The story of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass packed a full house tonight, the opening of “The Agitators.” Rochester’s famous reformers really showed their mettle at this fine play at GEVA Theater. Actors Madeleine Lambert and Cedric Mays delivered the pair’s famous arguments with conviction and humor against a massive timeline that resembled the double arches of the Frederick Douglass-Susan B. Anthony Bridge in Rochester.
“Agitation is the spark of all change”
This is one of my favorite quotes from the play, and served as the theme to portray the lifelong friendship between these reformers. Especially moving were the scenes where the pair toured Frederick’s burned-out home; where they fought over the enfranchisement of black men before women; and where he begged Susan not to hold a women’s rights convention in a southern state where black women were not welcome.
Personally, I enjoyed the proslavery mob scene and the final vignette about Ida Wells, which both figured prominently in my book Susan B. Anthony And Justice For All.
Want to read more about these two revolutionaries? Get your own copy of this easy read that portrays Susan’s entire life. Great for students, too!
John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry shook the Anthony family’s roots when on this day in 1859 he broke into a federal arsenal in Virginia and was captured.
Lucy and Daniel Anthony had raised Continue reading
In Charlottesville young white nationalists tossed verbal grenades against blacks and Jews that quickly exploded into injury and death. Sadly, it coincided with the August 1863 Lawrence Massacre, which I discussed in my last post. Then, a band of racist ruffians killed 180 men and boys. Unlike this month, the 1863 officials made a historic mistake by upping the ante on revenge.
They may have felt justified in attacking Lawrence. After all, the two states had been duking it out on their common border for almost a decade in the escalating conflict over slavery. Those who launched the Lawrence Massacre wanted revenge. And they got it. But like the young demonstrators of Charlottesville, they didn’t bargain for all that they received.
In the wake of Charlottesville, other cities are hastening to remove their Civil War statues to preclude more violence. If what the nationalists really wanted was their statues and their symbolism, they ended up worse than they started.
Upping the ante on revenge
The Missouri ruffians’ satisfaction, like that of the marchers in Virginia, must have been short-lived. On August 25, 1863, General Ewing retaliated by issuing the infamous Order No. 11, which authorized the depopulation of the Missouri farmland where the Confederate raiders resided, foraged and took shelter. Not only that, but Union soldiers burned the very land. They, too, got worse that they gave.
Who started it?
In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act (drafted by Senator Stephen Douglas and President Franklin Pierce) decreed that the Kansas Territory could decide by popular vote whether it entered the Union as a slave or free state. Whenever a vote was taken, proslavery Missourians squatted on the land and stormed the ballot boxes.
In response, eastern abolitionists (including D.R. Anthony) emigrated to the territory, founding an abolitionist stronghold at Lawrence. Anthony later led Jennison’s Jayhawkers to defend Kansas and conduct counter-raids on Missouri.
You could say that the ill-conceived Kansas-Nebraska Act began the border wars in Kansas and Missouri, which escalated into a nationwide Civil War. Let us hope that our legislators respond more wisely than Stephen Douglas and Franklin Pierce in laying down decisions with far-reaching effects. And that those involved in Charlottesville realize that violence begets violence, and that everyone loses.
As a nation, we should treat Charlottesville as a warning and do what we must to heal before it escalates into a tragedy on the scale of the Lawrence Massacre and Order No. 11.
Click here to read more about the artist and painting above.
Ontario County is celebrating woman suffrage at a fine exhibit in Canandaigua, NY, the town where Susan B. Anthony was convicted for voting. It runs until April 1, 2018. In addition to great details about the women who campaigned hard for New York State suffrage, it also contains several beautiful period gowns and a reproduction of a bloomer costume. (To my surprise, the bloomer outfit was calico!)
The exhibit shows how the various cities and towns in New York State voted on its own woman suffrage amendment in 1917, three years before the federal amendment passed. I’m sorry to say that Rochester, the city where Susan lived her last 40 years, voted no. Thank goodness that neither she nor Mary Anthony were living in that year. Fortunately, the majority of the state endorsed the amendment, and it passed.
