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This Business of Voting…

By Deborah Tint

Posted on October 28, 2020

one women instructing other women how to use a voting machine
Voting machine instruction Woman giving voters instruction in the use of a voting machine in lobby of A.I. Namm's department store. Photographs from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, CLUB_0078; Center for Brooklyn History, Brooklyn Public Library.

Brooklynites have seen many changes in voting patterns, locations and technology through the years.

In the past, the voting process was more decentralized than it is today and took place in a dizzying array of locations. Many of these are still familiar to us as polling places. A list in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1920 indicates a very large percentage were schools and other large public venues such as libraries, armories, even Borough Hall.

More surprising to our modern eyes is the variety of small businesses acting as registration and polling places: florists, barbers, bootblacks, delicatessens, bakeries, laundries, hardware stores, jewelers, undertakers, garages, machinists, real estate agents, tinsmiths, confectioners, some larger private spaces like pool parlors, bowling alleys, settlement houses, the Schenck Mansion (now in the Brooklyn Museum), and even some listed simply as dwelling or vacant.

One of those establishments features in our photo of the week. Here we see members of the League of Women Voters giving instruction in the use of a voting machine in the lobby of A.I. Namm’s department store on Fulton Street. The sign is obscured but one can read: “L. of W.V.” … educate women to become “intelligent voters.” In the early days of women’s voting it was important to have women visible at polling places to make the new voters welcome and encourage them to exercise their new franchise. In the 1920s one can see newspaper articles remarking on either the healthy number of women voters, or their dearth.

When we see the number of local establishments participating, it paints a very different picture of election day in the city. Clearly, at that time voting affected the whole working day for a surprising number of businesses. Perhaps it was a welcome disruption to a business’ routine: commerce is interrupted, but unfamiliar neighbors could be enticed to become new customers, and old customers might take the opportunity to do a little shopping, or shoot some pool. An example of doing well by doing good.

See more about How NYC votes in our newest Urban Archive story.

Interested in seeing more photos from CBH’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. We look forward inviting you to CBH is the future to research in our entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections. In the meantime, please visit our digital collections, available here. Our reference staff are still available to help with your research! You can reach us at [email protected].

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