2020 marks the 100th anniversaries of the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote and the founding of the League of Women Voters. The League of Women Voters of Ridgefield (LWVR) is the proud owner of an important, visible symbol of the women’s suffrage movement —a “Votes for Women” banner which dates to 1911. A card sewn into the corner of the banner reads: “Please return to Mrs. William Hanford Allee, Property of the Ridgefield E.F.L (Equal Franchise League). Laura Allee was a leading Ridgefield suffragist, original member of the Ridgefield League of Women Voters and the caretaker of this banner.

According to information from “Remember the Ladies, Notable Women of Ridgefield,” in 1911 Mrs. Allee and 19 other Ridgefield women formed a local Equal Franchise League and in July of 1911 Laura was asked to chair the 24th Senatorial District and organize an Equal Franchise League to incorporate the towns of Ridgefield, Danbury, Redding, Bethel, Brookfield, New Fairfield and Sherman. Members of the League held various activities to draw attention to the suffrage cause including “parlor” meetings, town hall meetings, “street corner speeches” and marches holding banners or sitting on floats in parades. One of Mrs. Allee’s most unique and amusing suffrage appearances campaigning for the right to vote was at the intermission of a traveling dog show. Taking the place of the performing dogs, Mrs. Allee with 12 of her fellow suffragists (including Ridgefielder Mary Olcott) took the stage holding a “long banner” that read “Votes for Women.” As Mrs. Allee said in her book “Memories”: “Instead of thirteen dogs taking the curtain call, there were thirteen women with our flaming banner … No one could doubt the earnestness of our purpose, and some eyes were wet.” It is probable that the banner they held was the very same 11’9” by 3’ “Votes for Women” banner currently being cared for by the LWVR and originally owned by Mrs. Allee and the Equal Franchise League.

The Ridgefield Equal Franchise League became the Ridgefield League of Women Voters in 1920 with Mrs. Allee as its vice president and later president. We assume the “Votes for Women” banner stayed with Mrs. Allee in her home on Main Street until her death in 1968 and may have been given to a League historian after Mrs. Allee’s daughter, Dorothy Detzer sold the family home in 1976. The banner eventually ended up with LWVR historian Mrs. Gayle Perry who passed away in 2012 after which the League Board had to determine the best spot for the banner. The banner was professionally inspected and cleaned, and because of its fragility, at the suggestion of the textile experts, the banner has been “retired” from parades and is now carefully preserved and stored at the Ridgefield Historical Society. Prior to its” retirement”, the banner was carried by LWVR members in parades in Ridgefield and other locations including one in New Haven in 1995 celebrating the League’s 75th anniversary. League members, who marched in parades with the banner, believe the last time the banner was carried was during the celebration of Ridgefield’s 300th anniversary in 2008.

Thanks to a generous grant from the Lewis Fund, the League is currently having a replica of the banner made to be ready in 2020 to help celebrate the 100th anniversaries of the League of Women Voters and the passage of the 19th amendment . The replica will be on display at various “Votes for Women: Ridgefield Celebrate the 19th Amendment” events in Ridgefield co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Ridgefield, Ridgefield Library, Ridgefield Historical Society, Keeler Tavern Museum & History Center, and the Drum Hill Chapter of the DAR, and will be carried in the Memorial Day parade in 2020.

Why green, white and purple for the banner? In 1908, the co-editor of the British Women’s Social and Political Union’s newspaper, Votes for Women, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, designed the “suffragettes” color scheme of purple for loyalty and dignity, white for purity, and green for hope. Suffragist and former part-time Ridgefielder Alice Paul and other Americans who worked with the British “suffragettes” brought the colors to America.

Editor’s note: This will be the first in a series of articles written by various members of the “Votes for Women: Ridgefield Celebrate the 19th Amendment” Committee. The series will highlight the yearlong series of programs including exhibits, theatrical and musical performances, discussions, film screenings, book clubs and more to commemorate this special anniversary. This article was written by Marilyn P. Carroll, president of League of Women Voters of Ridgefield.