Friday, April 20, 2012

The Justice Bell Tour

     On August 18, 1920 the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, granting women the right to vote. The amendment stated “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”  On June 24, 1919 Pennsylvania congress voted to ratify the amendment becoming the 8th state to do so.
     Four years earlier Amendment #1, a women's suffrage referendum, was presented on the November 1915 ballot for approval from the men of Pennsylvania. By this time thirty states of the US had already voted for at least partial rights for women’s suffrage. The Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association kicked off a statewide campaign to convince the male voters to vote for the amendment. The “Justice Bell”, an exact bronze replica of the liberty bell was cast with the words "Establish Justice" in the inscription. The 2000-pound bell required a special truck to transport it. At a cost of $2,000., the bell was a gift from Katherine Wentworth Ruschenberger of Strafford, PA. The clapper was muted by chains with the idea that the bell would not ring until women were granted the right to vote.
     The bell began its 5,000-mile tour of the state of Pennsylvania in Bradford County in May of 1915 then continued on through the rest of the 66 counties. It zigzagged through the state ending in Philadelphia in time for the November election. The bell was escorted by a group of speakers and campaign props. Popular items in demand by local suffragettes were “votes for women” fans, buttons, paper napkins, pennants, note-paper, drinking cups, lanterns, flowers, lead pencils, candy, and children's toys. Yellow was the color adopted by the Association and could be seen displayed prominently at the rallies. The bell arrived in Bethlehem on August 29, 1915.
     In addition to the Justice Bell tour the Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association organized open-air speeches from automobiles and county fair booths as well as booking halls for their speakers. Bethlehem turned out in record numbers to hear Dr. Anna Shaw speak at the Broad Theater on October 3, 1915.  Dr. Shaw was the first woman ordained by the Methodist Protestant Church. As a minister, she would not perform a marriage ceremony in which the word "obey" would be used. Dr. Shaw noted that none of the marriage ceremonies she officiated ended in divorce. She was national superintendent of franchise of the Women's Christian Temperance Union and president of the National Woman's Suffrage Association. Of her speech in Bethlehem, she was quoted in the October 4, 1915 edition of the Globe Times as stating, “Being human beings women have the qualities that belong to humanity and having them, should have the right of exercising them.”  She went on to say, “A republic is a form of government conducted by representatives of the people. You never read a definition of a republic which granted the right of one half of the people to vote and elect representatives to govern the other half.” Those who attended roundly applauded Dr. Shaw’s speech.

Celebrating ratification of the women's suffrage amendment, Alice Paul, seated second from left, sews the 36th star on a banner, in August of 1920.  The banner flew in front of headquarters of the Women's Party in Washington of which Miss Paul was national chairperson.  The 36th star represented Tennessee, whose ratification completed the number of states needed to put the amendment in the Constitution.  (AP Photo)
     A local suffrage leader, who attended Dr. Shaw’s speech, was Ruth Frick, the great granddaughter of Asa Packer, great-granddaughter of Robert H. Sayre and daughter of Robert P. Linderman. She was the Lehigh County chairman of the Woman Suffrage Party. Frick offered her car for open-air speeches by several visiting women’s suffrage dignitaries. Frick and others went on to form the Allentown Women’s Club.
     On November 2, 1915 Amendment #1 was soundly defeated in Pennsylvania. The 50,000 votes against the referendum were significantly represented in Berks, Lebanon and Lehigh counties. It was widely known that a majority of Pennsylvania German men were against the amendment because various temperance organizations supported the amendment.
     The women’s suffrage campaign turned its focus on a constitutional amendment with support from President Wilson. The House of Representatives and the Senate passed the amendment. When Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment on August 18, 1920, the amendment passed its final hurdle of obtaining the agreement of three-fourths of the states and became law.


  1. I am conducting research on the Justice Bell for a public program at Independence National Historical Park (home of the Liberty Bell). The year 2015 will mark the centennial anniversary of the Justice Bell. I hope to build interest for wider recognition and celebration.

  2. I know this is an old post, but where did you obtain this info? You haven't cited anything and I am curious where you learned this historical info as I am doing a graduate level paper on women's suffrage in the Lehigh Valley. Any help you can give me would be appreciated. Thanks!