April 1913 – The state House votes down woman suffrage, but both Ridgefield representatives are in favor. Two months later, a big anti-suffrage rally takes place at the town hall. “The woman of the past decade specialized on children and the men on work,” Mrs. John Preston Martin tells the audience. “Now man has stolen woman – drafted her into the service of making money for man... Forcing woman out of the home into the cares and worries of the outside world is wrong and is wearing on her.”
Feb. 23, 1921 – The League of Women Voters has its first meeting less than a year after women win the right to vote. Oct. 3, 1921 – In the first town election after the passage of the 19th Amendment the year before, Marion Nash wins a seat on the School Committee (Board of Education). Not only is she the first woman elected to a town office, but she also gets more votes than the three men who run for the board do. At the committee’s first post-election meeting Oct. 11, Miss Nash is given a welcoming speech and “a handsome, large bunch of flowers.”
March 26, 1930 – The Ridgefield League of Women Voters celebrates the 10th anniversary of woman’s suffrage with a gathering a Mamanasco Farm, the home of Miss Anne Richardson and Miss Edna Schoyer. Speaker is Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt, who was president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association at the time of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, and later president of the National League of Women Voters.
If Main Street could have a grand dame, that woman in the 20th Century would probably be Mary L. B. Olcott. Miss Olcott lived at Casagmo, the Italianate mansion near the head of Main Street, for much of her 97 years and was part of the "high society" of the community and New York. She was the daughter of George Mann Olcott, a wealthy drug importer and a founder of the First National Bank of Ridgefield, who built Casagmo ("casa" for house and "gmo" for his initials) in 1893. Born in Brooklyn in 1864, Miss Olcott became an ardent feminist, serving on numerous committees and speaking at many gatherings in support of woman's suffrage. A poet who had a book of her work published in 1902, she also wrote articles on gardening and related subjects and was a founder of the Ridgefield Garden Club. She maintained elaborate gardens and also bred poodles, game birds, poultry, and swans at Casagmo. In the 1950s, Miss Olcott completed a lifetime work -- a comprehensive genealogy of Olcotts in America and England. She was also interested in local history: Her family was only the second owner of their property since 1708 and the Battle of Ridgefield took place there in 1777. To commemorate the fact that both British and American soldiers were buried on the site, Miss Olcott erected the still-standing plaque in the wall on Main Street. Miss Olcott, who wrote her own obituary, listed some two dozen genealogical, social, historical, kennel, and gardening societies to which she belonged. She died in 1962. The same year her house was sold at auction, and six years later, still empty and much vandalized, it was razed to make way for the apartment complex.
It was a steaming July in 1920 when Laura Curie Allee got a call from the headquarters of the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association, soon to be the League of Women Voters, asking her help in getting the 36th and last state, Tennessee, to ratify the 19th amendment. Mrs. Allee had been a leader in the suffrage movement regionally. She, Miss Mary Olcott and Mrs. James Stokes headed for Ohio to convince U.S. Senator Warren G. Harding, who was running for president, in getting neighboring Tennessee to vote for the amendment. Both the gruff Miss Olcott and the meek Mrs. Stokes were rebuffed by a Harding aide when they tried to explain their mission, but Mrs. Allee gave it a try and was successful. They were ushered into the office of the senator who, when he learned where the women came from, said: “I have an aunt who lives in Ridgefield. Do you know her? Mrs. Northrop.” Mrs. Allee knew her well – both belonged to the Congregational church. “That was open sesame,” Mrs. Allee said later. The group explained their mission convincingly and, on July 21, Senator Harding announced that he was urging Tennessee to ratify the Amendment. Tennessee did so Aug. 26, and three months later, Mr. Harding was elected president of the United States – with a plurality that no doubt included three newly enfranchised Ridgefield women. Mrs. Allee was the wife of Dr. William H. Allee (q.v.), who died in 1929. In 1933, she married James Van Allen Shields. Throughout her life she was active in the support of schools, the League of Women Voters, the DAR, and other community organizations, and helped in the effort to acquire the Keeler Tavern. In 1953, The Press reported a comment about Mrs. Shields on the occasion of her 20th wedding anniversary: “It is said that a good woman does not always find flowers in her footpath, but they are always growing in her footsteps.” She died in 1968 at the age of 97.
