More than a century after she marched on Albany and Washington, D.C., to demand the right to vote for women, the radical Long Island suffragist Rosalie Gardiner Jones is back in the spotlight.
First, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Jones would be honored with a statue in Cold Spring Harbor State Park, near her family’s Laurel Hollow estate.
One day later, on Election Day, she was a ubiquitous presence on the blue “I Voted” stickers handed out around the state. She was depicted in three-quarter profile with a megaphone in her hand.
“She stood there and said ‘I am equal to a man,’ and she did it,” said historian Judith Ader Spinzia, who has co-authored about a dozen Long Island history books with her husband, Raymond.
Known as “General Jones,” the suffragist made wintertime pilgrimages through mud, sleet and snow, handing out pamphlets and making speeches along the way, which were chronicled by national newspapers, galvanizing support for the cause, historians said.
“Her mother said the hikes were ridiculous, but she got a lot of publicity. . . . At a time when New York State was crucial, there was not a state east of the Mississippi that had voted for women’s suffrage,” said Natalie A. Naylor, president of the Nassau County Historical Society.
As part of New York’s celebration of the state’s centennial anniversary of women’s suffrage, Cuomo on Nov. 6 announced plans for statues of Jones and Sojourner Truth, an upstate Ulster County native who escaped slavery three times to win national renown as an abolitionist and women’s rights leader.
Jones was born into a family cushioned from almost any material want; her forebears include Maj. Thomas Jones, whose land became Jones Beach.
She was in her late 20s when she joined other socialites, including Alva Vanderbilt Belmont, who helped women in New York State win the right to vote in 1917, three years before the nation did so.
In 1911, Jones, Belmont, and Harriot Stanton Blatch, daughter of famed suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, took their cause to Wall Street.
“Although they had tomatoes and eggs thrown at them, Jones and others continued to hold such ‘open air meetings,’ ” Naylor wrote in the Oyster Bay Historical Society’s publication, “The Freeholder.”
The next year, Jones, president of Nassau’s branch of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, set out from the Bronx on a 150-mile march to Albany, proclaiming herself the “general.”
She and a handful of other suffragists — often met by crowds and supporters along the way — arrived in Albany 12 days later on Dec. 28. They delivered a petition to Democratic Gov.-elect William Sulzer, deemed a likely supporter.
In 1913, Jones again overcame blisters and swollen feet, hiking more than 200 miles in 20 days from New York City to Washington, joining 5,000 suffragists from all over the country for a procession down Pennsylvania Avenue, according to a Smithsonian publication.
The national group — perhaps irked by all her publicity — blocked her from presenting her petition directly to Democratic President-elect Woodrow Wilson, historians said.
Possibly feeling the fight was won, Jones resumed her education, earning several degrees, including two in law, by 1919.
A 1927 marriage, when she was 44, to Democratic U.S. Sen. Clarence Cleveland Dill of Washington state ended in divorce, Spinzia said. Losing her bid for a congressional seat in Dill’s former House district spurred Jones to return to Long Island.
At times, Jones displayed little respect for the property rights of others, said Spinzia, citing a string of clashes with her neighbors over zoning and development, for example.
Nor was Jones’ character without other flaws.
She spurned African-American suffragists who wanted to march with her to the nation’s capital, Spinzia said in “The Freeholder.” And Jones refused to rent to a black family in the 1950s, she said.
While Jones partly modeled herself on activist British suffragists, some of whom were imprisoned and force-fed, Spinzia noted that Jones’ independent streak and formidable intellect sometimes turned her into an irascible neighbor — especially after she began managing her family’s extensive properties. This also created friction within her family, Spinzia said.
Locally, Jones and her relatives owned sections of Cold Spring Harbor, and sites in Huntington, including parts of Eatons Neck, Spinzia said.
Irked by Eatons Neck residents, she charged them $1 to park on the family beach in 1920, the historian wrote, adding Jones also defied the local 2-acre zoning requirement by selling lots that were one-eighth of an acre.
After a top oil executive failed to invite her to join his new beach club, the only member of her family thus excluded, Jones ruined his estate’s view of Cold Spring Harbor by selling a waterside site in 1927 to a competitor, who built a tank depot there, Spinzia said.
And Jones set up a hot dog stand to annoy Asharoken villagers who prevented her from developing the wetlands, Spinzia said. Asharoken and Eatons Neck did, however, block her from turning her family’s approximately 186 acres into a sand and gravel pit, Spinzia said.
Jones warded off efforts to force her to fence in her 150 goats — after they ate a neighbor’s dahlias — by citing English common law, which put the onus on other property owners to erect fences.
The goats, sometimes chauffeured a few at time in her car or traveling all together by rail to greener pastures down south in the winter, appear to have enjoyed a fair amount of freedom, though not always safely.
One local newspaper ran a headline “Rosalie’s Goat Commits Suicide” after it hung itself on its tether after leaping from a second floor ballroom at her estate, Spinzia recounted.
Jones died Jan. 12, 1978, at age 94.