Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Tamara Gaskell

Brickmaking and Brickmakers

[caption id="attachment_28720" align="aligncenter" width="575"]A color painting of Philadelphia from a distance. The background contains images of row homes and buildings that made up Philadelphia in the early seventeen-hundreds. The foreground is water and has more than fifteen sailboats in a variety of sizes. Bricks defined the color of early Philadelphia, depicted c. 1718. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

The city of Philadelphia was built with bricks, giving it an appearance many neighborhoods retained into the twenty-first century. An abundance of local clay allowed brickmaking to flourish and bricks to become the one of the most important building materials in the region. Because it could be accomplished with just a few rudimentary tools, brickmaking was one of the first industries practiced in colonial America. For two centuries, Philadelphia was America’s preeminent brickmaking city. Though brickmaking declined as clay deposits were depleted and concrete blocks became more economical, locally made bricks, and local brickmakers, made possible the distinctive built environment of Philadelphia and the surrounding region.

[caption id="attachment_28723" align="alignright" width="300"]A color photograph of a row house-lined ally. The alley is paved with brick, and there are small concrete polls in front of each house. Each house has a variety of planters and small plants in front of the windows and next to the doors of each residence. The dominant construction material for these homes are brick, but wooden doors, shutters, and window frames are painted in various shapes of white, red, purple, and yellow. Elfreth's Alley in Philadelphia preserves a brick streetscape of the colonial era. (Photograph by Jamie Castagnoli for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

“Brickmaking was a poor man’s game, as it required no capital to start with,” noted New York brickmaker James Wood  in 1830. This was especially true early on, when firing bricks required only enough bricks to build a kiln and, most importantly, an abundance of clay. Philadelphia sat atop a bed of high-quality brick clay just below the surface, so extensive that even after two centuries of mining it still provided enough clay to produce more than 200 million bricks a year by the end of the nineteenth century. The best quality brick clay was in the “Neck,” between the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers. New Jersey had wide-ranging deposits of clay running diagonally across much of the state. Arguably, the best quality was found in Middlesex County, however suitable clay could also be found across the southern portion, particularly along the Delaware River in Burlington County.

[caption id="attachment_29041" align="alignright" width="218"] Green and tan shaded areas indicate clay deposits in New Jersey, mapped in 1905.[/caption]

Archaeological remains, such as kilns, indicate that brickmaking began almost as soon as settlers arrived in the Philadelphia region. In the area that became Delaware, brickmaking occurred in New Castle, known then as New Amstel, at least as early as 1656 and supported construction of many of the city’s early buildings, such as the courthouse (1732) made with Flemish bond brickwork. Burlington County, New Jersey, with its rich clay deposits, had enough brickmakers by the early 1680s that it appointed two brick inspectors tasked with reporting any violations of a New Jersey law regarding the uniformity of handmade bricks. But the center of brickmaking was Philadelphia. In 1683, William Penn (1644–1718) described “divers brickeries going on.” Merchant Robert Turner (1635–1700), who built the first brick house in Philadelphia, reported to Penn in 1685, “Bricks are exceeding good, and better than when I built: More Makers fallen in, and Bricks cheaper. . . . many brave Brick Houses are going up.” Francis Daniel Pastorius (1651–c. 1720), the founder of Germantown, reported a number of brick kilns in the area in 1684, and Turner noted that Pastorius himself intended to begin brickmaking the following year. Brick was also used for public buildings: the courthouse at Second and High Streets, also known as the Guild Hall or the Great Towne House, begun in 1707, became one of the oldest public buildings in the colonies built of brick, and the Pennsylvania State House, one of the city’s most widely recognized structures, was constructed with locally made brick beginning in 1732. By the end of the eighteenth century, 80 percent of Philadelphia’s houses were made of brick. Early Philadelphia brickmakers demonstrated pride in their trade. On July 4, 1788, they marched in the Grand Federal Procession celebrating the ratification of the Constitution wearing aprons and carrying trowels and a green flag featuring a kiln.

