Statewide observances this year are taking place to honor Indiana’s vote to ratify the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote in 1920. Although the first rallies for “suffrage” were held in the 1840s, national attention drifted away from women’s rights toward the urgent issue of growing tensions along the Mason-Dixon line.
After the Civil War, women in Zionsville followed the lead of their Indianapolis sisters and formed the Zionsville Female Suffrage Society in 1870. They gathered for meetings at the old Methodist Church (now “The Sanctuary”). Eliza Alford Speer wrote a letter to the Patriot newspaper, inviting all women of the county to rally to “the cause.” The poetic prose was signed “Veritas,” meaning, truth, as a way of veiling her identity and protecting her from public scrutiny. Later, Speer was outed for her rebellious ideations.
Boone County became quite well known as a cultural destination community at the turn of the 20th century. So much so, that when leaders of the world-wide Women’s Rights Movement came to Indiana in 1877 to speak, they chose Zionsville’s Clark Opera House over multiple Indianapolis venues for their appearance and lectures.
It was 143 years ago, Feb. 3, 1877, that two celebrities arrived in town. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton spoke together in the theater-styled second floor “opera house” over Benjamin F. Clark’s storefront in the center of downtown Zionsville. The internationally renowned women felt that the movement was in good hands in Indianapolis under the guidance of fellow suffragist May Wright Sewell, so they made their Indiana sweep in Boone County instead of Indy.
Zionsville women were not the only ones involved in the issues of women. Lebanon school teacher and head of English for LHS Mayme Sheridan was elected as the first chair of the Lebanon Women’s Franchise League. This group had its roots in the suffrage and temperance movements in London, England. The Franchise League was organized in 1917, and quickly disbanded as a favorable legislation passed for the vote.
Sheridan later married James Gardner, but died shortly after in 1924 of breast cancer. Her dream of having a voice via a vote was realized.
To see a list of lectures, events, and upcoming events in honor of 100 years of Votes for Women, visit the website at www.IndianaSuffrage100.org.