Charlotte Woodward

In 1920, seventy-two years after the Seneca Falls convention, the United States finally passed the Nineteenth Amendment, giving women the right to vote. Of the sixty-eight women who signed the Declaration of Sentiments at Seneca Falls in 1848, only one--Charlotte Woodward Pierce--lived to see that day. "I was at the first meeting held at Seneca Falls," she remembered, "when I was but a young girl, little knowing the broad field awaiting laborers."

In 1848, Charlotte Woodward was eighteen or nineteen years old, probably of Quaker background and living in Waterloo, New York. Although she had been a school teacher when she was fifteen years old, she worked at home in 1848, sewing gloves from pieces sent out by merchant-capitalists. Charlotte Woodward was not happy with her limited opportunities. "I do not believe there was any community anywhere in which the souls of some women were not beating their wings in rebellion. . . . Every fiber of my being rebelled, although silently, for all the hours that I sat and sewed gloves for a miserable pittance which, after it was earned, could never be mine. I wanted to work, but I wanted to choose my task and I wanted to collect my wages."

With such awareness, Charlotte Woodward was delighted when she read the announcement for the woman's rights convention. Historian Rheta Childe Dorr described Charlotte's reaction, based on an interview with her in 1920. She ran from one house to another in her neighborhood, and found other women reading it, some with amusement and incredulity, others with absorbed interest. Half a dozen of Charlotte's intimate friends were interested enough to agree with her that they must attend the convention, at least on the first day when only members of their own sex would be present. . . . Early on the morning of July 19 those country girls started on their long drive, in a democrat wagon drawn by fat farm horses. . . . As they drove along they perceived an unusual number of vehicles, family carriages, chaises, surreys, democrats and even farm wagons, turning in from lanes and byways to join the procession on the main high road. Women formed the majority of the passengers, but some of the vehicles were driven by men. When the girls arrived at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls they found about fifty men waiting to be admitted to a meeting advertised for women only. Mrs. Pierce remembered that it was the presence of these uncommonly liberal men that gave her courage to stay over for the second day's session.

Charlotte Woodward traveled farther than almost anyone else who came to the Seneca Falls convention. According to the index of the 1850 census, published by the Mormons, only one Charlotte Woodward lived in New York State in 1850. She lived in DeWitt, Onondaga County (near Syracuse, about 40 miles east of Seneca Falls) in the home of Moses and Hannah Chapman, aged 58 and 55. Moses was a farmer, born in Connecticut, who listed his assets at $15,000, quite a munificent sum in 1850. Other members of the household included Amos Fancher (22, farmer), Rachel Jones (13), John Doyle (15), Mary M. Carthe (perhaps meant to be McCarthy, age 80, born in Ireland), and Calton E. Chapman (79).

Charlotte Woodward eventually married (Newlin? Pierce) and moved to Bristol [Rhode Island?] and later to Philadelphia, where she lived the rest of her life. She joined the American Woman Suffrage Association rather than the National Woman Suffrage Association, which Stanton and Anthony had organized, but, she wrote to Mott in 1871, "our aim is the same, what matter if we do not all choose the same means to accomplish it?" She also became active in the Association for the Advancement of Women. She knew Susan B. Anthony and called her "a great and noble woman."

Her conciliatory attitude toward all branches of the suffrage movement lasted until her death. In 1921, when she was 92 years old, she sent a trowel to the National Woman's Party, to be used in laying a cornerstone for the NWP's headquarters in Washington, D.C. The inscription read, "In memory of the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848: presented by its sole survivor, Mrs. Charlotte L. Pierce, in thanksgiving for progress made by women and in honor of the National Woman's Party, which will carry on the struggle so bravely begun." When observers took this as an endorsement of a party for women only, Woodward Pierce quickly clarified her views. The National Woman's Party, she said, "seems to be a woman's party. I do not believe in that. I think women should go into the existing parties." "My heart is with all women who vote. They have gained it now, and they should not quarrel about the method of using it."

Sadly, Charlotte L. Woodward Pierce herself never voted. She was ill on election day, 1920, and by the spring of 1921, her eyesight failing rapidly, she was confined to her home. "I'm too old," she said. "I'm afraid I'll never vote." And, as far as we know, she never did.

-Judith Wellman, Historian
Historical New York

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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