Wish You Were Here reflects the value of postcards as tools for learning about the past, with images drawn from Manuscript Group 213, Postcard Collection, Pennsylvania State Archives.

The tranquil view of Perry Square on this circa 1915 postcard belies the flurry of activity that occurred here on July 8, 1913, when one of the earliest women’s suffrage marches in Pennsylvania took place. On that day hundreds of supporters answered the call of Erie suffragist Augusta Fleming, president of the Northwestern Pennsylvania Equal Franchise Association, to march for women’s rights during the centennial celebration of Oliver Hazard Perry’s victory in the Battle of Lake Erie. Suffragists took advantage of this event to publicize their cause by marching from the organization’s headquarters at 202 West 8th Street through Erie to Perry Square. Fleming told marchers to “remember that you are only one in a great army — that you are marching for a principle — and that being government of the people, for the people, and by the whole people.”

Representatives of several sister organizations, including suffragists from nearby Titusville, Buffalo and Cleveland, joined the march, carrying banners and wearing white dresses with colorful sashes. Members of the Equal Franchise Association pulled a float holding a plaster replica of the Liberty Bell, which had been used for the national suffrage march in Washington, D.C., on March 4, 1913, as part of Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration parade. The role of the Liberty Bell in the Pennsylvania suffrage movement was reaffirmed in 1915 when Katherine Wentworth Ruschenberger commissioned the creation of a bronze “Justice Bell” with a chained clapper to travel throughout the state to gain support for women’s voting rights in a statewide referendum (see “Ringing Out for Women’s Suffrage,” Fall 2019).

Following the 1913 march in Erie, the Equal Franchise Association held a banquet for 200 guests in the ballroom of the Lawrence Hotel. Tickets were in such high demand that there were more people on the waiting list than those in attendance.

In Pennsylvania, public support for women’s suffrage was growing in the early years of the 20th century, especially in northern and western counties of the state as revealed in votes cast in the November 1915 statewide referendum. Despite disappointment over the failure of the referendum, Pennsylvania suffragists persevered in their efforts until the U.S. Congress approved the 19th Amendment on June 4, 1919. When Pennsylvania state legislators ratified the amendment a few weeks later on June 24, Erie suffragists made the trip to the Capitol in Harrisburg to witness the event.

The women of Erie knew that although they had gained the right to vote, there was still much work to do to educate and encourage new voters to register and show up at the polls. In 1919 Erie suffragists also founded a chapter of the newly organized Zonta Club to empower and advocate for women. In 1920 the League of Women Voters of Erie County was formed with Augusta Fleming serving as the first president. Both Zonta International and the League of Women Voters of Erie County remain active organizations working for the rights of women.

Perry Square park continues to be a popular destination today. It is located near the Gannon University campus, adjacent to the National Register–listed West 6th Street Historic District, which once served as the city’s Millionaires Row and contains some of the best examples of Victorian-period architecture in Erie.

 

Pamela W. Reilly is a historic preservation specialist in PHMC’s State Historic Preservation Office.