Today on Gotham, associate editor David Thomson speaks with Stacy Horn, author of the new book Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad & Criminal in 19th Century New York, about the dark history of Blackwell's Island, known more commonly today as Roosevelt Island.
By Mike Wallace
The twenty-third of October, 1915, was a crisp fall day, splashed with sunshine, perfect for a parade. In midafternoon tens of thousands of women clad in white dresses and yellow sashes stepped out of Washington Square. They strode up Fifth Avenue arrayed in delegations of assorted age and station — letter carriers’ wives from Queens, schoolgirls from Washington Irving High, ILGWU seamstresses, Henry Street settlement workers. Vendors hawked yellow pennants, yellow balloons, chrysanthemums of yellow paper. A quarter-million onlookers
lined the sidewalks.
As the marchers passed Mayor Mitchel’s reviewing stand at the public library, they hoisted high their banners.
REYKJAVIK VOTES; WHY NOT NEW YORK?
THE HOME IS THE BULWARK OF THE NATION. GIVE IT TWO VOTES INSTEAD OF ONE.
WE WANT OUR MOTHERS TO VOTE!
It took till moonrise for the last of the demonstrators to reach the finish line. The final contingent consisted of 2,000 men singing (to the tune of “John Brown’s Body”) “We will vote for Suffrage, / We will vote for Suffrage, / On next Election Day.”
Whether a majority of the city’s (and state’s) men would join them in supporting female enfranchisement in the upcoming November 1915 referendum remained an open question. But win or lose, the city’s suffrage movement — and hence the nation’s — had been utterly transformed since its doldrum days twenty years earlier.
Adapted from GREATER GOTHAM: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919 by Mike Wallace.
Copyright © 2017 by Mike Wallace and published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.
The following is an excerpt from the author's new book, The Roots of Urban Renaissance:
Gentrification and the Struggle over Harlem, courtesy of Harvard University Press.
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