After she turned 90 in 1975, Alice Paul, author of the Equal Rights Amendment, showed a Press reporter a red, white and blue doll. “This is Miss Liberty, who didn’t get her liberty in 1776,” Dr. Paul said. “If you are going to have liberty, you have to have what the ERA is – an equality in everything about earning a living, everything in the economic life of a woman.” Dr. Paul, a part-time Ridgefielder for 30 years, was then in Altnacraig convalescent home here. The next year, she returned to her native Moorestown, N.J., where she died in 1977. Born in 1885, Dr. Paul earned a half dozen bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in social work and the law, but most of her life was spent in the cause of woman's rights – a cause that was compatible with her Quaker heritage. After two years as a social worker in New York City, she went to Great Britain in 1907 to study and joined suffrage campaigns of Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters. She was jailed three times. Returning to the States in 1912, she "breathed new life into the ebbing suffrage movement," her Press obituary said. The National Woman Suffrage Association sent her to Washington, D.C., to lead its campaign for a federal suffrage amendment. She led protests and marches, the most famous in 1913 on the night before Woodrow Wilson's inauguration, when 5,000 people marched down Pennsylvania Avenue. She was arrested, jailed, and during a hunger strike, force-fed. Her treatment sparked a public outcry and much attention. She founded the National Woman’s Party in 1916 and four years later, the 19th Amendment was adopted. Having a part in its passage "was the most useful thing I ever did," she said. Recalling these years in the 1975 interview, Dr. Paul mentioned the song that imprisoned women used to sing, at first in England. “It was ‘shoulder to shoulder, friend to friend,’ ” she said. “We brought it back to this country when we came. And any time anybody went back to prison, we always took our song along.” In 1921, Dr. Paul penned the Equal Rights Amendment, guaranteeing equal treatment for the sexes, and starting in 1923, the ERA was introduced into every session of Congress till 1972 when it was finally passed and sent to the states. Only 35 of the needed 38 legislatures ratified it, and the congressional approval expired, so the ERA is once again being submitted annually to Congress. Dr. Paul, who lived both on Branchville Road and in Washington, D.C. from the 1940s to the 1970s, founded the World Woman's Party in 1938; it successfully pressured for an equal rights pledge in the United Nations charter. But she died disappointed that the Equal Rights Amendment had not been adopted. “The great victory was getting the vote,” she said in 1975. But “it’s unthinkable that we can’t complete it with economic equality.”
For most Ridgefielders, her name is a park on North Salem Road or the auditorium at Ridgefield High School. However, Anne S. Richardson was once one of the most influential women in town, “a moving spirit for its preservation and betterment,” The Press reported at her death in 1965. Born in 1884 into a wealthy family, Miss Richardson came here in 1915 and build her home, Mamanasco Farm, on the plateau created by the great rock overlooking the north end of lake. She and her lifelong companion, Miss Edna Schoyer, helped organize the League of Women Voters here, and, after World War II, started the Ridgefield branch of the Association of the United Nations. Though she lived far from the village, Miss Richardson worked for beautification of Main Street, especially preservation and replacement of trees, both as a longstanding member of the Ridgefield Garden Club and as head of its Village Improvement Committee. In 1939, Miss Richardson, a Republican, and Miss Schoyer, a Democrat, were elected to the Board of Education, serving three years. (Ridgefield High School stands on part of her farm; the land was purchased by the town from her estate for a small price.) Miss Richardson was appointed to the original Park Commission in 1946 and died in office. She helped found the Boys Club, was active in selling War Bonds, and served in the American Women’s Volunteer Service Corps. In 1964, she was named Rotary Citizen of the Year. She and Miss Schoyer loved travel, and visited scores of countries on every continent (after sailing up the Amazon, The Press reported, she confided in friends that the natives on the shore were more fully clad than some of the women onboard ship). Her will, which bequeathed millions to trusts and charities, gave Richardson Park to the town, ordering that her house on the land be razed. She also specified that $1,000 be given annually to St. Stephen’s Church, of which $25 was to be spent for flowers on Christmas Day in memory of Miss Edna Schoyer.
As an advocate of suffrage, of education, and of community service, Edna Schoyer was a leader in Ridgefield. A native of Pittsburgh and a longtime companion of Miss Anne Richardson (q.v.), Miss Schoyer came to Ridgefield around 1915 and immediately became active in the woman’s suffrage movement. She then led the organization of the League of Women Voters, serving as its president from its beginning in 1921 until 1933. She and Miss Richardson were twice elected together to the school board, serving from 1936 to 1942. She was also head of the Ridgefield Garden Club from 1939 to 1941, and had been long active in the club’s Village Improvement Committee. Her brother, novelist Preston Schoyer, who often stayed at her home, spent much time in China and Miss Schoyer was involved in raising money for China relief before the war. She also chaired the United War Fund, served as the Red Cross home nursing chairman, sang with the Ridgefield Choral Club, and, as The Press put it in her 1946 obituary, “participated in a multitude of community affairs, serving on committees and working for the betterment of Ridgefield.”