But if Mayor Mitchel had no objection to her getting involved, Katharine told Catt, she was willing to help in whatever way she could.
For her, it would be returning to the cause.
In the late 1870s and early 1880s, when Davis was a young teacher in Dunkirk, N.Y., she had led a women's literary club, organized a women's political equality group, and even became the first woman in the town to ride a bicycle with a divided skirt.
Mrs. Catt wasn't the only one to see in the Davis appointment the potential for other changes in NYC gender history. On Feb. 21, 1914, less than two months into KBD's tenure at DOC, the Association of City Hall Reporters, a precursor to today's Inner Circle, tipped its collective hat -- albeit with a collective tongue in cheek -- in the direction of the woman commissioner.
One such "wire" supposedly came from a British suffragist leader Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst and her grown suffragist daughters, Sylvia and Christabel. According to the New York Times story the next day, it read:
Greetings to the Association of City Hall Reporters.
But, remember, greetings to you for the last time as feudal lords. No more stag parties.
Have all the fun you can tonight, for thereafter women reporters will be present to let the other half know what is going on behind closed doors. Your guests may consider they are tonight enjoying an exclusive privilege of a passing age.
Regards to Kate Davis.
Part of the humorous irony attached to last line of the mock telegram from the Pankhursts, sending "Regards to Kate Davis," arose from the strong possibility that, if the Pankhursts had been campaigning for suffrage in New York City at the time, one or more of them or their followers could very well have landed behind bars in one of Kate Davis' jails.
Not infrequently a Pankhurst or Pankhurst follower landed behind British jail bars because of the extremely militant, physically aggressive and property-destructive tactics they used to gain attention for their cause.
Interestingly, both the British suffragist Christabel Pankhurst and Commissioner Davis would attend the same rally in Carnegie Hall later that year (1914) to raise funds for the campaign to win November 1915 passage of a state constitutional amendment enfranchising NY women.
The Women's Suffrage Organization of the 35th Assembly District holding a reception in honor of Mrs. Mitchel at the Fordham Club March 10, 1914, and Commissioner Davis being listed as a prominent invited guest may have had absolutely nothing to do with gaining and maintaining Mayor Mitchel's acquiescence to Commissioner Davis' suffrage activities. But, as the saying goes, "it couldn't hurt."
The high regard in which Commissioner Davis was held by suffragists was almost painfully evident May 2, 1914, at a Suffrage Day standing-room-only Carnegie Hall rally that overflowed into 57th St. where other suffragist speakers addressed the open-air crowd. The meeting culminated an all-day series of suffrage events throughout the city.
The New York Times the next day reported:
". . . what [Mitchel] said in a five-minute speech moved [the meeting "chairman"] Mrs. [Stanton] Blatch to say later, that with the exception of his wonderful tribute to Commissioner Davis, he had expressed not one modern thought, and his speech sounded as though it had been written 100 years ago. Then she called on Miss Josephine Casey, a labor leader, to reply to the Mayor . . . .
. . . To Commissioner Davis the audience gave the compliment of rising as she was introduced . . . ."
Constitutional Delegate candidacies
A key meeting in the series of events leading to Commissioner Katharine Bement Davis' historic candidacy seems to have been a conference July 15, 1914, between Teddy Roosevelt and the Progressive Party's top women in New York State.
The New York Times the next day reported that for the first time in NY, a major political party's leader conferred with women of his party. He was the special guest of two dozen women workers at a conference luncheon in the Colony Club.
No definite action was taken at the meeting, and after speeches by Col. Roosevelt and Dr. Davis, the discussion was conducted in informal conversation . . . .
Representatives of the press were not admitted. Col. Roosevelt's speech was given out after it had been carefully edited and approved by him. Dr. Davis' speech also was handed out after its author had made it suitable for publication.
Miss Rhodes was quoted to the effect that mentioned in the discussions were the woman suffrage question and women participating in the Constitutional Convention. She said the names of several women had been suggested as possible delegate candidates.
The "colonel" was quoted as saying he favored the Progressive Party nominating a "certain proportion of women" for the Constitution Convention.
Miss Davis said she was a Progressive because she had always occupied middle ground. She said she was not radical enough for her radical friends or conservative enough for the conservative ones. . .
"We must take men and women from both parties to make a party that will represent the middle ground . . . . "
On Aug. 27, 1914, in Utica, N.Y., the Progressive Party state convention, before selecting its nominees for governor, U.S. Senator, etc. designated its candidates for constitutional delegates-at-large (this is, statewide delegates as distinguished from local district delegates).
The New York Times the next day reported:
When the name of Dr. Katharine B. Davis, New York City's Commissioner of Correction, was read from the list there was a strong outburst of applause led by the several women who are members of the State Committee.
