Biographical Database of Militant Woman Suffragists, 1913-1920
Biography of Mrs. Frances Lang (active 1909-1919)
By Clare M. Sheridan, retired librarian
Frances Lang: activist, 1909-1919 for Women's Political Union, NAWSA and NWP, New York City; financial supporter: 1911 for (New York) State Woman Suffrage Association (an affiliate of NAWSA).
Note: To date, locating Frances Lang's vital records has been unsuccessful. Although there are many women by this name in various genealogical/census indices, there is no easy way to link them to the Mrs. Frances Lang who is the subject of this biographical sketch. Although she used the title "Mrs." it is not clear if she was married, or if she simply used the term possibly for business reasons-- not unusual in this period. Mrs. Frances Lang appeared a number of times in newspaper accounts of militant suffrage activity in New York City, not as a leader, but as one of many supporters who marched, volunteered, and spoke at events. We know she supported the cause financially at least once.
We first hear of her as a feminist labor supporter in a 1909 newspaper account (The Sun, New York, Dec. 23, 1909) during a strike of shirtwaist workers who had been arrested and brought into court "bruised and scarred and mutilated." Miss Bertha Horowitz, their voluntary counsel (with the help of Inez Milholland)
said she had been defending the strikers in the day and night court for nearly four weeks .... Mrs. Valesh on behalf of the special committee appointed to take charge of the watchers for the shirtwaist strikers said yesterday that about 300 watchers were required so as to observe what happened to the strike pickets and be ready to testify in their behalf in case of arrests. She said that 250 had been accepted up to date .... Among those appointed yesterday were Miss Coleridge Crommett of the Equal Suffrage Association .... Mrs. Frances Lang and several other members of the Young Women's Christian Association; several women students of the University of the City of New York, [etc.] .... A reception was given last night ... under the auspices of the Women's Socialist Society [and] seven pickets were each decorated with the emblem of the Women's Trade Union League by Miss Leonora O'Reilly ....
A little over a year later in March 1911, Mrs. Lang is mentioned as one of several volunteer ushers at a matinee at the Lyceum Theatre that featured two plays setting forth "the doctrine of votes for women .... The ushers were Miss Evelyn Smith, Miss A.J.G. Perkins, Miss Bruening, Mrs. Arthur Townsend and Mrs. Frances Lang." The theatre had been decorated with the violet, green and white colors of the Women's Political Union "for whose benefit the matinee was given ...." The two plays included: A Woman's Influence, a one-act play by Gertrude E. Jennings and How the Vote Was Won, by Cicely Hamilton and Christopher St. John. "Mrs. Harriot Stanton Blatch, president of the Women's Political Union, announced that the proceeds of the event would be used for the suffrage parade to take place on May 6th ." (New York Herald [European Edition], March 30, 1911)
Having participated in these relatively modest activities, Mrs. Lang unexpectedly emerges as a donor to the cause by arranging the rental of a building on Madison Ave. to be used as the headquarters of the (New York) State Woman Suffrage Association, an affiliate of NAWSA (NAWSA's national headquarters was on Fifth Avenue at this time). Volume VI of the History of Woman Suffrage, p. 449 notes that,
In 1911, the State headquarters were moved into a beautiful old mansion at 180 Madison Avenue, just south of 34th Street in the heart of the shopping district, where they remained during 1912-13. Through the generosity of Mrs. Frances Lang, of which they were leased, a comparatively low rent was paid. The new quarters were opened with a brilliant house-warming and in February a big State bazar and fair were held to raise funds.
