Celebrating Women’s Suffrage with Historic Marker on the National Votes for Women Trail
Gannon University joined in celebrating women’s suffrage with the unveiling of a historic marker on the National Votes for Women Trail at 202 W. Eighth St. in Erie. Lorraine Dolan, Robyn Young, Dr. Judy Lynch and Dr. Lori Lindley shared educational and celebratory remarks with an enthusiastic crowd before unveiling the brand new marker dedicated to Augusta Brown Fleming. You can enjoy their remarks below, and visit us on social media for more photos from the event.
“Pennsylvania ratified the 19th Amendment on June 24th, 1919. It is the responsibility of the living to remember the past. Today we honor the foremost Erie County Suffragist, Augusta Fleming, a woman you will learn more about shortly.
Knowing the past allows one to gain understanding without having to endure it. Women vote today because of the women’s suffrage movement—a 72-year courageous and persistent campaign that resulted in the enfranchisement of 26 million women of the United States.
Almost a third of the amendments added to the Constitution after the Bill of Rights was ratified concern the ability to vote. The passage of each of these Amendments reflected a shift toward making voting a right of all citizens and indeed, a fundamental part of citizenship.
Women have now entered their second century of full voting rights. It is our hope that with this Pomeroy Foundation historical suffrage marker, being placed here, at the site of Fleming’s home, the youth, women and men of Erie County will forever be reminded of the responsibility of learnedness and participation in our country’s democracy. As stated by President Harry S. Truman, “A vote is the best way of getting the kind of country and the kind of world you want.”
Please join me in welcoming Linda Bolla, who will deliver remarks on behalf of Robyn Young who could not be here with us today.
Robyn is the Pennsylvania State Coordinator for the National Votes for Women Trail, a committee of the National Collaborative for Women's History Sites. She has been a Board Member of the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites since 2018. Robyn has been instrumental in obtaining four historical markers pertaining to the history of women's suffrage through the Pomeroy Foundation.
Linda will share Robyn’s thoughts about the importance of these organizations, and their significance to Erie County.”
“On behalf of Robyn [Young], I would like to share her excitement today as we celebrate the unveiling of the newest marker on the National Votes for Women Trail. The Trail is a project of the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites. For the last 5 years, they have entered over 2,300 suffragists into a national database. The organization is extremely grateful that The William G. Pomeroy Foundation has paid for five markers to be placed in each of the 50 states to honor suffrage work. And Erie now has one of those markers! Most people know of Susan B. Anthony, Anna Howard Shaw and Lucretia Mott.
Our focus is on local women who did the actual work of convincing half the population to give them the right to VOTE. Now people will know who Augusta Fleming is and what she accomplished to get the vote for women.
Robyn had contacted Lori Morse-Dolan through the League of Women Voters because she felt Erie should have a Trail Marker. She asked Lori to jointly submit a nomination for a suffrage marker. She graciously agreed. We had to work from a distance. We had a deadline, and it was during COVID. We submitted the nomination together, while Lori and I did the research. Lori and many others did all of the prep work here in Erie, and I am truly grateful!
Robyn thanks you, Lori, Linda, Gannon University, the League of Women Voters, the City of Erie, and all those here today who helped make this event happen!
I now have the pleasure of introducing today’s special guest speaker, Dr. Judy Lynch, who is Erie County’s own current-day trailblazer for the advancement of women. Dr. Lynch is a history maker in her own right as in 1981 she became the first woman elected Erie County Executive. Judy has dedicated her life to education, history, politics, and civic service. We are so happy to have her with us today to help you “know” Augusta Fleming and why we stand outside Augusta’s home today to place this marker of remembrance.”
Dr. Judy Lynch
“Good afternoon! I am delighted to be here with you to take part in this most historic and meaningful event. 202 West 8th Street is just a short distance from the Erie County Courthouse where I served 20 years as Erie County Executive, and we are on Gannon University property, an institution through which I gained my masters in history and political science. Certainly, this site has meaning for me.
But for all women, it is hallowed ground! It is a revered spot because it was the residence of Augusta Brown Fleming. It was from this spot that women marched in 1913 demanding Pennsylvania voters ratify the suffrage amendment which had passed the state legislature but needed to be ratified by Pennsylvania election districts.
In 1913, Augusta Fleming was a leader in this movement. 202 West 8th Street which we mark today was not only Augusta’s home but also served as a bustling headquarters for our region’s suffrage activities as Augusta led the way.
Augusta served as President of the Northwestern Pennsylvania Equal Franchise Association as women focused on the fight to obtain ratification of Pennsylvania’s amendment giving women the right to vote.
