The Dowager’s Diary – Week One Hundred and Forty-One

November 8-15, 1917

On November 10, 1917, Kate Roosevelt wished herself a happy birthday. Writing in her diary she noted, “Today is my birthday. Sixty-three years old.” No birthday cake or candles or celebration was mentioned. She was far too disappointed and concerned for the future to engage in frivolity just four days after what she described as a disappointing outcome at the polls. Even though she was not allowed to vote and didn’t think she should, she certainly had lots to say about the politics and personalities of those running for office in New York.

When the election was over she lamented, “Tammany Ticket elected and Woman’s Suffrage given the okay in New York State.  That only means one thing, Roman Catholics and Pro-German influence predominates for the next four years.” Now Kate Roosevelt had opened a can of worms and I wanted to find out how Tammany Hall and Woman’s Suffrage meant the end of the world as she knew it and why it was once again, in her one-sided way of thinking the fault of those Catholics.

Pope Pius X Consecrating Pope Benedict XV at the Vatican

And so, I did a bit of research and found that many historians felt the same way, blaming the Catholic Church as the catalyst for the crisis and at fault for prolonging World War One.  Pope Benedict XV preached neutrality and promoted the interaction between German and French citizens and urged that religious faith overcome international differences that made them arch enemies.  It is thought that World War One bolstered a resurgence of the Catholic Religion.

World War One Soldiers, 1917

While World War One was being waged in Europe there was another battle being fought on the home front. In New York City, it was the fight to put Tammany Hall and its Irish-Catholic influence back in power. The Tammany candidate, Democrat, John F. Hylan won the election, much to the dismay of revered Republicans like Kate Roosevelt and her cousin former President Theodore Roosevelt.

Poster St Joan Saves France, 1917

Now to figure out how Woman’s Suffrage got thrown into the stew that featured Catholics as its main ingredient, I went to the New York Times and read their report with the headline: “1917: When Women Won Right to Vote. Nowhere in the article is a Catholic affiliation ever mentioned, but there are lots of other alliances referred to, many of which Kate Roosevelt was associated with. Reading between the lines, for the first time I understood her reservationsand anti-suffrage stance.

New York City Mayor John Hylan Throws the First Ball of the World Series, Ebbet’s Field, 1920

“The achievement of state voting rights for women in 1917 came three years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution giving women the vote in national elections. The 1917 result followed 50 years of marching, fund-raising and rallies. That triumph was achieved despite the fears of anti-suffragists that when a woman received the right to vote, political gossip would cause her to neglect the home, forget to mend cloths and burn the biscuits.”  I couldn’t help but think that none of those tasks were included in Mrs. Kate Roosevelt’s repertoire, so she would be the perfect candidate to promote the woman’s right to vote.

Dr. Anna Shaw and Carrie Chapman Catt, 1917

“The movement in the state picked up momentum as Westchester Life Magazine reported in 1915 that from a group of just twelve women in Yonkers in 1909 as the only sign of a suffrage organization in the county, it grew from parlor meetings with a few advanced souls to larger gatherings at some of the great drawing rooms along the Hudson. The speakers were mostly people of note, the audience fashionable.” I could only think that Kate Roosevelt would have fit in perfectly with this crowd from the upper-crust.

The article continued, “The suffragette cause brought women from the Social Register together with those from trade unions and humble circumstances to work under a common banner. Such women included Mrs. Carl Osterheld, the wife of a Yonkers physician, who became chairwoman of the group. Mrs. S.J. Russell, a leader of the White Plains Suffrage Association organized a “baby-checking” service to encourage women to vote in local and town elections. Despite early efforts, a measure giving women the right to vote in state elections was defeated in 1915, a result that prompted Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, a Tarrytown physician and the first Methodist minister in the country to declare that it was impossible to lose what you never possessed.”

Corinne Roosevelt Robinson (top row, far left), President Theodore Roosevelt’s sister and Kate Roosevelt’s Cousin attending the 1921 Republican Convention

“In 1917, the movement resumed in earnest when suffragettes spotted an unusual opportunity. Under the direction of Mrs. Vanderlip, they agreed to assemble volunteers to take the World War One census of able-bodied men in the county, a process involving surveying 320,000 residents and saving thousands of dollars. The reasoning, according to Mrs. Vanderlip was that war was not the business of a group of fighting men but the affair of a whole people. She felt that this work and all work which women may be called upon to do in this national crisis will unavoidably influence public opinion to help gain women the right to vote.”

Mrs. Roosevelt would have whole-heartedly agreed with Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt who organized the New York State League of Women Voters when she admitted that suffrage was foreign to females, “What are we going to do?  We know nothing about politics. We’ve got the vote. Now we must learn to use it.”

That made it clear why Kate Roosevelt and her cousins, Corinne and Alice Roosevelt felt that the time was not right for women to vote. Ironically, these Roosevelt Women probably knew more about politics than most of the “soap box militants” marching and rallying to have their voices heard.

Sharon Hazard’s Dowager’s Diary appears on Thursday.

Photo One
Suffrage Demonstration 1913
Library of Congress

Photo Two:
Pope Pius X Consecrating Pope Benedict XV at the Vatican
public domain

Photo Three:
World War One Soldiers, 1917
Library of Congress

Photo Four:
Poster St Joan Saves France, 1917
Catholic University

Photo Five:
New York City Mayor John Hylan Throws the First Ball of the World Series, Ebbet’s Field, 1920
Library of Congress

Photo Six:
Dr. Anna Shaw and Carrie Chapman Catt, 1917
Library of Congress

Photo Seven:
Corinne Roosevelt Robinson (top row, far left), President Theodore Roosevelt’s sister and Kate Roosevelt’s Cousin attending the 1921 Republican Convention
Library of Congress