Fired Up? Ready to Go!

Main Street wasn’t always a catwalk for pedestrians with cold-pressed juices and shopping bags in hand. Our main thoroughfares were once much more colorful and even rowdy places . . .

down which strolled dancing bears (when the circus came to town), Rough Riders (when Teddy Roosevelt came to town), cattle (when they were herded on Montauk for grazing) — and even, one mid-August day in 1913, a crowd of fired-up suffragists.

A rally for women’s suffrage was held on East Hampton’s Main Street on a Saturday afternoon 104 years ago. The women exchanged their day-clothes for white shirtwaists and skirts, and trooped to the house belonging to a well-known suffragist leader, May Groot Manson, for a meeting with Harriot Stanton Blatch, the president of the Women’s Political Union.

Manson, recently commemorated with the installation of a roadside sign outside the house, which still stands opposite the Presbyterian church, was the chair of the executive committee of the Woman Suffrage League of East Hampton. She had organized the reception in her front yard, and after the meeting more than 150 women sporting gold satin sashes that read Votes for Women marched up the middle of the street to Town Pond for an open-air meeting. 

Although Manson never got to the chance to vote herself — she died just two months before New York State gave women the right, in 1917 — she was a catalyst, along with Blatch and legions of unsung supporters of the Woman Suffrage movement, for the 19th Amendment, which expanded the vote nationwide three years later, in 1920. 

While New York has celebrated 100 years of women’s suffrage in many ways throughout 2017, Arlene Hinkemeyer, the vice president of the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons and the chairwoman of the committee celebrating the centennial here in New York State, thought it would be most fitting to commemorate their achievement by re-creating the suffrage rally and march that once raised the rafters of the tranquil houses of old East Hampton. 

“I’m so proud of her,” Hinkemeyer said of this heretofore forgotten heroine, May Groot Manson, “and I thought it would be a wonderful tribute to her to re-enact the rally that happened in front of her house.”

Just as the women did in 1913, attendees on Thursday, August 24, will wear white dresses and meet along the brick wall in front of 117 Main Street. Some, as Hinkemeyer suggested, might even wish to hold signs bearing the names of prominent 1913 marchers. 

The current owner of 117 Main Street will give an address before the procession begins, emulating what was done on that long-ago August day. Organizers have ordered sashes, similar to the originals, that will be sold for $10 to support the League of Women Voters. The group will march up Main Street toward Clinton Academy. Coline Jenkins, a descendant of Harriot Stanton Blatch and Elizabeth Cady Stanton — the prominent co-leader of the 1848 Seneca Falls Conference— will speak at the East Hampton Library afterward.

This has been a watershed year for feminism, from the Women’s March on Washington in January to the smashing triumph of Wonder Woman with her golden lasso in cinemas in June. Recent political events have wakened the slumbering millions. Hinkemeyer says she is expecting around 100 participants to show up, clad in white, but we wouldn’t be surprised if more joined in. Know anyone who knits pussyhats in white?

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Jackie Pape