Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Sarah Helena Fahey, 1868-1951
By Jacalyn Kalin, retired teacher: Montgomery College, Maryland
Activist in the New York suffrage movement; Teacher and activist in local, state and national teacher associations
Note: Two spellings: Sarah and Sara were found for Fahey's first name. Sarah appeared more frequently, and was listed on census reports completed by her parents.
Sarah Helena Fahey, one of four children, was born in 1868 to Patrick and Mary (nee Crosby) Fahey. Both parents were born in Ireland. Patrick worked in a paper mill; her mother kept house. Fahey graduated from the Teachers College of Connecticut in 1890; she furthered her education at New York University (NYU), receiving a B.S. in Professional Development in 1907 and a Master of Arts twenty years later in 1927. She began her teaching career in Connecticut, then relocated to Brooklyn, New York where she spent the majority of her time as a teacher. She returned to Connecticut in the 1940s and lived with her widowed sister, Mary Mahoney, in Shelton, Connecticut. In April 1951, “Shelton Sisters Die Same Night” headlined an article in The BridgeportSunday Post. The two sisters died within an hour and a half of each other on April 21. Sarah Fahey was buried in St. Mary's Cemetery, Windsor Locks, Connecticut.
In New York, Sarah Fahey participated in the St. Catherine Welfare Association and the Catholic Committee of the Woman Suffrage Party. Both groups actively promoted the suffrage movement in the Catholic Church. They used similar methods in their suffrage campaigns, including appealing to Catholic editors, speaking to Catholic sodalities and fraternal organizations, and holding discussions before Catholic men societies and meetings in Catholic school halls. Fourteen public meetings in school halls in 1915 averaged five hundred in attendance.
A meeting held in 1915 with Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore, an anti-suffragist, successfully moved the Cardinal to reconsider his position; he went on to announce that suffrage was a matter left to the good judgment of Catholics as to what they think best. Thus, anti-suffragists could no longer use the argument that the Catholic Church was against suffrage. It was a major victory for the Catholic suffrage movement.
The St. Catherine Association of Catholic women had organized in 1911. St. Catherine of Siena was chosen as the association's patron saint because she fought the prejudice against women in the fourteenth century. The group worked to better social and economic conditions for women and children, calling for radical reforms that included equal pay for equal work, an eight-hour day for all working women, a living wage, and strict enforcement of child labor laws. Suffrage was a plank in its constitution. The organization grew to ten thousand Catholic women.
The association's economic interests were the backbone of its desire for the vote. By 1915, it formally entered into the New York suffrage fight, deciding to only hold “votes for women” meetings, and to promote suffrage in the Catholic community. It wanted to give strength to labor's influence in politics, necessary because the New York legislature had not moved forward on the economic goals of the group.
The Brooklyn branch of the Catholic committee was very active. One year it held at least eighteen hearings before Catholic organizations and three very large mass meetings. Fahey participated by unceasingly writing, speaking, and in many other ways as stated in a New York suffrage report at a National American Woman Suffrage Convention (NAWSA), the national organization founded by two suffrage giants, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Fahey frequently spoke on woman suffrage to Catholic groups, including the Josephians, a dramatic and social club, and the Knights of Columbus.
Fahey also served on arrangement committees for mass suffrage meetings. She helped arrange a 1915 suffrage meeting where Carrie Chapman Catt, the president of the NAWSA, appeared as the main speaker. That year also saw an all-day suffrage event ending at midnight where orators spoke in the streets and at meetings, a Yellow Rally concert at Madison Square Garden was held, and leaflets were passed out to Catholic congregations throughout the city.
The suffrage campaign in New York proved successful. On November 6, 1917, the legislature approved state suffrage for women. “Debt of Suffrage to Catholic Women” read a headline in The New York Times on November 19, 1917. The article detailed the numerous activities of the St. Catherine Welfare Association in the fight for women suffrage. After the success of its state suffrage campaign, the association focused its future work on fostering the idea that suffrage was a sacred obligation. It provided instruction on enrollment, registration, method of voting and education on the right use of the ballot. It offered a course of lectures titled “A Simple Course in Citizenship - Aid to Women Voters” periodically throughout New York City. Fahey, an active participant in the lecture series, gave talks on topics that included “The Relation of the Home to the Government” and “Problems and Possibilities of Women in Government.” She also engaged politically, speaking at meetings of the Young Women's Democratic League.
On June 16, 1919, New York ratified the nineteenth amendment to the Constitution. It became part of the Constitution in August 1920 after thirty-six states ratified the amendment. Fahey continued her activism, participating in The Catholic Suffragists of America, an organization working for social reform. She attended meetings in support of political candidates who favored the measures of the group.
Fahey's work in civic education extended not only to adults but to her students as well. As a teacher she promoted civics in schools, believing that a nation's strength and resources was not its commodities but its people, and particularly the children. The teaching of the American ideal of patriotism in public schools was the theme of her article titled “The Study of Patriotism.” She believed that students must have civics in daily life, and recommended student self-government. At a high school graduation, she presented a student dramatization of “A Man Without a Country,” a story in which the author attempted to arouse readers to a sense of what a country means to its citizens.
Fahey participated in educational organizations on the local, state, and national levels. These groups included the High School Teachers Association of New York City, the Teachers' Welfare League of New York State and the National Education Association (NEA). She served on committees and in leadership positions for all the organizations, and frequently spoke at meetings and conventions. Her topics would sound familiar to present day teachers: the need for respect for teachers, salary raises, equal pay, improved physical conditions in school buildings, the prevalence of large classes, and the effective use of a teacher's time.
Fahey traveled extensively on behalf of the National Education Association in her role as regional director of the Department of Classroom Teachers. She conducted several departmental conferences in New England and in the South, and spoke to state associations throughout the country, including Montana, Virginia, and Illinois. In 1930, a two-month sabbatical tour took her to southern states where she spoke on current educational problems before school conventions, universities and colleges.
She retired to Connecticut in 1940 after her extensive activism for suffrage and education. She remained engaged, however, by being active in local and state politics.
Satrah Fahey at right, Syracuse Herald, Octobwer 18, 1931, p. 2.
“Brooklyn Teacher Made Lecture Tour of South.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 4, 1930, p. 13.
“Catholic Committee of the Woman Suffrage Party.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sept. 16, 1915, p. 21.
“Catholic News.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sept. 21, 1918, p. 4.
“Catholic Women for Vote and Quote Cardinals and Other Clergy Advocates.” Trenton EveningTimes, Oct. 5, 1915, p. 19.
“Catholic Suffrage.” New YorkTribune, April 26, 1914, p. 32.
“Danger In Crowded Schools.” The New York Times, July 6, 1916, p. 24.
“Debt of Suffrage to Catholic Women.” The New York Times, Nov. 19, 1917, p. 11.
“Demands Of Teachers Defined.” Salt Lake Telegram, July 5, 1920, p. 2.
“Dr. Grady Assures Teachers of Fight to Gain Credits for Crime Prevention Work.” Syracuse Herald, Oct. 18, 1931, p. 2.
“Equal Suffrage News.” The Richmond Item, April 26, 1914, p. 5.
Fahey, Sara H. The Study of Patriotism. New York Teachers Monographs, vol. xiii, no. 1 (1911): 66-74.
Hale, Edward Everett. The Man Without a Country. Spencer Press, 1937.
Harper, Ida Husted et al., eds. History of Woman Suffrage, Vol VI. New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922. [LINK]
McCarthy, Tara M. Respectability and Reform: Irish American Women's Activism 1880 – 1920. Syracuse University Press, 2018.
Mirel, Jeffrey. Patriotic Pluralism: Americanization Education and European Immigrants. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA 2010.
“Miss Fahey on Suffrage.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 23, 1915, p. 9.
National Education Association. National Education Association of the United States Addresses and Proceedings of the 57th (June 28-July 5, 1919) and 58th (July 4-10, 1920) Annual Meetings, Vol. LVII and Vol. LVII.
“New York Educating its Women Voters.” Catholic Union and Times, Sept. 26, 1918, p. 5.
“Program at Portland is Built Around Patriotism and Preparedness; Many Notable to Speak.” Albuquerque Morning Journal, July 9, 1917, p. 5.
“St. Catherine's Welfare Association.” The Suffrage Daily News, Sept. 25, 1914, p. 3.
“School Children Are Strength of Nation.” Oregon Daily Journal, July 11, 1917, p. 6.
“Shelton Sisters Die Same Night.” The Bridgeport Sunday Post, April 22, 1951. p. 1.
“Suffrage Campaign Closes At Midnight.” TheNew York Times, Oct. 31, 1915, p. 4.
“‘Suffs' Hear Mrs. Catt.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sept. 29, 1915, p. 21.
“Teachers League Holds Annual Election – Special Meeting Arranged.” The Brooklyn DailyEagle, May 9, 1914, p. 12.
U. S. Bureau of the Census: 1870, 1880, 1900, 1930 and 1940. Ancestry. Com
“Women Stage Big Meeting to Boost Governor Smith Boom.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 13, 1924, p. 9.