January 23, 2019

   

The Justice Bell in Conshohocken - by Holly Holst

The Justice Bell in Conshohocken – by Holly Holst

Conshohocken’s Crossroads to Woman Suffrage By Holly Holst 1-5-2019

by Holly Holst

This is an article by guest author Holly Holst.


Next year, we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gives women the right to vote. The roots of the fight for woman suffrage can be traced to the American Revolution, when Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John in 1776, while he was in Philadelphia, that women “will not hold themselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.” Decades later the first women’s rights convention was held in upstate New York and a few years after that, Pennsylvania held its first convention in West Chester.
It wasn’t until 1915 that Pennsylvania’s government left the decision of woman suffrage in the hands of the voters- all men. How would suffragists across the state convince men to vote in favor of woman suffrage? Suffragist Katharine Ruschenberger decided women needed their own bell, a women’s liberty bell. She had a replica of Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell made for a campaign tour of the state. She named it the Justice Bell. At each stop, men and women spoke alongside the Justice Bell, calling for the voters to support woman suffrage. The only sound not heard was the Justice Bell. It was silenced to symbolize women without the right to vote.


On October 21, 1915, the Justice Bell arrived in Conshohocken to stay overnight, after spending the day in Norristown and Harmonville. The Conshohocken Recorder reported that the Justice Bell “was given a warm and hearty reception.” According the article of October 22, 1915, Mrs. Gertrude Fuller of Pittsburgh spoke to the crowd, gathered at First Avenue and Fayette Street:
The women who want the vote are the women who work for a living. They want to vote for a law that will give them a minimum wage, give better sanitation, better protection against machinery, and better living conditions. …Equal suffrage means equal wages. That is why the working women want to vote.


Being a mill town, this argument appealed to the working class women of Conshohocken. However, they were not the only ones who wanted woman suffrage. Prominent Conshohocken resident Elizabeth Collins was the chairman of the Woman Suffrage Party of Conshohocken. She frequently held receptions in her home, where notable suffragists would speak. The Collins’ home still stands today. It is the large, white house at the corner of Second Avenue and Forrest Street.


Unfortunately the woman suffrage referendum was voted down in Pennsylvania, shortly after the Justice Bell’s tour ended. Nonetheless suffragists were encouraged to continue their fight, leaving many to believe an amendment to the U.S. Constitution was more important than state constitutions. Once the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, the Justice Bell was freed from silence. It rang for the first time outside Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. Today it is preserved at the Washington’s Memorial Chapel, near Valley Forge National Historical Park. Shortly after it turned 100 years old, the Justice Bell Foundation formed. They are a non-profit organization developing a documentary about the Justice Bell’s history and education initiative program in schools across the area, including Colonial Middle School. Saturday, January 12, at 11:30 AM, the Justice Bell Foundation will give a presentation at the Conshohocken Free Library. Come learn more about the Justice Bell’s historical ties to our area and work going forward in to the next century.

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