HAZEL MACKAYE, 1880-1944
The American suffragette movement was in full swing in the beginning of the twentieth century when Hazel MacKaye, a skilled theatrical professional, added her talents to the many diverse approaches used to argue the cause of voter rights for women.
Born in 1880 in Stamford, Connecticut, Hazel is the sister of Appalachian Trail founder Benton MacKaye and the youngest child of popular playwright and actor Steele MacKaye and dramatist Mary Medbury MacKaye. Named after Steele’s character “Hazel Kirke” in his play of the same name, and with parents and oldest brother Percy deeply rooted in theater, it is not surprising that Hazel found her place in the world of performance arts. The family purchased their first permanent home in Shirley, Massachusetts in 1888 after frequent moves.
MacKaye, a more radical suffragette, was a charter member of the Congressional Union, which split in 1914 from the National American Woman Suffrage Association and later evolved into the National Woman’s Party, the more militant wing of the suffragette movement.
Using her talents for designing, directing and writing, Hazel created four pageants about women’s rights for the suffragists. Her first political pageant Allegory was a stunning, hour-long theatrical performed on the marble steps of the Treasury Building in March 2013. A parade of suffragists marched following the performance, giving testimony to women’s contributions to society and their importance of inclusion in the nation’s governance. In 1914, the New York City Men’s League for Equal Suffrage sponsored her pageant entitled “The American Woman: Six Periods of American Life” which was performed at the Seventy-first Regimental Armory. A grim and controversial theatrical, MacKaye redeemed herself with an inspirational American biography about Susan B. Anthony while quietly presenting the argument for the suffragette amendment.
The old bell at the Shirley Meeting House has tolled for many celebratory events in our nation’s history. One of those stellar moments was the ratification of the nineteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote. When word reached Shirley on August 18, 1920 that the Tennessee legislature provided the necessary votes for final ratification of the 19th amendment, women gathered on the steps of the First Parish Meeting House to toll the bell in a victory peal. Among those in the photo are Hazel MacKaye (2nd from right), Arvia MacKaye, Clara Sackett, Christy MacKaye Barnes, and Mrs. Steele MacKaye.
Through the end of her life MacKaye saved the ribbons from the many parades in which she marched. She wrote in support of the Equal Rights Amendment and worked to assist making women, children and workers heard through pageantry. She died in Westport, Connecticut in 1944.