One might assume that Mrs. Lang was a woman of means or married to a man of means, but it is not clear that that is the case. The New York Press of January 5, 1913 featured a small article, "Many Business Leases Signed in Manhattan." Among "the many leases" was one for Charles H. Leland to Mrs. Frances Lang at No. 162 Madison avenue. In addition, Frances J. Lang appears in several real estate transactions in 1922. The New-York Tribune of August 3, 1922, lists Frances J. Lang as having leased from "Mabel V. R. Johnson and Alice Van Rensselaer the five-story house at 12 East Thirty-seventh Street .... for a term of twelve years at a rental of $7,000 to $9,000 a year with an option for two twenty-one-year renewals." The same page lists a property in Brooklyn, New York sold by Frances J. Lang and others to Logold Realty Corp. The new owner "will erect a 12-story office building at 128 to 134 Montague St." If this is the same Frances Lang who leased a building to the (New York) State Woman Suffrage Association, it is quite possible that she was an independent real estate broker, again not unusual for the period. This may or may not have been the same Frances Lang. In any case, the above Frances Lang is a working woman and not necessarily a woman of means. Finally, of course, one must consider the possibility that a man was using the feminine spelling of Frances.
We next hear of Mrs. Lang in 1912 when she was on duty at the suffrage booth of the Woman's Industrial Exhibition in the New Grand Central Palace. "Mrs. Frances Lang who was on duty at the [(New York) State Woman Suffrage Association] booth, had hardly arrived before the workmen of the place came with orders to take down the big suffrage sign at the back of the booth and the smaller signs ... [and] they were no longer to distribute suffrage literature." (New York Times, March 16, 1912). "Things soon grew turbulent" as other exhibitors ran to the defense of the Association's booth and "it looked as if a small riot was imminent." The suffragists appear to have won the day, however. The Association obtained an injunction, issued by their counsel, prohibiting the International Exposition Company and the Woman's Industrial Exhibition from ousting them from the event. The company justified their actions by claiming that the exhibition was intended to be non-political and non-sectarian.
In the same year, Frances Lang was a guest speaker at the Republican Party's meeting of the First Assembly District in Brooklyn's designating committee. At this meeting the Republicans picked their candidate, Richmond L. Brown, to represent the District. "Mrs. Frances Lang of Manhattan, addressed the meeting in behalf of Women's Suffrage. She represented the Women's Political Union." (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 24, 1912). Another Brooklyn newspaper (Brooklyn Times Union) also reported that "Mrs. Frances L. Lang [note the middle initial "L," not "J" as with the realtor], a representative of the suffragettes asked the privilege of the floor to present resolutions instructing the designee for Assembly if elected to support all legislative matrons [sic] and measures calculated to give women the right to vote. Chairman Ralston said the resolutions were too drastic for any candidate. Miss Lang agreed with him and they were not submitted."
Two mammoth suffrage parades were held in 1912, one in May that marched from Washington Square to Central Park, and another six months later in November. On the evening of November 10, 15,000 (see account by New York Historical Society blog) braved the cold and rain with torchlights and lanterns to march down Fifth Avenue to Union Square. Oddly enough, the newspapers reported 20,000 participants. Half a million people lined the streets to watch. Unlike the May daytime parade that was marred by disorderly incidents, the newspapers reported it as "peaceful and good natured" with the police being called upon only once at the Union Square rally. "Mrs. Frances Lang was standing behind a box preparing to speak when several young men, two of whom were intoxicated, mounted the improvised platform and began talking to the crowd. Despite the remonstrances of Mrs. Lang, the two men would not leave and she sent for help. Two policemen removed the speakers and took them from the park but made no arrest." (The Sun, November 10, 1912).
1912 was a busy year for Frances Lang. Vol. VI of the History of Woman Suffrage, p. 451 notes that,
Many dramatic features of propaganda characterized these years, which marked the awakening of the women of the entire State [of New York] and brought into the ranks many wide-awake, independent young women, who wanted to use aggressive and spectacular methods .... Those that attracted the most attention were the suffrage "hikes," in which Miss Rosalie Jones, a girl of wealth and position, was the leading spirit.
In Jones's account (condensed in Vol. VI of the History of Woman Suffrage, pp. 451-53) "a small army of brave and devoted members," of which she was the "General" and Miss Ida Craft of Brooklyn the "Colonel" proposed to carry a message to the Governor of New York, William Sulzer, expressing their hope that "his administration might be distinguished by the speedy passage of the woman suffrage amendment." The "pilgrimage" began on the morning of December 16, 1912 at the 242nd St. subway station (in upper Manhattan) and their destination was the state capital at Albany, a distance of over 170 miles. Her account records that about 200 joined the hike initially, but the number that seriously began the march was more like 37 according to The Washington Times (D.C.). The march took 13 days with newspapers tracking their every step. Along the way, they stopped at every crossroad and village distributing suffrage literature in rain and snow.
