A whole new source of information on the Underground Railroad is opening next weekend in Niagara Falls, starting May 4. I’m excited because it will offer more in-depth background for my historical novels in The Dauntless Series, featuring abolitionists Daniel Read Anthony and his sister Susan.
Here’s the scoop on the new museum:
Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center
825 Depot Avenue W.
Niagara Falls, NY 14305
Why is this new museum important?
States bordering Canada, particularly in the East, were the last frontier for enslaved people seeking freedom before the Civil War. Niagara Falls, NY, just across the river from Canada, admitted many freedom seekers traveling through New York State. I am familiar with many such stories that took place near my home in Rochester, and always wondered what happened to those travelers after they left here.
The opening weekend includes a gala on Friday, a dinner on Saturday, and community day (for the general public) on Sunday. Thereafter it will assume a regular schedule.Read all about it here.
Their website offers some intriguing and detailed stories about an organized group of African-American waiters who risked their lives and businesses to help enslaved people to cross the border. Click on the tab “Underground Railroad Sites” to read about these individuals and some of the places where those escapes occurred.
For those of us who love the grandeur of the falls at Niagara, it’s just one more reason to visit this well-known northern city. Hope to see you there!
The Anthony Connection
Daniel and Susan B. Anthony lived in Rochester, about 60 miles from the famous falls at Niagara. Each of them, but especially Daniel, lent a hand to escaping fugitives. It would not have been unusual for either of them to visit Niagara Falls, since it was already a well-known tourist attraction during their time. Already my mind is conjuring up images of them speaking to a waiter and setting foot on one of the paths that led to river crossings.
Biography of Susan B. Anthony–New in September 2017!
Susan B. Anthony And Justice For All: Suffrage Centennial Edition–complete revision of 1994 edition. Order now on Amazon or Amazon Kindle.
Biography of Susan B. Anthony that carefully follows primary sources (Ida Harper, Alma Lutz, Ann Gordon), and is updated to include the ratification of the woman suffrage amendments in New York State (1917) and the U.S. (1920).
Celebrate the reformer whose drive and passion for equality made such a difference in the lives of women and African-Americans. From her early work against slavery in the 1860s through her fight for the nineteenth amendment granting woman suffrage, Anthony traveled the world, voted illegally, and changed history.
For grade levels 6-8: includes archival photos, illustrations, bibliography, index, and glossary. Selective adjustments of dialogue accommodate modern ears.
“A readable, lively biography of the women’s suffrage advocate, abolitionist, and temperance crusader.” School Library Journal
“In Susan B. Anthony And Justice For All, students have a chance to see what the world was like for both women and black people more than 100 years ago. . . . Anthony’s story is well told by Gehret.” Beaumont Enterprise
Jeanne Gehret has portrayed Susan B. in costume ever since the 1994 first edition of this book. She served as a docent at Miss Anthony’s home in Rochester, NY and has set her own feet on many of the places where the famous reformer lived, worked, and visited. She has also written The Truth About Danielbased on the true story of Susan’s brother.
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.
The National Women’s History Project salutes “countless millions of women who planned, organized, lectured, wrote, marched, petitioned, lobbied, paraded, and broke new ground in every field imaginable, [making] our world…irrevocably changed. Women and men in our generation, and the ones that will follow us, are living the legacy of women’s rights won against staggering odds in a revolution achieved without violence.”
For women’s history month, I have confined my selection of heroines to those who lived in 19th century America. That eliminates some of my favorite women like Alice Paul and Inez Milholland, who were both so instrumental in the second generation of suffragists that brought the movement through the final years before the woman suffrage amendment finally passed in 1920.
This is a special year for New York State, where women earned suffrage on state matters in 1917. Unfortunately New York State resident Susan B. Anthony did not live to exercise her right to vote legally in either her state or her country, for she died in 1906. Indeed, even though the entire country revered her late in life, her home state in 1894 ignored 600,000 petitions for woman suffrage, and the following year it formed an association opposed to woman suffrage. The only states that allowed women to vote in Susan’s lifetime were Wyoming (1890), Colorado (1893), Utah and Idaho (1896).
To offset this sad showing for New York State, today I am highlighting two female reformers who blazed their way across the empire state so brightly that they inspired the young Miss Anthony. They were Sarah and Angelina Grimke, who made themselves unpopular in their native Charleston by championing slavery, as memorialized in Sue Monk Kidd’s excellent historical novel The Invention of Wings. The sisters grew up as privileged daughters of a judge and plantation owner, with their slaves sleeping on the floor of their bedroom.
