Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920
Biography of Margaretta Van Rensselaer Schuyler, 1894-1976
By Lynn Cole, Writer, Florence, Italy
Suffragist, National Woman's Party secretary, journalist, college professor, humanitarian;
Margaretta Van Rensselaer Schuyler, was born in Montreal, Canada on 16 February 1894 to Marie-Louise (Nelson) Schuyler of Montreal, and Reverend Philip Schuyler of New York. Known to her friends and family as “Margot,” she was named for her relative Margareta Schuyler Van Rensselaer—a noted friend and confidant of Alexander Hamilton (a founding father of the USA). The Van Rensselaer and the Schuyler families had arrived in New York before the American Revolution and were considered part of the so-called Knickerbocker literary establishment. “Margot” Schuyler was one of five children; the others were Philip, Katrina, Dorthea and Marie Phyllis. The family lived in Bennington, Vermont from 1898 to 1912, and then moved to Portland, Maine when her father was sent to preside over St. Peters Episcopal Church in December 1912.
In January 1916, at the age of 22, Schuyler acted as assistant to Mrs. Alva Belmont, President of the National Women's Party (NWP), at Belmont's Political Equality Association in New York. In October 1916, Schuyler received an assignment to Wyoming to aid in the efforts to stop the re-election of Wilson and other candidates who did not support ratifying the woman suffrage Amendment. Wyoming had become the first territory to pass a suffrage law (the Suffrage Act of 1869) giving women the vote and ability to run for public office. When Wyoming became a state, it was first to give women full voting rights. In fact, Schuyler felt that this assignment made the most impact of all her work in the suffrage movement. The women's vote was integral to the election and in 1918, Wilson pledged his support of the suffrage movement after he won by a very slim margin due to the organization of the western states' women voters—a population that was growing.
Described by the New York Herald as a “pretty, slender young girl,” Ms. Schuyler, on 4 March 1919, carried the American flag at the front of the line during a suffrage demonstration in New York organized by Alice Paul. The event became violent and Schuyler was taken into police custody and then summarily dropped off blocks away. She made her way back undaunted to the demonstration while handing out flyers along the way. The march began at the NWP headquarters and made its way to the Metropolitan Opera House, where President Woodrow Wilson was giving a speech on his way to address the League of Nations. There the women gathered, with the intention of admonishing Wilson's hypocrisy towards the suffrage movement by his lack of effort in getting the 19th Amendment ratified. In front of the Opera House the women built a pyre similar to “the watchfires” that were employed in front of the White House, where every time Wilson mentioned the words “democracy” or “freedom” they would write them on a piece of paper and burn them symbolically.
Many of Schuyler's accomplishments during this time revolved around supporting women through the power of words. She was a reporter for the Portland Maine Evening Express from 1913 to 1914, and in June 1919, she helped found and was treasurer for Judy, a woman's magazine touted as being “pro-woman without being anti-man.” Schuyler lived in Greenwich Village during the bohemian renaissance where she established many enduring friendships of which Margaret Sanger was one. Through their bond, Schuyler became a lifelong activist for women's reproductive rights.
Her adventurous bohemian spirit had her traveling through Europe during the 1920s as part of the foreign press corps for Liberator Magazine where she spent most of her time in Paris, France. She enjoyed a close relationship with poet, playwright, and feminist activist Edna St. Vincent Millay, the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry after its official establishment. Their friendship lasted until Millay's death in 1950. Other ex-pat friends included Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Pasos, and Gertrude Stein. During her stay in Europe, she continued working on humanitarian causes with the Committee for Devastated France, founded by Anne Morgan—a small group of American women who helped France recover from WWI.
Upon her return to the United States, Schuyler took a job in New York at W&J Sloane, initially becoming a designer and then a buyer—a first for a woman of the time. In 1949 she began teaching art at Woodbury College and continued in this capacity until she retired in 1960, when she moved back to Bennington. Schuyler founded a weekly ride program for senior women which enabled her to gain a position on a steering committee for a Senior Citizens Center. This position eventually evolved into her helping create a branch of Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) in Bennington. In her later years, Schuyler became a guide for the Bennington Museum, where she gave tours of the Grandma Moses Schoolhouse. After a long illness, Schuyler died on 9 November 1976, at the age of 82, in Bennington, Vermont.
Margot Schuyler never married, was a self-described “Christian Existentialist” and considered herself a “failed poet,” yet had one poem entitled “Sea Moths” published in The Liberator and self-published a book of poems in 1935. According to her great-nephew, author Jonathan B. Walker, “aunt Margot” was known for her avant-garde spirit and bold character always dedicating herself to the advancement of women's causes.
Milford, Nancy Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay (Random House Publishing Group, 2001)
Hoffert, Sylvia D. “Private Secretaries in Early-Twentieth-Century America,” Labor: Studies in Working-Class History &:1 (2010): 45-65.
American Fund for French Wounded records, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library: http://archives.nypl.org/mss/73
Haynes Irwin, Inez . The Story of the Woman's Party (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1921), p. 412: https://archive.org/stream/cu31924030480556/cu31924030480556_djvu.txt
New York Herald (New York) 5 Mar 1919, pp. 1, 2, 4
New York Herald (New York), 5 Mar 1919, p. 2.
New York Tribune (New York), 29 Jun 1919, p. 7.,
Bennington (VT) Banner, 2 Oct 1975, p. 3; 9 Nov 1976, p. 14.