19th Century Movement
Like suffrage efforts in other parts of the country, much of the support for women’s rights in Chemung County came from churches. Local suffragists worked with the New York Woman Suffrage Association to organize a mass meeting at the First Baptist Church in Elmira on March 30 and 31, 1894. National suffrage leaders Susan B. Anthony and Reverend Anna Shaw spoke at the meetings. Annis Ford Eastman, Ellenior Dexter, and Mrs. Frederick Bowles represented Elmira at the New York State Women’s Suffrage Associate convention in Geneva in November 1897. As the pro-suffrage sentiment grew locally, so did the need for a more organized approach to the issue. The Elmira Political Equality Club formed in 1897 and held its first public meeting on January 25, 1898. The club had 50 members at first and grew with each monthly meeting.
Rev. William Harmon Van Allen
Rev. William Harmon Van Allen of Grace Church was a supporter of women’s suffrage. In 1898, he gave a speech entitled “Political Equality and Social Reform.” He said: “I am a conservative, an ultra-conservative perhaps. I do not believe in new things as such, either in the church or in politics. Because of these facts I believe in political equality. This statement is not even a paradox. Political equality is not a new thing. It is not a nineteenth century discovery that women have brains.”
Revs. Samuel and Annis Eastman
The Eastman Family
Revs. Annis and Samuel Eastman became co-pastors at The Park Church in 1894. While both supported suffrage, Annis was more outspoken on women’s issues than her husband. She wrote extensively, and both hosted and attended conferences on the subject. In her writings, she argued for equality between the sexes and economic independence for women. Their children, Crystal and Max, followed in their footsteps, campaigning for women’s rights and socialism. In 1909, the siblings created the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage.