Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Ella Hawley Crossett, 1853-1925
By Ryan Gardiner and Ambrose Philips, students, State University of New York at Cortland
President, Warsaw Political Equality Club; Vice President, New York State Woman Suffrage Association; President, New York State Woman Suffrage Association
Ella Hawley Crossett was born in Gainesville, New York on March 21, 1853. Her parents, John Waldo Hawley and Juliet Thorpe Hawley, were early supporters of woman's suffrage. After her family relocated to Warsaw, New York in Wyoming County, Ella attended the Warsaw Academy, earning a Regents' preliminary diploma at age fourteen. She married John B. Crossett of Orangeville, New York in 1878. The couple moved to Chicago, where their two children, Juliet and Carolyn, were born in 1880 and 1882 respectively. In the mid-1880s, the Crossetts moved back to New York State, where she worked tirelessly for the cause of woman suffrage.
Crossett's rise in the suffrage movement began in 1890 when she attended the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) convention in Washington, D.C. as a delegate. In September 1891, she hosted a two-day meeting of Wyoming County suffragists at which pioneering activists Susan B. Anthony and Anna Howard Shaw spoke. Out of this meeting, the Wyoming County Suffrage Association was created with Crossett named as the group's president. Only a few days later, she was also chosen as president of the Warsaw Political Equality Club. The work of the political equality was critical to advancing the cause of suffrage in New York. As historians Susan Goodier and Karen Pastorello have noted, some of the most robust activism in the state came from tiny villages, such as Warsaw, or hamlets where rural women "pushed past conventional boundaries and relied on women-centered networks to become a crucial part of the coalition working to achieve political equality, rights, and autonomy." Crossett remained an important figure in the Warsaw Political Equality Club for more than two decades, and her house on Summit Avenue in Warsaw, known to local suffragists as "the house on the hill," was a central gathering place.
Crossett established a firm reputation as an administrator and organizer after years of leadership at the local level and a long tenure on the executive board of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association (NYSWSA). She was chosen for vice president of NYSWSA in 1898, and in 1902 was elected Association president, serving in this capacity until 1910. As NYSWSA president, she testified before the state legislature in Albany in 1907 and was called before Congress the following year, where she advocated for the passage of laws that would ensure political equality. During a 1909 mass meeting in Albany that occurred as the state legislature prepared for what, by then, had become a semi-regular deliberation over the merits of a constitutional amendment endorsing woman suffrage, Crossett boldly challenged legislators to rethink their position: "Does it mean nothing to you that 40,000 women in this State are organized to secure the franchise; that a few years ago 600,000 people signed the petition for woman suffrage to the constitutional convention; that associations formed for other purposes representing hundreds of thousands of members have endorsed it?" During her tenure as the state association president, Crossett never appeared afraid to court the support of the opposite sex in the cause of suffrage. At a February 1910 meeting at the Bowery Mission, a homeless shelter for men in Lower Manhattan, she convinced the Bowery men to take the "suffrage pledge" and send their support for a woman suffrage resolution to their assemblyman and senator. The New York Times recalled that the men, who voted for the resolution by a show of hands, had done so with "such enthusiasm...that if the ceiling had been a little lower they would have touched it."
In addition to her work for suffrage, Crossett played a primary role in organizing a local Red Cross Chapter in Warsaw after American entry into World War I. Crossett suffered a stroke on Thanksgiving Day 1925 while at the home of her daughter in Boston and was paralyzed as a result. She died a week later, on December 2, 1925, from the effects of the stroke. She asked to be cremated, and her ashes were buried in Warsaw the following spring. In March 1931, a bronze tablet was unveiled in Washington, D.C. with the names of 72 women suffragists, along with an honor roll hanging next to it containing 297 names, including 67 New Yorkers. Crossett's name is among those hanging on the honor roll, forever keeping the memory of her achievements alive.
"Ella Hawley Crossett," Western New York Suffragists: Winning the Vote, December 22, 2014. Accessed March 28, 2017. https://rrlc.org/winningthevote/biographies/ella-hawley-crossett/.
"Ella Hawley Crossett," The Western New Yorker, December 10, 1925.
Susan Goodier and Karen Pastorello, Women Will Vote: Winning Suffrage in New York State (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2017).
"The Suffragist Tour of Warsaw, New York," http://warsawnyhistory.org/tours/tour3.html
Ida Husted Harper, The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 6 (New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922). [LINK]
"The Bowery for Suffrage," The New York Times February 23, 1910.
"Urge Women's Vote at Albany Meeting," The New York Times February 17, 1910.
"Ella Hawley Crossett," Wyoming County Times December 10, 1925.
"Women Will Unveil Honor Roll Tablets," The New York Times March 26, 1931.
[Obit.] "Ella Hawley Crossett," Wyoming County Times December 10, 1925. [transcribed by Karen E. Dau.]