May 15, 2017
Part 5: Headquarters of the Women’s Suffrage Movement
The Redbury Hotel
29th East 29th Street
Part V: Headquarters of the Women’s Suffrage Movement
The Birthplace of the Interurban Woman Suffrage Council
On August 18, 2020, The Redbury should be a place of great excitement. On that day, the country will be celebrating the 100th Anniversary of women’s right to vote, and few, if any, places in the country can claim as central a role in the women’s suffrage movement locally, nationally and internationally, as this hotel can.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, New York was the unchallenged center of the country’s business, cultural and political lives. The unofficial headquarters of the Democratic and Republican parties were at the Hoffman House (25th and Broadway) and the Fifth Avenue Hotel (23rd and Fifth Avenue), respectively. It was common for campaigns to be directed from New York. So it is not surprising that the nation’s suffrage movement was led from New York and that it would find its center in an all women’s hotel — The Martha Washington, today’s Redbury.
“The story of the growth of the woman suffrage movement in Greater New York is one of the most interesting chapters in the history of this cause, for while it advanced slowly for many years, it rose in 1915 and 1917 to a height never attained elsewhere and culminated in two campaigns that in number of adherents and comprehensive work were never equaled.”1
It all really began in earnest with the Interurban Woman Suffrage Council, which formed in 1903 and established its headquarters in the The Redbury/Martha Washington Hotel, on February 15, 1907 under the leadership of Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt. The council would become the leading force in the suffrage movement over the next few years.
[The Interurban Women Suffrage Council was also known as the Interurban Political Equality Council. This was the name used in the first report of The Redbury/Martha Washington headquarters in The New York Times on February 16, 1907, and it was the one Catt used in a letter to the editor of The Times on February 22, 1907.]
“New York City is to be converted to woman suffrage. The first step in a new effort was made yesterday afternoon when the Interurban Political Equity Council opened headquarters. These are at the Hotel Martha Washington. A room on the second floor of the hotel has been rented, where woman suffrage literature, advice, and anything that will help the ‘cause’ will be distributed free of charge . . . Mrs. Catt told the members that she expected great sacrifices and devotion from them . . . The council is made up of the different suffrage organizations in New York City.”2
The Start of Something Big
Two years after setting up headquarters at The Redbury/Martha Washington, the Interurban Woman Suffrage Council launched the Woman Suffrage Party of Greater New York at Carnegie Hall on October 29, 1909. Modeled after the two dominant political parties, the Woman Suffrage Party held the first suffrage representative convention and would go on to become a model for local organizations and activities across the U.S. and eventually around the world.
The first convention had 804 delegates and 200 alternates — the largest suffrage body ever assembled in New York State. Catt, who led the party, believed that by reaching into every political district to influence its voters, the party could bring suffrage close to the people and eventually influence parties and legislators through public opinion. With this in mind, the Woman Suffrage Party set up leaders for each of the 63 assembly districts of the city and a captain for each of the 2,127 election districts. In fact, the overall organization of the operation is impressive with election district captains being supervised by a borough chairman and other officers in each borough and with all of these directed by a city chairman, officers and board of directors.
The Center of a Strategic, Highly-Effective Campaign
The vision with which Catt lead the Interurban Woman Suffrage Council and the Woman’s Suffrage Party is impressive. Directing the activities of these groups from The Redbury/Martha Washington, Catt elicited ingenious ideas and seemingly inexhaustible energy from legions of women and even some men to gain the vote for women. As time went on, the Interurban Woman Suffrage Council would maintain headquarters at the Martha Washington, but the Woman Suffrage Party moved first to 34th Street and then later, at a meeting at The Redbury/Martha Washington, the party decided to set up permanent headquarters at the Met Life Tower.
Both the Interurban Woman Suffrage Council and its offshoot, The Woman Suffrage Party, held numerous events to raise awareness and money. These efforts slowly built toward the tremendous campaigns of 1915 and 1917 that succeeded in winning the vote for women. These campaigns have become legendary.
