Gabrielle Greeley Clendenin (1857-1937) & Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947)
2017 marked the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New York State. The New Castle Historical Society celebrated this centennial with an exploration of the women’s suffrage movement and the life of Carrie Chapman Catt, a leading suffragist and former New Castle resident. Visit the Horace Greeley House to view this special exhibition with displays of photographs and artifacts until May 26, 2018.
In honor of Women’s History Month, The Inside Press focuses on the contributions of these two historic Chappaqua women residents.
In her book What Happened, Hillary Rodham Clinton reflects on “the roles that gender, race an class play in our politics and the importance of empathy in our national life.” This commitment to equality and moral dignity connects her to two other famous women in our town whose civic actions years ago required fortitude, then as now. Like Secretary Clinton, Gabrielle Greeley Clendenin and Carrie Chapman Catt each shared a hope for future generations and harnessed her creative and emotional power in different ways to make tangible differences during her lifetime.
Gabrielle Greeley Clendenin: A Generous Citizen
When Horace Greeley and his wife Mary both died in 1872, their youngest child, Gabrielle, was only 15. In 1882, her sister Ida died suddenly from diphtheria and Gabrielle became the sole owner of all 78 acres of the Greeley farm in the center of Chappaqua. Gabrielle lived as an independent, educated woman who chose to live in Chappaqua from 1881 until her death. She resided first in the Side Hill House which burned down in 1890 and then moved to a small house where the New Castle Town Hall is now. After she married Rev. Dr. Frank Clendenin, the rector of St. Peter’s Westchester (now in the Bronx) in 1891, they remodeled the concrete barn that Horace Greeley had proudly built 35 years earlier and gave their permanent home a biblical name, Rehoboth. Located on Aldridge Road, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
Gabrielle could have had a socialite’s cosmopolitan lifestyle in New York City or capitalized on the celebrity legacy of being the attractive daughter of Horace Greeley, the influential New York Tribune founding editor/statesman/presidential candidate. Instead, Gabrielle was a charitable and generous neighbor, particularly to young women “in trouble” who were shunned by others, and personally aided her fellow citizens. She gave open house barn parties featuring traditional games and dances, held outdoor Sunday afternoon readings and book sharings under her father’s beloved evergreen grove and volunteered at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Pleasantville.
“Unlike her father, Gabrielle appears to have never involved herself in politics,” says Gray Williams, the town historian of New Castle. Gabrielle’s civic actions were aligned with her strong moral values and she concentrated her efforts to benefit the community where she lived. Starting in 1883, she donated part of her land for a right-of-way to connect Pleasantville and downtown Chappaqua along what is now South Greeley Avenue. In 1902, she provided the site for the current railroad station and its adjacent town park (Woodburn Avenue is named for her paternal grandmother). She supplied the four-acre property for the Church of St. Mary the Virgin to be the first Episcopal Church in Chappaqua after the 1903 tragic death of her 5-year-old daughter, Muriel, from tubercular meningitis. A Celtic cross commemorates both Gabrielle and her husband in the family’s burial plot at the back of the Church, just north of the grove of majestic evergreen trees that her father planted a half-century earlier.
Creating A Strong Educational System
Gabrielle’s commitment to local affairs influenced New Castle’s transformation from a farm town to a suburban commuter hamlet with a prized school district where students are encouraged to think critically and actively engage in the community. Most significantly, in 1926, Gabrielle either donated or sold on easy terms 10 acres of land which fundamentally changed the “common school” system of small one and two room buildings that only offered up to 8th grade instruction into a comprehensive school for elementary to high school instruction. Completed in 1928, the Horace Greeley School was a visual centerpiece of the town, built in native fieldstone like the Church of St. Mary the Virgin next door.
Carrie Chapman Catt: A Leading Women’s Suffragist
Carrie Chapman Catt came to New Castle seeking a less hectic lifestyle as President of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA) following its greatest success, the passage of the 19th amendment by Congress. Having relentless determination and perseverance with the women’s suffrage movement since 1887 in Iowa, Catt was a leading activist, a dynamic organizer, fundraiser and a brilliant strategist. Catt founded the League of Women Voters in 1919, to provide women with the tools and knowledge for meaningfully exercising their right to vote. Believing that the political process should be rational and issue-oriented and dominated by citizens, not politicians, the League of Women Voters remains true to her ideals and promotes issues of public interest over partisan politics.
In 1919, Catt purchased Juniper Ledge, a 16-acre estate between North State and Ryder Roads in the west end of New Castle and was able to pursue her great love of gardening. An article in the New York Times on June 21, 1921 described a tradition Catt had established at Juniper Ledge of dedicating certain trees to famous suffragists. One tree, for example, was dedicated to Esther Morris, a leader in the passage of the Wyoming suffrage amendment. Another was dedicated to Maud Wood Park, who was instrumental in securing the passage of the 19th Amendment and the first president of the League of Women Voters. Juniper Ledge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was designated a town landmark in 2011.
While 2017 did not bring the inauguration of a first female U.S. President, lessons from 1915, when a proposed suffrage amendment to the NYS constitution was defeated, remind us that the struggle for equal rights up through the present day requires active participation of countless individuals at local, state and national levels. When women gained the right to vote in New York State in 1917, Catt said, “I regard the New York victory as the very greatest victory this movement has ever had in any country.” Catt’s successful “Winning Plan” of a state-by-state approach used New York’s win to propel the federal amendment forward.
“It’s a great connection for New Castle that such an important figure in the suffrage movement lived here. As the leader of NAWSA, Catt was instrumental in putting political pressure on President Wilson to support the 19th Amendment and then mobilizing support for ratification in three-fourths of the states. She is part of a long tradition of women’s rights leaders from New York from Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Betty Freidan and Gloria Steinem,” says Mary Devane, Horace Greeley HS Social Studies Department Chair.
Pursuing Justice and World Peace
Though she enjoyed her country retreat, Catt remained politically active and pursued her twin interests of women’s rights and world peace. In 1927, to be closer to the regional headquarters of the League of Women Voters in New Rochelle, Catt left New Castle and moved to a home on Paine Avenue in New Rochelle where she continued to garden enthusiastically. In her last years, she founded the National Committee on the Cause and Cure of War, actively supported the League of Nations and championed the newly formed United Nations.
Knowing how our lives connect to Gabrielle’s civic actions and Catt’s activism can help us, as current residents, to cultivate a new generation of informed citizens in Chappaqua who combine passions with actions against prejudice and inequality. As these notable women recognized the societal issues in their contemporary culture, today we can speak up, stand firm and act generously each in our own way. Their legacy in civics gives us templates for how to build a better world and elevate the status of women.