The striking elegance of the Grimké home reflected both the sophistication of the city they lived in and the family’s fabulous prosperity. Charleston in the early years of the nineteenth century was one of the new nation’s great metropolises. In 1810, with a population of roughly 24,711, it was the fourth largest city in the United States and possessed enormous wealth. The white community numbered 11,568. Charleston was a majority black city, with 13,143 Africans and people of African descent. In 1810, 89 percent of the black population—11,570 people—was enslaved, toiling in the households or the family stables or hiring out to work in the trades. Their unpaid labor across the city—combined with the unpaid labor of those working on plantations across the state—created Charleston’s wealth. The remaining 11 percent of the black population—some 1,430 African Americans—formed the free black community, whose skills in the trades and at the docks kept the city functioning.
Sarah and Angelina witnessed their mother’s arbitrary and cruel punishment of slaves in the “sugar house,” a place of such barbarism that its walls were soundproofed to muffle the screams of tortured persons within. Sarah taught her slave to read and would probably have been a lawyer had she been female. Angelina wrote a pamphlet entitled “Appeal to the Christian Women of the South,” in which she wrote:
I appeal to you, my friends, as mothers; Are you willing to enslave your children? You start back with horror and indignation at such a question. But why, if slavery is no wrong to those upon whom it is imposed? Why, if as has often been said, slaves are happier than their masters, free from the cares and perplexities of providing for themselves and their families? Why not place your children in the way of being supported without your having the trouble to provide for them, or they for themselves? Do you not perceive that as soon as this golden rule of action is applied to yourselves that you involuntarily shrink from the test; as soon as your actions are weighed in this balance of the sanctuary that you are found wanting?
Her pamphlet was burned in Charleston. Soon after, the Grimke sisters undertook a 67-city speaking tour of the Northeast (including New York), where they amazed crowds by addressed mixed audiences, not just women—a practice that was considered scandalous because the sexes were supposed to be kept separate and women were not supposed to speak in public.
Sarah and Angelina Grimke paved the way for Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, and others to speak in public about abolition and on women’s rights, as well.
It almost cost Frederick Douglass his home to publish his newspaper in the Talman Building in Rochester, pictured here; and Harriet Jacobs, who operated a reading room with her brother one floor up, couldn’t make her rent, either. Continue reading →
In 1847, two prominent abolition families became neighbors when Frederick Douglass settled in Rochester, NY near the Anthonys. There, he began publishing his abolitionist paper The North Star (later called Frederick Douglass’ Paper).
Douglass established his writing and speaking career in New Bedford (near Boston). Eventually, however, his rising fame threatened or inspired jealousy in some of the luminaries of the movement—most notably William Lloyd Garrison—so he set out in search of a new home.
I’m still processing, both mentally and photographically, what I saw this week at the Talman Building. But here’s one tidbit I brought back for you: my heroine Harriet Jacobs, who self-published this book before the Civil War, had a reading room one floor above Frederick Douglass’s office in the Talman Building. What an amazing, brave woman she was!
If you want to experience for yourself how small a space Harriet hid in for seven years, visit the very worthwhile Underground Railroad exhibit at the Rochester Museum & Science Center. If you can spare the time, plan to spend at least an hour there.
We have much to consider this month! More on Harriet–and Douglass and the Talman Building– later, I promise.
I have blogged extensively about the Anthony family in Kansas and Martha’s Vineyard because those two areas were the focus of my first book in “The Dauntless Series.” In the process, I’ve slighted one of the most obvious places anyone should mention when discussing the Anthony family: Rochester, NY, where all of Susan’s nuclear family lived at various times between 1848 and 1907.
So here’s my commitment: I will include the Rochester connection on a regular basis from now on. Not only am I currently researching Rochester sites and people that the Anthonys knew, but I have also created a program entitled “All for Suffrage: the Kin of Susan B. Anthony” where I will share my findings in person with a Powerpoint program. Several libraries have already booked this presentation, in addition to costumed appearances, to celebrate New York State’s centennial of woman suffrage.
If you want to share some Rochester historical tidbits or old photos, please scroll down to the bottom of this page and use the comment box.
I am excited that tomorrow I will be getting a private tour of the Talman Building on Rochester’s Main Street. It was the home of Frederick Douglass’s newspaper The North Star and also a site on the Underground Railroad. Watch for upcoming entries and photos from that visit!
About the photo on today’s post: I never stop puzzling over it. It was taken on the Anthony farm near Rochester, and none of the people in it are identified. Do you find their poses as curious as I do? I like to think that the man on the extreme right is Daniel Read, but have no way of knowing other than that he seems to be copping an attitude!
This is the home where both Daniels–Susan’s father and brother–lived, as well as Merritt. None of the men in the family ever lived on Madison Street, where the famous Susan B. Anthony House stands today. Two chapters of my book take place in this farm home.