“The population of Greater New York was 4,700,000 and the new party had a task of colossal proportions. It had to appeal to native Americans of all classes and conditions and to thousands of foreign born. It sent its forces to local political conventions; held mass meetings; issued thousands of leaflets in many languages; conducted street meetings, parades, plays, lectures, suffrage schools; gave entertainments and teas; sent appeals to churches and all kinds of organizations and to individual leaders; brought pressure on legislators through their constituents and obtained wide publicity in newspapers and magazines. It succeeded in all its efforts and increased its membership from 20,000 in 1910 to over 500,000 in 1917.”3
These ladies left no stone unturned. Here is a list of some of their activities in the campaign of 1915:
“Voters canvassed (60 per cent of those enrolled): 396,698
Voters circularized: 826,796
Party membership increased from 151,688 to 212,223
Watchers and pickets furnished for the polls: 3,151
Numbers of leaflets printed and distributed: 2,883,264
Number of outdoor meetings: 5,225
Number of indoor meetings (district): 660
Number of mass meetings: 93
Political meetings addressed by Congressmen, Assemblymen and Constitutional Convention delegates: 25
Night speaking in theaters: 60
Theater Week (Miner’s and Keith’s): 2
Speeches and suffrage slides in movie theaters: 150
Concerts (indoor, 10 outdoor, 3): 13
Suffrage booths in bazaars: 6
Number of Headquarters (Borough, 4 Districts, 20): 24
Campaign vans (drawn by horses 6, decorated autos 6, district autos 4), vehicles in constant use: 16
Papers served regularly with news (English and foreign): 80
Suffrage editions of papers prepared: 2
Special articles on suffrage: 150
Sermons preached by request just before election: 64”4
And they didn’t stop there. The suffrage volunteers canvased homes, office buildings, factories, department stores and small retail shops. They issued a Weekly News Bulletin and a weekly magazine, Woman Voter, and they sought the endorsement of all city officials, prominent people and large organizations.
The wealth of clever ideas to engage the public coming from this group seems endless. In The History of Woman Suffrage, by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony et al., there is a detailed record of the marketing savvy of these suffrage pioneers.
“The spectacular activities of the campaign caught and held public attention. Various classes of men were complimented by giving them ‘suffrage days.’ The appeal to the firemen took the form of an automobile demonstration, open air speaking along the line of march of their annual parade and a ten dollar gold piece given to one of their number who made a daring rescue of a yellow-sashed dummy—a suffrage lady. A circular letter was sent to 800 firemen requesting their help for all suffragists. ‘Barbers’ Day’ produced ten columns of copy in leading New York dailies. Letters were sent in advance to 400 barbers informing them that on a certain day the suffragists would call upon them. The visits were made in autos decorated with barbers’ poles and laden with maps and posters to hang up in the shops and then open air meetings were held out in front. Street cleaners on the day of the ‘White Wings’ parade were given souvenirs of tiny brooms and suffrage leaflets and addressed from automobiles. A whole week was given to the street car men who numbered 240,000. Suffrage speeches were given at the car barns and leaflets and a ‘car barn’ poster distributed.
Suffrage Parade, 1915. This is a painting by Theresa Bernstein who was hailed and flailed for “painting like a man.” She generated vibrant canvases of the suffrage movement and continued to paint for eight decades.
“Forty-five banks and trust companies were treated to a ‘raid’ made by suffrage depositors, who gave out literature and held open meetings afterward. Brokers were reached through two days in Wall Street where the suffragists entered in triumphal style, flags flying, bugles playing. Speeches were made, souvenirs distributed and a luncheon held in a ‘suffrage’ restaurant. The second day hundreds of colored balloons were sent up to typify ‘the suffragists hopes ascending.’ Workers in the subway excavations were visited with Irish banners and shamrock fliers; Turkish, Armenian, French, German and Italian restaurants were canvassed as were the laborers on the docks, in vessels and in public markets.
“A conspicuous occasion was the Night of the Interurban Council Fires, when on high bluffs in the different boroughs huge bonfires were lighted, fireworks and balloons sent up, while music, speeches and transparencies emphasized the fact that woman’s evolution from the campfire of the savage into a new era was commemorated. Twenty-eight parades were a feature of the open air demonstrations. There were besides numbers of torchlight rallies; street dances on the lower East Side; Irish, Syrian, Italian and Polish block parties; outdoor concerts, among them a big one in Madison Square, where a full orchestra played, opera singers sang and eminent orators spoke; open air religious services with the moral and religious aspects of suffrage discussed; a fete held in beautiful Dyckman Glen; flying squadrons of speakers whirling in autos from the Battery to the Bronx; an ‘interstate meet’ on the streets where suffragists of Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York participated. Ninety original features arranged on a big scale with many minor ones brought great publicity to the cause and the suffragists ended their campaign valiantly with sixty speakers talking continuously in Columbus Circle for twenty-six hours.”5
From a Second Floor of the Martha Washington to the States and the World
The campaign would not be successful that year, but the tide was beginning to turn and the vote for women was not far off. (New York State gave women the right to vote in 1917 and the 19th Amendment gave all U.S. women the right to vote in 1920.)
