Published April 1, 2019
News and Tribune: “Meet the powerhouse women of Southern Indiana’s past”
Learn more about Blanche Culbertson and her participation in the women’s suffrage movement in this article by Elizabeth DePompei of the News and Tribune, located in Jeffersonville, Indiana. A clip is below, and the full article can be found here.
THE SUFFRAGETTE FROM NEW ALBANY
After raising three children, Blanche Culbertson found herself smack in the middle of the women’s suffrage movement in New York City. She had been raised, of course, in New Albany. Born to William and Cornelia Culbertson in the fall of 1870, she was the only one of the 10 Culbertson children to be born in the nearly 21,000 square-foot mansion on East Main Street.
Jessica Stavros, southeast regional director for Indiana State Museum & Historic Sites, called Blanche “the baby of the richest family in the state,” and admitted she was probably a little spoiled. But she was also influenced by a spirit of activism that possessed her family.
William and his third wife, Rebecca (Cornelia, his second wife, died when Blanche was 10), were heavily involved in the women’s suffrage movement in New Albany. So much so that when Susan B. Anthony and her successors were in New Albany for a suffrage meeting, “they would have absolutely been working hand in hand with the Culbertsons,” Stavros said. Blanche grew up around the movement, and saw through the widow’s home her father opened just how far behind women were left. Coupled with her Presbyterian upbringing that promoted service, it’s no surprise Blanche would go on to do great things.
But first, a detour. After her father died in 1892, Blanche eloped with Leigh Hill French, a man considered “unsuitable” for his reputation with women. So unsuitable that before William Culbertson died, he revised his will to cut Blanche out of her inheritance should she marry Leigh. What followed was a successful, but very public legal battle to contest the will.
Blanche and Leigh eventually had three sons, lived in Europe for some time, and later settled in New York. After her sons were raised, and while Leigh was off pursuing other ventures, Blanche became involved with the suffrage movement.
You’ve probably seen the iconic photos: a parade of suffragettes marches along Fifth Avenue in New York City, waving banners that demand the vote. In one of those photos, Stavros said, Blanche is seen being carried through the streets on a sedan chair. She was called “The Little Lady of the Olden Days.”
“Because she was one of the women from the beginning of the suffrage movement hanging out with Susan B. Anthony in New Albany, Indiana, in 1880,” Stavros said. “So she was considered a midwestern movement, that now had a lot of money and incredible influence in New York City.”
In 1917, women claimed their right to vote in Westchester County, New York. Three years later, the 19th Amendment of the United States Constitution was ratified, granting American women everywhere the right to vote.
Blanche lived in New York until her death in 1924, but returned to New Albany for family visits. Wherever she was, Stavros said, Blanche never let people forget where she learned her suffragette ideals: “From the women in my home in Indiana.”