Women's Activism NYC

Narcissa Cox Vanderlip

1880 - 1966

By: Teri Graham | Date Added:

Narcissa Cox was born on Feb. 9, 1880, in Quincy, Illinois, the daughter of activist parents who valued education and political involvement. With her enormous leadership skills and elegance, and the support of her accomplished, wealthy husband, she left her mark on national, New York State and local politics. Narcissa was the youngest of six children of Charles Epperson Cox, an Illinois manufacturer and political activist, and Narcissa Woods Cox, a former teacher. She excelled academically and attended the University of Chicago. There, she was elected manager of the girls basketball team, wrote frequently for the school newspaper, and did volunteer work in the community. She dropped out of college to marry, just weeks before graduation, although 30 years later, she returned to get her degree. Her passion and influence went far beyond the women's suffrage movement to include health care for the poor, workers' rights, immigrants' rights, education and much more. She was the first chairman of the New York State League of Women Voters, and her friends included Eleanor Roosevelt, whom she recruited to the LWV's board of directors. Her portrait as a philanthropist was installed at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. in 1981. In 1903, she met Frank A. Vanderlip, a self-made man, former newspaper reporter, 16 years her senior and a vice president of the National City Bank of New York (now Citibank). They were married just a few months later. After an extensive honeymoon in Europe, they settled in New York City, where the first two of their six children were born. In 1906, the family moved to a 75-acre estate known as Beechwood, located on the Hudson River in the Scarborough section of Briarcliff Manor, NY. Her efforts to get women the right to vote intensified, first centering on her home state. By 1917, she and Frank were among the largest financial contributors to the New York State Woman's Suffrage Party. On Nov. 6, 1917, voters in New York State approved a referendum to allow women to vote, three years before the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution gave women this right nationwide. She was appointed by the Secretary of the Treasury to a post to encourage women to buy war bonds. She consulted with Herbert Hoover on food conservation and supported other social causes to help the war effort, military families, and others in need. In 1919, the couple toured war-torn Europe to learn about the plight of refugees. In England, she addressed the Women's Committee of the National War Savings Committee. In 1919, the National American Woman Suffrage Association launched plans for each state to create a League of Women Voters. The idea was to educate women about the issues of the times, not to affiliate with a party. In November 1919 in Utica, N.Y., at the first convention of the NYS LWV, Narcissa Vanderlip was elected chairman. In 1920, as the Nineteenth Amendment was on the verge of being ratified, she was a delegate to the 51st convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and to the birth of the National League of Women Voters. She worked for the establishment of free maternity centers, limitations of women's work hours and legislation against commercial vice. She worked tirelessly for the defeat of New York Senator Wadsworth, a noted opponent of woman suffrage and teamed up with Eleanor Roosevelt on a variety of progressive issues, including advocacy for the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infant Protection Act. Narcissa died in 1966 and was buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.

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