A Family Business

[caption id="attachment_28813" align="alignright" width="300"]Photograph of inscribed brick "Remember man, thou art but dust and into dust return thou must" is the inscription on this brick, found in the basement of the Aaron Wills House in Rancocas, Burlington County, built 1682-1700 and rebuilt in 1786. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Brickmaking was frequently a family business, spanning generations. Mechanics who worked in the trade became brickyard owners, often in partnership with family members. Intermarriage between brickmaking families cemented business ties. Among Philadelphia’s most prominent early brickmakers were brothers-in-law Daniel Pegg (c. 1660–1702) and Thomas Smith (?–c. 1690) and their relatives, the Coats family and William Rakestraw Jr. (c. 1678–1732). Peter Grim, who was in business by 1814 and who later, in the early 1830s, established a brickyard in Trenton and supplied the bricks for the New Jersey state prison, had many relatives in the business by midcentury. George, Michael, and Christian Lybrant all ran brickyards between 1800 and 1850. Nelson Wanamaker (c. 1812–62), father of department store pioneer John Wanamaker (1838–1922), worked with his father, John S. Wanamaker, in his brickyard in the Neck before John senior moved to Indiana in 1849. Family businesses continued their dominance until at least the mid-nineteenth century.

The process of making bricks changed little from its origins through the mid-nineteenth century. Brickmakers dug the clay, allowed it to weather, tempered it, molded it, let it dry, then burned the bricks in a kiln. Brickmaking began in early winter with the digging of clay, which was left exposed to the weather until the spring, allowing frost and rain to wash away salts and break up the clay. In the spring, brickmakers tempered the clay, mixing it with sand and water to get the right consistency and color and churning it in a “ring pit” with a horse- or oxen-drawn shaft.  After the clay was tempered, a “wheeler” hauled it to the molder, the most experienced member of the brickmaking crew, who filled the wooden brick molds and removed excess clay. The “offbearer,” often a boy, then transported the filled molds to a drying yard and emptied the molds, leaving the bricks to dry in the open for a few days before stacking them in an open-sided shed for further drying. Once ready for burning, brickmakers stacked the bricks in a kiln, where they were “burned” over several days. They then sorted the bricks by firmness and color. Brickyards in the region typically produced about 2,400 bricks per day per crew (one molder and two offbearers).

The most significant costs of brick manufacture were for labor and fuel. Labor accounted for about 60 percent of production costs. Fuel, in the form of cordwood, accounted for another 30 percent. Each kiln burn required about twenty-five cords of wood, the fuel of choice into the late nineteenth century, even as area forests disappeared. By 1850, Philadelphia brickyards consumed about 38,000 cords of wood, or the equivalent of 1,360 acres of forest, a year.

Rapid Expansion

[caption id="attachment_28795" align="alignright" width="300"] The 1794 Plan for the City and Suburbs of Philadelphia documented an abundance of brickyards between Broad Street and the Schuylkill River. In this map detail, bold lines denote kilns in brickyards between Locust Street (bottom) and Chestnut Street (top), in the area from Schuylkill Second (Twenty-First) Street on the left to Schuylkill Seventh (Sixteenth) Street on the right. (University of Texas Libraries)[/caption]

Brickmaking expanded rapidly in the region. In Wilmington, a 1791 list of area manufacturers included several bricklayers and brickmakers. By 1794 the Plan of the City and Suburbs of Philadelphia recorded fourteen brick kilns within city boundaries. Several of the earliest kilns were established in Germantown and Northern Liberties, with the latter the center of the early industry in the area. By 1799 brickmaking employed enough people that workers founded the Bricklayers Company, which persisted well into the twentieth century. In 1811, there were thirty brick kilns in Philadelphia, and by 1857, the city had at least fifty brickyards. A number of yards had also been established in and around Trenton and elsewhere in New Jersey by this time. By 1875, the number of brickmaking companies in Philadelphia peaked at about seventy-eight, and by the final decades of the nineteenth century there were many others in the surrounding region, including in West Chester, Norristown, Landsdowne, Bordentown, Maple Shade, Millville, Camden, Wilmington, and elsewhere.

