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Thursday, October 1, 2020

On the Suffrage Trail: Her-Story in Lily Dale

by Joanne Polizzi Mansfield
Copyright © 2020, All rights reserved by the author.

Spiritualist activities were evident in Western New York and Chautauqua County as early as 1844 when Jeremiah Carter experienced mesmerism, and in 1848, when the Fox sisters of Hydesville, NY, heard and interpreted rappings. By 1855 “The Religious Society of Freethinkers of the Village of Laona” was organized. The society held meetings in the area. 

The ideals of free speech, free thought, free investigation were converging to introduce the seeds of the women’s movement in Western New York.

The newspapers of the day, The Banner of Light, Chautauqua Farmer, The Sunflower, Dunkirk Observer, and some Buffalo papers reported the happening in Lily Dale

1877 - Jerimiah Carter of Laona - heard a voice saying, “Go to Alden’s and arrange for a camp meeting.” He walked six miles to Cassadaga and suggested to landowner Willard Alden that a Spiritualist Camp Meeting be held in his grove. A six-day camp meeting was held in Alden Grove that September.

1879 - A group of stockholders formed The Cassadaga Lake Free Association, and it was decided to purchase land along the east side of the upper lake in Cassadaga. The place was named the Cassadaga Lake Camp Meeting Grounds. The first tree was felled. The surveying and laying out of the grounds were done, and renting cottages was decided upon. The preparations were in place for the World’s Largest Center for Spiritualism at Lily Dale.

1880 - The Chautauqua Farmer reported the Spiritualists dedicated their grounds at Cassadaga Lake to Free Speech, Free Thought, and Free Investigation. The crowd was 1,200, and the speaker was Mrs. Elizabeth Lowe Watson. The women were organizing. (Chautauqua Farmer: June 16, 1880)

1883 - The famed Auditorium of Lily Dale was proposed. It was fifty by fifty-foot, enclosed on three sides, and supported by pillars with curtains to be let down during inclement weather. A sixteen by a forty-eight-foot platform to the rear was the stage. The Auditorium was completed in time for the camp meeting and became the centerpiece for the suffrage orators. (Banner of Light: September 2, 1882)

By 1888 improvements were in rapid progress, with the expansion of lands and erection of new cottages. Spiritualist speakers drew large and attentive audiences at the yearly camps. The Banner of Light reports the Library Hall was opened and dedicated, with three hundred volumes, a reading room, séance rooms, and a lecture hall. The Auditorium is the gem of Cassadaga. “It shelters an audience of fifteen hundred. When the canvas wings are lowered the auditorium becomes a theater.”  (Banner of Light: August 28, 1888)

In September of 1888, the Cassadaga Lake Branch of the “Universal Cooperative Temperance Union” was organized with twenty-five members. In 1887 the first Political Equality Club was founded in Jamestown, and the first convention of Political Equality ever held in New York State convened at the Opera House in Jamestown. Mrs. Marion Skidmore organized a chapter of the Political Equality Club in Lily Dale. On July 4, 1889, she arranged for a celebration of the Western New York Political Equality Club at Lily Dale and Invited all the clubs in the county to be present. The camp covered an area of forty acres and one hundred and eight cottages on the grounds. (Banner of Light: September 22, 1888; June 22, 1889)

In 1889, there is an amphitheater, a children’s Lyceum, the new Library building, a newsstand, a school district granted for the near future, a US post office, and the Hotel Grand. A great many phases of mediumship are represented on the grounds-clairvoyance, slate-writing, healing, and test with many mediums of the day coming to Lily Dale. (Banner of Light: August 3, 1889)

1891 - Saturday, August 25 is Woman’s Day at Chautauqua, and all county clubs are to represent. This is the first time that Chautauqua has recognized the suffrage movement. The Banner of Light reported in their August 29 edition the Woman’s Suffrage Day events held August 15. The day was declared Glorious “because successful in representation in numbers, and in the graphic promulgation of one of the main auxiliaries of Spiritual Truth, Freedom and Progress - the equal suffrage and recognition of women on all questions and in all places where her wise intuitions may lead her." The spirit of the occasion was Political Equality and Equal Rights to All! A large delegation of Political Equality Clubs and their sympathizers came, twenty-three clubs in all, and it was estimated that 5,000 to 6,000 people were present. The speakers were Rev. Anna Shaw, Susan B. Anthony and Miss Hattie O. Peate. (Banner of Light: August 29. 1891)

