`General' Rosalie Jones gave women's suffrage a spirited voice, reviving a movement
A Pioneer for Female Power
Few, if any, women in the suffrage movement were as flamboyant and headline-grabbing as Rosalie Gardiner Jones, a wealthy Oyster Bay socialite who felt that leading a march on Washington was more fun, and more effective, than drinking afternoon tea with the ladies.
She was known as General Jones to her troops, and the newspapers happily went along with the military rank, which she gave herself in 1912. Appropriate, she felt, for someone organizing and leading a voting-rights-for-women march from New York City to Albany and another to Washington, D.C.
With her "pilgrimages,'' as she called them, and with such things as a horsedrawn wagon tour of Suffolk County to spread the message of "Votes for Women,'' Jones helped to bring life to a movement that was growing stale and sedentary as the new century began. One of her best-known stunts took place in 1913 when she was taken up in a two-seat Wright biplane over Staten Island to toss out a handful of yellow suffrage leaflets.
She may have had the purse of a millionaire and the commitment of a dedicated suffragette, but Jones had the soul of a Madison Avenue publicist. Under the headline "Gen. Rosalie Jones Flies for Suffrage,'' on May 31, 1913, The New York Times, reported as follows:
"Gen. Rosalie did not show a sign of fear as she took her seat in the biplane, seized a steel rod, the only thing to hold to, with her left hand, had her skirts tied down with a little piece of blue string, and, with a bunch of yellow Votes-for-Women leaflets in her right hand, nodded a smiling goodbye to the crowd below.''
A few weeks earlier, Jones and her followers inspired the following bit of doggerel in the Lincoln, Nebraska, Journal:
Now the hike along the Hudson seemed a foolish trip and vain, But it gave them advertising from Los Angeles to Maine.
Jones' wealthy parents were Mary and Oliver Livingston Jones, whose main address was on East 72nd Street, but whose summer place was a 1783 home on a huge spread on Cold Spring Road in what is now Laurel Hollow in Oyster Bay. For many years the property was referred to as being located in Cold Spring Harbor. Born in 1883, Jones was educated at Adelphi College, then a women's school in Brooklyn, and later graduated from Brooklyn Law School.
Entering the suffrage movement at age 28, Jones, along with a few friends, found herself attracted to the more militant feminists in London who called themselves "suffragettes,'' rather than the then more genteel American "suffragists.'' She joined forces with Harriet Stanton Blatch, the daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a founder of the suffrage movement.
"The suffrage movement was completely in a rut in New York State at the opening of the Twentieth Century,'' Blatch later wrote. "It bored its adherents and repelled its opponents.''
No one ever accused Jones of being boring, however. In 1911 she, Blatch and others gathered a crowd at the corner of Broadway and Wall Street to discuss women's right to vote. They were rewarded with a shower of eggs and tomatoes.
In the spring of 1912, Jones joined forces with an English suffragette, Elizabeth Freeman, to tour Suffolk County in a horse-drawn wagon, painted suffrage yellow, to spread the message. Then they headed for a similar tour in Ohio.
A reporter for the New York Evening Journal said wryly in an article in June, 1912, that "Miss Jones, who has never exerted herself in previous summers beyond a game of tennis and attending garden parties, said she was prepared to meet all the annoying features of campaigning in intense heat, which she said was Ohio's reputation.''
Rosalie Jones was made of sterner stuff than the reporter imagined. She and a small group of followers later announced a pilgrimage to Albany, to present a suffrage petition to the governor. On Dec. 16, 1912, at 9 a.m., close to 200 marchers, including reporters, began their hike at the end of the IRT subway line at 242nd Street in the Bronx.
One of those who opposed the trip was Jones' mother, who happened to be a member of the New York State Anti-Suffrage Association.
"The idea is ridiculous,'' Mrs. Jones told a reporter for The Brooklyn Eagle. "They will be exposing themselves to the snow, wind and ice and are jeopardizing their health. It is absolutely foolish.''
The daughter, of course, ignored the mother. With the press giving them almost daily coverage, the pilgrims, down to five in number, entered the state capitol on Dec. 28. They later met Gov. William Sulzer, who promised his support.
Jones was already planning a hike to Washington, D.C., where a huge suffrage parade was planned for March 3, the day before the inauguration of the new president, Woodrow Wilson. On Feb. 12, 1913, Jones and her little army set out from Newark, N.J., accompanied by the little yellow wagon. This time, it carried a new sign: "Criminals and the insane can't vote, neither can I, what about it?''
Called by a newspaper "The Army of the Hudson,'' the suffragettes numbered 14 when they reached Washington. The issue of women's suffrage was placed front and center when 5,000 women marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the cheers, and occasional jeers, of hundreds of thousands of onlookers. The movement was out of the doldrums.
Passed by Congress on June 4, 1919, the 19th Amendment, banning voting discrimination on account of sex, was ratified by the states on Aug. 18, 1920. New York State voters had already, on Nov. 6, 1917, similarly amended the state constitution.
With the passage of women's suffrage, Rosalie Jones' moment in history was pretty much over. She married, then divorced six years later. She returned home to the Oyster Bay estate and the newspaper reporters disappeared. Jones died in a Brooklyn nursing home in 1978, at the age of 94.
In her later years Jones was better known locally as an eccentric old woman who kept dozens of goats on her 100-acre property. The goats sometimes strayed, and neighbors with ruined flower beds would regularly get incensed. She didn't seem to like her neighbors, and they didn't seem to like her.
"Animals of one sort or another have been on this farm for 250 years,'' she told a local reporter in 1947, "and I don't see why I should do away with them just because my neighbors don't like them.''
Her neighbors might not have been aware of Rosalie Jones' yeoman work in the cause of women's suffrage almost a half-century before. If they had, they might have been a little more tolerant of the goats.
Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.
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