Hartford House, Geneseo

Image from Daniel A. Fink (1938-1995) Collection, Livingston County Historian's Office
Photo by Dan Fink, 1979

Alice Hay Wadsworth (1880-1960)

National Anti-Suffragist Leader

Anti-suffragists were influential in New York and nationally. In 1917, with passage of women’s suffrage in the state and a change in leadership, the national headquarters of the New York State National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage organization moved to Washington, D. C. Why? Because Alice Hay Wadsworth of Geneseo became the organization’s second president and the tone and focus shifted to fighting against passage of a federal amendment.

The anti-suffrage movement maintained a strong hold in Livingston County with the presence of the powerful U.S. Senator James W. Wadsworth, Jr. and his formidable wife, Alice Hay Wadsworth. The Hartford House, their palatial estate at the north entrance to the Village of Geneseo, reflected the wealth and prestige of the influential couple.

This well-connected woman was the daughter of the late John Hay, the former secretary to President Lincoln and later Secretary of State under Presidents McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. Alice was also the devoted politician’s wife of James W. Wadsworth Jr., the virulently anti-suffrage senator who consistently opposed women’s suffrage.

Educated in private schools in Washington, D. C., New York, and France, Alice Hay Wadsworth moved in the highest of political circles. She was convinced that “government was a man’s job.” Under the leadership of Mrs. Wadsworth, men increasingly dominated the anti-suffrage movement and the tone became desperate-sounding and even venomous.

Alice Hay Wadsworth’s anti-suffragist campaign staunchly defended traditional roles of women, motherhood, and family. She linked feminism and socialism to women’s suffrage. Suffragists coined the term “Wadsworthy” when referring to these anti-suffrage tactics.

With passage of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920, granting women the right to vote, Alice Hay Wadsworth’s role as a national anti-suffrage leader ended and she returned to the far less controversial role of a political wife and mother.