by David Wright, Editor of The Cupheag Corner
As we enter a year of remembrance celebrating the passage of the 19th Amendment on August 18, 1920, a look at how women’s suffrage originated, and evolved, in Stratford seems most noteworthy. Secretary of State, Denise Merrill, has established a Connecticut Suffrage Centennial website which you may view at https://votesforwomenct.com/. Many towns are marking the centennial with special events and observances which are, or will be, posted to this website. In order to celebrate the centennial in Stratford, it’s important to recognize just how differently Stratford experienced the suffrage movement.
Unlike many other towns in the state and the nation, there is no sign of visible opposition to the suffrage movement in Stratford. There was no organized “anti” suffrage movement in town. The most prominent, powerful, politically connected, and wealthy women in Stratford all affiliated with the Stratford suffrage movement. It’s very possible, in the face of such powerful women suffrage supporters, that anti-suffrage women, if they existed, found it impossible to challenge the Stratford suffrage leaders.
Stratford’s suffrage movement also appears to have been supported by, or, at a minimum, not opposed by, the powerful men of the town. Businessmen, doctors, lawyers, political leaders, and land owners all had wives, sisters, and/or daughters active in Stratford’s suffrage movement.
Stratford’s first suffrage organizational meeting was held in Red Men’s Hall on October 16th, 1912. The Red Men’s Club (or tribe) was comprised of the most influential, powerful, and wealthy men in Stratford. The “Red Men’s” organization in America has a long history as a post-Revolutionary War successor to the original Sons of Liberty. Stratford’s Red Men’s club was founded in 1889. Red Men’s Hall was located on Church Street, behind the Congregational Church, and sat, basically, where I-95 crosses Church Street.
The first suffrage conference of Fairfield County was also held at Red Men’s Hall in June 1916. (Red Men’s Hall played a pivotal role in suffrage activities in Stratford. As a side note of interest, Red Men’s Hall became the Polka Dot Playhouse in 1954). Stratford suffrage leaders were well-known throughout the county, state, and nation which would have been one compelling reason for the Fairfield County suffrage association to conduct its first meeting in Stratford.
It seems ironic that the suffrage movement in Stratford would have been drawn to a meeting location so infused with “maleness” and, ordinarily, opposed to suffrage activities. In order for the suffragettes to feel comfortable at Red Men’s Hall, it would have required the tacit, if not implicit, support of the leading men of Stratford. The Stratford women frequently invited Stratford men to their monthly suffrage meetings as speakers and as participants.
Lastly, once women obtained the vote in 1920 in Stratford, they stood fairly united in voting to change Stratford’s form of government (in 1921) to a Manager-Council form. Without the support of the Stratford women, the vote to change government forms would have failed.
Stratford’s suffrage movement was indeed unique. Through the coming months, we’ll periodically revisit this topic by spotlighting Stratford suffrage leaders. In their stories resides the explanation as to why Stratford’s suffrage experience defied state and national trends. Once again, Stratford’s history proves to be a Connecticut standout.