On Wednesday, May 24, Dunkirk will gain a permanent place on the map of the American women’s suffrage movement when a historical marker honoring Elnora Monroe Babcock is dedicated at 627 Washington Ave.
A native of northwestern Pennsylvania who moved to Dunkirk around 1880, Babcock was president of the Chautauqua County Political Equality Club during the early 1890s, when the campaign for women’s right to vote was entering its final decades. Under her leadership, this organization grew to become the largest county suffrage club in the United States.
But her greatest influence may have been through her pen. A gifted writer, Babcock agreed in 1894 to coordinate “press work” for the New York State Suffrage Association. Her talents soon caught the eye of the movement’s national leadership. In 1899, Susan B. Anthony induced her to serve in the same role for the National American Woman Suffrage Association.
For the next few years, Babcock’s Dunkirk home effectively became the press office for the American women’s suffrage movement. As “Superintendent of Press Work” Elnora wrote and oversaw the distribution of thousands of articles in support of women’s enfranchisement to newspapers around the country. By the end of the century, she was furnishing “150 papers with articles regularly, some every week, others once in two or three weeks.” A committee of volunteers also helped her maintain a clippings bureau to document the movement’s progress and collect articles for her research. A 1902 biographical sketch of her noted: “There is scarcely a newspaper in the United States that does not receive suffrage matter either directly or indirectly through the National Suffrage Press Bureau in Dunkirk.”
Over a century later, the historical marker not only honors Babcock’s efforts; it also aims to further her legacy by promoting the cause of women’s history.
The marker is one of about 250 markers being installed around the country as part of the National Votes for Women Trail (NVWT) commemorating the history of women’s suffrage. The nationwide project began in 2020, during the 100th anniversary celebration of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. Leaders of the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites teamed up with the William G. Pomeroy Foundation to launch a two-tiered initiative. With the support of the federal Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission, the Pomeroy Foundation provided funding for the physical markers. Researchers around the country, meanwhile, began creating the project’s second, virtual component, which encompasses many more sites.
“There is also a digital database and map of literally hundreds of women’s history landmarks around the country now,” noted Traci Langworthy, Professor of History at Jamestown Community College. Langworthy nominated Babcock’s home for the marker in addition to submitting several other local sites to the online database. “This is such a wonderful project and so long overdue,” she said. “And it’s all the more exciting for us here in Western New York, given the prominence of our area in the women’s rights movement.”
The Babcock marker has special meaning for residents of Dunkirk. Before she rose within the movement’s ranks, Elnora began her suffrage work by spearheading the formation of the Dunkirk Political Equality Club in 1889. She remained active in the movement through the successful passage of women’s suffrage in New York State in 1917 and eventually the national amendment in 1920. She was a resident of Dunkirk for the duration until her death in 1934.
The city of Dunkirk will be represented at the dedication ceremony by Mayor Wilfred Rosas and members of City Council. Historical commentary will be provided by Langworthy as well as City Historian Diane Andrasik. The ceremony will begin at 4 p.m. adjacent to the historical marker.
Andrasik stated, “The City of Dunkirk was home to many crucially important citizens, but Elnora Babcock’s contribution to our democracy on behalf of women has no equal.”
After the dedication, attendants are invited to make a short trip down Washington Avenue to the Dunkirk Historical Museum, where an original manuscript of one of Babcock’s handwritten speeches will be on display, along with other documents and photographs. Light refreshments will also be provided. Brief remarks will be made by the society’s president, Greg Catalano, and Andrasik will present brief information on the displays.
Those attending the reception at the museum should RSVP by calling (716) 366-3797 and leaving a message or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.