BY ALLISON PLITT
June 4, 2019 will be the 100th anniversary of Congress passing the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote. In honor of this historical change to the Constitution, the Daughters of the American Revolution, a global women’s service organization dedicated to promoting historic preservation, education, patriotism, have sponsored an American History Essay Contest about suffragettes of the late 19th and early 20th century.
The Increase Carpenter Chapter of the DAR, named after a First Lieutenant in the Jamaica Militia during the Revolutionary War, worked with Carl Ballenas, a history teacher at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Academy in Jamaica, to sponsor the essay contest to his sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students. Ballenas asked his students to write about the pros and cons of the 19th Amendment.
Besides teaching, Ballenas is a local historian and author of several books about the different neighborhoods in Queens. He is also President of the Board for Friends of Maple Grove Cemetery in Kew Gardens. The essays this year were judged by DAR Schools Committee Chair, Bernadette Kelly, and Lineage Research Committee Chair, Leslie Wickham.
This year’s winners were sixth grader Ashleigh Remy, seventh grader Mia Clemente, and eighth grader Matthew Alegenio. The Increase Carpenter Chapter presented the students with their awards at King Manor Museum during their May meeting.
Situated in Rufus King Park in Jamaica, the Manor is the home of a beloved founding father, Rufus King. One of the nation’s first politicians to speak out against slavery, King volunteered in the militia during the Revolutionary War, signed the constitution, and represented New York in the United States senate.
King’s home is now a museum that has many objects the patriot himself used over two hundred years ago.
After receiving a tour of the manor, students Remy, Clemente, and Alegenio posed in the parlor of his home for a photo beneath a portrait of King. When asked about about what was most significant for them personally in the essay writing contest about the 19th amendment, Remy replied, “That women should be treated equally in their pay and how they vote.” Clemente added that when women find something they want, they are stronger when they band together.
Addressing both sides to the issue, Alegenio observed, “Feminism is a good thing and I supported it in my essay, but the con could be that there are people with two opposing ideas within a family. In the end, we are all humans and will work it out.”
The Increase Carpenter Chapter, founded on June 25, 2012, gained recognition as being the first DAR chapter to be organized by a woman of color, Wilhelmena Rhodes Kelly. Some 5,000 African Americans contributed to America’s fight for independence.
Seven years later, the Increase Carpenter Chapter boasts some fifty members and Kelly will be installed as the New York State Regent for DAR next month. “The DAR is not just one thing – it’s heritage, it’s preservation, it’s commemoration, it’s women issues,” explained Kelly in 2012.
Leslie Wickham, who has held several position within the Increase Carpenter Chapter over the years, will become its next Regent this June. She commented that she hopes to extend the DAR’s annual essay contest to more schools in the Queens area.
If you are a woman and can trace your genealogy back to an ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War, you are eligible to become a member. There are genealogists in the Increase Carpenter Chapter that can help prospective members trace their ancestry and help with the application process.
In an interview in 2012, Kelly remarked, “You must know who you come from to really appreciate who you are and what people have gone through for you to live in this country.”
To learn more about joining the Increase Carpenter Chapter in Queens, please contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.