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Gotham Center for New York City History: The Tammany Hall Politician Who Backed Suffrage by Alice Sparberg Alexiou

Alice Sparberg Alexiou. "Tammany Hall, Women's Suffrage, and Big Tim Sullivan." Gotham: A Blog for Scholars of New York City. November 10, 2017.

Era: Post-Suffrage Era | Media: Web-based

In this article on the Gotham Center for New York City History’s blog, historian and author Alice Sparberg Alexiou delves into the suffrage advocacy of Timothy Daniel Sullivan.

Sullivan was a leader in Tammany Hall, the organization that became an immensely powerful Democratic political machine in New York City. He served as an elected official in the New York State Assembly and Senate. He also briefly served as a Congressman.

The Tammany machine was opposed to women’s suffrage. But Sullivan was an advocate for granting women the right to vote, a remarkable stance “considering how tenaciously the Tammany machine controlled New York politics,” writes Alexiou.

Sullivan repeatedly voted for suffrage when pro-suffrage bills came to the floor of the legislature. So why did Sullivan support women’s suffrage? Alexiou writes:

It seems it came at least in part from growing up hungry in the Five Points with ten siblings and an alcoholic stepfather who beat his mother. Catherine Connelly Sullivan somehow managed to feed her kids, although she often went hungry. Sullivan adored her — at the end of his life he had Kenmare Street named for her birthplace in Ireland — and admired the grit and sacrifices of the women — not just the mothers, but their daughters too–struggling to keep families together in New York’s mean streets. Once he told a reporter: “I’ve been watchin’ the folks goin’ to their work of a morning, comin’ over the Brooklyn Bridge and fillin’ the ferryboats and the crowdin’ down in the subway. And the tings that hits me right in the eye is the fact that there’s nearly as many women as men in these mornin’ crowds of workers. If the women have to work like that alongside of men, then they ought to be able to vote alongside them, too.”

Read the entire article on Sullivan’s support for suffrage here.


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