1892 - Mrs. Isabella Beecher Hooker was on the grounds, a guest of Mrs. Marion Skidmore, in preparation for the annual Woman’s Day Program August 25. Mrs. Hooker presided, and Susan B. Anthony and The Rev. Anna Shaw spoke. (The Buffalo Express: August 24, 1892; Banner of Light: August 20, 1892)

1893 Woman’s Day was August 17, as reported in the Banner of Light: Twenty-five hundred tickets were sold at the gate, and the Auditorium was packed to capacity for this Woman’s Day. Mrs. Elnora M. Babcock, President of the Chautauqua County Political Equality Club, took the chair and stated that nowhere in the county was suffrage women warmly received as at Lily Dale. Rev. Anna Shaw was the speaker of the afternoon. (Banner of Light: August 26, 1893)

1894 - August 15 was “Temperance Day.” The subject was discussed in Conference, and all around the camp, all shades of opinion and theory being advanced. Woman’s Day was celebrated August 22. Two thousand people arrived on the regular trains, and presumably another thousand upon the excursion trains. The chairman opened the session with an address of welcome to the suffragists who had come to Cassadaga for their annual celebration. Chairman Barrett said the suffrage movement was born the same year and simultaneously with the Rochester knockings, the beginning of Modern Spiritualism and that Spiritualism embraced every movement that stood for liberty and equal rights. Miss Susan B. Anthony was introduced. She spoke of the defeat of the women’s suffragists before the State Convention the present year and offered praises for the Lily Dale Camp and the work of the Spiritualists. “But,” said she, “it is impossible for us to offer our thanks to Spiritualists without being doubly damned for they are just as unpopular as the suffragists.” Rev. Anna Shaw spoke next with eloquence, logic, and witticism. It was noted that many veteran suffragists and Spiritualists go hand in hand on the march of progress. Among them were Mrs. Marion Skidmore, Mrs. Dr. Sarah Morris, and Mrs. Sarah Anthony Bruits, the oldest living Suffragist and Spiritualist (and cousin of Susan B Anthony). Also noted Mrs. Abbey Pettengill, Mrs. Elizabeth Lowe Watson, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. (The Buffalo Express: August 22, 1894; Banner of Light: September 8, 1894)

Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt of New York City was the speaker for Woman’s Day 1895. Miss Mary Anthony reported to the Constitutional Convention of 1894 on behalf of her sister, Susan B., who could not be present. Woman’s Day of 1896, the featured speaker, Rev. Anna Shaw, gave a rousing report of the suffrage campaign in California and Mrs. Cheney, the President of the Chautauqua County Suffrage Club, presided with opening remarks. (Banner of Light: August 31, 1895; Banner of Light: August 15, 1896)

In 1897 The Banner of Light reported on the annual Woman’s Day Celebration and described Cassadaga as the “political equalities paradise.” This year, the symposium speakers featured several men, Mr. Thomas Grimshaw and Dr. W.W. Hicks. (Banner of Light: August 28, 1897)

Woman’s Day celebrations continued annually. The Banner of Light reported the 1899 event with Mrs. Mary Ellen Lease, the speaker of the day, with the subject of her address “The New Woman,” encouraging the power of women and the vote. The 1900 Woman’s Day was set apart as “Political Equality Day” to suggest the real meaning of the discussion of woman suffrage, with Mrs. Anna Shaw as a speaker. (Banner of Light: August 5, 1899; August 25, 1900)

An interesting footnote to history regarding a famed photograph: The Sunflower of August 15, 1900, observes that many prominent workers in the woman’s movement have been at Lily Dale. “A tent known as the “Women’s Tent” is always erected on the lot just south of the T. J. Skidmore Cottage. Banners with a star representing the states that have adopted woman’s suffrage were planted in or near it, and one of the most popular views of the ground is a picture of this tent with Mrs. Skidmore holding up the banner with two stars for Wyoming and Colorado while Mrs. A.L. Pettengill and Susan B. Anthony is seated near.” (The Sunflower: August 15, 1900)

1901 - Woman’s Day with Miss Gail Hamilton on NYC speaker. 1902 Rev. Anna Shaw. 1904-featured speakers Mrs. Lillie, Mrs. Gilman, and Helen Campbell (Banner of Light: August 24, 1901; The Sunflower: September 1, 1902)