Presumably Mrs. Frances Lang joined the hikers in Manhattan. We know from the Buffalo Courier (December 17) that she was with the marchers in Yonkers (about 11 miles from New York City) where the mayor gave them the freedom of the city square to speak; speakers included Mrs. Stubbs, Mrs. Frances Lang, Mrs. Ludlow and Rosalie Jones. We know she was with the seven remaining hikers when they arrived in Irvington (further up the Hudson River) according to The Evening World (December 17) where she probably took advantage of the chiropodist brought in from New York City. Mrs. Lang must have dropped out before the group arrived in Ossining because she is not listed among the five remaining hikers in The Evening World. Five hikers did make it to their destination in Albany on December 28. These five included Miss Rosalie Gardiner Jones; Miss Ida Craft; Miss Lavinia Dock, a trained nurse and editor of the American Journal of Nursing and author of The History of Nursing; Miss Sybil Wilbur of Boston, biographer of Mary Baker Eddy; and Miss Katherine Stiles of Brooklyn. They were received at the Executive Mansion on the 31st by the newly elected Governor who promised "to advance their political rights" and would advise "legislators to pass the suffrage measure." The "hike" was a huge advertising success for suffrage and another one to Washington was planned for February 1913.
The next year (1913), Buffalo, New York suffragists organized their own suffrage parade but met resistance from the more conservative Buffalo Political Equality League. The Buffalo Courier (June 2, 1913) printed a letter from Laura G. Collins of Hornell, New York who was in charge of the southern tier of the state,
Dear Sir, In the Courier of May 27, I note the action of the Buffalo Political Equality League against taking part in the pageant of June 14. This element of conservatism makes itself felt from time to time against every new departure from the old lines of work .... Four years ago, Mrs. Blatch of New York decided to adopt the English method of parades .... Mrs. Frances Lang, one of the marchers, told me there were not a hundred marchers in the line. The following year the number was raised to between four and five hundred; the next year 2,000 had found heart .... Thirty thousand women marched this month in New York because fifty brave women were found to blaze the trail five years ago.
After 1913, there are no other newspaper accounts of Mrs. Lang's activities until March 4, 1919, when she is among those protesting President Wilson's appearance at New York's Metropolitan Opera House to promote the League of Nations, the night before he departed for Europe for the Peace Conference. The demonstration was organized by Alice Paul's National Woman's Party to protest the President's inaction on suffrage, and to demand a special session of Congress. Protesters felt that if they did not make their demands known before the President sailed to Paris, he would think that they had given up. The protest started near the old Opera House on Broadway & 39th St., the police having cordoned off the immediate area. As the women attempted to move forward to picket the Opera House, they were badly battered by police, soldiers and onlookers and their banners torn, the largest of which read: “Mr. President, What Are You Going To Do for Woman Suffrage?” Among the 40 or more demonstrators, six were arrested including Miss Alice Paul. They were quickly released and returned to the fray where they burned Mr. Wilson's speech as it was relayed to them from the Opera House (probably by a stenographer hired by Mrs. Belmont who had a ticket to the event). Another battle ensued as the women tried once again to march to the Opera House, and they were again badly manhandled by the police and onlookers. Among the marchers, The Sun (March 5, 1919) named various "candidates for jail" that included Mrs. Ella Clapp Thompson of North Carolina, Mrs. Frances Lang of New York, etc.
After 1919, no other mention of Mrs. Frances Lang appears in readily accessible databases that tie her name to suffrage activity.
Sources: (in chronological order)
"Says the Magistrates Err: Not Fair to Girl Strikers, Miss Horowitz Asserts ...." The Sun(New York), New York, LXXVII, no. 114 (December 23, 1909), p. 5. Source: Library of Congress, Chronicling America/Historic American Newspapers.