Many of you, in your reading about the Pennsylvania suffragists, can recall the symbol the Pennsylvania suffragists hauled throughout the state as they campaigned for Pennsylvania ratification of the Act giving women the right to vote.
The symbol of the suffragists was a replica of the Liberty Bell. They called it the Justice Bell, and it was to be rung when ratification of women’s suffrage was completed. Let’s face it! The Justice Bell was well named. There is no justice unless you have the right to vote!
We know that the Justice Bell was not rung in 1913, as the state of Pennsylvania failed in 1913 to ratify the change to the state constitution.
Despite this loss, Augusta Fleming, and the suffragists she led, knew that the battle could be fought and possibly won in another theater. They did not give up the fight when the state-wide effort failed to obtain ratification in 1913.
Augusta Fleming also served as a State Delegate to the National Women’s Suffrage Association, a women’s suffrage organization oriented towards achieving the right to vote through an amendment to the federal constitution.
With state ratification efforts failing throughout the United States, Augusta Fleming, along with other suffragists, turned to the federal government seeking an amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving women the right to vote and then undertaking the battle of state ratification. In August 1920, that battle was won.
The 19th Amendment was passed by Congress and ratified by a sufficient number of states, and the Justice Bell was rung in a Philadelphia festive celebration.
Let’s ring our bell in concurrence with the Philadelphia Justice Bell celebration.
The record of Augusta Fleming’s leadership in the suffrage movement is without equal. She built on the work of previous generations of women working for the equal franchise and brought new energy and activism that helped carry Pennsylvania and its legislators to be the 7th state to vote for ratification of the 19th Amendment in June 1919.
Augusta Fleming knew the effort to involve women in the political questions of the day was not finished with the adoption of the 19th Amendment. She, and others across the nation, turned their attention to the next steps: bringing women into the political arena. This meant organizing voter registration drives and familiarizing women with the process of voting and ensuring that they vote.
Organizations such as the League of Women Voters took the lead. In 1920, Augusta Fleming was elected the Chair of the Erie League of Women Voters Formation Convention. Then in September 1920, Augusta Fleming was elected the first President of the League of Women Voters in Erie.
Women would have to overcome personal hesitancy, enter the unknown world, the men’s world of politics, register to vote and run for office.
Three years after the adoption of the 19th amendment in 1923, thanks to the activism of the League of Women Voters, the first women in Erie County were elected to office. This was Maude Millar who was elected city of Erie treasurer and Annette Young who was elected Clerk of Courts. Maud Millar’s election was particularly contentious. Her opponent was the popular Fire Chief, Michael Cronin.
The night of the election the contest was too close to call. On Thursday it was announced that Maude Millar had won by 35 votes. I am sure it was women’s’ votes which made the difference in that election.
Let us not forget Helen Schluraff, another notable Erie County woman who undauntedly accepted the offer of the Republican Party to be a candidate for Erie County Commissioner and was elected in 1931 becoming the first woman in Pennsylvania to hold the office of County Commissioner. She was then elected by her fellow county commissioners President of the PA County Commissioners’ Association.
Augusta Fleming was also recognized by her peers in the Republican Party and was comfortable in party politics. She served many years as President of the Erie County Council of Republican Women and Vice-President of the state organization. Politics was no longer a man’s world!
Augusta Brown Fleming was a pioneer. She spent her life fighting for women’s right to vote and to be active in politics. There is no greater right in a republic than the right to participate in your government. There can be no justice without the right to vote and to be active politically. The right to vote is the greatest civil right that we have as Americans.
It has been quite a journey. For 99 years women have had the right to vote and serve in elected offices. We have come a long way, but not far enough! Only about 1/3 of the elected offices in the United States are held by women today.
We are here at 202 West 8th Street to recognize Augusta Brown Fleming’s contribution, to applaud her accomplishments, to say thank you and to commit ourselves to carrying on her endeavors.
We stand on her shoulders and others in the suffrage movement who dared enter a man’s world, and claimed and fought for their equal place. She helped make a better world for us today - a better world not only for women but also for all Americans.
For all the women here, there is another suffragist whose name we would recognize, Susan B. Anthony who said “Someone struggled for your right to vote. Use it.” And I would add, “protect it with all your might!”
Augusta Fleming took a route through untrodden and sometimes thorny fields, a route that was barely obvious to others, and became a leader for women, so that those who came after her would have a path to follow. We stand on her shoulders and others who have gone before, who have fought the fight for equality and the right to participate in the political process.