The brilliant organizational plans for the campaign in New York were copied throughout the United States and abroad. The editor of the UCLA Social Department document “New York City Campaign, 1915” mentioned that she had given extended space to the two New York campaigns because they were the largest ever made and were used as a model by a number of States in later years. Catt, who had first set up the Interurban Woman Suffrage Council at The Redbury/ Martha Washington, introduced the Council’s methods to countries around the globe, including South Africa, the “Holy Land,” Egypt, Celon, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and China. On an around-the-world tour lasting a year and a half, it was estimated that she had spoken at 1,000 meetings, organized hundreds of suffrage clubs and organizations and had expended more than $10,000 of her own money to carry her message around the world. In South Africa alone, she addressed 40 assemblies in 77 days.6
She met heads of state, leaders of suffrage movements in each country and lectured in England, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. In fact, her remarks at the International Suffrage Alliance in Sweden were translated into 24 languages and broadcast throughout the world.
So it is clear that the Interurban Woman Suffrage Council headed by Catt was seminal in the woman’s suffrage movement throughout this country and the world, and it all started with the Interurban Woman Suffrage Council conceived and run from The Redbury/Martha Washington Hotel, at 29 East 29th Street in NoMad.
Appendix: The Times Reports of Women’s Rights Activities at the Hotel
The Redbury/Martha Washington was not only the headquarters of the Interurban Woman Suffrage Council, but the site of many other women’s equality events. As such, it served as a natural gathering place for socialites such as Mrs. Clarence Mackay, Mrs. Russell Sage, Mrs. Robert Goelet, and Mrs. Henry Villard, who were very active supporters of the cause. Gradually with their influence, other society names were added, such as Mrs. William Vanderbilt Belmont, who became an influential member of the suffrage movement and Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish, a member of the family descendant from New York’s first governor Peter Stuyvesant. The significant financial support that these women were able to provide to the suffrage movement was critical to its rapid success, but they had other gifts too. Beyond their money, these women also brought their intelligence along with their considerable writing and speaking skills to aid the cause.
As an example, take Katherine Duer Mackay, descendant from English aristocracy and an old Virginia family. She married billionaire Clarence Mackay, said to have inherited $500 million dollars (about $14 billion in today’s money). Katherine Mackay’s name is ubiquitous in articles about the Interurban Woman Suffrage Council and the Woman’s Suffrage Party. She planned campaigns and gave huge financial support for events year in and year out. Reading Katherine Mackay’s first Interurban speech at the Astor Hotel, it is clear she had a keen mind and riveting oratory style. It was she who was chosen to read the text of the first platform of the Woman’s Suffrage Party at their first convention in Carnegie Hall.7, 8, 9
We don’t know all the special people active at The Redbury/Martha Washington or all that happened there, but here are just some of the events that attest to the ongoing role the hotel played in securing women’s rights and promoting their interests in many areas of everyday life.
On April 1, 1906, The Times reported that the Women’s Chess Club of New York, which was headquartered at the Martha Washington Hotel, was hosting the first open chess tournament in America for women in the second week of May, 1906. The report noted that invitations were being sent to fair players across the country to compete for handsome prizes and that souvenirs would be presented to all competitors.10
On September 26, 1908, The Times reported that the Committee on Women’s Work of the Republican National Committee opened headquarters in Parlor K of the Hotel Martha Washington. The report went on to say that the headquarters had been thronged by women and some men seeking literature, buttons and photographs of the candidates. “Through the New York office republican women all over the country are being appealed to . . . At this time of the year women from many different states are passing through New York, and many of these have visited the headquarters.”11
The same day on September 26th and again on November 1, 1908, The New York Times reported that a woman’s suffrage bazaar would be held at the Martha Washington on Friday, November 6 and Saturday, November 7th. The bazaar under the auspices of the Interurban Woman Suffrage Council, would occupy the entire parlor floor of the hotel and seventeen different suffrage organizations would take part. It would feature labor saving devices for the home, homemade preserves, jellies, toiletries, utilitarian objects, books, confectionery, “white goods” and fancy articles, and there would be entertainment each evening.12, 13