These brickyards employed a significant number of the region’s laborers. In 1810, at least six hundred men and boys were engaged in the brickmaking business in Philadelphia alone; by 1850, nearly two thousand worked in the industry. In that year, many yards employed about twenty-five men and boys, and six yards employed more than fifty workers each. The numbers continued to grow, so that by 1880 nearly three thousand men worked in the trade before the numbers started to decline at the end of the century. Though the exact numbers of laborers involved in the many smaller brickyards in the rest of the region are not known, the output of bricks suggests that growing numbers of men in southeastern Pennsylvania and in southern New Jersey also entered the brickmaking trade. In the early twentieth century, the Sayre & Fisher Brick Company in Middlesex County, New Jersey, founded in 1850 by James Sayre (1813–1908) of Newark and Peter Fisher (1818–1906) of New York, became the world’s largest brick manufacturer for a period. Sayre & Fisher employed hundreds of workers, especially new immigrants, who made up the bulk of the population of the town, soon renamed Sayreville. Much company housing, some built from the company’s bricks, survived into the twenty-first century. By its one hundredth anniversary, Sayre & Fisher had produced over six billion bricks. The plant operated until 1970. Brickmaking never became very significant in Delaware, however.     

[caption id="attachment_28732" align="alignright" width="278"]Illustration of a brick-pressing machine Brick presses, like this one manufactured in Philadelphia, allowed hand-molded brick to be pressed a second time to make a denser, more uniform block. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

During the nineteenth century, the invention of new steam-powered machinery transformed brick production in many regions of the country, but Philadelphia brickmakers were slow to adopt these innovations. All brick had been made by hand until the mid-1830s, when Nathaniel Adams (1797–1862), who came to Philadelphia from the brickmaking region in the Hudson Valley, invented a molding machine; by about 1840 he installed a horse-powered machine in a Philadelphia brickyard. However, workers angry at the prospect of losing pay to a machine destroyed his machinery. A few years later, his brother, Samuel, installed one of his brother’s machines and then was forced to flee the city. Most Philadelphia brickmakers continued to hand mold bricks through the end of the century. The most popular innovation among Philadelphia-area brickmakers was the brick press. Samuel Fox (1777–1870) had one in his yard in 1838, a simple machine that allowed hand-molded brick to be pressed a second time to make a denser and more uniform block. By 1850, several local yards reported having presses, and Philadelphia became the leading producer of pressed bricks, commonly used for front façades and decorative purposes.

[caption id="attachment_28734" align="alignright" width="300"]Illustration of a brick kiln Chambers Brothers, a West Philadelphia manufacturer of brickmaking machinery, portrayed this brick kiln in its catalog in 1892. (Archive.org)[/caption]

At the close of the nineteenth century, Philadelphia was producing about 220 million bricks annually. High demand for housing along with the high shipping costs for heavy material meant that it was much more economical to use locally made bricks. In 1903, Pennsylvania, led by Philadelphia, ranked second in the nation as a producer of clay products (behind Ohio), but it ranked first in the manufacture of common bricks and pressed bricks. New Jersey was not far behind, ranking fifth. Delaware, on the other hand, did not have a significant brickmaking industry.

Brickmaking declined in the twentieth century, however, and disappeared from the region by the twenty-first century. The turn of the twentieth century brought competition in the form of concrete and other building materials and new architectural styles. Concrete blocks—one eight-inch-wide concrete block could take the place of twelve bricks—began to displace bricks in foundation walls and as backup for wall facings. Brick usage decreased dramatically after the 1920s. In some areas, clay deposits had been depleted. By the mid-twentieth century, most brick manufacturers in the region had ceased operations. By the twenty-first century the region had many wholesalers that supplied brick and other masonry for construction, but it no longer was home to any active manufacturers, who operated primarily in the South and South Central United States.