The Sunflower, August 1903 - Miss Susan B. Anthony was a guest of Mrs. Pettengill at the Leolyn Hotel. At the symposium of the day, some of the women on the platform were Mrs. A. L. Pettengill, President of the City of Light Assembly, Susan B. Anthony, Rochester, New York, Honorary President of the National Woman’s Suffrage Elnora Monroe, Dunkirk, NY, Superintendent of the Press, National Suffrage Association; Miss Harriett May Mills, Syracuse, NY, Organizer, NY State Suffrage Association; Rev. Anna H. Shaw, Philadelphia, Penna., Vice-President of the National Suffrage Association; Harriett Taylor Upton, Warren, Ohio, Treasurer of the National Suffrage Association; Mrs. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, New York City, Author and Lecturer and others of importance and influence. It was noted that Mrs. Gilman’s work is principally with the family, mothers, and children. Miss Anthony is pledged to universal suffrage, while Mrs. Shaw covers the entire field of human rights—a woman’s in particular. (The Sunflower: August 15, 1903)

1905 - Mrs Pettengill, president of the Assembly, introduced Rev, Anna Shaw, and Susan B. Anthony with 1500 attending Woman’s Day. (The Sunflower: August 26, 1905)

1912 - The speaker for Woman’s Day was Harriot Stanton Balch, President of New York Women’s Political Union (Dunkirk Observer: August 7, 1912)

1913 - The speaker of the day was Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Author, and Lecturer. (Silver Creek News: September 4, 1913)

1914 - Mrs. Gertrude Nelson Andrews, President of Lily Dale Suffrage Society, and Dr. Anna H. Shaw, President National Woman’s Suffrage Association, were speakers. (Dunkirk Observer: 1914 - The Buffalo Times: August 20, 1914) Headline: “Suffrage Workers at Lily Dale Give Big Demonstration” (The Buffalo Enquirer: August 20, 1914)

1915 - “More than usual interest is centered In Woman’s Day this year. It comes in the final whirl of the New York State campaign for Woman Suffrage. Dr. Anna Howard Shaw will be the speaker for the day. Other well-known women will also be heard. For twenty-four hours, Lily Dale will be made the tense, gripping center of the Eighth Campaign District. It will be a day to long remember. (Chronicles of Lily Dale, p 319). Jamestown's Mayor Samuel Carlson, a suffrage advocate, spoke in the morning to an unusually large crowd. On the platform were Madame Von Klenner, of the New York Woman’s Press Association, and Mrs. P. Pennypacker, President of the National Federation of Women’s Clubs and others. (Buffalo Evening News: August 19, 1915)

1917 - Brief mention of Woman’s Day (Dunkirk Observer: August 25, 1917)

1919 - Passed by Congress June 4, 1919, and ratified on August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote. 

Interestingly, in 1919 the Woman’s Day celebration in Lily Dale appeared to be subdued. Mrs. Joseph Rieger, the chairman, gave tribute to Anna Howard Shaw, who recently passed. The speaker was Miss Florence King of Chicago, National President of the Woman’s Association of Commerce. (Dunkirk Evening Observer: August 21, 1919)

1920 - Mrs. Frank Vanderlip of New York City spoke at Woman’s Day with the topic of “Your Vote and How to Use It”; The opening remarks were by Mrs. Joseph Rieger of Dunkirk, congressional chairman and chairman of the meeting: “We have worked long and ardently for the vote, and it is now up to us to learn how to use it for the betterment of government and the conditions of all concerned it.” The Women’s Suffrage Organization of the county was reorganized into the League of Women Voters. (Dunkirk Observer: August 12, 1920)

Although newspaper reporting appeared minimal in later years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment, the annual Lily Dale Woman’s Day celebrations continued to draw support from women around the country to gather and to increase their campaign efforts for women’s rights.

The suffrage trail has been long and winding. It is to be noted that the Lily Dale Woman’s Day Events attracted the most influential women of the time. Lily Dale has witnessed the birth, growth, and progress of the Suffrage Movement and Women’s Rights, Temperance, Abolition, Divorce Reform, and the Free-Thinkers movements. This place and these women have rightfully earned their place in Her-Story.

Many of the suffragists of Lily Dale, who met, spoke, and rallied for women’s rights, did not have the opportunity to exercise the right to vote. These women were still fighting for equal rights and the vote when they died: Marion H. Skidmore 1895, Susan B. Anthony, 1906, Abby Pettengill 1919, Elizabeth Cady Stanton 1902, Isabella Beecher Hooker 1907. Elizabeth Lowe Watson 1927, Rev. Dr. Anna Howard Shaw 1919

About the author: Joanne Polizzi Mansfield is a trustee and genealogy researcher for the Chautauqua County Historical Society. She is a retired educator addicted to genealogy puzzles and historical research.