1918 | The New Day for New York Women

On January 5, 1918, in an unassuming village hall in Central New York, heated only by a woodstove, Mrs. Florence B. Chauncey became the very first woman in New York to exercise her full state voting privileges. Her vote represented the dawn of a new day—a new day that has lit the path for a century of progress.

Gaining the right to suffrage was not the flash of lightning in a sudden storm. Rather, change this far-reaching and profound was built on the shoulders of thousands of marchers, thousands who spoke up in parlors and even in opera halls, thousands who risked ostracism in their own communities, even within their families, to stand up and demand full citizenship.

The fight for suffrage culminated in a statewide referendum on Nov. 6, 1917, when New York voters endorsed, by more than 100,000 votes statewide, amending the state constitution to grant women suffrage.

Village Hall, Village of Lisle, Broome County.

Village Hall, Village of Lisle, Broome County.

Mrs. Florence B. Chauncey and family.

The issue at hand in the January 5, 1918, village referendum where Mrs. Chauncey cast her ballot was a rematch of a challenged 1917 vote on whether the township should authorize a liquor license—in other words whether the town would be “wet” or “dry.”

But the women who lined up on that bitterly cold and dark morning knew that this vote, this day, was far more important than this one issue.

Polls opened at 6 o’clock. The leader of the pro-license faction, Mr. O. A. Burtis, stood with his attorney, just behind the railing near the ballot. At 10 minutes past 6 a.m., Mrs. Chauncey, the wife of a Methodist minister, was about ready to hand her vote in to the guardian of the ballot box.

“I challenge that vote and every other vote cast by any woman in this hall,” Mr. Burtis said.

The president of the village, who was a leader of the no-license element, had been expecting this challenge. He had obtained from the New York State Attorney General a legal opinion confirming that women were qualified to vote at all elections held subsequent to January 1, 1918.

The “drys” won by 328 votes.

New York’s suffrage victory opened up a new future for New York women and changed the national political landscape. As of 1918, women had to be listened to. They voted.

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