Norwalk installs plaque to honor three sisters who helped change history

Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas and Wendell Livingston, Rowayton Historical Society President, unveil a plaque Monday off Maple Street.

NORWALK, Conn. — It’s not difficult to find Norwalk women serving in government these days and even easier Monday off West Avenue, where three suffragettes are honored with a plaque along the Norwalk River Valley Trail.

The Hill sisters were the daughters of Ebenezer Hill, who in 1912 was the first Connecticut Congressman to speak out for women’s rights, said Wendell Livingston, Rowayton Historical Society President. Sisters Clara, Helena, and Elsie “crisscrossed the country to make their opinions known” and “scored their victory in 1920 when the Constitution was amended to give women the vote.”

A gathering Monday alongside Maple Street, marking the installation of a historic plaque on the Norwalk River Valley Trail.

Nine women and three men stood alongside the trail, in front of the covered-up plaque for an unveiling ceremony, in front of a crowd that included Roton Middle School students. Among the speakers was State Rep. Dominique Johnson (D-143), who won election to her seat last fall by defeating another woman.

“I am the legacy of the Hill Sisters. We are the legacy of the Hill Sisters,” she said.

The Hill Sisters lived at 500 West Ave., just down the block from the trail-side plaque, Norwalk Director of Communications Michelle Woods Matthews said. Monday was chosen because it’s the anniversary of Jan. 30, 1912, arrival of the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association Votes for Women Campaign trolley in Norwalk.

The National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites first sought to create an online database of events, people, and locations important to the women’s suffrage moment, but when the William G. Pomeroy Foundation learned of the project, it offered to fund 250 historical markers nationwide, said NCWHS Board Member Joanie DiMartino, State coordinator for the National Votes for Women Trail.

“After a rigorous application process, Connecticut was approved for nine markers total,” though five were initially expected, she said. Norwalk’s is the sixth to be installed.

“The Hill Family as a whole supported Woman Suffrage,” but the sisters “were fearless,” DiMartino said.

Elsie and Helena picketed the White House and “served jail time and endured forced feeding for hunger striking,” she said. Helena, a geologist, served three prison sentences in 1917-1918, the first one for holding a banner that read: “Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Clara did suffrage work at the state level, speaking to immigrant workers through an translator, she said.

“Elsie chaired the National Woman’s Party, and all three sisters advocated tirelessly for the Equal Rights Amendment, which is still not part of the U.S. Constitution … We still have the Hill Sisters’ unfinished work to do. Let us find inspiration in their dedication to work to pass the ERA,” DiMartino said.

“These women were no joke. They broke the mold in so many different ways,” Thomas said.

These Roton Middle School Student Council members said they are also in “My Sister’s Keepers.”

Johnson, who was one of nine female Common Council members before being elected to the State delegation, advised the middle school students to “Think about what you are going to do.”

Livingston said the City plans to augment the gift plaque with a larger sign that will detail the Hill sisters’ activities. It will get more visitors where it is, on the trail, than it would have on West Avenue.

“I hope this marker encourages you all to seek out other eight historic markers unique to Connecticut’s history that’s appearing throughout the state and that the trail itself will serve as an inspiration to explore the significant history of women 72-year-long battle for the ballot,” DiMartino said.

The dedication drew probably the largest crowd she’s seen for a ceremonial marker unveiling, she said.

“I’m very honored to be here as a female African American,” said Janae, a Roton student. “I think that the Hill Sisters have been through a lot and I’m very honored for them.”

Reminder: NancyOnNorwalk requires full names from commenters. For more information, go here.

A gathering Monday alongside Maple Street, marking the installation of a historic plaque on the Norwalk River Valley Trail.

An historic plaque on the Norwalk River Valley Trail, alongside Maple Street.


Johnny cardamone January 31, 2023 at 4:23 pm

These early Christian feminist, women in the suffrage movement were also strongly pro-life, and anti-abortion. I wonder if that will be acknowledged?

Sallie Marsico February 1, 2023 at 11:59 am

The ceremony for the commemorative plaque on Maple Street for the Hill sisters, Clara, Helena and Elsie, was a thing to behold. Well-delivered speeches, especially the informative dedication by Joanie DiMartino,* provided inspiring stories of these three amazing women, juggernauts in the ratification of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. It took 72 years, but, along with thousands of women and men (!), they got it done.

Two points I would make:
1. The absence of women’s rights in the United States was debilitating and constrictive to women to an astonishing degree. This story need be told.
2. On a nuanced technicality, American women, part of the “Votes for Women” movement, preferred being referred to as “suffragists,” believing “suffragettes,” as used by British women, was diminutive. American women wanted none of that!
3. Considering the number of young men in attendance dance from Roton Middle School, it would have been nice to acknowledge that it would not have been possible for women to achieve the utlimate goal without what became strong support from a great many American men.

* DiMartino is the Connecticut representative of the National Collaborative of Women’s History Sites.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>