Why Isn’t This Landmarked?: New York Woman Suffrage League Headquarters at 10 East 14th Street
Part of our blog series Why Isn’t This Landmarked?, where we look at buildings in our area we’re fighting to protect that are worthy of landmark designation but somehow aren’t.
Women have not always had the right to vote in New York State. In fact, the battle to grant suffrage to women took decades, and faced much opposition and many defeats along the way. One of the leading groups which spearheaded the fight for this hard-fought victory was located at 10 East 14th Street. The remarkable cast-iron structure where the fight for women’s suffrage was staged today sits in the middle of a corridor facing extreme development pressures. Nevertheless, despite requests by Village Preservation to landmark this and surrounding buildings as part of a historic district, the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission has failed to do so. Today, we take a closer look at 10 East 14th Street, and ask: why isn’t this landmarked?
No. 10 East 14th Street is located within the 14th Street corridor, which underwent enormous shifts in the 1870s, transitioning from a high-end residential neighborhood to a center of commerce. This change was largely influenced by developer, businessman, and politician W. Jennings Demorest, who altered fourteen private residences in this neighborhood into stores, most of them high-end specialty shops. Along with his wife, Ellen Demorest, W. Jennings Demorest was responsible for building a fashion empire, which included “Madame Demorest’s Fashion Emporium” and the publications Demorest’s Illustrated Monthly Magazine and Demorest’s Mirror of Fashions. Demorest also ran for Mayor of New York City as the Prohibition Party candidate in 1892, and almost earned the party’s nomination for President.
In 1877, a mansion stood at 10 East 14th Street and was leased by its owner Robert S. McCurdy to James McCutcheon. While changes were being made to the building, including a partial demolition and the addition of a one-story brick extension, a tin roof, and a cast-iron front, five floors of the building collapsed on September 14th, 1879. Following the catastrophe, the building we see today was erected. By 1884, Demorest purchased the building, as he had so many along 14th Street, inserted a show window in the parlor floor, and converted the upper stories into offices and studios. In the coming years, 10 East 14th Street not only became a critical part of the neighborhood’s emergence as a commercial center, but also a part of its transformation into a hub of social reform, especially for women’s rights.
In 1894 the headquarters of the New York City Woman Suffrage League moved into 10 East 14th Street. The League had been founded in 1870 under the original name of the New York City Woman Suffrage Society, just a year after the New York State Woman Suffrage Association was founded in 1869 in Saratoga Springs. Lillie Devereux Blake was the leader of both the state and city organization. At the time the League moved to 14th Street, only Wyoming and Colorado had given women the right to vote, and New York State was about to hold a convention to revise its Constitution, as was done every twenty years. The League’s Constitutional Amendment Campaign Committee was formed in December 1893, and held a pre-convention rally on May 7th, 1894 led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton at Cooper Union. Harriot Stanton Blatch, John Milton Cornell (the owner of Cornell Iron Works) and Samuel Gompers (the president of the American Federation of Labor) also spoke. Here it was announced that the headquarters of the League at 10 East 14th Street would be open through the summer to support advocacy efforts, lobby for a place at the Convention, and stake out support for a suffrage amendment.
The New York City Woman Suffrage League chose this location strategically. Right in the middle of the bustling high-end shopping district, this building provided an opportunity for the League to connect with wealthy women who could finance and otherwise support its campaign. During this fight, Governor Hill and Governor Flower supported appointing the women as delegates, and leading suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Mary Seymour Howell were able to address the state legislature with the same request. The organization collected 332,000 names on petitions and obtained over $10,000 in lobbying funds, securing the right to send delegates to the summer convention.
At the convention, however, the delegates narrowly declined to support the suffrage amendment. New York Suffragists would not give up the fight, however. They waged their campaign for another twenty-three years until finally, on November 6th, 1917, women in the state of New York were granted the right to vote.
The Women’s Suffrage League was not the only noteworthy occupant of 10 East 14th Street. As was common throughout the end of the 19th and turn of the 20th century, artists and businesses cohabitated in the neighborhood’s buildings. The presence of Union Square on the north side of 14th Street provided ample, unobstructed light to the buildings lining the south side of the street and the neighborhood’s proximity to Greenwich Village made this area all the more desirable as an artists’ quarter. The renowned American photographer Cranmer C. Langill, known for his photograph of the Blizzard of 1888, housed his studio at 10 East 14th Street at the turn of the century. His wintry shot was captured just a few blocks south on West 11th Street, and remains an iconic image of the event and its devastating impact on the city.
Village Preservation research has uncovered even more exciting and illuminating information about the significance of the area south of Union Square as a site of radical and progressive organizing and women’s rights activism, as well as a key location for the developments in commerce and housing throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. We have submitted a 25-page letter to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission with the research, which calls for the agency to finally act to extend landmark protections to the area (read it here). This followed the submission of our original proposal and report earlier this year. With the increased pressure on the area from the beginning of construction on the 14th Street Tech Hub, the recent demolition of the St. Denis Hotel (80 E. 10th Street; 1855 – to be replaced by this), and the completion of the woefully out-of-scale tech office tower at 808 Broadway, the time is now for the city to act to protect this incredibly historically rich but endangered area.
Urge the city to protect this vital history and neighborhood NOW – click here.