Suffragists Worked for the Vote Here in Our Own Communities ...
Newspaper Preservation Effort Introduces Library Researchers to Inspiring Women
Join us as we embark on this exciting project to share the story of those women who for years leading up to the 19th Amendment's August 1920 ratification organized, gathered, debated and ultimately persevered to gain the vote. They met in churches, schools and homes - in communities such as Meyersdale, Somerset and Blackfield. Some of the meeting places in which these suffragists gathered have long since passed from our existence, yet others remain. It is our aim to ensure the story of these dedicated, determined women also remains - not only today, as we find ourselves on the brink of a centennial celebration of the culmination of their efforts - but into tomorrow, too. A century after their struggle, we take much for granted. So let us introduce you to Alice, Flora and their friends, whose journey to the ballot box was anything but easy.
- Jennifer Baer Hurl, Meyersdale Public Library Archivist - 2 August 2019
What Discoveries We've Made! ...
When we first discovered the hard copies of two century-old newspaper collections - the Meyersdale Commercial and Somerset County Star - stored carefully away in archival boxes in our Pennsylvania Room, we knew we wanted to save them. We held a fundraiser - "thank you," supporters, private donors, Meyersdale Area Historical Society, and Friends of the Library volunteers! We partnered with others - "thank you," Mary S. Biesecker Public Library, Somerset Historical Center and Springs Historical Society! We obtained grant money - "thank you," Fund for the Future, Robert Waters Charitable Trust, and FPL Energy Meyersdale Wind Power Fund of the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies! Little did we know when we undertook this project in 2018 it would lead us to yet another discovery - the story of those women, right here throughout Somerset County, who knew it was their right, too, to vote each election day and who did their part - along with countless other women across the nation - to ensure that right would one day be granted. We are grateful for the chance we've been given to preserve these pieces of history and, in turn, to tell their story.
From Hard Copies to Digital Images - A Story Unfolds
We originally held the hard copies of the Meyersdale Commercial - saved from being lost to history by former librarian, historian and genealogist Marguerite Cockley - and Somerset County Star within our Meyersdale Public Library collections. We worked hard to obtain the money to film and digitize these old newspapers. Now here we are, over a year later, and the digital images have been created. They will soon be available, free to the public, in the Pennsylvania Newspaper Archive.
We'd first discovered this story, printed in the Meyersdale Commercial on the 20th of March, 1913, while reviewing the microfilmed versions of the newspaper. We are still discovering such stories within our film collections. Yet, at the same time, we have found others - and look forward to locating even more - as we more easily search through the digital images we've recently acquired.
Our Somerset County women were active suffragists. These newspaper accounts attest to it.
- 5 September 2019
Could these women be our Meyersdale area suffragists?
This photograph was provided to us by Meyersdale's First United Methodist Church - the building pictured.
We have our suspicions these women could very well be our local suffragists.
For starters, newspaper articles confirm the church was one of the gathering places for suffrage meetings held in Meyersdale. Suffragist Flora Snyder Black and her family were members there, so it makes sense they would select it as a meeting site. In addition, the clothing fits the time period. And, finally, compared to another photograph we've found in our old newspapers, we believe the woman in the center of the picture looks a lot like Alice Kiernan.
Our local suffragists? ... Perhaps so!
Meyersdale Women Do Not Hesitate to Organize
Published in the Meyersdale Republican newspaper on the 13th of March, 1913, this article let readers know Alice Paisley Flack Kiernan of Somerset would be visiting the community to speak not only in regard to parent-teacher issues, but also on the topic of "Votes for Women." Alice was the leading recruiter of suffragists in Somerset County. The Meyersdale Commercial's "Suffrage Meeting" story above confirms she was successful in quickly organizing a branch of the State Women's Suffrage Association in this southern Somerset County community. As the Republican reported in its March 20th issue, Alice and others throughout the state were looking ahead to 1915, when a suffrage amendment would be put to a vote before Pennsylvania's legislators.
Meyersdale's suffragists did not waste any time in organizing themselves behind the cause.
By late in 1913, when this editorial appeared on Christmas Day in the Meyersdale Commercial, suffragist activities in that Somerset County community were in full swing. Local women who had taken up the cause were meeting on a regular basis throughout the town, gathering in places such as the Meyersdale High School and First United Methodist Church. During an Equal Rights meeting she had led earlier that month in the high school building, Alice Kiernan, as noted in the Meyersdale Republican, had urged all women to join the movement and help raise the funds necessary to continue promoting it. Alice also "pointed with pride" to the reforms accomplished in states where women had already gained the vote. - 10 January 2020
A Project Complete - and More Becomes Known!
