AUBURN — In 1915, many were sure that women would earn the right to vote in New York state. After losing a 1912 vote, suffragettes ramped up their image, wearing purple, white and gold to show their support. But as it turned out, there were still many women wearing black, white and pink — the colors of the anti-suffrage movement.
Cayuga Museum Curator Kirsten Wise said she was shocked to find a folder filled with anti-suffrage propaganda from Cayuga County last year. She was even more shocked to discover that many women actually took over the movement in the early 1900s.
Now, as New York prepares to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote in November, the museum will explore both sides of suffrage in a new exhibit.
"We had always planned to do an exhibit (recognizing this anniversary), but ours is a little different because we found some anti-suffrage material in our collection," Wise said. "We didn't really realize that there was this huge organized movement of anti-suffragists ... so we're featuring both sides of the protest. I don't know if a lot of other places are doing that."
The exhibit is called "Woman's Protest: Two Sides of the Fight for Suffrage in New York." Wise said the title is actually a play on words as "Woman's Protest" was actually the name of a national anti-suffrage publication at the time — a publication that made its way to Cayuga County.
Wise said she came across information about an Auburn chapter of the New York State Anti-Suffrage Association. She also discovered that the leader of the association, Alice Chittenden, visited Auburn to give a speech.
"We did find a lot of evidence of anti-suffrage activity in the area," Wise said. "I found a newspaper clipping where 'Woman's Protest' had just hit the shelves and came to the area, so I know it was definitely local."
There is also evidence that some prominent figures in Auburn were against women's suffrage, Wise said. One of the biggest anti-suffragists the curator came across in the city was the Rev. Allen Dulles. According to Wise, Dulles was quoted in several newspaper articles from the 1910s, preaching that he did not think women should have the right to vote.
"One of his big arguments was that it would cost taxpayers a lot of money when you're adding more people to vote, so in order to hold the election it would be really expensive," she said.
Then there was Edward Sandford Martin, an Auburn native who wrote and published the book "The Unrest of Women" in 1913. He was also the first literary editor of Life Magazine.
"There were a lot of local men who were outspoken about the issue," Wise said. "I was hoping to find a really prominent women in Auburn who was an outspoken anti-suffragist, but we didn't find that. ... The men were doing a lot of talking for them here."
Still, Wise said the museum wants to be careful about how it portrays the anti-suffrage movement. She pointed out that many of the women who wore the black, white and rose were very similar to the women who donned the purple, white and gold — highly educated and involved in social movements.
"(Anti-suffragists) weren't terrible people and I don't want to paint them in a bad light," she said. "They just thought that the way to enfranchise women was to help them be better wives and mothers and that they didn't need to get their hands dirty in politics. ... It was just a very different time."
The museum will display materials from both movements in the exhibit, which will run from Friday, Oct. 13, through Saturday, Dec. 30. Wise said the museum worked with the Howland Stone Store Museum in Sherwood and a private collector out of Buffalo to gather posters and banners that were used locally 100 years ago.
In addition, the Cayuga Museum will host two lectures in the Carriage House Theater behind the museum. Wise said the museum received a grant from the Cayuga Community Fund to fund the lectures and the exhibit.
"These are really exciting objects for people who are really into women's suffrage history," she said. "They're really one-of-a-kind pieces."