At the start of the 20th century, the woman suffrage movement underwent a series of upheavals. Elizabeth Cady Stanton died in 1902; Susan B. Anthony in 1906. As a new generation of suffragists took over, the movement splintered. By November 1911, New York had six statewide suffrage organizations, some of which adopted militant tactics, such as protesting and picketing. In a large show of force, 8,000 women marched on Washington, D.C., on March 3, 1913, the day before President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. Rochester was well-represented.
World War I presented new challenges and opportunities for women. Even before the U.S. entered the war, Rochester-area women volunteered time and money in support of Allied soldiers. They rolled bandages, gathered items for European relief efforts, and raised funds for care of the wounded.
Once the U.S. entered the war, Rochester women took on new duties. To fill the void in the local workforce created by men’s overseas service, women took jobs as truck drivers, mechanics, and factory workers. They also sold Liberty Bonds and collected money for the Community War Chest, planted Victory Gardens to ease food shortages, and served on draft boards.
“We have made partners of the women in this war.... Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of privilege and right?” -President Woodrow Wilson to Congress, September 30, 1918.
Women were critical to the work of the local Red Cross, as well. Every day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Canteen Committee volunteers handed out creature comforts to the troops passing through the city by train. Local African American women formed the Dunbar Red Cross Auxiliary to ensure that the segregated black soldiers received the same treatment.
Local women’s service extended beyond the homefront. As they had done in earlier wars, women served close to the battlefield, too, particularly as nurses. Rochester Homeopathic Hospital’s nursing supervisor, Jessica Heal, deployed to Vichy, France, in 1918 to organize the nurses at Base Hospital 19, which was staffed primarily by Rochester-area medical personnel. Women’s very visible wartime service helped to raise support for woman suffrage. By war’s end, it was clear that the time had come to include women in the body politic.