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.

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

A Woman Alone

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.”

For information about this foremother I am indebted to Kansas Historical Quarterly and American National Biography.

Photo courtesy of  Kansapedia.

When Susan Retired Her Red Shawl

Today we commemorate the death of Susan B. Anthony.

According to Susan’s official biography, it was said that Washingtonians marked spring each year with two signs:  the return of Congress to the nation’s capital and the return of Miss Anthony in her red shawl to lobby Congress.

In her later years, the shawl was such a beloved trademark that when she stepped up on stage without it one day the newsmen ribbed her that they would not file their stories unless she wore it. She sent someone back to the hotel to fetch it. Only death could stop the indefatigable Anthony.

In 1906 (her 86th year), after making an earlier-than-usual visit to the capital, she contracted pneumonia and died at home on March 13. On her deathbed, she seemed to greet a parade of famous comrades with whom she had worked for universal suffrage. Together, they had labored long and hard and accomplished much, not only for women but for African-Americans. Still, the most precious right of female suffrage eluded her. Holding up her pinkie, she said to her lieutenant, Anna Howard Shaw, “Just think of it, I have been striving for over sixty years for a little bit of justice no bigger than that, and yet I must die without obtaining it.  Oh, it seems so cruel.”

The following is an excerpt from the New York Evening Journal’s testimonial upon Susan’s death:

No wrong under which woman suffered was too great for her to dare attack it, no injustice too small to enlist her pity and her attempt to remedy it.

She saw the tears of the slave mother with the child torn from her arms…and she was foremost among those who fought for freedom for the negro.

She saw women with great intellects starving for knowledge, and she fought to open the avenues of education to them. She saw the poverty of the sweat shop women..and she fought to better the conditions under which they worked. She saw the honor of the girl-child made the plaything of the debauchee, and she fought for laws for her protection. She saw the woman working by the side of the man for half the salary, and she fought for equal pay for equal work. She saw the intelligent, educated, tax-paying woman of the country classed by the law with the idiot, the criminal and the insane, and she died fighting, with her face to the foe, to have this monstrous injustice removed.”

Ida Husted Harper, Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony, vol III. Indianapolis: Hollenbeck Press, 1908

Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian