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The Justice Bell - A Symbol of Women's Suffrage

This remarkable Bell was used in the campaign for woman's suffrage. The name "Justice Bell" came from the fact that the suffrage movement looked upon a woman's right to vote as a matter of justice.

The Bell was the brainchild and gift of Katharine Wentworth Ruschenberger of Strafford, Chester County, Pennsylvania. Mrs. Ruschenberger was an active suffragist and she devised a plan to call attention to the battle for women's suffrage. She commissioned the casting of a duplicate of the Liberty Bell, except this one has "Establish Justice" in the inscription.

A special truck was constructed to carry the 2,000 lb. Bell whose clapper was chained to its side. The message was clear: the Bell would not ring until women won the vote.

In June of 1915 the Bell began a whistle-stop tour of Pennsylvania which lasted more than three months and covered over 5,000 miles. The tour started in Sayre, Bradford County on June 15 and ended at West Chester, Chester County on November 2. In between, the Bell crisscrossed the state visiting every one of Pennsylvania's sixty-seven counties. At the time of the Bell tour, the suffrage movement was working on passage of voting rights for women by all state legislatures. An amendment to the Pennsylvania State Constitution was proposed which would give women the right to vote. The Justice Bell and its tour were planned to support the passage of that amendment, Amendment #1.

Newspaper accounts of the Bell tour tell of the crowds of people who came to see the Bell and hear the speeches. Everywhere it went there were parades with groups of marchers, cars, banners and flags of yellow and black (the colors of the suffrage movement), local officials, children and even bands. Miniatures of the Bell were sold as souvenirs to help defray the cost of the tour. The arrival of the Bell became a media event.

"Father, brother, husband, son, Vote for Amendment #1" was the slogan heard throughout the summer and fall as male voters were encouraged to support the amendment for women's suffrage. Finally in November, the Bell ended its tour. Amendment #1 did not pass.

As it became evident to the suffragists that state legislatures were not going to pass voting rights for women, the strategy was changed to work for introduction of an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Justice Bell was used to support the cause of women's suffrage at national political party conventions as far away as Chicago and at rallies in Washington, D.C. The 19th Amendment was proposed on June 5, 1919 and ratified on August 26, 1920.

The following month, a celebration was held in Independence Square in Philadelphia. After a speech by the Governor, the clapper of the Justice Bell was unchained and a figure dressed as Justice approached the bell. Just as the Liberty Bell had announced freedom, the Justice Bell announced to the world the passage of the 19th Amendment and the granting of Justice for women.

After their victory, the suffragists were not content to sit back, but recognized the need to help women learn how to use their new rights and responsibilities. To that end the members of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, who had worked for more than fifty years to get women the right to vote, now formed "a League of Women Voters to finish the fight and aid in the reconstruction of the nation".

Today the League of Women Voters celebrates the legacy of the Justice Bell by informing voters and encouraging participation in government.

 

FACTS ABOUT THE JUSTICE BELL

  • The Bell was cast of bronze in Troy, New York in 1915 at a cost of $2,000.
  • It is the same size and shape as the Liberty Bell.
  • The inscription differs from that of the Liberty Bell, and includes the words "Establish Justice" on the first line.
  • A special truck was constructed to carry the 2,000 lb. Bell.
  • It was paid for by Mrs. Katharine Wentworth Ruschenberger of Strafford, Chester County, PA.
  • It is kept on the grounds of The Washington Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge National Park.
  • The 1915 Bell tour was funded by the nickels and dimes of supporters of women's suffrage. The Chapel and the League of Women Voters worked together to build a permanent display the Bell as a tribute to this monumental struggle.

 

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