Our historical newspaper preservation project took some time, along with a lot of hard work, but our digitized newspaper images are now available for viewing within the Pennsylvania Newspaper Archive. Until now, we hadn't noticed this piece of information about Alice! - 16 January 2020 (Newspaper Source: Meyersdale Commercial; 2 December 1915)
Word about our local suffragists is spreading!
Now that we find ourselves in 2020 - the year in which we will be celebrating the centennial anniversary of "Votes for Women" - it seems more and more people are learning about Somerset County's suffragists ... and we couldn't be happier to be working to spread the word about these remarkable women!
Our gratitude to Somerset Magazine, published by the Daily American newspaper, for this story, printed in its February edition. It really is wonderful to see our local history-making women, who displayed such fortitude, receiving the recognition they so deserve. - 31 January 2020
The Somerset County Star - 13 October 1892 ...
"We believe in woman suffrage, and we don't care how many people know it."
By the late 1800s, the women's suffrage movement had been underway in the U.S. for decades. Dating back to July 1848, when the Declaration of Sentiments was signed during the nation's first Women's Rights Convention held in Seneca Falls, New York, the movement has been deemed "The Largest Reform Movement in American History" by the Library of Congress. There were strong opinions on both sides, but in 1892, those responsible for publication of the Somerset County Star newspaper, printed in Salisbury, Pennsylvania, expressed their staunch belief that women should be given the vote. As we now know, nearly three more decades would pass before that idea would become a reality.
Two decades later the Somerset County Star is still reporting on the women's suffrage movement ...
While the Somerset County Star did not print stories regarding local suffragist activities to the same degree as the Meyersdale Republican and Meyersdale Commercial newspapers, by the time this article was printed in the Star's 27th of March, 1913, edition, the Salisbury newspaper was running weekly updates in regard to suffragist activities at the state level.
With the Rockwell Resolution proposing to at that time amend Pennsylvania's state constitution to permit equal suffrage, "droves" of women working for the vote were gathering in support of the resolution in Harrisburg. According to this local newspaper report, the suffragists made their way to Pennsylvania's Senate Chamber prepared to stay a while. Case in point - many showed up at 10:30 a.m., with packed lunches in hand, for a scheduled 2:45 p.m. public hearing regarding the resolution.
The Star article goes on to note the suffragists both "opened and closed the debate." Those who spoke on behalf of granting women the vote included Miss Mary E. Bakewell of Pittsburgh and Dr. Anna Howard Shaw of Moylan, Pennsylvania - president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Shaw would reach the end of her life in July of 1919 - late enough to see the U.S. Congress pass the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution but not in time to see that amendment ratified by the required 35 states and then signed into law in August of 1920.
Such was the case with many women who worked for the vote. While they would dedicate themselves to the cause, they would not live to see their efforts had not been in vain. It was left to new generations of suffragists - among them Alice, Flora and friends - to carry on the work of those women who had come and gone before them.
Suffrage movement makes its way to Berlin
The Berlin Record - 13 February 1914
About a year after Meyersdale's suffragists had organized themselves behind the cause, a number of women in the nearby community of Berlin were deciding to join them.
To no one's surprise, Alice Kiernan led the first meeting of these Berlin suffragists. She pointed out women were seeking a voice in the electoral process not simply for the sake of voting, but for the good it would do them and their children.
Before the meeting came to a close, nearly every woman present had affixed her signature to a paper favoring women's suffrage. It was anticipated the Berlin women would permanently organize themselves as suffragists in the near future.
"... by the time Mrs. Kiernan had finished her address, all were enthusiastic about woman's suffrage."
Alice Kiernan home serves as site for gathering of Bedford, Cambria and Huntingdon County suffrage supporters
Mrs. Frank Roessing, state president
Miss Hannah Patterson, state chairman of women's suffrage party
Miss Florence Deibert, Johnstown
Mrs. George Deibert, Johnstown
Johnstown - approximately 40, led by Mrs. Harry S. Endsley
... and numerous other points in the district
Delegates from Meyersdale:
Flora Snyder Black
Mrs. Bruce Lichty
Mrs. H.H. Williams
Mrs. R.H. Philson
Mrs. W.S. Livengood
Delegates from Salisbury:
Mrs. J.L. Barchus
Mrs. E.C. Saylor
Mrs. A.M. Lichty
Miss Lyra Lichliter
The husbands of Mesdames Black, Barchus and Saylor
Oh, to have that photo!
Meyersdale Republican - 16 July 1914
Yellow Gardens Planned for Summer 1915 -
The headline "Everyone Wants a Suffrage Garden" appeared in the Somerset County Star on the 4th of March, 1915. Pennsylvania's suffragists were planning their spring gardens, and the color of choice was yellow, with each of their chosen flowers symbolizing a particular characteristic or goal of the suffrage movement ...
