I few years ago, I took a walking tour of lower Manhattan called “When New York was Nieuw Amsterdam”. I remember a lot from the tour, but what stuck in my mind most was something the guide said about women. He mentioned that when New York City was under Dutch rule it had been a very progressive place. He said that women had the right to own and to inherit property, and that they had the right to vote. He noted that those rights were taken away under British rule and their new laws.
I’d always meant to learn more about this and with March being “Women’s History Month” I decided to investigate. According to multiple sources, women did indeed lose the right to vote in New York in 1777. Oddly, in most every case, the only information available about this loss is the year. This timeline shows women losing their right to vote in the late 1700s in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New Jersey, with New Jersey being “the last state to revoke the right”.
I was even more curious!
Through my googling, I learned that the British took over rule of New York City in 1665. That date doesn’t match up with what I remembered the tour guide saying about women losing the right to vote (1777). I Somehow ended up on Columbia University’s page and clicked on “Ask A Librarian”, where I typed my question:
How can I find out why women lost the right to vote in new york in 1777? i’d also like to find out if there were any women protesting.
The librarian was quick to respond and pointed me to a “non-scholarly resource” at www.thelizlibrary.org that discusses letters between Abigail Adams and her husband John Adams. It begins with this quote:
“I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.”
These letters seem to be related to the writing of the Declaration of Independence as noted on this timeline from the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection Home Page.
The librarian said that she (or he) could not find much, but did send along a few links to some scholarly articles. Unfortunately, I cannot open them. They require a user name and password to access to Columbia’s online database. (I may need to pester my niece who is a student there to access them for me).
I next tried New York Public Library’s 24 hours a day, 7 days a week “Chat with a Librarian” which connected me with “MD Harford Librarian Sophie”. I asked my question again. She appreciated my question and was very enthusiastic to help me. Although she was not able to any find direct answers to my questions, she was able to sleuth out the New York Constitution and the date–April 20, 1777. Hopefully with this information, I may be able to look through old newspaper to see if there were any related stories.
I did a quick search of her link to the New York Constitution for “women” and “woman” and found nothing. She searched and pointed me to this passage in article VII which clearly uses the word “male” to define who has the right to vote:
“That every male inhabitant of full age, who shall have personally resided within one of the counties of this State for six months immediately preceding the day of election, shall, at such election, be entitled to vote for representatives of the said county in assembly; if, during the time aforesaid, he shall have been a freeholder, possessing a freehold of the value of twenty pounds, within the said county, or have rented a tenement therein of the yearly value of forty shillings, and been rated and actually paid taxes to this State: Provided always, That every person who now is a freeman of the city of Albany, or who was made a freeman of the city of New York on or before the fourteenth day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five, and shall be actually and usually resident in the said cities, respectively, shall be entitled to vote for representatives in assembly within his said place of residence.”
She’s forwarding on my question to my question to local researchers who may be able to find more information. If so, I may have more information within a few days. Until then, if there are any women’s history buffs out there that know how to research, I’d love your input! Were these woman aware that they were losing their right to vote? Did they put up a fight? Did they protest or just remain silent? Why were their rights taken away?