Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Zobedia Gambee Alleman, 1848-1940

By Patricia S. Kimber, Frontenac Historical Society & Museum Volunteer, Union Springs, NY

Zobedia Alleman was an activist, advocate, spokesperson and grassroots leader in county, state and national suffrage efforts. Born in a log cabin in the rural farming community of Fayette, Seneca County, New York, on May 5, 1848, to William and Catherine Gambee, her mother died when she was only three years old, resulting in her being sent to live with relatives. In her early youth, Zobedia was trained to make dresses by pinning paper and fitting it to the woman as commercial paper patterns were unheard of at that time.

Zobedia attended the University of Michigan but is not listed as a graduate. In 1869, she married a local farmer Joseph Judson Alleman. Alleman shunned the life of a farmer and pursued his dreams by earning a medical degree at the University of Michigan. Zobedia also attended the university to study medicine but did not complete the program. Following graduation, Dr. Alleman commenced his practice in Waterloo, NY the village where much of the planning for the first Woman's Rights Convention held in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848, had taken place. In 1886, they moved to Union Springs, NY where Zobedia remained until her death in 1940.

The New York State Women's Suffrage Association (NYSWSA) was organized according to a grassroots structure. The Association encouraged activists in small towns and rural areas to organize Political Equality Clubs. By 1890, such clubs had formed across much of central and western New York. This structure goes far to explain why the NYSWSA achieved significant accomplishments at the state-level.

Zobedia Alleman actively participated in many of these grassroots efforts, tirelessly traveling upstate New York speaking at various Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), Political Equality Club, and Grange meetings, questioning the lack of women's rights in areas such as serving as jurors or owning property. During the successful 1917 state-wide campaign to amend the New York State Constitution to grant women full suffrage rights, Mrs. Alleman gave a speech a day, five days a week for the length of the campaign. She visited farmers in the fields, men in shops and merchants in their stores, well before election literature was sent to the 18,000 voters of Cayuga County where she resided. Her campaigning assisted in the successful passage of resolutions in support of suffrage by these organizations.

Prior to her move to Union Springs, Zobedia held offices in the Seneca County Suffrage Association. The earliest mention of her suffrage activities in an 1884 newspaper account. Subsequently, she served as Secretary of the Cayuga County Women's Suffrage Association. Further, as a supporter of state suffrage activities, Mrs. Alleman was elected to the position of Chairman of the School Suffrage Committee, New York State Women's Suffrage Association in 1903. Following New York's passage of a law in 1910 allowing women the right to vote in school elections if they owned property or had children enrolled in school, she led the state-wide efforts to educate women regarding their eligibility to vote and encouraged them to exercise this right.

Newspaper articles confirm her numerous speeches and campaigns on behalf of the state suffrage association. Papers at the Library of Congress confirm her attendance at national conventions held in Washington DC in 1893, Philadelphia in 1912, and Louisville KY. In their seminal tome "The History of Women's Suffrage" by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Matilda Joslin Gage, Zobedia Alleman is mentioned as one of the names occurring most frequently in convention meeting minutes. She served as a delegate together with Stanton, Anthony, Gage, and Harriet May Mills. Mrs. Alleman also worked closely with prominent leader in the suffrage movement, Isabel Howland of nearby Sherwood, NY, spending many hours at Howland's home, Opendore, even serving as matron of the residence in the 1920s. During this period, Opendore served as an important home to community and school groups as well as the WCTU.

The dedication, time and energy which Zobedia Alleman committed to the suffrage movement, most definitely advanced the cause and contributed to the passage of the 19th Amendment.

Sources:

Old Fulton New York Postcards, http://www.fultonhistory.com/Fulton.html

Newspapers digitized in fultonhistory.com

Seneca County Historian Walter Gable

The National Archives, Washington D.C.

New York State Archives

Union Springs NY Advertiser, May 9, 1935

Auburn Citizen, May 22, 1938

Ancestry.com

University of Michigan Catalogue of Graduates and Non-Graduates 1837-1921

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