Mrs. Zobedia Gambee Alleman (1848-1940)

One of the invigorating things about my work these past several years as Seneca County Historian is to learn about a person, place or development in Seneca County of which I had no knowledge whatsoever. It is recently that I first learned about Mrs. Zobedia Gambee Alleman who was born in the town of Fayette and spent much of her adult life advocating for women's rights.


Zobedia Gambee was born on May 2, 1848, in a log cabin in the town of Fayette, near the hamlet of MacDougall. Her parents were Catharine and William Gambee II. William Gambee II was a farmer. Sometime after, her father cut trees, took them to a local sawmill, and used the sawed lumber to build a wood frame house for his family. Zobedia had a brother, Martin, who was 9 years older than Zobedia. Although, Zobedia's mother passed away when Zobedia was only three years and four months old, Zobedia had some memories of her mother. One of those memories was that at the time of her mother's death, a carpenter in the neighborhood was summoned to build a casket. As there were few undertakers at the time, it was the neighbors who typically at that time carried on the task of laying out bodies.


Following her mother's death, young Zobedia Gambee was "farmed out to relatives." She learned to make dresses. At that time period of dress-making the lining was pinned at the center and fitted to the person. "She learned to cut by model and make fashionable dresses when patterns were unheard of."


On May 19, 1869, Zobedia Gambee married Joseph Judson Alleman at the Waterloo Presbyterian Church. In a 1938 Auburn Citizen newspaper article, Zobedia said that her late husband "was a farmer who always wanted to be a doctor, so [two years] after our marriage in 1869 my husband and I went to [the University of] Michigan where he studied medicine and earned a degree." She also had started to study medicine but gave it up because it was too much for her health. Mr. Alleman completed the 2 year medical course and earned his M.D. degree from the University. Although Mrs. Alleman's father-in-law was a farmer, her husband came from a family that had many medical doctors. Dr. J. Judson Alleman had a medical practice in Waterloo for a few years.


Dr. J. Judson Alleman practiced medicine in Union Springs from 1886 until his death in 1904. Mr. and Mrs. Alleman lived at a home at 8 Homer Street in Union Springs. Mrs. Alleman continued to live at that home virtually the rest of her life.


In 2020 a National Votes for Women Trail historic marker honoring Zobedia Gambee Alleman was dedicated. The Pomeroy Foundation article for this historic marker states that she spent much of her adult life as "an ardent supporter and active participant of the women's suffrage movement at both the county and state level." A 1935 Union Springs Advertiser article about Zobedia begins with the comment, "If there's a woman now alive who takes for granted her right to vote, she should have the privilege of talking with Mrs. Zobedia Gambee Alleman of Union Springs." The article goes on to point out that it was "Emily Howland and a little group of women, among whom was Mrs. Alleman" who carried the banner of woman suffrage in Cayuga County. "...It will not be long before the struggles of those women to earn the right to vote will be entirely forgotten." She served as secretary of the Cayuga County Woman Suffrage Association and Emily Howland was president.


With 11 other women, Zobedia in 1895 voted in the Union Springs school district elections for school commissioner. "We 12 had decided it was time that we were allowed to take part in the balloting, so when school election came we marched to the polls in a body, asked for a ballot and were refused amongst an outburst of tee-hee's from the men voters." The ladies left the polls and assembled on a street corner. "We waited there for some time. Eventually we decided to march back to the voting house and when we did the ban had been lifted and ballots were distributed amongst us."


At another time, Mrs. Alleman was engaged in an effort to secure as many signatures as possible to a petition advocating woman suffrage, a petition that would be sent to the convention that was drafting a new state constitution. She took the stage out of Union Springs bound for Montezuma. The stage was full of regular seats, so Mrs. Alleman sat on a beer keg. "But it was no casual thing for a woman to ride 11 miles on a beer keg, spend the night in a second rate tavern, and walk a mile the next morning, all for the purpose of recruiting another work[er] to the slender ranks of the suffragist."


Besides her leadership efforts in Union Springs and Cayuga County woman suffrage organizations, Zobedia Alleman was active in the New York State Woman Suffrage Association. In 1910 she was chair of state organization's School Suffrage Committee. She also attended national woman suffrage conventions in Washington, DC in 1893, Philadelphia in 1912, and Louisville. In the History of Woman Suffrage, Zobedia is mentioned as one of the names which occurred most frequently in convention meeting minutes. She frequently served as a delegate together with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Harriet May Mills.


In the 1917 state-wide campaign to amend the New York State Constitution to grant women full suffrage rights, Mrs Alleman delivered a "speech a day, five days a week for the length of the campaign. As canvassers they [she and her fellow suffragist workers] they visited farmers in the fields, men in shops and merchants in their stores, and before election propaganda was sent to 18,000 voters in the county."


Mrs. Zobedia Gambee Alleman died on August 9, 1940 in Union Springs. She was survived by 2 nieces: Mrs. Elizabeth Reamer of Mississippi and Mrs. B. Meyer of Interlaken and by a cousin, Thomas Rothwell of MacDougall. Probably because of their strong Seneca County ties, Zobedia Gambee Alleman and her husband are buried in the Alleman family plot in Maple Grove Cemetery in Waterloo.


Although not "famous" like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, or even Emily Howland, Zobedia Gambee Alleman is a good example of the many lesser-known woman suffragists who did so much work for their cause.


[Seneca County Historian Walter Gable gratefully acknowledges and thanks Ms. Pat Kimber of the Frontenac Historical Society for her providing much information for this article.]