Shakers and a Suffrage Film

Kristen Dawson's picture

            Hello everyone! It’s the time for the first blog post of September. It’s hard to believe it’s already September, but I guess time really does fly when you’re having fun, like we are here at the Kentucky Woman Suffrage Project. This week has been an exciting one, as I got some really great contributions from people around the state. Genie Potter was kind enough to send me some scans of clippings from Louisville newspapers related to suffrage work in that city and Aaron Genton from Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill passed along some really great articles about Sister Mary Settles, a Shaker and suffrage supporter. I had a great time looking through these new sources, so I hope you all will enjoy reading about them!

            First were the Louisville suffrage clippings, which were a treasure trove. They were from the early twentieth century, roughly 1910-1922, and covered everything from school suffrage, to the elections of new officers for the Louisville local and state organization, and even mentioned a suffrage film! Some of the articles included transcriptions from speeches made by Laura Clay during visits to Louisville. It is always more interesting to read the words of suffragists themselves, so when I run across them it’s a big deal for me. The other real value in these Louisville clippings was in the names they included. They introduced me to some new names like Mrs. Samuel Castleman, but also helped to show who the leaders of the movement in Louisville during the twentieth century seem to have been. Women like Mrs. Castleman, Caroline Leech, and Mrs. J.B. Judah were making the papers quite a bit for their work in support of suffrage, and were obviously working hard for the cause. Other sources like the KERA minutes often give us lots of names, but it is sometimes hard to tell who is really working for suffrage and who is just supporting the movement in name. Newspaper clippings like these take away some of that uncertainty, because we can see that someone like Caroline Leech is making speeches and attending suffrage events often, evidence that her support for the cause is more than just signing her name to a piece of paper.

            My favorite article of the Louisville clippings was one that described the showing of the suffrage film "Your Girl and Mine: A Woman Suffrage Play." I had never run across a mention of this movie, nor any other suffrage films, so my interest was immediately piqued. I did some research on the film itself and found out it was a silent film made in 1914 that told the story of a young woman who married a man, only to have him run up huge amounts of debt. Their married life got so bad that she left him, and from that point the story takes many dramatic turns including death, kidnapping, and arrest. In the end, the woman becomes a supporter of woman suffrage, and women in her state get the right to vote. It also starred then President of NAWSA, Anna Howard Shaw as herself. I don’t know about all of you, but it sounds like something I would love to watch! According to the article in the Herald from January 28, 1915, audiences in Louisville were “intensely interested in the action, and many “antis” surrendered their prejudices on the spot.” What more could you ask for? This was definitely a source I won’t forget!

            I also received some sources about suffrage support by Shakers this week. As someone who has been fascinated by the Shakers since childhood, you can bet I was excited about these articles. I wasn’t disappointed in what I found either. As it turns out, Sister Mary Settles, the last female Shaker in Kentucky, was a supporter of woman suffrage! She was well known in central Kentucky during the early twentieth century, and many newspapers ran articles featuring her. According to Settles, suffrage fit well with the Shaker beliefs, and to her was only natural. In one article, she was quoted as saying in 1919 that the greatest achievement that had been made in her lifetime was woman suffrage, and other articles make it appear as though she was very eager to vote in 1920, saying she would vote the “straight Democratic ticket!” With a little bit of research, it is not hard to discover that support for woman suffrage was all over, and sometimes in places you might never have thought.

            Thanks once again to Genie Potter and Aaron Genton for these generous contributions! They have both provided some valuable sources, and made my week a little more fun. I hope everyone has had a chance to look at our newly launched portal, and explore all the ways you can contribute to the Kentucky Woman Suffrage Project. We are adding to the timeline and Trail all the time, but we can’t do it by ourselves, so we would love to see all of you make your own contributions!


Resources:

Mattye Reid Sewell, “Passing of Shakerism,” c. 1923.

“Suffrage Was a Shaker Doctrine,” (Lexington, KY), October 7, c. 1920.

“Suffrage Film Scores Triumph,” Herald (Louisville, KY), January 28, 1915.

“Your Girl and Mine: A Woman Suffrage Play 1914,” Turner Classic Movies, accessed September 1, 2016,     http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/562291/Your-Girl-and-Mine-a-Woman-Suffrage-Play/.

 

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