Guelma Voted with Susan B. Anthony

What sacrifices our foremothers made for the right to vote! I’m reposting this since most of it got cut off last time.

Lovers of Anthonsilhouette w braidy memorabilia like to refer to Susan’s youngest sister, Mary, as the wind beneath the famous reformer’s wings. It’s easy to see why, since Mary remained single, cared for mother Lucy Anthony in her widowhood, kept the Madison Street home where numerous family members lodged  (including Susan), and was a leader in the Women’s Political Equality Club. But who were the other two sisters, Guelma and Hannah?

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Voting This Year?

 

Seneca Falls 1If you are one of the millions of Americans who has decided not to vote this year, please think again. Being an admirer of suffrage advocates Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, I support voting as a right to be cherished, even if you think the selections on the ballot are not optimum.

This is not a sneaky plug for one candidate or the other but a plea to support the American voting system (whether you think it’s flawed or not) that so many of our forbears have sacrificed so much to achieve.

Need information about candidates? Type “2016 ballot sample” into your internet browser and enter your address. You will receive a complete listing of national, state, and local candidates and can read about them at leisure.  Don’t lose sight of those people seeking election for state and local posts because someday they may be running for the higher-profile offices.

You can also get candidate information from the League of Women Voters at http://www.vote411.org/. Click here for their interesting summary of how voter turnout counteracts the millions of dollars spent trying to swing elections.

My travels last month afforded me the opportunity to hear sobering perspectives on our 2016 presidential election from both Canadians and Mexicans. Then I visited the Women’s Rights National Historical Park to reflect on the beginnings of the universal suffrage movement  in the U.S.

These photos that I took there show some of the pioneers who staked their reputations, personal safety, and resources on getting the vote. The first group of inspiring statues depicts Elizabeth Cady Stanton holding the umbrella while standing next to (very tall) Frederick Douglass. The next photo shows James and Lucretia Mott who, with Douglass and Stanton, were some of the original signers of the 1848 Declaration of Sentiments that kicked off the women’s movement in Seneca Falls, NY.

Voting is like a muscle. You have to exercise it to stay healthy. So go out and do it!

Brain teaser: why was Susan B not represented among the bronze statues at Seneca Falls?

 

 

Susan B., Up Close

SBA age 48 800

Did young Susan B. dutifully eat her vegetables, wonders Sonja Livingston, in Queen of the Fall. And when she got older, was she too preoccupied with higher things to attend to such mundane realities as food?

Hardly! For an up-close and personal view of Rochester’s very own heroine, come see my costumed portrayal of her this month:

Writers & Books, 740 University Avenue, Rochester

Saturday, March 19, 11 AM      $3.50 adults, children free

Celebrate Women’s History Month with Susan B. Anthony

Jeanne Gehret as Susan B. Anthony

Jeanne Gehret as Susan B. Anthony

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

Writers & Books

740 University Avenue, Rochester

(585) 473-2590, x107.

$3.50 for adults, children free

Tracking Women’s Rights

world of inquiry 800Recently 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.

Dressing for the Weather

North Water Street winter 800As Martha’s Vineyard, along with the rest of the northeast, braces itself for another mass of cold and ice this week, I can’t help but think how much easier we have it now than in the 1860s when Anna Osborn lived on that island. We who dash to our cars and crank up the heater can hardly imagine traveling in an uninsulated carriage warmed only by lap robes.

Many of Martha’s Vineyard’s narrow side streets were more suited to foot traffic than carriage, anyway. Living only a couple blocks away from Edgartown’s shopping district, Anna must have frequently bundled herself up to walk a couple blocks to meet a friend for tea, post a letter, or buy piano music for the latest tune. The current photo above pictures North Water Street, just a few blocks away from where Anna lived, during a storm similar to the one we’re experiencing now.*

Bundling up in the 1860s was a much different affair for women than it is today. Tucking my pant legs into my boots this afternoon, I have a fighting chance of traveling sure-footed. Not so for a 19th-century woman encumbered by sweeping skirts and petticoats. Everywhere she went, the long-skirted woman had to keep a hand free to manage yards of cloth swirling around her ankles. The early 1860s fashions also featured the mixed blessing of hooped skirts. Although they swayed gracefully when a woman walked, they also totally obscured her feet from her own view.

I frequently get calls to portray Susan B. Anthony in costume during her birth month (February) and women’s history month (March). These excursions give me ample opportunity to appreciate how much needed were the dress reforms of the 1850s, when Miss Anthony and her friend Mrs. Stanton experimented with shorter skirts over trousers. This bloomer costume, as it was called, kept one’s skirts out of the kind of slush that’s predicted during this winter storm. Being able to actually see her own feet gave a woman much less chance of falling on the ice that covered the rutted, unpaved streets of yesteryear.

Unless Anna Osborn had Susan Anthony’s thick skin in the face of ridicule, she would not have worn the bloomer costume on the streets of Edgartown. The bloomer’s practicality and safety were no match for the jeers that accompanied women who dared to sport that revolutionary fashion. But as Anna gazed at snowy scenes similar to the one above, she may have secretly longed for some of the freedoms and comforts that we take for granted today.

*Photo used with permission by Point B Realty, Martha’s Vineyard.

Was Susan B. Anthony Honored During Her Lifetime?

SBA age 48 800Although Susan’s early years were filled with bitter opposition,she became much loved for her tireless work on behalf of women and African-Americans. On Susan’s birthdays, many affectionate friends and family frequently lavished attention on her. One year her brother D.R. sent her a lovely silver-backed mirror.

On her fiftieth birthday, Susan had been living for two years in New York City, where she published a newspaper called The Revolution. Here is a description of her birthday party that year from the NewYork World:

A large number of friends and admirers of the private virtues and public services of Miss Anthony assembled…to congratulate the lady upon this auspicious anniversary…Miss Anthony stood at the entrance of the front parlor to receive her numerous friends. She wore a dress of rich shot silk, dark red and black, cut square in front, with a stomacher of white lace and a pretty cameo brooch. All female vanities she rigorously discarded–no hoop, train, bustle, panier, chignon, powder, paint, rouge, patches, no nonsense of any sort. From her kindly eyes…there beamed the sweetest smiles to all those loving friends who, admiring her really admirable efforts in the cause of human freedom, her undaunted heroism amid a dark and gloomy warfare, were glad to press her hand and show their appreciation of her character and achievements. (from Harper’s biography of Susan)

Harper noted that she received many beautiful gifts and also checks to the amount of $1000. Usually gifts of this kind were put directly into the service of the campaign for woman suffrage.

This photo of Susan at the age of 48 is reproduced from The History of Woman Suffrage and is my favorite picture of her in her prime. Many iconic images have depicted her as an old woman, but according to her biographer, she was still skipping on the sidewalk and running up the steps at the age of 80. Along with her determination, her vigor and stamina were a wonder to behold. That is always how I choose to portray her when I am in costume, as I will be this weekend at the Birthplace in Massachusetts.

A Christmas Tale

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)

Susan B.’s Quilt Comes Home

quilters at frame resizeThe Legler Barn Stitchers (pictured on this post) of Lenexa, Kansas were an excellent choice to complete the replica of Susan B.’s quilt. They had plenty of experience and provided a living history display as they quilted in the historic structure. Built in 1864, the Legler Barn

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