Troup Formation

Troup Formation

Connecticut voted for the 19th amendment, which granted women the right to vote, on September 14, 1920. That same day, the state lost one of its most ardent and least recognized suffragists, Augusta Lewis Troup.

Troup, née Lewis, was born in New York City in 1848. Orphaned as an infant, she was adopted by the Wall Street magnate Isaac Baldwin Gager. As a result, the early years of her life were lived in privilege, affording an elite education with private tutors that would lead to studies at Brooklyn Heights Seminary and Convent School of the Sacred Heart. But a post-Civil War recession changed Gager’s fortunes, and while still a teenager, Troup was left to fend for herself.

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She put her education to work as a reporter for the French-language newspaper Courier des Etats-Unis, the New York Tribune, The New York Times and The Revolution, a suffragist paper. Journalism led her to a related career as a typesetter. “It was in this role that she began to see the terrible inequality facing women in the newspaper industry where female typesetters were paid much less than their male counterparts,” writes the Women’s Hall of Fame. “In 1867, when the male typesetters union called a strike, women were brought in to replace them and were paid at a lower rate. When the men returned to work, the women were quickly fired”—all but Troup, “who was spared because of her extensive knowledge of the paper’s workings,” according to the Labor History pamphlet. “Nevertheless, Lewis quit her job in support of the women who were fired.”

In 1868, at the tender age of 20, Troup formed the New York Working Women’s Association along with suffragists Stanton and Anthony, but her labor experience ultimately put her at odds with them. “he believed that women should first organize for union jobs on an equal basis with working men—and then seek the right to vote,” the Labor History pamphlet says.

That same year, Troup founded the Women’s Typographical Union (WTU) No. 1 and began a successful fight to bring women typesetters into the men’s union, the International Typographical Union (ITU), which, since its founding 16 years earlier, had refused to admit them. The turning point was an 1869 ITU strike in Manhattan during which members of the WTU refused to work as “scabs”—replacements for striking workers—thereby earning the men’s trust.

That strike turned out to be important for another, more personal reason: It led to the meeting of Augusta and her future husband, Alexander Troup, who was secretary-treasurer of the ITU. Augusta herself was later elected corresponding secretary of the union, the first woman to hold a national union office.

New Haven enters the story in 1871. That year, Alexander moved here “in order to respond to a strike of newspaper printers in that city,” the Labor History pamphlet writes, paraphrasing Cahn. Alexander then founded the New Haven Union, a daily newspaper “dedicated to the causes of the working people of Connecticut” and fighting for “women’s suffrage, union organization, and the rights of African Americans, Italians and other minorities.” The following year, Augusta married Alexander and moved to New Haven to join him.

The Troups lived on Vernon Street in the Hill, a vibrant neighborhood of immigrants including many Italians, with whom Augusta particularly connected as a convert to Catholicism, Sacred Heart University historian Kelly Marino says. She had been deeply influenced by her education at Convent School of the Sacred Heart, and “she really respected the Catholic mission” to care for those in need. The Troups had seven children, but Augusta was unofficially mother to many more. She earned the nickname “Little Mother of the Italian Colony” for her work among her neighbors. “She befriended many; appeared in court on their behalf when necessary; rejected the anti-Italian prejudice common in that day,” Cahn writes.

Alexander died in 1908, and with her family grown, Augusta turned to a new career as a teacher and member of the Board of Education. Her passion for advocacy followed her; she was instrumental in Connecticut’s adoption of pensions for teachers in 1911, nine years before she died in her early 70s.

While Troup’s name hasn’t gone down in the history books alongside giants like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, her adopted hometown of New Haven has lifted it up. The pioneering union leader, education reformer and advocate for women’s suffrage was honored posthumously when Augusta Lewis Troup School, built on Edgewood near Sherman to educate children from kindergarten to eighth grade, was dedicated in 1926. “Every seat in the newly painted auditorium and balcony was filled with teachers, students, parents, members of the Board of Education, newspaper men and women, and several hundred representatives of local Italian American societies,” wrote William Cahn in the introduction to his unpublished book on Troup, as quoted in a 2008 pamphlet published by The Greater New Haven Labor History Association.

Even so, over time, Troup’s story was all but forgotten. Then, in 2008, Troup School was renovated, and interest in her life was revived. As part of the project, a mural depicting Troup’s work as well as a bust and a plaque in the building’s original entrance were preserved and highlighted. “It has brought a sense of community and a sense of pride to our school,” said then-principal Michael T. Conner in a video produced by the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame. Two Septembers ago, historian Marino picked up the torch, discussing “Augusta Troup and a Different Path to Women’s Suffrage” in a talk sponsored by the New Haven Museum.

Marino sees Augusta Troup as an important missing link in the story of women’s voting rights. For the most part, she says, the history of the movement has focused on affluent, mostly middle-aged women, but at a much younger age, finding herself in more humble circumstances, Troup was a “self-supporting, working woman” who nevertheless took on a powerful leadership role. Her story, Marino says, can be an inspiration to today’s young leaders—among them New Haven students who, a century later, attend the school that bears her name.

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 1 features an etched portrait of a young Augusta Lewis from the American Dictionary of Printing and Bookmaking (New York, Howard Lockwood and Co., 1894). Images 2 and 3, photographed by Dan Mims, feature Augusta Lewis Troup School. This updated story was originally published on September 4, 2020.

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