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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Liberty Bell and the Justice Bell

     “ … With liberty and justice for all.”

If you are a citizen of the United States or attended American public schools, you’ve probably repeated these words hundreds of times when saying the Pledge of Allegiance.
Nearly every American, and many people around the world are familiar with the Liberty Bell, but how many know about the Justice Bell?

Here is a brief story about the bells that symbolize two of our pillars of freedom – Liberty and Justice.

The Liberty Bell

In 1752, the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly commissioned a tower bell to hang in the new State House in Philadelphia. The firm of Lester and Pack in London cast the bell with the requested lettering:

Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof Lev. XXV X
By Order of the ASSEMBLY of the Province of PENSYLVANIA [sic] for the State House in Philada

In those days, the spelling on Pennsylvania with one ‘n’ was widely accepted. ‘Philada’ was short for Philadelphia.

The Assembly was not pleased with the quality of the bell as it arrived from England because it cracked the first time it was rung. They had it recast twice by John Pass and John Stow of Philadelphia before its sound was deemed satisfactory. Their last names appear on the bell.

The bell was initially used to call lawmakers to legislative sessions and to alert citizens about public meetings and proclamations. Weeks before the British occupied Philadelphia in October 1777, the Liberty Bell and the city’s other bells were removed from the city and hidden. This was done prevent them from being melted down and used for cannon.

Philadelphia served as the nation's capital from 1790 to 1800. During that time, the bell called the state legislature into session and notified voters to turn in their ballots. It was also rung to commemorate Washington's birthday and celebrate the Fourth of July among other commemorations until the crack silenced it in the early 1840s.

In the early nineteenth century, the bell became the symbol for abolitionists. It was first called "the Liberty Bell" in an 1835 article that appeared in the New York Anti-Slavery Society's journal, Anti-Slavery Record. It has been know as the Liberty Bell ever since.

The Liberty Bell is now housed in Philadelphia at the Liberty Bell Center in the Independence National Historical Park.

The Justice Bell 

In 1915, a prominent member of the Pennsylvania Women’s Suffrage Association, Katherine Wentworth Ruschenberger, commissioned a company in Troy, New York to cast of a near replica of the Liberty Bell for promoting the cause of women’s suffrage. This replica became know primarily as the ‘Justice Bell,’ but it is also known as the ‘Suffrage Bell’ and the 'Women’s Liberty Bell.’

The Justice Bell doesn’t have a crack and its inscription is slightly different:

Establish JUSTICE
Proclaim LIBERTY Throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants Thereof

To symbolize how women were being silenced by being unable to vote, the bell's clapper was chained to its side so it couldn’t ring.

The Justice Bell was loaded onto the back of a modified pickup truck and taken on a tour of all counties in Pennsylvania (67). The truck also carried a sign proclaiming “Votes for Women.” It also appeared in other states in support of the cause.

Wherever it went, the Justice Bell was greeted with dignitaries, parades and marching bands. Huge crowds gathered to see it, especially in large cities. On October 22, 1915, just days before Pennsylvania’s November referendum on women’s suffrage, the bell appeared a parade of approximately 8000 people in support of votes for women. Despite this show of support, the referendum was defeated.

After Congress passed the 19th Amendment, the Justice Bell toured other states to make people aware of the amendment which, if ratified. would give women throughout the United States the right to vote.

Thirty-six states needed to approve the amendment for it to become law. On August 18, 1920, the Tennessee General Assembly voted on adding the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. By one vote, Tennessee became the thirty-sixth state to ratify the Amendment and it became law.

The Justice Bell finally rang for the first time on September 25, 1920 at a ceremony held on Independence Square in Philadelphia. Katherine Wentworth Ruschenberger led the celebration attended by a large crowd. The bell rang 48 times, once for every state in the union in 1920, symbolizing that women throughout the country had finally won the right to vote – 72 years after the suffrage movement began.

The Justice Bell is on permanent display at the Valley Forge National Park in the Washington Memorial Chapel.

Ann Markim

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  1. Ann, I so enjoyed reading about the Liberty Bell--a refresher course for sure, so thanks. And regarding the Justice Bell, I'm sorry to say, I don't remember learning of its existance. I must have been sleeping or absent if it was covered in my history class years ago. I'm surprised I've never come across it in all my reading articles and/or research regarding Women's Suffrage. So, I found this so very interesting and close to my heart. Thank you so much for a most interesting blog.

  2. You're welcome. I didn't learn about the Justice Bell until I started researching my work-in-progress. But then, women were mostly left out of the history I learned in school.

  3. I'd never heard of the Justice Bell, and that's just the type of history I like to read about, so thank you so much!

  4. You're welcome. I loved the story of the Justice Bell so much that it appears in my current work-in-progress.

  5. Great blog, Ann.
    Hey, ya know, I can't help but wonder of the Liberty Bell having been forged in England just before the revolution may have been deliberately made to crack. Just a conspiracy theory there.
    I have never heard of the Justice Bell, but I sure do like it. And I liked the symbolism of the clapper being attached to the side so the bell could not ring until it was released when women won the vote. My paternal grandmother, Matilda McNeal, fought for women's suffrage. I wish I could have known her, but she died before I was born.
    What is the title of your WIP with the justice Bell in it?
    I wish you all the best, Ann...

    1. Thanks, Sarah. The working title of my WIP is THE CAUSE. I'm hoping to get it published next year as it will be the 100th anniversary of ratification of the 19th amendment.

  6. I've been to see the Liberty Bell, but I'd never heard of the Justice Bell. Thanks for filling in that gap.

  7. You're welcome. Thanks for stopping by.

  8. I'm tempted to be a bit cynical, since all the commenters hadn't heard about the Justice Bell, just the famous Liberty Bell....could it be that the latter symbolized all the men who fought and died in the name of liberty....but women demanding the right to vote was a very hard-fought battle of a different kind. Forgive me if I've offended anyone, definitely not my intent. A very interesting blog, Ann.

    1. My research on the 72-year fight for women's suffrage turned up a lot of information I had not known. I'll never again let anyone say to me "Women were given the right to vote" without this correction, "Women won the right to vote."

  9. Great piece of history and yes, I'd heard of both bells. Thanks for the reminder. Doris