The name of James C. Thomas Jr., who if elected will be the first Negro delegate at large to sit in a Constitutional Convention in this State was also greeted with approval.
There are to be elected 15 Delegates at Large [statewide] and three delegates from each senatorial district. In the three principal parties, Democratic, Republican and Progressive, there are 45 candidates for Delegates at Large and 179 for District Delegates from New York City.
The thumbnail sketch on KBD read:
Miss Katharine B. Davis, New York City -- Sociologist; formerly Supt. Bedford Reformatory, where she gained nationwide recognition as an authority on reformatory methods; Commissioner of Correction New York City '14 under Mitchel Administration.
The thumbnail sketch on Thomas Jr. read:
James C. Thomas Jr., New York City -- Lawyer, active in Afro-American educational and social work.
Dear Miss Wald:
. . . . Miss Davis, through her long experience in social and educational work, is peculiarly well qualified to assist in the solution of these important problems. . . . .
Very truly yours,
The statement adds that too much stress cannot be placed upon the importance which attaches to the election of delegates-at-large, as they will take an especially prominent part in the deliberations and exercise an influence over the action of the convention out of all proportion to their number.
The Citizen Union listed Dr. Katharine B. Davis among the 15 Democratic, Republican and Progressive candidates on its "model ticket."
She was one of five Progressives picked by CU that divided the rest of its ticket with a line-up of seven Republicans and three Democrats.
On Saturday morning, Oct. 31, 1914, leading female members of New York's three major parties addressed a rally for KBD. The Times headline for its next day report on the gathering read:
Representatives of three political parties came together yesterday morning at a meeting of the League for Political Education in the Hudson Theatre, held to advance the candidacy of Commissioner of Correction Dr. Katharine B. Davis who seeks election on the Progressive ticket for the Constitutional Convention.
Mrs. S. B. Ayres, representing the Democratic Party; Mrs. Helen Varick Boswell, the Republican, and Miss Alice Carpenter, the Progressives, all supported Dr. Davis . . . .
As a follow-up to the thumbnail sketches of the constitutional convention delegate candidates that it published Sunday, Oct. 25, the Times on Nov. 3, printed side-by-side in three columns -- Democratic, Republican, and Progressive -- the names of the delegate-at-large "nominees of the three principal parties."
Evidencing the slower pace of election results in the early 20th Century, the Times was not able to publish even the unofficial tallies of the constitutional convention delegate-at-large contest until Dec. 6, 1914.
Of course, Davis did not win and hadn't expected to win. Winning wasn't the point; just running was. The aim was to call attention to the fact she could run but not vote; no woman in New York could.
She came in ahead of 10 of the 14 male delegate-at-large candidates on the slate.
The entire delegate-at-large section of the Progressive ticket ran better than its top nominee, gubernatorial candidate Frederick Davenport. He received only 45,686 votes whereas highest vote-getter among the party's delegate-at-large candidates, Oscar S. Straus, garnered 123,956.
Library of Congress photo shows the Prohibition Party's top vote getter among its constitutional convention delegate-at-large candidates, Ida Craft, wearing a bag labeled "Votes for Women pilgrim leaflets" and carrying a banner for a Woman Suffrage Party meeting at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. She helped lead a very small suffragist "army of the Hudson" that hiked from NY to D.C. in the 1912-1913 winter to spotlight their cause. Click image to access full photo.
The top delegate vote-getters among the two minor parties -- the Socialists and the Prohibitionists -- fielding full delegate-at-large slates received significantly fewer votes than the lowest vote-getter among the Progressive delegate-at-large candidates, Vasco P. Abbott, who drew 66,753 votes.
The top Socialist delegate-at-large candidate, Charles Edward Russell, received only 55,500 votes. That minor party had one female delegate-at-large candidate, Bertha M. Mailly, who received 52,885 votes.
The top Prohibition Party delegate-at-large candidate, Ida Craft, received only 25,607. Interestingly, Davis' vote tally exceeded by about 10,000 the combined vote totals of the three female delegate-at-large candidates on that minor party's ticket (Craft, Louise Lockwood, Frances H. Graham).
Each Republican delegate-at-large candidates' individual vote totals exceeded 600,000 and each of their Democratic rivals' individual totals came in under 600,000 but more than 500,000.
Almost up to the proverbial 11th hour, several key NY Progressive Party leaders had hoped Col. Roosevelt could be persuaded to again head their ticket. The outcome might have been far different if he had, not only in the gubernatorial race but also for the party's delegates-at-large candidates.
The decline of the Bull-Moose party in that and subsequent elections illustrated the difficulty of building a political party so closely identified with one person, even if that person be someone so larger than life as was TR.
