Apr 3, 2018
LE ROY — One hundred years ago Delia Phillips marched into the Le Roy Municipal Building and was the first woman to cast a vote in the village. On Monday, the Le Roy Village Hall was packed with people squashed together on the wooden benches, some standing on the edges of the room and others spilling out into the hall, celebrating the determined woman who made local history.
On Monday a historic marker celebrating Phillips and women’s suffrage in New York state was dedicated at the municipal building on 3 W. Main St. Lynne Belluscio, the Le Roy historian, said the plaque required the Historical Society to raise $2,000 — which it did through the sale of T-shirts, pins and donations.
“Funny story about that, actually,” she said in January. “I went to the Village Board to get approval because the marker was going to be put in their front yard,” she said. “They approved it, of course, and I asked for a donation — the 1917 proposal for women suffrage was defeated in Le Roy by 38 votes — to make amends for the village voting it down. They actually agreed, which was nice.”
“Ten million of American citizens are defrauded from their birth right for the crime of being born a woman.”
This statement in a letter published in the Le Roy Gazette in 1885 came 32 years before New York state would grant women’s suffrage — an amendment struck down in Le Roy by 38 votes.
Yet on April 2, Phillips walked into the municipal building in Le Roy and pulled the red handle crank, causing the cloth curtain of the voting machine to swish behind her. The 91-year-old was the first person to cast her vote that day, which had all Republicans on the ballot, and the first woman in Le Roy to do so.
Even though Phillips was the first woman to vote in Le Roy, not much is known about her. It was known she was connected to the Presbyterian church in Le Roy, raised money for a Native American school out west, and involved in foreign missions and the temperance movement in Lima. She ended up dying two years later before women across the nation got their chance to vote.
Phillips wasn’t the only woman to vote that day 100 years ago, however. Out of the 138 ballots cast, 58 were by women — the majority of which worked with the Red Cross, which was located upstairs in the municipal building.
“We are here today not just to remember one woman who waited her lifetime to vote, but all the women who voted in New York in 1918. We are here today for all the women who never had the opportunity to vote. We are here today to remember ourselves our need to exercise our right to vote,” Belluscio said.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said today the celebration of Phillips was a reminder the right to vote and select your leaders — the core of democracy — shouldn’t be forgotten. She said it pained her to know New York is far behind in the number of people who take advantage of this right, ranking only number 37 in the nation for participation.
“What will they say of the people of 2017 and 2018? I know what I want them to say. I want them to say this is the time when we experienced a seismetic societal shift in how women are finally viewed in the workplace. That voting didn’t mean full equality. That no longer we will have a #MeToo movement because it no longer will be necessary because women will finally be treated as equals in the workplace, not objects. They’ll finally be paid the same as men for doing the same work as men,” Hochul said to rounds of ‘yes’ and applause.
Shelly Stein — the first woman to be elected Le Roy supervisor and represent Le Roy on the Genesee County Legislature — said women represent the majority of voters today. She called for people to respond to the opportunity they have been presented and the next generation will take it a lot further than the previous ones.
Assemblyman Steve Hawley gave out a proclamation from the State Assembly, and the Village of Le Roy gave a ceremonial woman’s suffrage wreath to Lima to put on Phillips grave. A representative from the New York State League of Women Voters and the Rochester Raging Grannies sang the congregation out.