Celebrating Women’s History Month in The Last Green Valley
Aug. 18, marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote in the United States. With today marking the first day of Women’s History Month, I’ve been thinking about the important role women have played in the history of our region, many of whom did it without the opportunity to vote.
By no means is this an exhaustive listing of women with important roles, not only here in The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor, but in the nation. Some of these women are included in TLGV’s publication “Notable and Notorious: Historically Interesting People From The Last Green Valley.”
Prudence Crandall opened a school for young women in her Canterbury house in 1832. Soon thereafter she dedicated her school to the purpose of instructing “young ladies of color.” From that point on her story is one of persecution, trials, mob-violence and the impacts of pervasive racism. Her courage during her difficult tenure operating the first academy for black women earned her the title of Connecticut State Heroine. Her home is now a museum and operated by the state. The museum is currently closed for renovations but is expected to reopen later this year. More Information on this remarkable woman and the museum can be found at: https://portal.ct.gov/DECD/Content/Historic-Preservation/04_State_Museums/Prudence-Crandall-Museum
Estelle Glancy led a distinguished career at American Optical Company is Southbridge. From the moment she began in 1918 until her retirement in 1951, her work at the company led to the development of important advances in the field of vision, optics and eyewear lens design. The list of innovations Glancy helped develop during her distinguished career is extensive, as is the influence her research and papers had on the ability of others to innovate. She filed a patent on progressive lenses years before they became widely accepted as a better alternative to bifocals and trifocals. During this period, she was still the only woman in her field. More information on Estelle Glancy can be found at the Optical Heritage Museum in Southbridge. Information on this museum can be found at: http://www.opticalheritagemuseum.com/
Clara Barton was born in Oxford in 1825 and went on to become our country’s most well-known humanitarian as she established the American Red Cross in 1881. Soon after establishing the American Red Cross, she was instrumental in moving the USA towards signing the Geneva Agreement for the treatment of the sick, wounded and dead in battle as well as the proper treatment of prisoners of war. Understanding the potential need for the Red Cross, she wrote the amendment to the Red Cross constitution to also provide for the distribution of relief in times of disasters such as floods, famines, earthquakes, tornadoes and epidemics. She was president of the American Red Cross until 1904 and died in 1912. Her childhood home in Oxford is a museum. Information can be found at: http://www.clarabartonbirthplace.org/
Gladys Tantaquidgeon was born on June 15, 1899 on Mohegan Hill in Uncasville. She was a direct descendant of the first Sachem, Uncas, and as a young girl was trained in Mohegan traditional ways by her great aunt, Medicine Woman Emma Fielding Baker, and her grandmothers Lydia Fielding and Mercy Ann Nonesuch Mathews. These respected elder women trained her in spirituality, herbal lore, and traditional artistic techniques such as beading, quilting and sewing. In 1919 she began her studies at the University of Pennsylvania. As an adult Gladys studied, worked and spent part of her career in the western states of the country. Years later she would return to Mohegan Hill where she would live to the age of 106. During a remarkable life that spanned three centuries she helped to bring about the rebirth of the Mohegan Tribe. To learn more about Gladys Tantaquidgeon visit the Tantaquidgeon Museum in Uncasville. Information can be found at:
Harriet Tourtellotte was born in 1837 and raised in Thompson. While attending Nichols Preparatory School she met her future husband Jacob Francis Tourtellotte who would go on to become a Navy ship’s surgeon doctor during the Civil War and later a successful businessman in the Midwest. Together they became very wealthy, but despite their prosperous life they suffered the tragedy of the death of their daughters, Lucy at age 1 and Hattie at age 9. Harriet turned her grief of losing her only children into a goal of providing for a high school for her childhood hometown of Thompson. In 1907, Harriet visited Thompson and with the help of interested citizens and family members, began planning for Tourtellotte Memorial High School. Two years later, on September 3, 1909, the school was dedicated. She remained involved with the school until her death in March of 1919.
Three of the women listed above, Prudence Crandell, Clara Barton and Harriot Tourtellotte were denied the right to vote during their lifetimes. Gladys Tantaquidgeon was 21 and Estelle Glancy was 37 years old when the 19th Amendment was ratified in August of 1920.
For readers not familiar with the events that led up to the passage of the 19th Amendment there are many reliable online sources where you can learn about it. I found this on History.com.
The women’s suffrage movement was a decades-long fight to win the right to vote for women in the United States. It took activists and reformers nearly 100 years to win that right, and the campaign was not easy: Disagreements over strategy threatened to cripple the movement more than once. But on August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was finally ratified, enfranchising all American women and declaring for the first time that they, like men, deserve all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
There are several articles about the fight for women’s suffrage in Connecticut provided by CT Explored. You can find those articles at:
The articles are from back issues of the magazine and are available for viewing by clicking on the link for each article. They help provide fascinating insight into the fight for women’s suffrage here in Connecticut.
If you’re interested in learning more and celebrating the 19th Amendment, I recommend visiting the Mill Museum in Willimantic to see their special exhibit “Unlacing the Corset, Unleashing the Vote,” on view until Sept. 13. Here is a description of the exhibit from the Mill Museum website:
“On Susan B. Anthony’s birthday, the Mill Museum opened a new special exhibit celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment – the Susan B. Anthony Amendment – that provided woman suffrage in every state, including Connecticut. With political empowerment came social and cultural changes, including less restrictive fashions and garments, illustrated in the exhibit by mannequins dressed in vintage clothing. The exhibit covers all of Connecticut, but places special emphasis on the mill towns of eastern Connecticut.”
Coming up on March 22 at 4 p.m., the Mill Museum’s Education Director, Beverly York is providing a fun and interesting illustrated talk “Yellow Roses: Voices of Women’s Suffrage.” There is a $5 suggested donation. I contacted Bev and she provided more details on her program.
“Experience the story of the 72-year struggle for women’s right to vote. In an illustrated, interactive and dramatic presentation, York will wear the hats and share the words of six suffragists from Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who founded the movement, to Alice Paul who finally saw the successful passage of the 19th amendment. Her program commemorates the 100 years of the fight for equality.”
The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor was (and still is today) home to many fascinating women who impacted the lives of countless people. I hope you join me as we work to care for enjoy and pass on the history of our beautiful region.
Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 35 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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