2016-06-30 / Columnists

Suffragist Rosalia Gardner Jones, known as “General Jones” - Part 1

by Sandi Brewster-walker

New York State is beginning to plan its Women’s Suffrage Centennial to be celebrated statewide in 2017. It will be 100 years since New York State signed women suffrage into law. The state passed their law three years before the United States’ 19th Amendment to the Constitution gave women the right to vote nationally.

It was a long battle for women to gain full suffrage rights in the state. Local women, and wealthy high-profile socialites who summered on Long Island, or lived all-year on their large estates, led the Island’s women suffrage movement.

From early 1912 to 1917, the women suffrage meetings were held throughout the Island with local women from places like Amityville, Cold Spring, Babylon, Massapequa and Patchogue playing leadership roles. The women in the suffrage movement used the media, press releases, parades, rallies, soapbox speeches, pageants, torch-light processions, decorated attention-getting wagons and automobiles to capture public attention.

The South Side Signal newspaper began to devote a column to the women’s suffrage movement around 1912. The March 22 newspaper discussed the happenings at the second meeting of the Woman’s Suffrage Study Club in Babylon. The day before a debate was held at Amityville High School on Park Avenue.

“The judges awarded the verdict to the affirmative, that women should be allowed to vote…” the newspaper mentioned.

By March 29, the South Side Signal stated that the Suffrage Study Club in Babylon would meet that evening at the Sprague building to discuss and vote on their new constitution and by-laws. Papers will be presented and read on the subject of “The Effect of Equal Suffrage on the Home.”

Theodore Roosevelt in his 1912 campaign speeches also addresses the effects of equal suffrage on the home issue. From 1885 until his death (1919), Roosevelt lived at his Sagamore Hill house located in the Village of Cove Neck. In most of his speeches, he talked about women’s rights, and pledged to “cure the ills that plagued American society.” Roosevelt believed his party would be perceived as more moral and compassionate. The anti-suffrage activists claimed that suffrage was incompatible with the woman’s place in the home.

At the August 1912 Progressive Convention in Chicago, Jane Adams became the first woman to speak at a national convention, when she gave the speech nominating Roosevelt to run as his party’s candidate. Many of the women suffrage socialites traveled in the same circles as Roosevelt, and probably had some influence on his speeches.

Five months before the convention, the local newspaper on April 19, believed that the Woman’s Suffrage Study Club of Babylon did not show the level of aggressiveness in the suffrage movement that was needed.

April 26 came and the South Side Signal reported, “Everyone is invited to attend the local meeting of the Babylon Suffrage Study Club on May 9, to be held at the Alhambra,” a hall located on Deer Park Avenue.

At a May 9, suffrage event, the newspaper said, the organization’s president introduced the speakers that would include socialites Ruth (Carpenter) Litt of Patchogue, and Mary Garrett Hay, a director and advisory board member of the NYS Federation of Women’s Clubs, and in 1910, a member of the Equal Suffrage League of the City of New York.

Ruth (Carpenter) Litt and her husband Jacob, the owner of attractions and theatres, lived at their South Shore estate (later known as the Jack–Will Farm), 125 acres with more than 1,000 feet of Great South Bay waterfront.

In the same article, it was reported that Elizabeth Freeman, an activist of New York, and Rosalia Jones, of Cold Spring, were on a suffrage campaign tour of Long Island in a horse-drawn wagon. The horses that pulled the women’s wagons had names like “Suffragist” and “Suffragette.” One wagon was called “Spirit of 1776,” now part of the New York State Museum collection, which displayed the painted theme from the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention: “the unfinished American Revolution”.

The suffragists would wear Revolutionary costumes with banners that read, “If taxation without representation was tyranny in 1776, why not in 1913?”

Rosalia Gardner Jones (1883-1978) was known nationally as “General Jones.” Her parents were Oliver Livingston Jones and his wife Mary. Their daughter Rosalia a graduate of Adelphi College (Brooklyn) and law school. She married and divorced Clarence Dill of Spokane, Washington, who served one term in the United States Senate.

The Jones family was originally from West Neck (now known as Massapequa), and later owned a summer home (built 1783) on Cold Spring Road (Laurel Hollow) in the Town of Oyster Bay. The rest of the year was spent at East 72nd Street in New York City. Jones would also take her little yellow wagon throughout Long Island.

Elizabeth Freeman is said “to have demonstrated a sophisticated knowledge of how to leverage the news media for organizing purposes in support of working women in the suffrage movement.”

The Spirit of 1776 wagon was used mainly by Edna Kearns, a suffrage editor at the Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper. She was active in most of the Long Island suffrage clubs, and would write and distribute press releases for suffrage campaigns. Later, she became a Congressional representative (lobbyist) for Alice Paul (1885-1977), and the National Woman’s Party on Long Island in the campaign for the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

By May 12, the South Side Signal newspaper reported, “Many women from Long Island are to take part in the Woman Suffrage parade to be held in New York City on May 13…,” and the women of the Second District planned to attend.

The South Side Signal continued to cover the movement, reporting on July 12, that a meeting was held on Main Street Babylon, Mrs. C. Talbot Perkins, of Brooklyn, would be there accompanied by Edna Kearns, president of the Rockville Center Suffrage Club, and other women from Brooklyn, who arrived not by their suffrage wagon, but in a big touring automobile decorated with American flags, bunting and yellow and black suffrage flags.

The Oct. 18 issue of the South Side Signal continued to cover the organization of the women’s suffragist movement. Lillian Fishel would be Babylon’s representative from the First Senatorial District on the State Committee of the Woman’s Political Union. Others on the committee from Suffolk County were Ruth Litt and Mrs. Wilmot R. Smith (Patchogue), Mrs. Wilson R. Smith (Bayport) and Gertrude (Foster) Brown (Bellport).

On the evening of Nov. 15, there was another “big” meeting at Babylon’s Alhambra Hall with speaker Gertrude (Foster) Brown (1867-1956). Gertrude was married to Arthur Raymond Brown, an artist and newspaper man. While living in Bellport, she organized a Woman Suffrage Study Club at her Bellport home. Later, she became the president of the National Girl Scout of America.

The Suffrage Hikes of 1912 to 1914 brought attention to women’s suffrage, and Rosalia Gardner Jones was the organizer of the first hike from Manhattan to Albany.

The year ended with Jones’ hike to Albany in December 1912 with reporter, Emma Bugbee (1888- 1981). Bugbee was the first woman hired as a “hard” news reporter at the New York Tribune (later known as Herald Tribune).

About 500 women are said to have gathered, but 200 women departed from 242nd street subway station in NYC. They walked for 13 days and 170 miles in good weather, rain and snow. Along the way they celebrated Christmas, and stopped to make speeches before arriving in Albany at 4:00 pm on December 28.

The second hike was from New York City to Washington DC, and covered 230 miles in 17-days.

Rosalia Jones, Town of Oyster Bay socialite, Elisabeth Freeman, a social justice activist, Edna Kearns, a newspaper woman and community organizer were among the women that kept the women’s suffragist movement in the Long Island newspapers!

Over the next few years, as the long battle for women to gain full suffrage rights in New York State continued, the activist fine-tuned their skills to get the message out to the general public.

The writer is an independent historian, genealogist, freelance writer and business owner. She is the chair of the Board of Trustees and acting executive director of the Indigenous People Museum & Research Institute and served in President Bill Clinton’s Administration as deputy director of the Office of Communications at the United States Department of Agriculture. Readers can reach her at acjnews@rcn.com or direct letters to her at CJ Publishers Inc., 85 Broadway, Amityville NY 11701.

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