Suffragist of the Month – May, 2018

Jennie Bradley Roessing, 1881 – 1963

Jennie Bradley was born May 11, 1881 to a modest family in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Little is known of her early life; she married and later divorced Frank M. Roessing, a civil engineer.

In 1904 she began working for the woman suffrage movement, organized the Allegheny County Equal Rights Association, and in 1912 was elected president of the Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association (PWSA). She traveled the state extensively, giving lectures, distributing literature, attending political events, and raising much-needed funds to support the cause. To counter the fear that the American campaign would follow the British practice of inciting violence and political unrest, Roessing stressed that the PWSA would be organized strictly under non-partisan, educational lines “in keeping with the dignity of the movement and the women engaged in it.”

As in other states, suffrage in Pennsylvania could only be achieved by an amendment to the state’s constitution, and had to be successful in two successive sessions of the legislature. Success in 1913 prompted mobilization for the second attempt in 1915, and to that end the Pennsylvania suffragists devised a unique publicity program.

An exact replica of the Philadelphia Liberty Bell was created out of bronze. Roessing and other suffrage leaders loaded the bell on the back of the “Liberty Truck” and conducted an exhaustive four-month tour of all 67 counties of the state, carrying the replica to meetings, fund raisers, and lectures, the journey timed so the bell would arrive back in Philadelphia in November, in time for the election and, hopefully, victory. However the replica bell would have one difference from the real Liberty Bell. Its clapper would be silenced, and not rung until victory was achieved.

Sadly, the bell remained silent for another five years. The 1915 referendum failed; Pennsylvania women would have to wait for equality until 1920 and the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Undeterred, Jennie Bradley Roessing continued the battle. She served as chairwoman for the National American Woman Suffrage Association under Carrie Chapman Catt, and rejoiced when woman suffrage finally became the law of the land. She explained her feelings eloquently: “The same passionate desire that stirred in men’s hearts a century ago is throbbing in our breasts today and for the same reasons. We too would be free to develop the finest race under the best conditions for the greatest good of all.” She died on May 15, 1963.

Happy Birthday, Jennie Bradley Roessing

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