On September 29, 1908, The New York Times reported that the Hotel Martha Washington was the site of the organization of the International Federation of Business Women. “The meeting was held under the protection of the woman suffragists in their headquarters at the hotel.” The new organization was intended to be a continuation of the Business Woman’s Exchange organized in 1907 to raise the standard of employment and for the mutual benefit of employer and employee.14
October 25, 1908, The Times reported that if New York wasn’t fully converted to equal suffrage by spring of that year, it wouldn’t be the women’s clubs fault. The Times pointed out that “There are eighteen societies extending from Port Washington on Long Island to Westchester County, represented in the Interurban Headquarters at the Martha Washington Hotel . . . ” They also noted that “after the election” a bazaar was scheduled for the Martha Washington.15
So important was the Interurban Woman Suffrage Council that, as reported in The Times on January 2, 1909, Nellie Melba, an Australian opera star and the most famous singer of the Victorian Age, sent an address to a Council luncheon being held in the Astor Hotel proclaiming her support for their movement.16
On February 3, 1909, The Times reported that the author Miss Edith Ellis would address a suffrage meeting at the Martha Washington Hotel that day. Her talk was entitled “The Stage as a Medium for Propagating Woman’s Suffragism.”17
On June16, 1909, The Times reported that the Interurban Woman Suffrage Association (Council) held its last business meeting for the summer at its headquarters in the Martha Washington Hotel. Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt presented suffrage campaign plans, underscoring the need to seek names for the petition to congress in and out of season.18
On December 11, 1909, The Times reported that a Suffrage Bazaar opened the evening before at the Martha Washington. The ubiquitous suffrage leader, Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt was the Bazaar Chief, and the main attraction was a doll up for auction “Miss Carrie Catt McKinley,” named after Catt and Mrs. Thomas McKinley, the President’s wife, who donated the doll to the suffrage cause. The emphasis of the bazaar was on raising money for the cause and signing a petition in favor of the women’s vote. It featured the “Suffrage Drink” imported from England and items from Norway, Finland and Denmark where women already had the vote.19
On January 16, 1910, The Times reported that Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish, a former anti-suffragist had been converted by Mrs. O. H. P. Belmont and that the Board of Education ruled that Mrs. Belmont could not offer prizes in the schools for a suffrage essay contest. The paper also reported that at a meeting in the Martha Washington Hotel on the 15th, the Woman’s Suffrage Party, the off-shoot of the Interurban Woman Suffrage Council, held elections and decided to open permanent headquarters in the Metropolitan Life Building.20
This is the fifth and last in a series of articles experiencenomad.com published on The Redbury Hotel, check our earlier articles on the hotel’s history for humorous and scandalous news stories, and profiles of famous people who stayed at the hotel. It is amazing how much this hotel at 29 East 29th has added to New York and to the rights of woman in the United States and the world. Just as so much of NoMad, the Redbury/Martha Washington is a time capsule containing undimmed images of the turn of the 19th/20th Centuries, the history of the country, and the changing views society has of women and their roles.
- Social Sciences Division, UCLA, “New York City Campaign, 1915.” Downloaded 6.25.14, http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/history/dubois/classes/995/98F/doc71.html
- History of Woman Suffrage, by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and the National American Woman Suffrage Association / Edition 1, Mary Jo Buhle (Editor), Paul Buhle (Editor), Pages 403-405. and The Concise History of Woman Suffrage: Selections from History of Women Suffrage / Edition 1, Mary Jo Buhle (Editor), Paul Buhle (Editor), Pages 403 — (an edited version of History of Woman Suffrage, by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and the National American Woman Suffrage Association).
- The New York Times, “Mrs. Catt Crusading Around the World for Suffrage,” June 23, 1912.
- The New York Times, “Mrs. MacKay Pleads for Equal Suffrage,” January 6, 1909.
- “Mackay History: Katherine Duer Mackay, the First Mrs. Clarence Mackay, c. 1905, downloaded 7.16.2014. http://www.mackayhistory.com/2_mrs_mackays.html
- Digital History Project: Mrs. Clarence MacKay (Miss Katherine Duer), By R. H. Titherington, downloaded 7.10. 2014, http://www.digitalhistoryproject.com/2012/11/mrs-clarence-mackay-miss-katherine-duer.html.
- The New York Times, “Women’s Chess Tournament,” April 1, 1906.
- The New York Times, “Women in the Campaign,” September 26, 1908,
- The New York Times, Woman Suffrage Bazaar Nov. 6-7,” September 26, 1908.
- The New York Times, “Woman Suffrage Bazar,” November 1, 1908.
- The New York Times, “Business Women are Organized,” September 29, 1908.
- The New York Times, “Women Suffragists Plan Hot Campaign,” October 25, 1908.
- The New York Times, “Melba a Suffragist,” January 2, 1909.
- The New York Times, “Theatrical Notes,” February 3, 1909.
- The New York Times, “Active Suffragist Fight,” June 16, 1909.
- The New York Times, “Suffrage Bazaar Opens,” December 11, 1909.
- The New York TImes, “Mrs. Fish Gone Over to the Suffragists,” January 16, 1910.