Updated: Dec 1, 2022
Much is written of famous early pioneers of the movement like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Without question, their role in the long-fought movement is significant. But seldom told are the stories of the women who fought quietly on the local level for women’s voting rights in small towns like Longmeadow, Massachusetts. One such woman was Rachel Lawton (1885-1983) who lived at 100 Crescent Road.
Prior to suffrage, women were encouraged to use their domestic influence on whichever father, husband, brother or brother-in-law they lived with as a way of expressing their social and political opinions. Rachel Lawton, an unmarried adult woman who lived with her parents, was active in the Springfield Equal Suffrage League, holding several executive board positions, and she was a leading member of a small group of women who made up the Longmeadow Equal Suffrage League and worked to spread the message of the movement to Longmeadow’s citizens. At her Crescent Road home, Rachel Lawton hosted many informational Suffrage Teas in hopes of sharing the movement’s mission and encouraging women to learn more about politics. Springfield newspapers would sometimes publicize the gatherings in advance, and then share reports that had been submitted to their social events column.
In 1914, Rachel and her mother Ruth were two of three women representing Longmeadow in Boston’s suffrage parade where 9000 women marched wearing broad yellow sashes and white hats with brims pinned up on one side with a yellow rose. In 1916, at the very first Eastern States Exposition, Rachel Lawton helped plan, organize and run the booth for the Springfield Equal Suffrage League. It was the commitment to the cause by private citizens like Rachel Lawton who helped to keep the issue in the public eye decades after the fight for equal suffrage had begun and despite countless state and federal defeats.
After women finally won the right to vote in 1920, Rachel Lawton continued her civic and community engagement. She was employed as a secretary for the Red Cross, became a social worker, and was active with the League of Women Voters. In her later years, Lawton lived at 20 Edgewood Avenue and continued to host discussions that mattered in the realm of politics.
-Contributed by Melissa M. Cybulski, Longmeadow Historical Society Board Member
Originally published August 18, 2022