Town Where Susan B. Anthony Was Convicted

 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.

Why She Should Vote: Susan B. Anthony

Last week, Perinton and Pittsford filled the halls to hear my “Failure is Impossible” reenactment of Susan B. Anthony. One of the highlights of that talk is a discussion of her arguments about why she should vote. It was great to have a full house and especially fun to entertain people’s thoughts and questions afterwards. Thanks to everyone who attended!

She probably would not have attempted voting had not the U.S. recently passed two equal rights amendments within the previous decade. Let’s talk about them now.

Today is the anniversary of the 1868 adoption of the 14th amendment,  the one that Susan B. Anthony claimed gave her the right to vote as a woman. Following on the boots of the Civil War, this law amendment gave African-Americans the rights of citizenship and decreed that all citizens should have their rights protected. Two years later, the 15th amendment passed, giving African-Americans the right to vote.

What the Amendments Say

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” which included former slaves recently freed. In addition, it forbids states from denying any person “life, liberty or property, without due process of law” or to “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

However, the fine print said that adult male citizens should be protected; it did not specifically say that adult females should.

The Fifteenth Amendment  to the Constitution prohibits the federal and state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen’s “race, color, or previous condition of servitude”.

Why Susan B. Anthony Argued That She Should Vote

Studying these two amendments carefully with a noted Constitutional scholar, Susan deduced that they meant this:

  • Under the 14th amendment, she was a citizen and should have her rights protected.
  • The 15th amendment specifically protected her citizen’s right to vote. It did not say that she, as a woman, could not vote.

Unfortunately, as we know, the judge who ruled on her case did not agree with her interpretation, and found her “guilty of the crime of voting as a woman.”

Soon you can read all about it in my newly-revised book, Susan B. Anthony And Justice For All. I’ll be posting order information on this Suffrage Centennial edition of my 1994 biography of Susan.

 

 

 

 

 

New York State VoteTilla Celebration

Celebrating Susan B. Anthony and Woman Suffrage

What an exciting week it was in upstate New York as VoteTilla made its way from Seneca Falls to Rochester. I met up with the canal boats on a gorgeous day in Fairport (my hometown) and had a chance to greet several old friends who were traveling with the fleet in costume.

In addition to all the excellent programming done by VoteTilla itself, the libraries and town historical societies put on wonderful programs, including debates, author signings, children’s activities, and more. I had the privilege of presenting my reenactment of Susan B. Anthony to full houses at both the Fairport and Pittsford libraries. Thanks to all those who attended and asked great questions! And special thanks to Vicki Masters Profitt and Mary Ann

August Programs:

  • Saturday, August 12, Arnett Branch Library, “Failure is Impossible,” noon
  • Tuesday, August 29, 2017 Pittsford Seniors Lunch, “Failure is Impossible,” noon

 

 

Susan B. Anthony comes to life at VoteTilla

Join me as I portray Susan B. Anthony as part of the Votetilla celebration next week! Bring your school-age kids for living history!

Votetilla is a weeklong celebration of New York State’s ratification of the 19th (Susan B. Anthony) Amendment in 1917. I love that this event actually occurs on boats on the Erie Canal, since that is how the Anthony family arrived in New York State in 1845.

How Votetilla Works

Sponsored by the Susan B. Anthony Museum & House and numerous other organizations, the boats get underway in Seneca Falls, the birthplace of women’s rights, and stop in numerous canal towns (including Fairport and Pittsford). After disembarking in Rochester, It culminates with a festive street parade to the Susan B. Anthony House on Madison Street.

I enjoy re-enacting Susan and have been doing it for more than 20 years, ever since I volunteered at her house as a docent. This talk covers the highlights of her life including her illegal vote and trial and her relationship with Frederick Douglass. Enjoy the talk against a wonderful backdrop of  authentic 19th century images.

Centennial Edition of Susan B. Anthony And Justice For All

In 1994, I published a children’s biography of Susan by the name of Susan B. Anthony And Justice For All. Watch this space for a special centennial edition with updates to commemorate the 19th amendment granting women the vote across all the states in the U.S.

Male Counterpart of Susan B. Anthony?


How similar was Susan B. Anthony to her brother Daniel? Why should serious students of our famous suffragist take note of him?

Despite the times Daniel went on trial for murder during a street fight, suffered court-martial, and was accused on horse-stealing, Susan admired her oldest brother D.R.. According to her authorized biography by Harper, (p. 1339),

She had the most profound admiration for his commanding intellect, his business ability, his courage, aggressiveness and determination, and a strong pride in his achievements and the place he had made for himself in the history of his adopted State. But far deeper than this was her love for him because of his long years of devotion to her . . . . She felt that always and under all circumstances she could depend on him for whatever she needed….

Did she always feel that way? When I consider that she she made this comment about him late in life, I have to wonder. There were surely moments when she agonized at the scrapes he got into during his younger years. (For example, there was no way to excuse his horse thefts.) Remember that Harper wrote this shortly after D.R.’s death at the age of 80. By then, Susan had the accumulated wisdom and tolerance of hindsight.

Two Apples From the Same Family Tree

Susan’s affection and respect for her brother Daniel Read Anthony demonstrates why he deserves more than a nod from people with a serious interest in the famous suffragist. Yes, they had many differences. He was male, she female. He married, while she remained single. He made his home in Leavenworth, KS while she made hers in Rochester, NY. He had a terrible temper while she could be quite diplomatic. Nevertheless, reflecting Susan’s generous viewpoint in old age, Harper sweeps away all these contrasts with this comparison of the two siblings:

He was much more like her than was any other member of the family and their similarity of characteristics had long been a matter of public comment. (ibid)

 

Taking Harper at face value, she implied the following: if you want to know a male counterpart of Susan B. Anthony, look to Daniel Read Anthony.

Some readers will be aghast at this comparison. Comments?

 

Historical fiction: when the research trail goes cold

Last time we discussed two kinds of historical fiction:

  • historical-era fiction that uses a few props from a previous timeframe as a general backdrop for fictional characters, and
  • fact-based historical fiction that contains authentic details from books, newspapers, and artifacts that reference real people who lived and breathed. This type of writing also brings in popular social movements, architecture, music, literature, technology, and fashion. Moving beyond the available printed materials, I also love to walk the actual streets where my characters spent their days.

Balancing Truth and Imagination in Historical Fiction

One I’ve done the research and mapped out the known events, it’s time to weave in some imaginary details. Here are two examples of when I fictionalize:

  • The trail goes dry and I am left with gaps. I know that a character arrived at a certain place and time–for example, D.R. Anthony married Anna Osborn on Martha’s Vineyard in 1864– but have no idea how or why. So I fashion a courtship that is plausible, based on what I know of his character, preferences, current interests, and financial situation.
  • The factual record gives too many examples of certain activities in a character’s life and none of other important aspects. For example, although D.R. Anthony was involved in several major fires and numerous shootouts, I do not report every one of those episodes. If I did, there would be no room to develop his life as a family man or strong supporter of his sister Susan’s activities. (She frequently used his home as a base to campaign for woman suffrage.) To round out the picture of the man’s everyday, private life, it behooves me to fill in the cracks of reported events with snippets of pure fiction. However, even in these most creative moments I try to match documented thought and speech patterns.

For another take on this fascinating genre of literature, click here.

 

Susan LaFlesche Picotte built upon Susan B.’s foundation

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

Was Emily Dickinson as miserable as film suggests?

The film  A Quiet Passion did not serve up the Emily Dickinson I know.  Having read some biographies of Dickinson as well as her poetry, I have to say that the movie seemed pretty one-sided in portraying her life as one of angst and frustration. Continue reading