Starting Sunday, people can check out a variety of virtual and in-person events highlighting the role Havre de Grace played in the women’s suffrage movement more than a century ago as community activists fought for women’s right to vote.
The celebration culminates at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 27, in Tydings Park, with the dedication of a historic marker honoring a 1915 rally, which happened at the same park, as members of the Just Government League of Maryland brought their horse-drawn prairie schooner wagon into town.
Suffragists had been driving the wagon throughout the state that year, making stops in multiple communities to rally for women’s suffrage. The JGL came through Harford County in late June and early July of 1915, arriving in Havre de Grace on June 30.
The marker, which was provided by the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, also honors Fallston resident Elizabeth Hamilton Chew Forbes, co-founder and president of the Harford County chapter of the Just Government League of Maryland. The local chapter was formed in 1912.
Forbes helped coordinate the prairie schooner’s stops in Harford County, working to find accommodations and entertainment for the JGL members and organizing community events. Then-Mayor Michael H. Fahey, who had said he was “almost a believer” in the cause of women’s suffrage, spoke during the Havre de Grace stop.
About 800 people attended the rally, centered around the new gazebo in what was then called City Park. The Just Government League was able to raise some money and signed up many new members, according to Havre de Grace resident Amy Rosenkrans. She has spent the past year conducting research on Harford residents who fought for women’s suffrage, working as a volunteer with the nonprofit Maryland Women’s Heritage Center.
Rosenkrans talked about her research during a meeting of the Havre de Grace City Council on Monday, and she helped the Mayor William T. Martin and members of the council unveil the purple and white marker.
“This is the event that becomes such an important deal when we’re looking at the history of Havre de Grace,” she said of the 1915 rally.
Rosenkrans also applied to the Pomeroy Foundation, which is headquartered in Syracuse, New York, to obtain a grant for the marker. The foundation supports “the celebration and preservation of community history,” as well as “raising awareness, supporting research and improving the quality of care for patients and their families who are facing a blood cancer diagnosis,” according to its website.
The foundation has provided grants for multiple historic markers around the country, including one dedicated in downtown Havre de Grace in November 2020 to honor the Marquis de Lafayette’s stop in the city during his farewell tour of the U.S. during the 1820s. The tour was a celebration of the French general’s support of the American Continental Army, which was crucial for its victory against the British during the American Revolution.
The women’s suffrage marker will be part of the National Votes for Women Trail, a project of the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites.
“When the Pomeroy Foundation says you’re hip enough to get a marker, then that’s the real deal,” the mayor said.
Rosenkrans talked in detail about the women’s suffrage movement in Harford County, starting in 1911 when a group of young women who lived in the Ontario-Otsego area of Havre de Grace formed the HDG Suffs literary society. It is the first known instance of people in Havre de Grace taking part in the movement.
“It was a true literacy society, but obviously it had a focus on voting,” Rosenkrans said.
The Harford chapter of the Just Government League was formed in the spring of 1912 with the goal of recruiting as many men and women as possible to fight for women’s right to vote.
“They went to every nook and cranny in Harford County, and they really liked to come to Havre de Grace,” said Rosenkrans, who noted that many events were held at the Havre de Grace Opera House, today the city’s Cultural Center at the Opera House.
One event at the opera house featured keynote speaker Katharine Houghton Hepburn, head of the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association and mother of Hollywood actress Katharine Hepburn. Suffrage activists also visited the local racetrack, known as the Graw, to pass out leaflets and encourage people to support voting for women.
The city had attracted national attention regarding suffrage by 1913, the year the group Army of the Hudson marched from New York City to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson and stopped in Havre de Grace along the way.
“As we like to say, ‘You can’t go anywhere on the East Coast unless you stop in Havre de Grace first,’ right?” Rosenkrans said.
The group met with Havre de Grace Mayor Walter H. Weber, who told The Baltimore Sun that he was “a halfway suffragette” who favored women being able to vote on local matters related to schools and taxes.
“They should be given the ballot to protect their homes and children,” Weber said. “I have gone so far, but no further.”
Rosenkrans noted that, “despite the fact that he’s not a full suffragette, [Weber] does provide a warm welcome for the marchers.”
“From that time on, Havre de Grace becomes this stopping point for people coming through in the suffrage movement,” she said.
Testing the 19th Amendment
The Harford County chapter of the JGL voted, during a meeting at the Willow Theater in Havre de Grace in December of 1919, in favor of a resolution calling on Harford’s legislative delegation in Annapolis to vote in favor of ratifying the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. That would become the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, codifying women’s right to vote.
The Maryland legislature did not ratify the amendment, but legislatures in 36 other states did, making women’s suffrage “the law of the land” by 1920, according to Rosenkrans. Maryland formally ratified the amendment in 1941, according to the Maryland State Archives website.
“There are still people across the country, in Maryland and in Havre de Grace who aren’t too happy about that,” Rosenkrans said, citing a certain Michael Fahey, who had served as mayor from 1915 to 1917 and was seeking another term in the 1921 city elections.
“The women who have obtained the vote are now saying, ‘We have the vote because we want to clean up government; we don’t like the political bosses that are running things,’” Rosenkrans said, noting Fahey was seen as a “political boss” who was “in the pocket” of the racetrack, gamblers and liquor establishments.
“Women always have been bossed, and they always will be bossed,” Fahey told The Evening Sun in January 1921 when asked about being characterized as a political boss. “They can’t do real work without a real boss.”
About 250 new voters, many of them women, had registered to vote in Havre de Grace by the time of the election. Fahey’s opponent, William E. Veasey, won the election by about 20 votes.
“Mr. Fahey does not take this sitting down,” Rosenkrans said. “He blames his loss on women voters, and he and his advisers decide to go to court.”
Fahey challenged the election results in Circuit Court, citing the Havre de Grace city charter that only allowed male residents to vote at the time, meaning women had voted illegally. The judge ruled against Fahey, though, citing the Constitution’s supremacy clause that gives the federal government jurisdiction over state and local governments.
“Havre de Grace women were jubilant at the fact that the election was upheld,” Rosenkrans said.
Present-day Mayor Martin lauded how the city supported women’s suffrage, as well as “tested it at the same time, which gives me so much pride to be a Havre de Grace citizen.”
Martin encouraged people to attend the dedication ceremony for the marker. It will be preceded by multiple events starting Sunday, including lectures and living history presentations, a screening of the 2004 HBO film “Iron Jawed Angels” on Wednesday, and a women’s suffrage parade at noon on Saturday, March 27.
Members of the public should arrive at the opera house, at 121 N. Union Ave., by 11:45 a.m. before the parade begins. Participants, dressed as suffragists, will walk through downtown to Tydings Park for the dedication of the marker.
Admission to the events is free, but people should visit the opera house website to register in advance. For more information about events leading up to the dedication, visit havredegracemd.gov/celebrating-womens-suffrage-then-now/.
Rosenkrans is still conducting research and encourages people to contact her at email@example.com if they have more information about the people she talked about with the City Council, or others who were involved in the local suffrage movement.
Martin told Rosenkrans that the information she uncovered through her research “would have been lost to the ages, had it not been for your diligence.”
“I think you gave this whole city a ginormous amount of information to reflect upon and to make [us] proud for our role in history,” he said.