Why did Susan B. frequent Lily Dale?

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Besides its Spiritualist activities and many entertainments such as billiards, swimming, ferris wheels, and boating, Lily Dale was known for its support of women’s rights. Marian H. Skidmore, a leader of the Spiritualist community, was a great proponent of woman suffrage. At her invitation Susan B. Anthony frequently spoke about women’s rights at Lily Dale and participated in the town’s activities.

Perhaps it was the availability of an audience and beautiful relaxing woodlands that drew Miss Anthony more than answers about life after death. From Anthony’s authorized biography by Harper (p. 710) comes Susan’s account of her speech at Lily Dale in 1890:

People came from near and far. Fully three thousand were assembled in that beautiful amphitheater with the yellow [suffrage color] and the red, white and blue….Every cottage in the camp was festooned with yellow, and when at night the Chinese lanterns were lighted on the plazas, it was gorgeous as any fourth of July celebration, and all in honor of Woman’s Day and her coming freedom….Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Skidmore are the center of things at Lily Dale, and right royal are they in their hospitality as well as their love of liberty for all.
When Mrs. Skidmore died, Susan wrote this memorial:

“Editor Cassadagan:
It seems impossible that dear Mrs. Skidmore has gone from our mortal sight forever. I loved her….And on Woman Suffrage days—can it be possible that that noble, motherly woman will be no more there to preside over it? And yet, when I think of the belief, or knowledge, as she would say, of so many of her dear friends that she is not gone, but with them in a fuller sense than ever, I am led to exclaim, “Verily Spiritualists eat of bread the world knows not of.” Yours sincerely, Susan B. Anthony
Whatever her reasons for visiting the Spiritualist resort, Susan seems to have relaxed and enjoyed herself fully there, even going so far as to lead the line of ladies in gowns and gentlemen in tuxedos at the Saturday night grand balls. Quite a departure from her girlhood upbringing as a strict Quaker in the Berkshire Mountains.

(photo by Hilda Wilkinson in Lily Dale, by Christine Wicker, HarperSanfrancisco, 2002. Susan is on the extreme right.)

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