Philadelphia’s built environment, however, continued to proclaim the city’s proud history as the nation’s leading brickmaking city into the twenty-first century. Without its many distinctive brick buildings, Philadelphia would lose much of the character its residents and visitors have come to enjoy.

Sarah K. Filik is a graduate of Rutgers College and obtained an M.A. in Art History from the University of Delaware. She has been a board member of the Sayreville (N.J.) Historical Society for several years.

Tamara Gaskell is Public Historian in Residence at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities and co-editor of The Public Historian. Previously, she was editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography and Pennsylvania Legacies, while director of publications at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and an assistant editor of the Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

Woman Suffrage

While the Philadelphia region often led the way on progressive reforms, by the twentieth century, woman suffrage was not among them. The region boasted a number of early woman suffrage advocates, and women in New Jersey had the right to vote during the early years of the republic, but by the late nineteenth century, Pennsylvania in particular lagged behind other states in granting women even limited voting rights. Twentieth-century efforts to pass referenda in support of equal suffrage in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware all failed. Throughout, divisions over strategy and among women across racial, economic, and social lines complicated the struggle. After Congress finally sent a federal amendment to the states in 1919, Pennsylvania ratified quickly, but Delaware’s vote against the amendment allowed Tennessee to become the final state needed to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment on August 18, 1920.

Earlier history had been more promising. In the years after independence, New Jersey alone granted women the right to vote, under the terms of the 1776 state constitution and confirmed by legislation passed in the 1790s. The provision, the result of partisan jockeying for voter advantage, applied only to women (and men) of sufficient property. Since few owned property in their own right, few actually voted. As a result, when the legislature rescinded that right in 1807 and limited suffrage to white males—an act of questionable legality since it overturned a constitutional provision with a legislative act—women did not fight disenfranchisement. In New Jersey and elsewhere, the gradual expansion of suffrage to all white men in the early nineteenth century was accompanied by the curtailing of voting rights for women and African Americans.

[caption id="attachment_27927" align="alignright" width="197"] Lucretia Coffin Mott was a leading figure in Philadelphia’s abolition and early woman’s rights movements. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The early woman’s rights movement was closely tied to the abolition movement, with Quakers taking a leading role in the Philadelphia region. Formal agitation for the vote began when several men in Burlington County, New Jersey, unsuccessfully petitioned the state constitutional convention in 1844 to reinstate women’s right to vote. In 1852, Quaker women organized Pennsylvania’s first woman’s rights convention, at Horticultural Hall in West Chester, presided over by abolitionists Lucretia Mott (1793–1880) and Mary Ann White Johnson (1808–72). Mott and Sarah Pugh (1800–84) founded the interracial Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society and organized the fifth national woman’s rights convention, held in Philadelphia’s Sansom Street Hall in October 1854. These conventions advocated not only for woman suffrage, but for woman’s rights.

[caption id="attachment_28032" align="alignright" width="197"] Robert Purvis, a leader in Philadelphia’s free black community and the abolition movement, supported suffrage for women. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Embracing Other Issues

During and following the Civil War, suffrage advocates turned their attention to emancipation and African American rights. In 1866, woman’s rights activists organized the American Equal Rights Association (AERA) to “secure Equal Rights to all American citizens, especially the right of suffrage, irrespective of race, color or sex.” Lucretia Mott served as president. Philadelphia abolitionists and woman’s rights supporters formed the affiliated Pennsylvania Equal Rights Association in January 1867. Its president, Robert Purvis (1810–98), who had been the first African American member of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society and a former president of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, was the only black male abolitionist to support the idea that black men should not be granted the vote until all women were also enfranchised. In December 1866, suffragists in the reform-minded community of Vineland, in Cumberland County, New Jersey, organized the Vineland Equal Rights Association and sent a petition to the Republican state convention for “Impartial Suffrage, irrespective of Sex or Color.”

