Chair of the Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Party 1913 - 1915
The Start of a Three Year Fight
The campaign to add the suffrage amendment to the state constitution began in earnest in the fall of 1912 with the goal of passing the enabling act in the new Pennsylvania Legislature beginning in January 1913. This bill had been introduced in the legislature every year to no avail. The decision to open a headquarters in Harrisburg, a block from the State House was an obvious one.
Jennie Bradley Roessing, knowing that Senator Boies Penrose was the boss of the Republican political machine, arranged to meet with him. Penrose made it clear that he was opposed to women's suffrage and that even though he would allow her enabling act to pass "as a good sport" she should know that they would not succeed in getting it through both houses, because, "he would have to see that we didn't". He also pointed out that the suffragists had no state-wide support.
It was clear that the local suffrage clubs and leagues would never succeed in building a campaign sufficient to pass the amendment. With Roessing as President of the Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association and Patterson as Chairman of the Woman Suffrage Party of Pennsylvania, together they set about creating a massive, disciplined, grass-roots political organization from the ground up.
With the new state suffrage headquarters now located in the Arcade Building at Walnut and Court St. in Harrisburg, suffragists were only a short walk from the Capital Building. From here, they had access to lobby the Republican and Democratic political leaders of the state legislature. Roessing and Patterson spent the early months of 1913 essentially living at suffrage headquarters.
At the Pennsylvania State Suffrage convention held in Pittsburgh in October 1913, Patterson outlined a plan for the organization of the state-wide campaign that would culminate in a ballot referendum in the November 1915 election to amend the the state constitution granting women the right to vote. The plan called for organization along legislative districts in order to influence the members of the state legislature and their constituents. This was the strategy set forth by Carrie Chapman Catt in 1910 and would become part the Winning Plan that Catt used to ultimately gain passage of the 19th Amendment.
Suffragists across the country held May Day Parades in 1914. Patterson led a parade in Pittsburgh on May 2, carrying the state banner.
The annual state convention of the Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association was held on November 20, 1914 in Scranton. In Patterson’s featured address, she described in detail the methods used by workers in Pennsylvania. She explained that throughout 1914, the PA Woman’s Suffrage Party members worked to increase awareness of the concept of woman’s suffrage. They formed new organizations and increased membership in those already established. They addressed women’s clubs, teachers’ institutes, political meetings, churches, colleges, factories and department stores.
“The strength of the party,” she said, “lies in the fact, first, that it is organized by governmental units and thus acquaints every prospective woman voter with the political district of which she will be a part when she becomes enfranchised, and second, that it provides a uniform working plan for every organization in the State. “In the last analysis, the success or failure of the campaign rests upon the shoulders of the precinct leaders. With a working leader in every one of the 6700 odd precincts in the State, we can carry the State for suffrage. I would urge upon the county chairmen the necessity of procuring active leaders for the voting precincts in their county, and that definite plans be immediately made so every precinct shall be canvassed by May 1, 1915.”
Publicity and getting out the vote were the primary objectives of the suffragists leading up to the general election on November 2, 1915.
Suffrage gardens, parades, and the famous Justice Bell drew attention across the state. The pace of campaigning never let up.