On January 3, 2017, in recognition of the centennial of the passage of the suffrage act in New York in the year 1917, the Tompkins County Legislature passed a proclamation declaring 2017 the Year of the Woman in Tompkins County.
The proclamation recognizes the long struggle for a woman to be able to take her place in in the world outside her home.
The problem was recognized by Abagail Adams in her 1776 letter to her husband John, then attending the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. She urged him “to remember the ladies.” She stated her “desire” that you “would be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power in the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”
John and the others at the Congress paid no heed. Others too voiced concern about the rights of women but it was only in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Woman’s Rights Convention that Elizabeth Cady Stanton strongly stated that women had long been denied their rights and that they deserved to have access to education, vocations, and the vote.
New York state did act on behalf of women, passing in 1848 the Married Women’s Property Act, that was amended and expanded several times in 1860 and 1962 allowing women to inherit, to own their own earnings, and to be guardians of their children.
In 1915 however, New York voters denied women the vote. It was only after a campaign by the state’s women that in 1917 the suffrage amendment passed in New York, the first eastern state to allow women to vote. Among the loudest and strongest voices in the county in support of women’s suffrage was Juanita Breckenridge Bates.
But that did not give women equal civil rights. It was federal legislation in the 1960s that finally allowed and required that all citizens have the privilege and responsibility of full citizenship.