As I end this address, let me tell you a little story about myself. When I was 16 or 17, I didn’t take the steps to get my driver’s license. I remember an interchange with my grandmother about that. I explained that my brother could just take me anywhere I wanted to go. “Judith, she said, we didn’t fight so hard for you to throw it all away!” I got the message!
Now, think about these words spoken by Augusta Fleming as she led the Women and Children’s Suffrage March at the 1913 Perry Centennial Parade:
“Remember that you are only one in a great army. That you are marching for a principle: that being a government of the people, for the people and by the whole people. Your motive is unselfish. You are… doing your part to bring about better legislation for the protection of homeless, children and the weak.”
Let us again ring the bell for justice, for the achievement of the right to vote and to be active in the political process and for Augusta Brown Fleming who led the way and who we honor today.
For closing remarks, please welcome Dr. Lori Lindley, Dean, College of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences, Gannon University.”
Dr. Lori Lindley
“Good afternoon. Thank you for being here on this momentous occasion, to celebrate the contributions of Augusta Fleming and other women leaders in Erie’s history. The journey to today has been one of a shared vision of recognizing the importance of this marker in Erie’s history and impact on women’s rights. I am so proud to be here today on behalf of Gannon University.
We are grateful to Lorraine Dolan, Robyn Young who cannot be here with us today, Linda Bolla and Dr. Judy Lynch who have done the hard work to add this new marker on the National Votes for Women Trail - quite literally putting Erie and Gannon “on the map.”
Gannon has always been an integral part of the Erie community and we recognize our responsibility as a vital member of it, continuing our contributions to the success of downtown Erie through service, economic development and engagement.
In addition, Gannon’s mission is rooted in access to education and opportunities for people of all backgrounds. Access to education, just as the right to vote, is critical to equal rights in society. Indeed, many scholars identify the beginning of women’s rights with Mary Astell and her call for formal education for women in 1694! However, it wasn’t until the 1830s that women in the United States were able to attend college. I am proud to now serve as the Dean of the College of Humanities, Education, and Social Sciences at Gannon, and to carry on the tradition founded in these disciplines of access to education for all.
We offer academic programs in history, women’s studies, political science, and public service and global affairs, creating opportunities, much like the placement of this historic marker, to recall and educate the public on our past in order to shape a better future for everyone. We engage our students and colleagues in the difficult but needed dialogues on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, leading to calls for action on our campus and in our community. We are so proud to be here today and to be a part of this historic moment, which highlights a champion of these very principles.
Now I am excited to announce that it is time to unveil the newest marker on the National Votes for Women Trail. Would Lorraine, Linda and Judy please join me for the unveiling.
Thank you so much for being here with us today and sharing in this exciting moment. I would like to now ask Linda Bolla to join us once again at the podium.”
“As a final note before we close the ceremony, the Pomeroy Foundation has sent their own greeting to commemorate the day.
Congratulations from all of us at the William G. Pomeroy Foundation on the celebration of your National Votes for Women Trail historic marker. We send our greetings from Syracuse, New York, as you commemorate the life and legacy of suffrage leader Augusta Brown Fleming.
At the Pomeroy Foundation, one of our main initiatives is to help people celebrate their community’s history. Since 2006, when my father, Bill Pomeroy, established the Foundation’s first marker program, we have awarded close to 1,800 grants for roadside markers and plaques nationwide. We feel strongly that markers help educate the public, encourage pride of place, and promote historic tourism.
With this National Votes for Women Trail marker, you recognize the trailblazing contributions Augusta Fleming had on advancing women’s voting rights. Now the City of Erie is part of a select group from across the United States who are able to tell their women’s suffrage history with a Pomeroy Foundation funded roadside marker. The markers are well-researched with primary sources reviewed by professional historians. That is what sets your marker apart as the gold standard of historic markers.
The Pomeroy Foundation is proud to do its part in commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment by funding 250 of these wonderful National Votes for Women Trail markers across the country.
We commend your efforts to celebrate women’s suffrage history and send our appreciation to the League of Women Voters of Erie County; Gannon University; Jefferson Educational Society; the Erie community; and our National Votes for Women Trail partner, the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites; as well as all those who were involved with obtaining the marker unveiled today.
The Pomeroy Foundation is proud to help you preserve and commemorate your community’s history. We know this historic marker for Augusta Fleming will ensure Pennsylvania’s pioneering women’s suffrage history will be celebrated for generations to come.
From all of our dedicated staff and trustees at the Pomeroy Foundation, congratulations! Warm regards,
William G. Pomeroy Foundation
Thank you so much for being with us on this very special day. We invite you to join us for refreshments.”
Visit us on social media to learn more and see photos from this historic event, and learn more about the lead-up to this celebration here.