:  another incinerator problem, hydrofracking, climate change (especially the huge march inspired by Bill McKibben in New York City and another on a blisteringly-hot and muggy day in Philadelphia.)  More recent ones have been marches against gun violence.  If you have read my most recent posts, you know I have participated in the first Indigenous Peoples March in Washington, D.C. followed the next day by the 2019 Women’s March. Currently, I have been working and volunteering on issues considering immigration. I and many others will be at a “Close the Camps” silent protest downtown tomorrow from 12:00-12:30.

But enough about my protest marches.  It is one particular protest of Matilda Joslyn Gage’s that I want to share today. In 1886, the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France to honor the shared commitment to the idea of liberty by the United States and France, was dedicated.

The New York Times described the excitement surrounding this event: “All day yesterday people came to the city in droves to participate in today’s celebration. Extra heavily loaded trains, much behind schedule time, were the rule on every railroad entering the city. Every hotel was crowded to its utmost capacity last night, and there was hardly one of the better-known hotels which did not have to turn away hundreds of would-be guests.” Grover Cleveland dedicated the Statue of Liberty to a city that was crowded with spectators. The ceremony included speeches by the president and famed French engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps, among others, as well as music and gun salvo. The finale featured the statue’s designer, Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi.  He was perched in the statue’s torch.  At the official time, he pulled a rope removing a large French flag from the front of the statue, revealing Lady Liberty’s face to the crowd.

On first thought, you would probably think that Matilda would be all for this.  But her take was quite different.  She and other progressive women, members f the New York City Woman Suffrage Association, attended the unveiling ceremony in the New York harbor in order to protest the ironic symbolism of “Lady Liberty.”  She argued that a woman could not represent liberty in a country where women were not even guaranteed the right to vote.  They deemed It the greatest hypocrisy of the 19th century.  Liberty represented as a woman in a land where not a single woman had the liberty to vote!

The New York State Woman Suffrage Association had to jump through some hoops in order to get to the event.  They couldn’t get tickets to attend the unveiling on Bedloe’s Island (now known as Liberty Island) because they were unaccompanied women, according to the National Park Service.  However, they found a way. There was a parade of ships sailing by the island to celebrate the unveiling that day, so the suffragists chartered a boat and crashed the procession. The suffragists on that steamer held up banners protesting the unveiling, attended by 2,000 to 2,500 men on the island. The men were also joined by at least two women, both of whom were there with their husband or father.

Gage remarked on the occasion: “It is the sarcasm of the 19th century to represent liberty as a woman, while not one single woman throughout the length and breadth of the land is as yet in possession of political liberty.” To her and the other protesting suffragists, this was a travesty.  Indeed, so was the celebration surrounding it—which included many boats surrounding Ellis Island and fireworks and other speeches. These women were imaginative and did display civil disobedience.  But their actions contained no violence.

This engraving, based on a drawing by Charles Graham, shows New York Harbor and the Statue of Library illuminated by fireworks to celebrate the statue’s unveiling on Oct. 28, 1886.




Gage’s protest at the unveiling of Lady Liberty was not the last held there.  As Betty Little says in a recent article, “The Statue of Liberty has long been a magnet for protest. For more than 130 years, the statue, with its famed inscription “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses,” has served as a powerful symbol for Americans who want to protest injustice. A recent protest happened a year ago on July 4th.  Immigrant activist Therese Patricia Okoumou, 44, climbed up to the Statue of Liberty’s feet to protest the treatment of immigrants and asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexican border. In particular, her protest spotlighted the thousands of children whom the U.S. separated from their families and has yet to reunite. As a result, Liberty Island was evacuated shortly after the seven protesters unfurled an ‘Abolish ICE’ banner from the statue’s pedestal and Okoumou climbed the statue’s base. Okoumou, of Staten Island, was born and educated in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but she has lived in New York for at least the last 10 years. She joined the group Rise and Resist, which unfurled an “Abolish ICE” banner at the base of the statue, and had been taking part in about one protest a week with the group.






In 1970, Feminist Betty Friedan called for a national women’s strike on August 26 to mark the 50th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted U.S. women the right to vote. Friedan, the outgoing president of the National Organization for Women at the time, urged women to forego paid and unpaid work in order to draw attention to gendered disparities in employment, education and household responsibilities. A similar protest is arising right now with the stir that the U.S. Women’s Soccer Champs inequality in pay (18% on the dollar compared to what the men’s soccer team gets paid—who didn’t even qualify for the championships.)  Friedan (from whom I had the pleasure of hearing a speech in person) said at the time:  “I propose that the women who are doing menial chores in the offices as secretaries put the covers on their typewriters and close their notebooks and the telephone operators unplug their switchboards, the waitresses stop waiting, cleaning women stop cleaning and everyone who is doing a job for which a man would be paid more stop.”

Two weeks before the march, about 100 protesters hung a banner on Statue of Liberty’s pedestal that said “Women of the World Unite.” This “liberation” of Lady Liberty helped build momentum for the August 26 strike, during which 50,000 women marched through the streets of New York City.

The year after the women’s strike, 15 or 16 members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War occupied Liberty Island for three days to protest the Vietnam War. On the door to the statue, they posted a letter to President Richard Nixon. They said, “Now, as we sit inside the Statue of Liberty, having captured the hopes and imaginations of a war‐weary nation, we have run out of all excuses … Mr. Nixon: You set the date. We’ll evacuate.”

Inside the Statue of Liberty, a spokesman reads the demands of members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), who barricaded themselves inside the structure overnight as a symbolic protest.



The flag of Puerto Rico flying from the head of the Statue of Liberty after 28 Puerto Rican nationals seized the Liberty Island and the statue. In October 1977, Puerto Rican nationalists draped a Puerto Rican flag across Lady Liberty’s crown. For decades, residents of the U.S. territory had lived as second-class American citizens who couldn’t vote—so activists draped a banner across the statue’s pedestal, calling for Puerto Rico’s independence.





In 1979, 40 unarmed Muslim students loyal to Ayatollah Khomeini laid siege to the statue for several hours and chained themselves inside the monument’s crown to demand death for the deposed Shah of Iran.  They unfurled a banner from the crown that declared “The Shah Must be Tried and Punished.”

In 1980 Croatian nationalists detonated a time-delayed bomb in the museum that once occupied the statue’s base. According to law-enforcement officials, the perpetrators were terrorists who, for the prior five years, had conducted a wave of bombings, assassination attempts and other terrorist acts around the U.S. Their goal was Croatian independence from Yugoslavia.

The famous poem by Emma Lazarus wasn’t added to the base of the statue until years later in 1903. Her sonnet, “The New Colossus,” it includes the famous lines:

“‘Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries she
With silent lips. ‘Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!