"Pantaloon Skirt in a Suffrage Play: Supporters of Votes for Women Give Dramatic Presentations Embodying Their Views at Lyceum Theatre." New York Herald [European Edition], March 30, 1911, p. 2. Source: Gale Primary Sources, International Herald Tribune Historical Archive, 1887-2013.
History of Woman Suffrage, 1900-1920. Vol. VI. Edited by Ida Husted Harper. [N.p.]: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922. Chapter XXXI: New York State. Source: Hathi Trust via Boston Public Library.
"Many Business Leases Signed in Manhattan." The New York Press, Sunday Morning, January 5, 1913. [n.p.]. Source: fultonhistory.com.
"Call for Business Space Indicates Good Trade Outlook." New-York Tribune, August 3, 1922, p. 17.
Source: Library of Congress: Chronicling America/Historic American Newspapers.
"New Tall Building Planned for Brooklyn's 'Wall St.'" New-York Tribune, August 3, 1922, p. 17.
"Suffragist Battle at Industry Show: 'Votes for Women' Brigade Refuses to Be Ousted from Its Booth." New York Times, March 16, 1912, p. 5. Source: Proquest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times.
"Republicans Pick Their Candidates for the Assembly." The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 24, 1912, p.3. Source: Newspapers.com.
"Republicans Select Candidate for Assembly ...." Brooklyn Times Union, August 24, 1912, p. 3
"20,000 Women in Suffrage Parade: Brave Wet Pavements and Cold Wind to March for the Cause." The Sun (New York), Vol. LXXX (November 10, 1912), pp. 1, 8. Source: Library of Congress: Chronicling America/Historic American Newspapers.
Santangelo, Dr. Lauren (guest blogger). "5,000 Lanterns: The Radicalism of Suffrage Parades." New-York Historical Society Museum & Library, Behind the Scenes (http://behindthescenes.nyhistory.org/radicalism-suffrage-parades/
"Only Seven Stick to Suffrage 'Hike,' Thirty Lose Heart. Faithful Ones Expect to Make Sing Sing Tonight with Members Intact." The Washington Times (DC), December 17, 1912, p. 4. Source: Newspapers.com
"Only Seven Now Remain of Brave Suffrage Army." Buffalo Courier (Buffalo, New York), December 17, 1912, p. 1. Source: Newspapers.com.
"Heroic Leader Hikes to Albany on Sprained Ankle." The Evening World (New York), December 17, 1912. Final Edition, p. 2. Source: Library of Congress: Chronicling America/Historic American Newspapers.
"Dame Rumor Tells of Campaign Afoot to Spoil Parade: Suffragists Exercised over Reports That Systematic Efforts are Being Made to Make Demonstration in Buffalo a Fizzle." Buffalo Courier (Buffalo New York), June 2, 1913. Source: fultonhistory.com.
Stevens, Doris. Jailed for Freedom: American Women Win the Vote. Rev. ed. Edited by Carol O'Hare. Troutdale, Oregon: NewSage Press, 1995. Edited from the original edition; first published in 1920. See pages 177-180 for description of demonstration ("A Farewell to President Wilson")
"Police Ordered to Bar Pickets from President: Suffrage Advocates Ready for Clash in Effort to Gain an Extra Session." New-York Tribune, March 4, 1919, p. 3. Source: Library of Congress, Chronicling America/Historic American Newspapers.
"Suffs Fight in Street to Burn Wilson Speech: Women Badly Mauled in Clashes with Police, Soldiers and Civilians." The Sun(New York), March 5, 1919, pp. 1-2. Source: Library of Congress: Chronicling America/Historic American Newspapers.
"6 Anti-Wilson Suffragists Are Arrested Here: Women's Party Paraders in Riot in Broadway as Way Is Barred by Policemen." New-York Tribune, March 5, 1919, pp. 1, 4. Source: Library of Congress: Chronicling America/Historic American Newspapers.