Empowered by state and federal legislation that gave millions of new women voters access to the polls, women participated at all levels of government. Still, because individual states could affect local voting laws, discrimination based on race, class, and ethnicity kept millions more Americans from voting for another forty-five years.
The effort to achieve equitable access and representation continues to this day.
Drusilla Poole (1883-1972)
After the vote passed, organizations that campaigned for woman suffrage focused their energy on teaching women about their new rights. In 1919, the New York Woman Suffrage Association became the New York League of Women Voters, a non-partisan organization with civic education as their main mission, and many Staten Island suffragists remained involved. The exclusion of women of color carried over to the new group. On Staten Island, activist women of color, including Drusilla Poole of Shiloh AME Zion Church, stepped in to fill this gap in educational resources. They founded the Women’s Civic and Political Union, an organization with the goal of teaching African American women about politics and encouraging them to exercise their right to vote.
Drusilla Poole was born in Washington D.C, the third of seven children. She married Archibald Poole and moved with him to his hometown of Staten Island at the close of the 1910s. She worked for many years as a secretary to the William A. Morris Moving Van Line company and became deeply involved with Shiloh AME Zion Church. She was a leader in the community and an active member of the National Association of Colored Women, Urban League, Empire State Federation of Women’s Clubs, Inc., and Helping Hand Society. She founding Secretary of the NAACP Staten Island Chapter served as President of the Women’s Civic and Political Union through the 1930s.
Mary Grey Brewer (1875 – 1950)
In 1918, Mary Brewer became the first woman on Staten Island to run for office on a major party ticket. She beat a male opponent to win the Republican nomination for a State Senate seat representing Richmond and Rockland Counties. She was in favor of prohibition and improved roads and against the proposed landfill on Staten Island. She hoped that her fellow suffragists would unite to put her in office, but she could not overcome the conservative Democratic leanings of 1910s Staten Island.
Elizabeth Connelly became the first woman elected to public office on Staten Island when she won her campaign for the New York State Assembly in 1973. Four years later, Democrat Mary Codd was elected Staten Island’s first female City Council representative. In 1981, she became the first woman to run for Mayor of New York City on a major party ticket. In 1990, Republican Susan Molinari took office as Staten Island’s first and only female U.S. Congressional Representative.
Today, women occupy between 20 and 30 percent of elective legislative or executive offices at the local, state, and federal levels. Of Staten Island’s twelve legislative representatives, four are women: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, State Senator Diane Savino, Assembly Member Nicole Malliotakis, and City Council Member Debi Rose. Of the island’s eleven executive officers, two are women: Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul and Attorney General Leticia James. Debi Rose and Leticia James made history as the first people of color elected to their roles. Many women also serve in appointed government positions and make up thirty-seven percent of judges in New York’s State Courts.
Passing the Torch: Women Who Lead