Prior to the 19th Amendment, laws barred women from voting, but that did not stop them from organizing.
Staten Island women founded church groups and women's clubs that operated as politcal structures. Within these organizations, women debated issues, voted on decisions, and elected officers. Suffragists used these networks to organize their campaign for suffrage.
The Staten Island Woman Suffrage Party (SIWSP)
A In 1910, local activists Mary Otis Willcox, Edith Whitmore, and May Sexton Simonson formally organized the Staten Island Woman Suffrage Party (SIWSP) to campaign for women’s right to vote in New York State. SIWSP leaders used the Island’s powerful political, social, and economic networks to recruit over 10,000 registered members by the time New York State voters passed the amendment giving women the vote in 1917. Members spanned the political spectrum. Liberals, conservatives, philanthropists, schoolteachers, and temperance and labor activists banded together to campaign for political equality for women. Despite their diverse political affiliations, most SIWSP members were white. African- American women on Staten Island created their own activist networks through clubs, sororities, and parish communities.
Florence Spearing Randolph (1866 -1951)
In 1886, Randolph moved from South Carolina to New Jersey with her husband Hugh Randolph to work as a dressmaker. She became involved with the Monmouth Street AME Zion Church in Jersey City, where she taught Sunday school. She studied and received her preacher’s license in 1897, becoming one of few women in the Church to earn this distinction. By that time, she was already politically active as a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.
In 1916, women activists founded the New Jersey Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs and elected Randolph, future pastor of Rossville AME Zion Church, as president. Randolph’s election demonstrated the deep ties between civil rights activism and the AME Zion church in the region. Under Randolph’s leadership, the federation created departments dedicated to education, temperance, “race history,” and, of course, suffrage. Rossville’s Buds of Promise Club represented Staten Island in the Federation. From 1919 until 1921, Randolph served as pastor of Rossville AME Zion Church in Staten Island. During this time, she continued as President of the New Jersey Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs and as a member in the New Jersey Republican State Committee.
Ella Boole (1858 – 1952)
In the 1888, Ella Boole moved to Staten Island with her husband Reverend William Boole. The couple were among the founders of Prohibition Park, Staten Island, a “dry” community and summer retreat for those who abstained from drinking alcohol as a means of social reform. Beginning in the 1890s, Ella Boole rose through the ranks of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), an international organization that campaigned for abstinence from alcohol and women’s suffrage as avenues to protect women from abuse or destitution at the hands of alcoholic husbands or fathers. Boole ascended to the Presidency of the World WCTU in 1931 and remained in the role for 16 years. She also ran for the United States Senate in 1920.
Linda French (1881 - 1972)
A graduate of Boston College, Linda French was working as a teacher in Manhattan when she marched in the first Parade for Woman Suffrage in New York in 1912. “I wouldn’t have missed it for anything,” she declared in a letter to her mother. That same week she attended a Boston College Alumni dinner and met Clara Whitmore and Florence Shepherd of Curtis High School, a connection that would result in Linda’s move to Staten Island the following year to teach German at Curtis and join her fellow teachers in continued suffrage activism.