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The League of Women Voters

In New York State the struggle for women’s suffrage was fought as early as the 1840s, and the New York State Women’s Suffrage Association was active throughout the state. Interestingly, Tompkins County women came late to the cause, only forming suffrage groups in the 1890s. One woman in Ithaca who fought for suffrage was New Jersey native Louisa Riley. Riley and her husband came to Ithaca in 1894 to be near her son who was attending Cornell. Disappointed that there wasn’t a suffrage organization in town, she collaborated with the State Suffrage Association when they worked to hold their annual convention here. She fostered the formation of the Ithaca Women’s Club, which had a suffrage “section.” Within a few years this splintered off to form its own group, the Political Study Club, and other local clubs formed in Newfield and Groton. From this modest start, Tompkins County women enthusiastically embraced the cause, and by 1915, when the state held a referendum to offer women the vote, few counties passed it. But in Tompkins it passed by 115 votes. Final success came across the state in 1917, and, in 1920, with the ratification of the 19th amendment to the Constitution, across the country.

Louisa Riley moved back to New Jersey in 1899 after her son finished at Cornell, but she remained honorary president of the Political Study Club until her death in 1917. Her legacy of activism and advocacy lives on in the work of the Tompkins County League of Women Voters.

View the online exhibition here.

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