Calliopsis: Advance - "stand for the forward movement of Woman Suffrage"
Calendula: Persistence - "guaranteed to bloom with all the persistence of a royal suffrage worker"
Antirrhinum: Conquest - "these flower spikes stand erect like loyal legions, signifying that the conquest for Justice is on"
Zinnia: Victory - "unrivaled in their brightness and truly emblematic of victory"
Chrysanthemum: Jubilee - "each and every garden will contain at least one bed of them, so that every suffragist may be provided with a sheaf of them for the election night celebration"
Packaged in attractive yellow boxes, these flower seeds sold so rapidly a second order for ten thousand additional boxes had to be placed so all who wanted to lay out plans for their suffrage gardens early could do so. Each box sold for 25 cents and could be ordered by mail through the Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association, headquartered in Harrisburg. It was anticipated an official "planting day" would be set for late April or early May, so all suffrage gardens could be sown in unison.
Photograph of Alice Paisley Flack Kiernan - Another Invaluable Discovery!
Our friends at the Historical & Genealogical Society of Somerset County recently made a somewhat surprising and truly invaluable discovery - the photographic portrait below of our local suffragist, Alice Paisley Flack Kiernan, along with that of her husband, Edmund Kiernan. Until now, we were unaware - aside from those printed in various newspapers - of any existing photos of Alice. This portrait of her was likely captured circa 1900. It is speculated the baby photo is of Alice and Edmund's son, Edmund.
We extend our gratitude to Jacob A. Miller, curator of the the county's Historical & Genealogical Society, for sharing these cabinet card scans with our Meyersdale Public Library. For those of us who over the past year have been researching Alice and the role she played in our local suffrage movement, we can truly say seeing this portrait of her brings happiness to our hearts.
- Jennifer Baer Hurl - 3 June 2020
All images Courtesy of the Historical & Genealogical Society of Somerset County - Photographic portrait of Alice Kiernan, circa 1900. Jarrett Bros., photographer, P989.450.1; Photographic portrait of Edmund Kiernan. Jarrett Bros., photographer, P989.360.1 (baby photo); Photographic portrait of Edmund Kiernan. Aufrecht Studio, photographer, P989.449.1.
Suffrage Front and Center During Chautauqua
In 1915 our local women were preparing for that November's general election, when a state amendment that could at last win them the vote was being put before the men who would turn out to cast their ballots throughout Pennsylvania. Two days of the 1915 Somerset County Chautauqua Program were devoted to the issue of women's suffrage. Wednesday, July 28th, was designated "Woman's Suffrage Day." It was then Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, "Great Suffrage Leader, Wit and Orator" - as noted in the Somerset Herald on the 14th of July - would speak to those gathered at Edgewood Grove. Shaw was then serving as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Another community newspaper, the Somerset Democrat, went on to report on the 28th of July Shaw, "one of the greatest women in the country" and the leader of the nation's "'Votes for Women' movement," had "produced unanswerable arguments in favor of giving women the ballot." Ironically, "Anti-Suffrage Day" - Friday, July 30th - was the same day the Justice Bell, touring across Pennsylvania in support of granting women the vote, was scheduled to arrive in Somerset County.
" ... there were few, if any, who left the grove who had not been won over to the cause." Somerset Democrat - 28 July 1915
The Justice Bell is Coming!
In late July 1915 Somerset area newspapers were abuzz with the news of the "Women's Liberty Bell," or Justice Bell's, upcoming arrival in Somerset County.
A front-page headline in the July 21st edition of the Somerset Herald proclaimed "LIBERTY BELL IN COUNTY NEXT WEEK" and told of those local suffragists who would be on hand to greet the bell, while the Somerset Democrat's July 28th issue featured a photo of the "Suffrage Liberty Bell."
Somerset Residents Turn Out to View Bell
The Somerset Herald's July 28th, 1915, issue, which featured a photograph of Chicago suffragist Harriet Grim (correct spelling), reported the Women's Liberty Bell was drawing large crowds in the Pennsylvania communities in which it had already made stops.
In its August 4th, 1915, edition, the Somerset Democrat noted nearly 1,000 people had congregated outside of the Somerset County Courthouse to view the Justice Bell and listen to those who spoke in support of women's suffrage. Among them was prominent Pennsylvania suffragist Louise Hall, who was touring the state with the bell.
