DEPAUVILLE — Eleanor Vincent, Lydia Williams, Lydia Osborn, Susan Ormsby, Amy Ormsby and Anna Bishop.
Though these local six women are not prominent figures in the history books like their fellow suffragettes who were involved with the Seneca Falls Convention, they came together to pen the first women’s suffrage petition in New York and one of the first known petitions for a woman’s right to vote in U.S. history in 1846.
In Albany, on Aug. 15, 1846, almost two full years before the July 1848 convention in Seneca Falls, recognized as the first women’s rights convention in the United States, north country delegate Alpheus Greene presented a petition on behalf of “six ladies in Jefferson County.”
These women of Depauville, four of whom were the wives of farmers, were stating a “self-evident truth,” wishing for “rights which they as citizens of the state of New York may reasonably and rightfully claim.”
The Jefferson County petitioners, some of whom are now buried in Depauville Cemetery, argued that the state had departed from true democratic principles by denying them the right of suffrage while simultaneously imposing taxation without representation.
Quoting from the Declaration of Independence, the Depauville petitioners wrote, “all governments must derive their just powers from the consent of the governed” and, paraphrasing James Madison’s writings in the Federalist Papers, they reminded the convention delegates that those who govern should come from the great body of society.
“When I first heard about six women from Depauville writing the first petition for suffrage by women in the United States, I was like, nobody knows about this?” said newly retired Depauville Free Library Director Karen Nadder-Lago. “I thought we needed to give them some local exposure if nothing else, and then with the centennial (of the 19th Amendment), it was like, OK, we can do national exposure now.”
That exposure comes in the form of two historic markers now standing tall on the side of Route 12, which were installed Thursday morning.
The two markers commemorating the 1846 petition have been installed, side by side, north of Depauville, near the location of the women’s homes, on property offered by history buffs Angela and Robert Meeks.
One marker, sponsored by Depauville Free Library and made by local sign maker Mark Stewart, bears the text of the petition and the names of the women who wrote it. The petition marker is joined by a larger white and purple historic plaque, one of 250 planned roadside markers memorializing women’s suffrage sites across the country on what is called The National Votes for Women Trail.
Under the title “Votes for Women,” the plaque states that in August 1846, six women from Depauville petitioned the state “to extend to women equal and civil and political rights with men.”
The plaque is funded by the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, which, according to its website, is committed to supporting the celebration and preservation of community history.
For all the efforts of the Depauville women and those who came after, women wouldn’t gain the right to vote until the 19th Amendment was passed by Congress June 4, 1919 and ratified Aug. 18, 1920. The amendment extended the right to vote to all citizens regardless of gender, empowering roughly 10 million women to vote at the time.
Ms. Nadder-Lago said she first learned about the local 1846 petition her first year as a reference librarian at Flower Memorial Library in Watertown. She worked there for 10 years before moving to the Depauville Free Library in 2011. She has been working toward this recognition for the six Depauville women for the past year, so she said it nicely bookends her library career.
A dedication ceremony for the markers was set for Saturday, Aug. 15, which is the day the petition was read in Albany in 1846, but with COVID it was decided the best decision would be to cancel it.
Lori Ginzberg, associate professor of history and women’s studies at Pennsylvania State University, wrote to Depauville Free Library, about the historic markers commemorating the 1846 petition.
“This recognition of the six women from Jefferson County who petitioned for their full rights is definitely not ‘the end’ of the story, though it was one of many important beginnings,” she said. “The great thing about 2020’s commemoration of the centennial of the 19th amendment is that it forces us to move beyond celebration, and to consider how complicated history is. I’m delighted to see scholars, librarians, archivists, and their communities recognize that there are many paths to where we’ve gotten and, implicitly, where we’ll go from here.”
Fittingly for the moment, Ms. Nadder-Lago on Thursday was wearing a silver jail cell door pin in honor of activist Alice Paul, founder of what would become the National Woman’s Party, who established a group called the Silent Sentinels, which began protesting outside the White House on Jan. 10, 1917. Over the next two and a half years, they spent six days a week holding up pro-enfranchisement signs with such captions as “How long must women wait for liberty?” Eventually, the police began arresting Silent Sentinels, who were clubbed, arrested, sentenced to jail and kept in solitary confinement for “obstructing traffic.”
Thursday morning’s marker installation also included a surprise retirement celebration for Ms. Nadder-Lago, who was presented with a gift and cards by new library director Kate Wehrle, surrounded by members of the library’s board, and thanked for the legacy she left them with.
The securing of the historic markers, because it was started before she retired, was still Ms. Nadder-Lago’s self-proclaimed “baby,” so the board thought it would be fitting to have her see it through due to her interest and enthusiasm surrounding the history of the six women.
“I think what they wrote and how they wrote it is really great,” Ms. Nadder-Lago said of the 1846 petition. “These markers are going to be up with their names, so I think I will be great for the girls growing up here to see, for anybody organizing to see that farmer’s wives out of Depauville could put something together and try to get something done in Albany. I thought it was an outstanding effort.”