The following information is from the Towanda Daily Review, Reporter Journal and Bradford Republican and the Bradford Star the week of July 1, 1915 and the United States National Park Service. This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of woman’s right to vote in the United States. The nineteenth amendment to the United States Constitution which gave the right to vote to women was ratified August 18, 1920. This year 2020 should be a banner year for women to get out and exercise the one hundredth anniversary of their extremely hard fight for the right to vote.
After the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, Pennsylvanians continued their involvement in the movement for women’s rights, including the right to vote. The Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society held one of the early women’s rights conventions in 1854. A number of women suffrage groups organized in the state and focused their attention on raising awareness of the suffrage cause. Carrie Burnham attempted to vote in 1871. After she was denied, she took her case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, arguing that voting was a right of citizenship. She lost the case, and the Pennsylvania constitution was subsequently amended to limit voting rights to “male citizens.”
Amending the state constitution again to include woman suffrage required the passage of a resolution through two sessions of the legislature and then ratification by the state’s voters in the next election, a multi-year process.
Beginning in 1911, woman suffrage groups lobbied for such an amendment vigorously. The amendment passed the legislature in 1913 and went to the voters in 1915. Katherine Wentworth Ruschenberger, in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association, funded the creation of a replica of the Liberty Bell in support of this effort. Christened the “Justice Bell”, its clapper was secured with chains so that it could not ring until women won the vote.
What was undoubtedly the most remarkable campaign ever undertaken by the women of Pennsylvania or any other state, was launched at Sayre June 23, 1915, when the great bell which was to be sounded the next November proclaiming that the fairer sex of this state were given their right to vote, started on a tour which took in every county in the Commonwealth.
The bell was made at Troy, NY and brought to Sayre where it was placed on a specially constructed automobile truck. The bell weighing 2,000 lbs. was an exact replica of the famous liberty bell which rang out for American Independence so many years ago. The theme of the suffrage association “Establish Justice” was the motto on the bell. Their mission was to make the voters of Pennsylvania realize that to establish justice for their women they must enfranchise them and permit them to proclaim with their bell in 1915 the message the original Liberty bell proclaimed for men in 1776.The bell which played an important part in the campaign for equal suffrage in Pennsylvania was donated by Mrs. Ruschenberger, a wealthy Philadelphia woman, who also donated the truck. The tour of the bell and the campaign was financed by the Woman’s Suffrage Association of Pennsylvania.
The bell was dedicated in Howard Elmer Park at Sayre June 23, 1915 forenoon. Several hundred people, including many from Towanda attended the ceremonies.
The bell was welcomed to Sayre by Hon. E. M. Dunham, speaking for the town, by the county chairman, Mrs. F. H. Hagerman of Towanda, and Mrs. Laura Murray Hoskins, the chairman of the suffrage party of Sayre. The state president of the woman’s suffrage party. Mrs., Frank M. Roessing formally opened the state tour. She told of the old liberty bell which proclaimed the freedom of this nation, and she said that the women’s liberty bell would proclaim the enfranchisement of women and then justice would prevail.
After the address by Mrs. Roessing, the bell was dedicated by the donor, Mrs. Ruschenberger, She said that she was unaccustomed to public speaking but she became eloquent when she told of the desire of women to be on equal footing with men, of their desire to share the same liberty that was given to men and of the conditions that women would try to remedy when they were given the vote.
A number of other speakers made short addresses at Sayre. Music was provided by the Sayre band.
A representative of a moving picture company took moving pictures of the crowd at Sayre.
From Sayre, the route was west through all the Northern counties with the goal of arriving at Pittsburgh for the great Fourth of July suffrage demonstration. 100 automobiles formed a parade at Sayre to accompany the bell to Towanda, stopping at Athens, Milan, and Ulster.
The final destination for the bell was Philadelphia where the clapper was to be unchained and the bell would ring out in victory when the election results came in. But the Justice Bell stayed silent, the referendum when down in defeat.
After decades of effort on the local and national level by women suffragists, Congress finally passed the federal women suffrage amendment in June 1919. After Congress approved it, at least 36 states needed to vote in favor of the amendment for it to become part of the U. S. Constitution.
On June 24, 1919, the Pennsylvania legislature voted to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment.
Henry Farley is a founding member and a current board member of the Sayre Historical Society. He is also president of the Bradford County Historical Society.