Winning the Vote in New York State
Despite the distraction of the war in Europe, suffrage activism continued. After the failure of the 1915 referendum, suffragists immediately began planning for another referendum. In evaluating their failure, the women realized that a large number of men had not voted on the amendment to remove the word “male” from the Constitution. Optimistic that many of those men would support votes for women if they fully understood what it meant, activists undertook a campaign to reach every single household in New York State. Suffrage leadership divided the state into twelve campaign districts, each with its own chairwoman, to conform to the congressional districts. In each district, pairs of women canvassed rural and urban residents, leaving suffrage literature in every home.
In the last months of the campaign, suffragists made sure that all soldiers and sailors had access to ballots and urged them to vote. Tammany Hall, at the urging of Mary Garret Hay, withdrew its opposition to woman suffrage, allowing immigrant men to vote their consciences (or as their wives wished). Furthermore, suffragists remained highly visible in war-related work, support for the Red Cross, selling Liberty Bonds, and collecting the signatures of over a million women who wanted the right to vote. Anti-suffragists found the war a distraction from their movement, weakening their resistance to women’s enfranchisement.
As a result of suffragists’ increased visibility in patriotic war work, their renewed efforts to educate the public, and the weakened resistance on the part of anti-suffragists, enough men checked the box to approve Amendment No. 1, “Shall the proposed amendment to section one of article two of the Constitution, conferring equal suffrage upon women, be approved?” to pass the measure. Women’s right to vote in the state of New York had finally been recognized and women could shift their attention to campaign for the federal amendment.