One June day in 1915, an East Hampton woman literally took the crusade for women’s suffrage into her own hands.
Carrying a “suffrage torch to enlighten the State of New York upon the needs of its women,” said a New York Times article published then, East Hampton resident Mrs. Thomas L. Manson rode by automobile across Long Island, beginning at Montauk Point. She handed the torch to another woman, who carried it to New York City. The relay crusade ended in Buffalo, where Harriot Stanton Blatch, the daughter of early suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, addressed a huge rally.
Mrs. Manson’s suffragist efforts didn’t begin or end at that rally. And her civic actions weren’t just limited to the women’s suffragist movement. Yet the dots of her life’s story hadn’t quite been connected until last Friday, when historian Arlene Hinkemeyer celebrated and gave new life to the suffragist’s memory in a Women’s History Month talk, “The Suffragist Movement: Women Work for the Right To Vote,” at Clinton Academy.
Ms. Hinkemeyer, who was dressed in a white blouse, an ankle-length blue skirt, and a sash stamped with blue letters that read “Votes for Women,” spoke as part of a winter lecture series hosted by the East Hampton Historical Society. Her presentation focused on Mrs. Manson, a woman who she became “fascinated” with several years ago after learning about the suffragist’s diverse interests in charity work and women’s rights. What most struck Ms. Hinkemeyer, though, was how Mrs. Manson’s work went largely unnoticed throughout local history.
“I think one of the fascinating things is that nobody knew about her,” said Ms. Hinkemeyer, who is also a vice president of the League of women voters of the Hamptons. “And so it was really unearthing information that hadn’t been written anywhere.”
Ms. Hinkemeyer drew her sources of information from news articles dating back to the 1910s published in The East Hampton Star, The New York Times and The Brooklyn Eagle. They chart the progression of the women’s suffrage movement on the East End, beginning with an “open air suffrage meeting” that took place at Mrs. Manson’s home in 1913. Mrs. Manson was chairwoman of the executive committee of the Women’s Suffrage League of East Hampton and years later, climbed the ranks to become chairwoman of the Women’s Political Union of Suffolk County.
Born May Groot in New York City in 1859, Mrs. Manson was “an upper class woman in high society,” said Ms. Hinkemeyer. Her husband owned the Thomas L. Manson securities firm in Manhattan. Her daughter Dorothy was a debutante. The family lived in Manhattan and on East Hampton’s Main Street, according to Ms. Hinkemeyer.
Women’s suffrage wasn’t Mrs. Manson’s only civic pursuit. In 1898, she and others participated in relief measures at Camp Wikoff in Montauk, where sick soldiers were quarantined after fighting in the Spanish-American War with Theodore Roosevelt. A Brooklyn Eagle article at the time described Mrs. Manson as “indefatigable in work for the sick soldiers.” Another article told how Mrs. Manson held an event at her home in 1899 to raise money for poor children. She also helped organize East Hampton’s 250th anniversary celebration.
Mrs. Mason was not alone on the East End in her quest for women’s suffrage. Women in Sag Harbor and Southampton led efforts to promote the right to vote as well, Ms. Hinkemeyer noted. Mrs. Margaret Sage was the suffragist leader in Sag Harbor, and Mrs. Henry Medd was the chairwoman of the Southampton Women’s Political Union chapter, which was formed by 30 women in August 1913.
The 19th Amendment was ratified by Congress in 1919—after a “long road,” of hard work Ms. Hinkemeyer said. She recapped the efforts to achieve women’s suffrage began in 1848, at a women’s rights convention held in Seneca Falls, New York. That convention was organized by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Even after Congress approved the 19th Amendment, some states didn’t ratify it until much later.
There was a “sad end” to Ms. Manson’s story, said Ms. Hinkemeyer.
“I call this a sad ending, not necessarily because May Manson died in her 50s on September 5,1917, but because she never lived to see either the passage of women’s suffrage in New York State on November 6, 1917 … or the New York State ratification of the 19th amendment on June 16,1919, or the formal adoption of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in August 1920,” Ms. Hinkemeyer said. “But we in East Hampton can all be proud of the meaningful life she led, and of all she accomplished for the good of our community.”