Katherine Alexander Duer MacKay Blake
(1878–1930) Katherine founded the Equal Franchise Society, an independent suffrage organization established in 1908. The Society would be a home for wealthy women who were just then becoming interested in the cause of women’s suffrage. Along with better-known Alva Belmont, Katherine made suffrage safe for prominent society women who had seen the cause as too radical, too feminist, too populist for them.
Mrs. Mackay, as she was known, consulted with leading suffragists like Harriot Stanton Blatch in creating the Equal Franchise Society. Mrs. Mackay recruited a board of serious and capable suffragists (including Blatch), and began funding significant lobbying work in Albany as early as 1910, when few resources for state legislative work existed.
Mrs. Mackay’s upper-crust viewpoint sometimes left her at odds with her own organization, for example when she insisted that the Albany headquarters be a suite at the posh Ten Eyck Hotel, not a storefront on State Street. She was adamantly opposed to the idea of public demonstrations, which many middle-class and upper-class suffragists feared would be seen as rabble rousing. She was deeply dismayed when the Equal Franchise Society board voted to participate in the first large New York City suffrage march, in May 1910. But to her credit, she accepted their decision and even wanted to make sure the Society showed up handsomely, though she herself refused to attend.
Katherine Mackay was massively wealthy. Her lavish Long Island mansion, Harbor Hill, was designed by Stanford White and situated on 648 acres in Roslyn. She devoted time and money to the local community, renovating the public library and serving for five years on the Roslyn school board, in 1905 the first woman ever elected. She sent her daughters to public school, explaining to the newspaper: “If we wish to establish confidence in the public school system, it is necessary for the rich as well as the poor to patronize them. If we draw such caste distinctions as in the past, it is inconsistent to preach the benefits to be derived from government aid in education.”
She sought a divorce in 1914 to marry a doctor she fell in love with when he treated her husband. She lost custody of her children, and was stripped of her American citizenship when she and Dr. Blake moved to Paris. After the war they returned to New York and later divorced. Katherine’s private life was extensively covered in the papers, always in a tone viciously judgmental of her. Bio by Rachel B. Tiven.
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