In a lengthy interview published by the New York Times Oct. 25, 1914, NYC Correction Commissioner Katharine Bement Davis explained how the suffragists organized to get onto various party ballots:
"When it was thought desirable for women to have a share in the making of the new Constitution, we first found out that there was no legal bar, and then a committee of about 2OO was formed who met in New York to discuss the best way of obtaining representation.
"It was decided to choose the names of about a dozen women and to ask the State Committees of the various political parties to endorse as many of these women for delegates to the Constitutional Convention as they were willing to put upon their tickets."
Above is a sepia facsimile based on a grayscale NYS Archives photo that provides a 1900 view of a woman being sentenced to the Western House of Refuge for Women also known as the Albion women's reformatory.
Below is a sepia facsimile based on a grayscale NYS Archives photo that provides a 1915 view of infants of inmates at Albion.
Possibly Mrs. Bliss and Commissioner Davis knew each from the latter's more than a dozen years running the Bedford Hills women's reformatory. They would have met at various conferences and conventions involving operation and reform of incarceration institutions for women.
Davis said the committee of 200 was non-partisan and included among its members Mrs. Charles S. Whitman, wife of the Republican candidate for Governor: Mrs. J. Borden Harriman, who was Chairman of the Women’s Committee in the Wilson campaign; Grace C. Strachan, active for women teachers getting equal pay; Mrs. Gifford Pinchot, wife of a Democratic Congressman; and Florence Guernsey, Women’s Clubs of New York Federation president.
Along with Davis as its candidate for delegate at large, the Progressive Party had nominated as district delegate candidates Frances Kellor in the 17th District, Mrs. C. H. Bliss in Buffalo, Mrs. Bella L. Israels in Westchester County, and Gertrude Tone in Niagara Falls.
Frances W. Graham of Lockport and Ida Craft of Brooklyn were seeking election as delegates on the Prohibition ticket, and Bertha M. Mai1ly was a candidate on the Socialist ticket.
Miss Davis was quoted as saying she was interested in all of their candidacies, adding she was sure that if elected their work would be non- partisan.
In this respect she thought they would be different from men, according to the Times.
Commissioner Davis' Celebrity Preceded Ballot Placement . . . . Commissioner Davis' Grandma an Abolitionist & Feminist . . . . Rhoda Bement Upset Over Abolition Meeting Non-announcement . . . . Elders' Charges Against KBD's Grandma Bement . . . . Abolition, Prohibition, Feminism Connection . . . KBD's Mom, Grandma at 1st Women's Rights Convention.
KBD Agrees to Campaign for Suffrage If OK With Mayor . . . . City Hall Reporters Foresee Change Coming With KBD. . . . . . KBD Begins Suffrage Campaign: Pageant, Ball, Rally, Speeches . . . . KBD on TR Party State Ticket . . . . Mayor Mitchel Not Only OKs, But Endorses KBD Candidacy . . . .Support for KBD Candidacy Crosses Party Lines . . . . A Sister Reformatory Superintendent a District Delegate Candidate . . . .
Women Delegate Candidates Lost But Cause Gained Ground . . . . Woman Suffrage Telephone Day at DOC . . . . Planning Ahead to Use the Vote to Promote Good Government . . . . KBD Hosts Suffragist Tea in Municipal Building . . . . KBD & 'Her Civil Service Girls' in Suffrage Parade . . . . In Face of Defeat, Fighting Spirits Rose High. . . . .
Hughes Backs U.S. Suffrage Amendment, KBD Backs Hughes . . . . KBD a Leader on Hughes Women's Campaign Train . . . . 8 of 9 NY speakers on Hughes train not 'rich society matrons' . . . . Besides KBD: Mrs. Henry Moskowitz, Rebekah Bettelhelm Kohut, Mrs. Mary Antin, Mrs. Rheta Childe Dorr, Frances Alice Kellor, Mrs. Alice Snitjer Burke, Annie Smith Peck . . . . TR Welcomes Back KBD, Other 'Hughesettes' . . . .
'Women Owe No One Party for the Vote' . . . . NY State Voting Rights Win Sped 19th Amendment . . . . DOCer/Assemblywoman Helps Ratify U.S. Suffrage Amendment . . . . Mrs. Lilly: Wife, Mother, Widow, School Teacher & Administrator, Lawyer, Club Woman, Editor, Legislator, Penologist . . . . Mrs. Lilly's Interaction With Anna Moskowitz Kross . . . . Her 1 Year as Assemblywoman Seen by Supporters as Effective . . . . Appointed to DOC on Memorable Day in NY Suffrage History . . . . Lilly Re-election Bid Hit on Election Eve . . . . Mrs. Lilly's Interaction With Katharine Bement Davis . . . . What Would Davis & Lilly Have Thought of the Collective Fact of Ferraro, Clinton, & Palin Candidacies?