The small plaque in the south corner of the State Capitol identifies the names of early 20th-century Connecticut women who campaigned for the right to vote. One of those women was Josephine Bennett, a Hartford resident whose dedicated work covered a wide range of progressive causes.
When striking garment workers at a sewing shop on Union Place had been arrested for allegedly punching a cop in 1919, Josephine Bennett was there in court to support them. She brought along her brother, attorney George Day. Using the arrests to focus public attention on the strike, Josephine helped organize and host a massive solidarity meeting at the Liberty Theater. There, she urged support for the striking shirtwaist makers and charged the arrests had been a “set up.”
Champion of Suffrage and American Labor Party Supporter
When a group of suffragists who were touring the country made a stop in the city to raise funds for their efforts, Josephine was again present to speak on their behalf. Despite the fact that the “suffs” were often derided as traitors to their sex and their race (conservatives thought suffrage would hasten the mixing of the races), she played a prominent role in the effort.
Josephine Bennett also helped launch the local chapter of the American Labor Party (ALP) in February of 1919. The ALP held its first state convention within a few weeks and, thanks in part to Josephine’s efforts, approved a sweeping “Statement of Aims” platform. The party resolved to fight for the restoration of free speech (after the recent World War I crackdown), elimination of unemployment, public ownership of utilities, free tuition at colleges and universities, equal rights for all, self-determination for Ireland, and a progressive income tax. “There should be no subject nations, subject races, subject colonies, subject classes, or a subject sex,” the platform declared.
Josephine and her husband M. Toscan Bennett made their home on Forest Street, close by, both physically and politically, to Nook Farm and the former homes of Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Mr. Bennett had a law office on Pearl Street. His politics were apparently influenced by his wife’s since he signed on as one of the original “Men’s Council of One Hundred,” a support group for women’s suffrage.
It was a union organizer from New York who, during one of the public meetings Josephine Bennett had sponsored, provided an admiring assessment of the contribution Josephine made to the working women and men of this city. “Comrades,” the organizer declared, “one of the things you need in Hartford is not so many city fathers but a few more city mothers, and I think you’d better take Mrs. Bennett for one of them.”
Steve Thornton has been a labor union organizer for 35 years and writes on the history of working people.
This article originally appeared on ShoeLeatherHistoryProject.com