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
A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of presenting “All for Suffrage: Susan B. Anthony’s Kin” at Susan’s birthplace museum in Adams, MA, near the border of New York State.
After my presentation, my friend and I received a private tour by Adams Historical Society president Eugene Michalenko of the East Hoosuk Quaker Meetinghouse not far from Susan’s home. That is where Susan’s Aunt Hannah Hoxie (her father’s sister) sat on the “high seat” sharing spiritual insights during meetings. Hannah was regarded by the congregation as a gifted speaker in an era when women outside of Quakerism rarely spoke in public.
The high seat turned out to be on the top row of pews facing the congregation, nearest the center. Hannah’s central position connotes some importance. Measuring about 45×45 feet, the building features separate doors for men and women, who held their own meetings and kept separate records.
Once inside, a movable partial wall divides the two sides, with women and children sitting on the side with a huge open fireplace. (How kind those Quaker gentlemen were!) The dividing wall was removed during worship; thus, Hannah could be seen (and heard) by both men and women.
The Meetinghouse website includes more photos and describes many tenets of Quaker beliefs, including their opposition to war. Annually Daniel Anthony, Susan’s father, greeted the taxman by telling him that he refused to support a government that wages war and if he must extract the tax, he should riffle through Anthony’s wallet and take it himself.
Later, Susan’s brother D.R. Anthony ran afoul of Quaker pacificism when he killed a rival publisher in a streetfight in Leavenworth. By that time, the Anthonys belonged to the Rochester, NY Meeting, and a delegation wrote to D.R. questioning his adherence to the beliefs of his ancestors. Read more about that conflict in my book The Truth About Daniel, published in January.
Daniel Anthony, the father of Susan B. and her siblings, was of such an independent mind that he married “out of Meeting,” i.e. someone who was not a Quaker. In fact, he married a girl who had been his student, a Baptist named Lucy Read. For this he was temporarily ousted from the Meeting, as he was at numerous other times during his life. Continue reading
Why did Sonja Livingston include Susan B. Anthony among the “girls and goddesses” in her memoir Queen of the Fall?
To find out, come to my performance of “Failure is Impossible,” presenting Susan B. Anthony herself in costume!
11 AM Saturday, March 19
740 University Avenue, Rochester
(585) 473-2590, x107.
$3.50 for adults, children free
Recently I had the pleasure of presenting Susan B. Anthony in costume at the World of Inquiry School in the Rochester City School District. Approximately 100 seventh-graders, in groups of 20, cycled through several costumed speakers who introduced students to a variety of 19th century issues, including temperance, antislavery, physical abuse, unequal access to education, child labor, and women’s rights.
We like to think ourselves well-advanced beyond Americans of the 1900s, but are we, really? We still have problems with alcoholism, racism, abuse, and women’s rights. And today, children as young as eight years being trafficked in the sex trade, a form of child labor that is even more appalling than the factory work of 19th century youngsters .
Some of the World of Inquiry classes were all girls, others all boys. Presenting Miss Anthony’s impassioned plea for women’s rights to seventh-grade boys presented a unique opportunity. Why should young males, at the beginning of their adult years, voluntarily rescind some of their natural rights to girls? “Miss Anthony” drew upon her Quaker upbringing to challenge those teenagers to respect themselves and accord the same respect to the females in their lives. She asked them to consider what happens to women who are dependent on men when the men must leave their women, in situations such as military service or death. Would a respectful man want to put a woman he loves at risk for a life of poor education and poor wages just so he can act superior to her when he is present?
We costumed presenters kicked off a curriculum unit entitled “Fighting for Change.” Following our appearances, the teachers have helped students work through some of the nuances of these social problems and take them from the common teenage refrain of “It’s not fair” to “What am I going to do about it?” Sounds to me like a worthy goal.
In the above photo from that event are pictured David Anderson as Frederick Douglass, Victoria Schmidt as an Erie Canal cook, Jeanne Gehret as Susan B. Anthony, Christine Ridarski (historian, City of Rochester), and Jeffrey Ludwig as an early temperance advocate.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, Frederick Douglass was as well-known as Martin Luther King. For many years he lived in Rochester near the Anthony family and frequently dined with them and their Quaker friends.
The Rochester Anthonys were not in the habit of celebrating Christmas until the end of the 19th century. “We Quakers don’t make much of Christmas,” Susan said as late as 1899.
It should come as no surprise, then, that on Christmas Day in 1860 Susan became embroiled in one of the most unpopular causes of her life. To make matters even worse, the situation was filled with cruel irony.
Ever since 1850, Susan had worked tirelessly with a group of abolitionists to free African-Americans from slavery. Along with her family and friends, she had personally assisted runaways on the Underground Railroad. For this reason, she probably assumed that her associates would spring to her aid when she tried to help a white woman and daughter who were fleeing an abusive husband—a situation with many parallels to a life of slavery.
Here’s an excerpt from my book *Susan B. Anthony And Justice For All:
“Phoebe Phelps was the wealthy mother of three children, married to a member of the Massachusetts Senate. She suspected him of loving another woman, and one day she told him so. He became so angry that he threw her down the stairs. Fearing that people would hear about his affair and his terrible temper, Senator Phelps had his wife locked up in an asylum. For a year and a half, she lived like a prisoner, away from the children she loved.”
Finally, she was released into her brother’s custody and allowed to have her children visit one at a time. On one of these occasions, she fled with her 13 year-old daughter Delia to Quaker friends, who introduced them both to Susan in Syracuse, NY.
Thus Susan marked that Christmas by boarding a train headed for New York City with the two fugitives. But as in the original Christmas story, there was no room at the inn.
“Because it was late at night when they arrived, Susan tried to get a hotel room for the night. However, the clerk refused to rent them a room [because they were not accompanied by a man]. After Susan threatened to sleep in the lobby, he gave in. The whole next day Susan took Mrs. Phelps and Delia from one friend’s home to another, but none would help them for fear of breaking the law.”
At that time, Massachusetts law viewed children and married women as property of the man of the house. Among others, Susan’s abolitionist hero William Lloyd Garrison demanded that she return the women to Senator Phelps rather than sully the antislavery movement with law-breaking on behalf of the Phelpses. Susan retorted, “Trust me that as I ignore all law to help the slave, so will I ignore it all to protect an enslaved woman.”
Susan’s father affirmed that she had made the right moral choice. Most likely, she also had the support of her brother D.R. in Kansas, who two years later as a Civil War colonel would face a court martial rather than return fugitive slaves to their masters. He frequently supported Susan’s travels on behalf of women’s rights.
Senator Phelps eventually kidnapped Delia, who was never re-united with Phoebe. In 1876, the Phelps failure probably returned to haunt Susan: when D.R.’s wife Anna needed assistance on a female issue, she turned to someone other than her famous sister-in-law.
(*Verbal Images Press, 1994)
Quakerism was at the center of the Anthony family. It was a bee in the bonnet of Susan’s antislavery activities that began in New York State, and a spur atop the saddle for Merritt and Daniel as they rode with the Kansas cavalry in the Civil War.
The Anthony story begins in Adams, Massachusetts at the family homestead and Friends’ Cemetery. That home represents a fairly stable period in the relationship between the Anthonys and the Quakers.