In 1869, the AERA splintered over support of the Fifteenth Amendment, which granted African American men, but not women, the right to vote. Those who believed that black men should not receive the vote until women did as well formed the new National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902) and Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906). Those who believed that this was the “Negro’s hour” formed the American Woman Suffrage Society (AWSA), led by Lucy Stone (1818–93) and Henry Blackwell (1825–1909) of New Jersey.

In the Philadelphia region, a number of new suffrage groups affiliated with one of these two societies. The New Jersey Woman Suffrage Society, organized in Vineland in November 1867 and led by Stone and Blackwell, which had drawn most of its early members from southern New Jersey, shifted to ally with the AWSA in 1869. More women from the northern counties became active, while the suffragists of Vineland turned to their own organization and tactics. The Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association, formed at Philadelphia’s Mercantile Hall in December 1869 and led by abolitionist Mary Grew (1813–96), also aligned with the AWSA. This society, active into the twentieth century, primarily engaged in educational activities. In March 1872, Philadelphia suffragists sympathetic to the NWSA organized the competing Citizens’ Suffrage Association at 333 Walnut Street, the office of its president, Edward M. Davis (1811–87), son-in-law of Lucretia Mott. Meanwhile, suffragists in Delaware, a border state, remained unorganized, although they held their first convention in 1868.

[caption id="attachment_27924" align="alignright" width="300"] Women in Vineland, New Jersey, brought their own ballot box to the polls beginning in November 1868, after Portia Gage was prevented from voting the previous spring. (Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society)[/caption]

In March 1868, Portia K. Gage (1813–1903) of Vineland attempted to vote in the municipal elections but was prevented because she was not registered. That fall she returned with 171 other women, black and white, and their own ballot box, and voted. The Vineland women continued the practice in 1869 and 1870. Their actions inspired women around the country to begin going to the polls to test the theory that women, as citizens, were enfranchised by the Fourteenth Amendment, suffrage being one of citizenship’s “privileges and immunities.” Carrie S. Burnham (1838–1909), a member of the Citizens’ Suffrage Association of Philadelphia, attempted to vote in October 1871. After a court ruled against her, she appealed to the state supreme court and also spoke before the state legislature. Burnham lost her appeal. In 1875, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Minor v. Happersett, ruled that voting was not a right of citizenship.

State Constitutions

After ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870, suffragists also worked to change voting clauses in state constitutions, many of which were rewritten in the Reconstruction era. Women sought to have the word “male” removed from voter qualifications at the same time that states removed the word “white.” The Pennsylvania constitutional convention of 1872–73, however, changed its description of those eligible to vote from “white freeman” to “male citizens.” The new constitution did allow women to run—but not vote—for school offices. Neither New Jersey nor Delaware updated their constitutions.

In 1876, at the instigation of the Philadelphia Citizens’ Suffrage Association, NWSA determined to use the centennial celebration of American Independence, in Philadelphia, to point out the contradiction between the ideals of the Revolution and the reality of restricted suffrage. It also began lobbying for a sixteenth amendment for woman suffrage. As early as May 1875, Susan B. Anthony rented rooms at 1431 Chestnut Street to serve as headquarters. That fall, the leaders of NWSA began planning a Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States, which they intended to read at Independence Hall on July 4. Denied permission to present their declaration at the event, they obtained tickets to it, and, after a reading of the Declaration of Independence, distributed it to the audience while Susan B. Anthony led a delegation onto the stage and handed it to the presiding officer. The AWSA, which had declined to sign the declaration, held its own meeting on July 3 at Horticultural Hall to recognize the centennial of woman suffrage in New Jersey and protest its loss in 1807.

The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) became an important ally of the suffrage movement in the late nineteenth century. In Montgomery County, the WCTU shared space with the local suffrage society in Norristown. The New Jersey WCTU began cooperating with the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association by 1884. In Delaware, the state WCTU organized a suffrage department in 1888, and Martha S. Cranston (1845–1926) became its superintendent in 1889. The issues of temperance and prohibition complicated arguments for woman suffrage, particularly in Philadelphia, into the final years of the suffrage campaign.

