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Landmark Church: Laying The Groundwork For Women's Suffrage

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BINGHAMTON, N.Y. -

The Landmark Church on Court Street in Binghamton has seen plenty of changes since being built in 1866. For one, the name changed. It used to be called Centenary Church. That's the name it carried back in 1913, when the building played host to an event that changed the future.

“It was truly a historic gathering. It set the stage for the eventual passage of women’s suffrage," says 100 Years Ago Today Historian Roger Luther.

Luther is referring to the 45th Annual New York State Women's Suffrage Convention which was held in the red brick church. One of four Binghamton churches designed by famed architect Issac Perry, the building was packed with more than 160 delegates from across the state for the three-day convention. The original pews still stand today.

“We were able to come up with the proceedings, it’s a book, from the new York State museum," says Luther, "So we know all the meetings, all the committees that were formed.”

The meetings were for strategy, something the movement hadn't come up with to that point. Luther says this convention is where they really organized their efforts for moving forward. Local suffragist Margaret Topliff was assigned as leader of the Broome County chapter of the State Suffrage Committee. The keynote address was given by a woman who would later make it into history books as one of the more controversial champions of the cause: Carrie Chapman Catt.

The program from the convention was found in the New York State museum. This is a copy.

“And keep in mind, they had to convince men that women should vote. So they had to convince men to vote for the passage of women’s suffrage," says Luther.

They did just that, at least in Broome County. In the 1915 election, Broome was overwhelmingly for women's suffrage, but the rest of the state was not. It would take another two years for women to win the right to vote in New York State and five years for the 19th Amendment to pass.

This piece of Binghamton history is one that was a well-kept secret for a long time. Luther says he had no idea until the 100th anniversary of women's right to vote in New York came up and he was doing some research. That's when he stumbled on the information about the convention at the Landmark Church. That history is something that was almost lost completely back in 1997 when the church was set to be leveled for more downtown parking.

The Landmark Church was the first of four Binghamton churches designed by famed architect Isaac Perry.

“We saw it in the paper that “a landmark” it said “a landmark is about to disappear” or something like that," remembers Pastor Dan Little.

Little and his wife Judy rescued the church from being demolished. A complete stranger had offered up $50,000 for them to purchase it.

“We felt that was a confirmation that we were supposed to be here," says Little.

The Littles didn't find out about their church's role in the suffrage movement until last year when a re-enactment celebration was planned for the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage.

“We installed a historical marker in front of this church, so now we know and for generations to come people will know how important it was what happened here," says Luther.

That sign now stands as a reminder, making sure that piece of history is never again lost to time.