Constructed from 1904 through 1906, the Somerset County Courthouse had been standing for just over a decade when the Justice Bell visited the county and was displayed near the impressive structure in late July of 1915. The Somerset Herald noted in reporting on the bell's visit in its August 4th, 1915, edition that when the truck carrying the bell arrived at the courthouse it came to rest in front of the soldiers' monument. Both the courthouse and soldiers' monument still stand today, over a century later.
Justice Bell Would Visit Numerous Communities Throughout the County
The Somerset Herald had printed this schedule of stops to be made by the Justice Bell and the suffragists accompanying it in the 21st of July, 1915, edition of the newspaper. Yet the schedule would only prove partially true.
Two weeks later, in the newspaper's August 4th issue, it was reported that while the bell was an hour behind schedule in reaching Somerset, "there was no evidence of disappointment on the part of the crowd," which had begun to assemble at the courthouse at 6 p.m. that Friday evening. The Herald estimated those gathered to view the bell numbered between 1,000 and 1,500 - recall the Democrat's report of "nearly 1,000." Apparently it was difficult to get an accurate count with so many people having congregated together!
"I think that we have good reason to feel encouraged. The crowd that heard Dr. Shaw and the close attention given to her has caused me to think that suffrage sentiment is growing in Somerset County. The growth of sentiment favorable to suffrage was manifested too by the crowds that turned out to see the liberty bell and to listen to the speakers. Everywhere the people were eager to learn more about the battle we are fighting in Pennsylvania, and it seems to me that the cause is growing in strength almost as rapidly as Jack's beanstalk."
Leading Somerset County Suffragist Alice Kiernan, as quoted in the Somerset Herald newspaper on the 4th of August 1915
Meyersdale Still Celebrates!
Though the Justice Bell was slated to travel from Somerset to Meyersdale, with stops in Rockwood and Garrett, on Saturday, July 31st, its arrival in this southern Somerset County community was delayed when the truck carrying it broke down in Somerset. Regardless, some 500 people gathered around the town's bandstand for a performance by the Citizens Band. Meyersdale and Salisbury suffragists were joined by Alice Kiernan and Louise Hall, who were driven from Somerset for the celebration by Alice's husband Edmund.
The Bell ... "A Beautiful Emblem of Liberty"
That's how the Meyersdale Republican described the Women's Liberty Bell. When the bell finally arrived in Meyersdale on Monday, August 2nd, 1915, the now repaired truck carrying it was parked along Center Street, in front of the Slicer House Hotel - today the site of the community's post office.
"The tongue of the bell is chained and will not be unloosened until the women secure the ballot, when it will proclaim the glad tidings throughout the State."
Meyersdale Republican Newspaper - 5th of August 1915
Berlin Residents Also Congregate in Support of "VOTES FOR WOMEN" as the Justice Bell At Last Makes its Way to Their Community
Berlin also had its own newspaper in 1915 - the Berlin Record. Its August 6th story on the visit of the bell to its community spilled from the front page onto two additional inside pages ...
"A number of ladies in sympathy with the campaign to give the elective franchise to the women of the State had arranged to meet the bell party at the edge of town in gaily decorated automobiles and escort them into town. Men, women and children seemed possessed with a desire to see the bell that has had so much said about it in the press of the State, and the town was putting on quite a holiday appearance. But just before the noon hour word reached here from Somerset that the large truck on which the bell is transported from one place to another had broken down and that it would not be here until Monday afternoon. This caused considerable disappointment, as it being Saturday, quite a large crowd had already gathered to witness the demonstration and hear the addresses. The decorations were taken down and the ladies interested wore quite a deject look, for they knew that on Monday the crowd would not be nearly so large and the enthusiasm they had aroused in the coming of the bell would be somewhat lessened."
The article concluded by noting that after Berlin's eventual celebration of the bell's arrival on Monday, the party accompanying it departed for Schellsburg and Bedford, led as far as Roxbury by a delegation of Berlin suffragists.
"The bell, which has claimed so much attention wherever it has visited, was viewed with great interest by our people ... The Woman's Liberty Bell is as yet silent, the huge tongue being fastened, and it is the object in this tour of the bell to to induce the men of the State to unfasten the chains that bind the tongue, so that after the November election, when the suffrage amendment is to be voted on, the bell can proclaim women's liberty."
Somerset County's very own Justice Bell!
This bell is so very nice we're kindly requesting individuals who view this special display "please do not touch!" And aren't those "suffrage garden" flowers pretty?
"Thank you" to our Meyersdale Area Historical Society for hosting this beautiful Justice Bell display in its restored Western Maryland Railway Station Museum & Visitors' Center!
Meyersdale Public Library staff and volunteers plan to continue their centennial suffrage celebration into 2021. After all, there's no reason not to also mark 101 years of "VOTES FOR WOMEN!"