[caption id="attachment_27932" align="alignright" width="300"] Municipal reformer Lucretia Longshore Blankenburg became president of the Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association in 1892. (Bryn Mawr College Library Special Collections)[/caption]

Meanwhile, in 1887, Congress defeated a woman suffrage amendment. This blow led suffragists at the national level to once again reassess strategy. For this and other reasons, the rival NWSA and AWSA reorganized in 1890 as the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), with Anthony as its first president. State societies coordinated with this new national society. In 1892, Lucretia Longshore Blankenburg (1845–1937) became president of the Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Society and encouraged the formation of local societies. Jane Campbell (1845–1928) founded the Woman Suffrage Society of Philadelphia that year and served as its president for nearly twenty years. The New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association also reorganized in 1890. Slow to organize, Delaware’s first suffrage society, the Wilmington Equal Suffrage Club, formed in November 1895, under the leadership of Philadelphia’s Rachel Foster Avery (1858–1919), a member of the Citizens’ Suffrage Association and leader of NWSA’s effort to organize Pennsylvania. A state suffrage society formed in 1896, with temperance advocate Martha Cranston as president.

Piecemeal Progress

In the 1890s, some suffragists focused on securing more limited voting rights. New Jersey suffragists, working with the WCTU and the Grange, lobbied for an amendment to restore (for rural women) and expand (for others) women’s right to vote for school commissioners; voters defeated the amendment in a special election in 1897. Suffrage activists were particularly interested in Delaware because it had a state constitutional convention scheduled for 1897. They were unsuccessful in getting “male” struck as a voting qualification, but Delaware did pass a law in 1898 that allowed tax-paying women to vote for school trustees.

Philadelphia experienced a proliferation of local suffrage societies representing different constituencies and strategies in the early twentieth century. Among them were the Pennsylvania College Equal Suffrage League (1908), an affiliate of the National College Equal Suffrage League, led by M. Carey Thomas (1857–1935), president of Bryn Mawr College; the Pennsylvania Limited Suffrage League (1909), which, as its name implied, advocated for a limited suffrage, excluding illiterates and criminals; and the Equal Franchise Society of Philadelphia (1909), which drew its members from Philadelphia’s society women. In 1909 the Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association also formed a state Woman Suffrage Party to work on the state legislature in Harrisburg, following the plan put forth by NAWSA’s Carrie Chapman Catt (1859–1947). In New Jersey, however, the defeat of 1897 had stymied state efforts for a time; by 1908 no branches of the state suffrage society were active in the southern counties. Delaware suffragists experienced similar difficulties after their 1897 defeat.

[caption id="attachment_27964" align="alignright" width="300"] Alice Paul, in a photo taken between 1912 and 1920, sews stars a suffrage flag. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The new energy that infused the woman suffrage movement in the region, and nationally, stemmed from a new generation of leaders. Inspired by suffragists in England, where she had spent a few years after college, Alice Paul (1885–1977), a young Quaker woman from Mount Laurel, New Jersey, and graduate of Swarthmore College and the University of Pennsylvania, advocated the use of rallies, parades, and similar tactics to draw public attention to the cause. She also pushed NAWSA to focus on the goal of a federal amendment rather than its state-by-state campaign. By 1913, Paul had formed the Congressional Union (CU), which originally affiliated with NAWSA but soon broke with it over strategy.