Susan’s Trial in Ontario County
Susan B. Anthony’s 1873 trial for “voting illegally as a woman” occurred in Ontario County. The museum that houses this exhibit sits just a few blocks away from the courthouse where the judge denied her a trial by jury and found her guilty.
Starting at the museum, I walked downhill past the courthouse toward the shopping district. Browsing the stores, I wondered whether these same buildings lined Canandaigua’s main street when Susan attended her trial. Since it’s about 30 miles away from her Rochester home, she probably stayed overnight . That evening, did she lodge with a friend or keep her nerves to herself in a hotel? Where did she take her meals during the days when her trial was in session?
The courthouse (pictured above during the 19th century) was considerably smaller in 1873 than it is now. I can imagine the number of carriages parked around it as people jammed the courtroom to hear Susan’s lawyer* and the district attorney square off. Even former president Millard Fillmore attended.
After receiving the guilty verdict, Susan stayed in town for a couple more days to witness the trial of the voting inspectors who allowed her to register and cast her ballot. I hope she got at least a glimpse of the beautiful lake at the bottom of the hill. When the inspectors were found guilty and jailed for a week, she made sure they had plenty of visitors and good food to pass the time.
*Henry Selden defended Susan. Interestingly, when Frederick Douglass had to flee Rochester because he was suspected of supporting John Brown at Harper’s Ferry, he borrowed Selden’s horse. Shows just what a good guy Selden was.
Susan LaFlesche Picotte, a Nebraska doctor and and reformer, had credentials that wowed me and reminded of Susan B. Anthony. Google saluted her yesterday; Continue reading
Besides its Spiritualist activities and many entertainments such as billiards, swimming, ferris wheels, and boating, Lily Dale was known for Continue reading
It is difficult to know Miss Anthony’s personal thoughts on this topic. Given her anguish over loss of family members and her speculations about life after death, Continue reading
Like D.R. Anthony, Clarina Nichols emigrated to Kansas in 1854 with one of the earliest parties Emigrant Aid Company. By the time Nichols set foot in Kansas, D.R. had already returned to his home in Rochester, NY to save money for permanent relocation in Kansas. D.R. gave up (temporarily); Clarina stayed.
Both made the journey in response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which decreed that citizens of the new territory should determine whether the state entered the Union as a slave state or free state. The state was then a rough frontier, and in one letter Nichols described ten thousand rowdy pro-slavery Missourians storming the Kansas polling place and preventing antislavery voters from casting their ballots.
Nichols wrote many letters to eastern newspapers, cheerfully describing the austere conditions in Kansas and noting that most of the male emigrants who abandoned Kansas did so because they could not keep house and farm at the same time. She, however, was forced to do just that when shortly after moving to a remote, pro-slavery area outside of Lawrence, her husband and adult sons died leaving her among political enemies and needing to homestead by herself.
Not only did she want to fight slavery in the territory, but she hoped that the new state would have a more open mind on women’s rights. She addressed numerous legislatures in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Kansas, declaring that women should either be allowed to vote or excused from taxation. She was responsible for gaining women the right to vote in the school elections of Kansas in 1860 and many other gradual victories. Always, her ultimate goal was for woman suffrage.
Much of her devotion to righting the wrongs of married women comes from her three marriages, especially the first to fellow Vermonter Justin Carpenter. Moving around New York State, Carpenter depleted his wife’s dowry, had an irascible and erratic temper, and tried to kidnap the children. Nichols’ family prevailed upon state legislators to modify divorce laws and, in the late 1830s, she was allowed to leave Carpenter behind. Nevertheless, she was psychologically wounded and financially depleted. It was during those early years that she began a long career of newspaper correspondence and publishing, at first creating a humorous pseudonym Deborah Van Winkle, an outspoken Yankee who spoke of “wimins wrongs.”