History: Suffragette Movement Remembered, Honored at Marble House

Marble House terrace reprises its role

as a public stage

The Preservation Society of Newport needed to bring in extra chairs to accommodate the unanticipated rush of people who showed up at Marble House’s back terrace on August 26th to celebrate 90 years of women officially having the right to vote in the United States. The promise of exceptional speakers inspired many women - and also many men - to brave the midday sun in recognition of this important date.

One of Newport’s arguably most charming attributes is the way in which the town’s historical past blends so beautifully and effortlessly with its present, mainly through architecture and thanks through the work of The Preservation Society and other like-minded organizations. Marble House was chosen for this event because it played a part in the early 20th century movement. Alva Vanderbilt Belmont, Marble House resident at the time and proud suffragette, used her Newport summer “cottage” as a public stage for the cause.

An eager crowd featuring many Rhode Island


As the mansion reprised its role once more, a great number of RI’s most prominent female politicians and luminaries made their way to the onstage podium or were seated in the crowd, including Rhode Island Senate President Theresa Paiva-Weed and Newport Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano.

Preservation Society Executive Director Trudy Coxe started the event by welcoming attendees and thanking honored guests and speakers. First to speak was Joanne Devoe, President of the League of Women Voters of RI. Devoe shared some information about the National League of Women Voters and also a common league saying: “Democracy is not a spectator sport,” asking who could understand that better than women, who had spectated for so long? She wore a purple, white and gold sash, as did her fellow league members who were present that day.


Friend, Speaker June Gibbs,Senator

Teresa Paiva-Weed

Next up was June Gibbs, league member and RI State Senator for 24 years; she shared a suffragist poem written by Susan B. Anthony. She reminded the crowd that not only did women win the right to vote in 1920 - they also won the right to govern. She asked, “How well have we done in taking advantage of this amazing opportunity?” and challenged the women in her audience by asking, “why not? Why don’t you run?” She received a standing ovation at the end of her talk.

Following June was Lieutenant Colonel Jayme Sutton, an Army logistician and 2000 graduate of Newport’s Naval War College. She presented a description of how women suffragists picketed the White House gates in Washington for 10 months and then were imprisoned and finally released in 1917. Her vivid account of the conditions of the prisons and of the women’s determination and staunch adherence to the cause (which included hunger strikes, only to end in force feeding) really brought the historical data to life. She said she was honored to be serving our country “shoulder to shoulder” and left the audience with a saying: “I’m about things that are possible, so when someone says ‘impossible,’ I just break it apart into ‘I’m possible.’”

Lt. Col. Jayme Sutton talks to

fellow speaker Lt. Col. Jayme Sutton

After Col. Sutton, the youngest speaker of the morning took the stage: Amber Rose Johnson, a student at Classical High School who won 2010’s Poetry Out Loud National Championship, a poetry recitation contest which, this year, included almost 325,000 students competing across the United States. Amber recited the same poem with which she’d won the contest: Margaret Walker’s “For My People.” The strength, passion, and eloquent, rolling intonation she employed to deliver the piece made it obvious why she had taken home the grand prize. She too received a standing ovation from a visibly moved and enthusiastic crowd.


Historically-themed memorabilia

The day’s final speaker was Lisa Starr, RI’s own Poet Laureate. She had been a bit late stuck in traffic coming over from Block Island, but made it in plenty time to address the crowd. Starr advocated using language to reach compromises between disparate groups, saying, “We’re all willing to change if there’s a dialogue,” and then posed the question, “Who in your life doesn’t have a voice?” She mentioned Julia Ward Howe, another famous suffragist and major RI historical figure, and then, along with friend Jim McGrath, led the crowd in both a spoken and sung recitation of Howe’s classic “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Following the presentation, guests were invited to take home pamphlets and stickers from The League of Women Voters or to purchase books and other themed memorabilia. Kudos to the ladies who fought so hard and long for the vote for women!


                                                                       --Amanda M. Grosvenor


League of Women Voters  information table

Trudy Coxe welcoming participants

Joanne Devoe speaking

June Gibbs addressing the crowd

Lt. Col. Jayme Sutton

Amber Rose Johnson

Rhode Island Poet Laureate Lisa Starr

"Battle Hymn of the Republic" is sung

More "right to vote" memorabilia

Amber Rose Johnson is congratulated

Speakers, important attendees, 

& Pres. Society leaders pose for Newport Seen












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