[caption id="attachment_27949" align="alignright" width="191"]Small girl wearing white dress and "Votes for Women" sash stands next to replica of the Liberty Bell. She and the bell are the same height. A girl wearing a sash saying "Votes for Women" stands on a truck bed next the Justice Bell, a copy of the Liberty Bell made for the suffrage campaign. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Alice Paul

The new CU appealed to many Philadelphia suffragists. Leadership of the state suffrage society shifted to the western part of the state, where its emphasis on smaller meetings and less public spectacle was more effective. But Philadelphia became Alice Paul’s testing ground for new tactics that she later took to a national stage. In May 1914, Paul planned May Day celebrations in every state. In Philadelphia, many of the city’s suffrage societies, including the Men’s League, held the state’s first suffrage demonstration in Rittenhouse Square before marching on Market Street to Washington Square. The CU and state society cooperated, sometimes uneasily, on a successful effort to secure a state referendum, which culminated in a statewide campaign in 1915. For the most part, the CU agreed not to interfere with the state society during that campaign, the highlight of which was a statewide tour of the Justice Bell, a replica of the Liberty Bell with its clapper silenced until women won the right to vote. Financed by Katharine Wentworth Ruschenberger (1853–1943) of Chester County, the Justice Bell ended its tour in Philadelphia in October with a parade before a crowd of one hundred thousand. The referendum did not pass, however, with Philadelphia and the counties in southeastern Pennsylvania—except for Chester County—voting against suffrage, in part due to Philadelphia’s machine politics and the power of the liquor interests in the region, which associated woman suffrage with the temperance cause.

New Jersey, too, voted on a suffrage referendum in 1915. The shifting political power in the state away from the Democratic Party gave suffragists cause for hope. NAWSA sent professional organizers to the state, including to Camden, where Jenney G. Kerlin (b. 1878) led the Camden Equal Suffrage League. The anti-suffrage forces were also well organized, however, and the political parties refused to take a stand. President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924), former governor of New Jersey, endorsed the referendum, indicating that he thought the women of New Jersey should have the vote, but as a private citizen (thus avoiding a stand on a national amendment). But voters defeated the referendum by a wide margin; it lost in every county except Ocean Country, where it won by a very narrow margin.

Meanwhile, Paul’s supporters focused on a national amendment. In Philadelphia, she found strong allies in Caroline Katzenstein (1876–1968), active in the state suffrage society and the Equal Franchise League, and Dora Kelly Lewis (1862–1928), as well as Mary A. Burnham (1852–1928), a major donor to the National Woman’s Party, which grew out of the CU. While NAWSA suspended much of its work during World War I, the National Woman’s Party pressed on, lobbying representatives in Washington and holding vigils outside the White House to highlight President Wilson’s hypocrisy in fighting for democracy overseas while women were disenfranchised at home. Lewis was among those arrested during the protests in 1917, jailed, and force fed to end a hunger strike.

[caption id="attachment_27943" align="alignright" width="215"] This broadside, published by the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage sometime between 1915 and 1917, used 1910 census data to show that woman suffrage would not increase the proportion of the black vote. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

The long struggle with Congress finally ended when it passed a nineteenth amendment for woman suffrage on June 4, 1919. Suffragists in all states then turned their attention to achieving ratification in the required minimum of thirty-six states. Pennsylvania quickly ratified, on June 24. The struggle was more protracted in New Jersey and Delaware. In New Jersey, the legislature put off consideration until 1920, and suffragists worked to elect pro-suffrage representatives in the fall of 1919. After a closely contested vote, New Jersey’s legislature ratified the amendment on February 9, 1920. By the end of March, when thirty-five states had ratified, suffragists focused on a handful of states that had not yet rejected the amendment, including Delaware. As in many southern states, anti-suffrage activists exploited fears that the amendment would bring more black voters to the polls, and the Delaware campaign ended in defeat on June 2. Tennessee became the thirty-sixth state to ratify on August 18, 1920. Delaware finally ratified the amendment on March 6, 1923.

The Justice Bell rang for the first time on September 25, 1920, on Independence Square in Philadelphia. Over one million women in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware voted in a national election for the first time on November 2, 1920. It had taken well over one hundred years for women to win that right and to push the nation forward toward living up to the ideals put forth at its founding.  

Tamara Gaskell is Public Historian in Residence at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities and co-editor of The Public Historian. Previously, she was editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography and Pennsylvania Legacies, while director of publications at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and an assistant editor of the Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

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