Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Lucy Carlisle Watson, 1855-1938
By Mari Lyn Henry, founder, Society for the Preservation of Theatrical History, Curator, producer of Suffragists from the Stage, Historian
New York City, New York
President, Utica Political Equality Club (1900-1917), Chairman, 12th Campaign District in Utica (1915), President, New Century Club (1899-1903)
Lucy Carlisle Watson's grandfather was William Robinson Watson, Secretary of State for Rhode Island, her great-grandfather was Walter Clarke, the Governor of Rhode Island, her great-great grandfather Henry Bull, was also a governor of Rhode Island. Inspired by her family history, she became involved in many organizations and causes including the woman's suffrage movement.
After her parents married, they moved to Utica where she was born in 1855 and graduated from the Utica Academy in 1872. She presented an essay entitled "The Pressures of Society upon Beliefs," indicating her resolve to effect change. Susan B. Anthony came to Utica in 1894 to address suffrage at the Utica Opera House. "Women of Oneida County," she declaimed, "you are paid less than men doing the same job as you because you do not have the ballot. You are denied the right to a voice in government because you do not have the ballot. What you have is a whole white male aristocracy."
Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, the orator of the cause, addressed women in Utica in 1900 and urged them to stand up for themselves and make a difference. She also maintained that men did not represent women at the ballot box. After her speech, the local suffrage movement began in earnest with the formation of the Utica Political Equality Club with Lucy as its president. She promoted the cause for 20 years, encouraging more women to join the movement. She helped to bring the New York State Suffrage Convention to Utica in 1912. In the August 31, 1912 Utica Herald Dispatch she was quoted: "Women suffrage appealed to my sense of justice, and during the past five years the feeling of equal suffrage for men and women is an essential feature in a democracy, and the hope it will aid in making better conditions for women and children will have strengthened my belief in the necessity of votes for women."
The first suffrage parade in Utica occurred in 1913 with a low turnout and Lucy determined to increase the numbers. She introduced guest speaker, Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt (president of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance) to make women more aware of the suffrage movement. Lucy was the Grand Marshal for a more successful parade in 1914. 300 banners displayed slogans such as "Votes For Women," "Wake Up New York Its Daylight" and "Liberty is Justice." The guest speaker was Mrs. Beatrice Forbes Robertson-Hale, Vice-President of the Actress' Franchise League. Before she spoke, Lucy acknowledged the men for furthering the cause for women. Mrs. Robertson-Hale declared "women who don't want to vote are like the women who do except that we are more interested in being ancestors than being descendants."
In 1915 a suffrage liberty torch was carried throughout New York State from Montauk Point on Long Island to Buffalo to encourage more women to fight for women's rights. On July 15, 1915, Lucy at age 60 carried the torch from Utica to Verona, a distance of 19 miles.
The defeat of getting votes for women at the polls on November 2, 1915 inspired the women of Utica to double their efforts and they formed a statewide organization in which Lucy became the head of the 12th campaign district.
She attended the suffrage convention in Albany where more than 300,000 women pledged themselves to work for the vote in 1917. New York suffragists finally succeeded in a statewide referendum in November 1917 and won the right to vote.
Lucy's contributions to the women's suffrage movement won her national recognition. The League of Women Voters listed her among 100 prominent women of New York State and her name appears on the honor rolls in Albany and Washington, D.C.
When she died in 1938 Mayor Vincent R. Corrou said, "Her death removes from Utica one of its outstanding citizens, her activities in civic, religious, and charitable circles will always place her in the memories of all Uticans."
Twomey, Erin. Utica, New York, "The Suffrage Movement through the eyes of Lucy Carlisle Watson," Master's Thesis, Utica College, May 7, 2011 Accessible online at https://www.utica.edu/academic/ssm/history/victorian/Erin%20Twomey.pdf
Oneida County Historical Society, Lucy Carlisle Watson Collection Box 2007, 178.1
"Miss Shaw's Question Box: Closing Session of the Women Suffrage Convention," Utica Herald Dispatch, Saturday Evening, May 26, 1900, p.4.
"Getting Ready for Suffrage Parade," Utica Herald Dispatch, June 9, 1913, p.8
"She Pioneered for Women," Utica Daily Press, Tuesday, June 28, 1938, p. 22.
"Service for Lucy C. Watson," Utica Daily Press. Tuesday, December 18, 1938, p. 14
"Our View: Suffrage Project, Natural for Area," (Utica) Observer-Dispatch, September 28, 2017
For a profile of Lucy Carlisle Watson, see Jane Sullivan Spellman, Women Belong In History Books, Vol. 1,--profile by Virginia Kelly.