Women’s Rights, Male Suffragists and Bronze Statues- Oh My!
Today my First Friday guest is Gail Ward Olmsted, whose latest work of historical fiction features a distant relative. The name Olmsted should be familiar to readers, and yes, it is THAT Olmsted!
Women’s Rights, Male Suffragists and Bronze Statues- Oh My!
By Gail Ward Olmsted
When the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed in 1920, women gained the right to vote. Later that year, millions of American women voted for the first time in a national election. This momentous occasion resulted from years of efforts by the women and men who fought for women’s suffrage; making speeches, signing petitions, lobbying Congress and marching in parades, arguing that women deserved the rights of citizenship along with the associated responsibilities.
The women’s rights movement began in 1848 when a convention was held in Seneca Falls, NY. While not the first ever meeting held to support women’s rights, the suffrage movement is thought to have been launched at the convention, which was organized by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. One highlight was Stanton’s “Declaration of Sentiments” that served as the foundation for decades of efforts by women activists. In 1851, former slave Sojourner Truth’s speech “Ain’t I a Woman?” was delivered at another women’s rights convention in Ohio. Many recognize these women as the founders behind the effort, however countless others contributed to the passing of the amendment to enfranchise women. This group included a select group of influential and well-respected men who were sympathetic to the cause and who worked tirelessly to make the dream of women’s equality a reality.
A number of movements encouraging men to continue the fight for gender equality exist today, including UN Women’s HeForShe campaign, but such was not the case 100 years ago. The number of men who stood up for the rights of their sisters, wives and daughters were relatively few, but several early male allies stood out, including:
Reverend Henry Ward Beecher spoke at the second National Women’s Rights Conventions in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1851.
Frederick Douglass, the well-known abolitionist, actively supported women’s rights, stating “Right is of no sex.”
George Francis Train published and funded The Revolution, a women’s rights newspaper. The periodical carried the motto- “Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less.”
Thetus W. Sims, from Tennessee, was so passionate about persuading his fellow congressional representatives to vote in favor of suffrage that he postponed medical treatment following an accident and showed up to vote with a broken arm and shoulder.
James Mott, husband of suffragist Lucretia Mott, served as chairperson of the Seneca Falls Convention.
Daniel B. Anthony, father of Susan B. Anthony, was a dedicated advocate of women’s equality and early role model to his daughter. When school officials refused to teach math to his daughter, he opened a school of his own where boys and girls were taught as equals.
Henry Blackwell took part in a speaking campaign across the American frontier alongside his wife, suffragist Lucy Stone.
Francis Minor, husband of suffragist Virginia Minor, was a lawyer whose suit alleging that women’s suffrage was already legal based on the wording of the 14th Amendment made it all the way to the Supreme Court where it was ultimately voted down.
These men worked tirelessly for the rights of women, leading to the eventual ratification of the 19th Amendment. To celebrate the centennial anniversary, the Women’s Rights Pioneer Monument was constructed and unveiled in NYC’s Central Park on August 26, 2020. The figures of Anthony, Stanton and Truth are captured in bronze and it is the first monument in the park that depicts actual women.
Despite the number of monuments that appear in Central Park today, they were never part of the original design of the park created by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Olmsted, in particular, was vehemently opposed to monuments, as they would not be something normally encountered during a stroll in the country. Eventually Olmsted and Vaux conceded to the addition of statues and monuments, provided they were located near the entrance gates or on the Mall, the walkway that runs through the park.
My latest book, Landscape of a Marriage is historical fiction celebrating the lives of renowned landscape architect Olmsted (1822-1903) and his late brother’s widow Mary. They were married for 44 years and Mary’s support of her husband and her belief in his goal to create a ‘beating green heart’ in every urban space inspired Olmsted in his efforts. He loved to create what he referred to as ‘organized chaos’ and was a fan of rolling meadows, curving pathways and trees and shrubs that would create a welcome oasis for city dwellers and visitors alike.
In my book, Olmsted returns home from work, fuming at the proposal of a statue being built in Central Park honoring William ‘Boss’ Tweed, the controversial figure behind the corrupt political machine known as Tammany Hall.
“I’ll tell you this will not rest with me. If they erect a statue, why, I will knock it down. I swear I will.,” he vows to Mary, who is amused at the mental image of her slightly built husband wrestling a life-sized bronze statue to the ground.
Olmsted’s dim view of statues and monuments faded over time, but his thoughts on women’s rights were crystal clear. He is shocked at his wife’s initial reticence to take part actively in the suffrage movement. “I would think that as a woman and the mother of two daughters you would be more inclined,” he complains.
So what would Olmsted’s reaction to the latest addition to his beloved park? Despite his general distaste for statues, I am fairly certain that the Women’s Rights Pioneer Monument would win his approval.
Gail Ward Olmsted was a marketing executive and a college professor before she began writing fiction on a fulltime basis. A trip to Sedona, AZ inspired her first novel Jeep Tour. Three more novels followed before she began Landscape of a Marriage, a biographical work of fiction featuring landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, a distant cousin of her husband’s, and his wife Mary.
For more information, please visit her on Facebook and at GailOlmsted.com.
Pre-order link- publication date is 7/29https://www.amazon.com/Landsc…/dp/1684337216/ref=sr_1_1…