At a recent meeting of the Belvadear troop in Middleport, I enjoyed sharing with the scouts a little history on our own Belva Bennett McNall Lockwood. Born in the Town of Royalton in 1830, she championed the rights of women for equal pay, a good education and the right to vote when women were given little encouragement to do any of these. With the theme of “Women of the Year” coming up in 1975, Mrs. Trudy Sworts and Mrs. Doris March, active leaders in local Girl Scouting, came up with the idea of erecting a plaque at the site of Belva’s birthplace on Griswold Street. A committee planned the observance with the help of scout troops 164, 107, 33 and 34 and many scout leaders.
A special scout badge was the creation of scouts Roselee Sworts, Stephanie LePard and Holly Ortman with the badges handmade for the scouts by Mrs. Pearl Schumacher. Belva Lockwood Day was celebrated on November 23, 1975 with a special proclamation by then Royalton Supervisor George Steimer Jr. A special plaque was erected to honor Doris March who passed away shortly before the celebration.
Many of us drive by the monument to Belva without thinking of her many accomplishments. After being widowed at the age of 22, she attended college and fought for equal pay with male teachers in order to support herself and her daughter. Furthering her education with a law degree, she had to petition then president Ulysses Grant to get her diploma when the college would not release it because she was a female. Her second husband had to stand up in court and give his permission that his wife be allowed to practice law. She was the first female to be able to practice before the Supreme Court of the US (thanks to her work on the Lockwood Bill in 1879) and she was presidential candidate of the Equal Rights Party in 1884 and 1888. She knew she had no chance to win but she wanted to bring the cause of equal rights to the public. In the 1888 election she managed to get over 4,000 votes, remarkable when you consider that not a single woman cast a vote. Sadly she died in 1917, the year New York was among the first states that allowed women to vote and three years before the 19th Amendment was passed.
I am sure Mrs. Lockwood would be very proud of the young scouts who carry on the message that she tried to spread over 100 years ago.