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
Saturday, August 12, Arnett Branch Library, “Failure is Impossible,” noon
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.
Courting at the resort at Saratoga, NY in the 19th century carried some risk for wealthy women, for it was described as a “heterogeneous society” where anyone who could afford the price of admission (and the clothing) would be admitted.
“All For Suffrage: Susan B. Anthony’s Kin” will be Jeanne Gehret’s topic in an evening presentation at the Penfield (N.Y.) Public Library this coming Thursday, April 27, from 7-8:30. Admission is free.
Miss Anthony’s devotion to woman suffrage is well-known. Lesser-known is how she also campaigned for black suffrage–and how her entire family supported her in both efforts.
Come discover how the members of Susan’s family thought for themselves and stood up for their beliefs–even when they risked public disapproval, arrest, the ruin of career, or death.
Copies of The Truth About Daniel, the first in the Dauntless Series about this amazing family, will be available for sale and author signing. This talk commemorates the 100th anniversary of woman suffrage in New York State.
That is how Abraham Lincoln is said to have greeted Harriet Beecher Stowe when he met her many years after the publication of her shocking 1852 bestseller Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which gave slavery a face and a heart by telling it through the eyes of individuals. Read about Harriet, her book and its amazing success by clicking here.Even more popular than the book itself (which had sales in the 19th century second only to the Bible) were the stage renditions of her play.
It is probable that the Anthonys of Rochester and the Osborns of Marthas Vineyard were familiar with Stowe and her work. Harriet’s family of origin moved in the same abolitionist circles as the Anthonys. And Josiah Henson, the man who upon whom Harriet based her novel, made a notable appearance at the Methodist Camp Meetings that were held every summer on Martha’s Vineyard; the Osborns would likely have seen the publicity. In addition, the stage rendition of her story was one of the most popular theatrical renditions of its era.
Of her most famous book, Stowe said:
As a woman, as a mother, I was oppressed and broken-hearted with the sorrows and injustice I saw, because as a Christian I felt the dishonor to Christianity–because as a lover of my country, I trembled at the coming day of wrath.
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.
Hannah was the third child of Lucy and Daniel Read. (Imagine D.R. growing up with three older sisters!) There are suggestions that she also taught (like Guelma, Susan, and Mary) before her marriage to Eugene Mosher in 1845, for which Susan helped make a Feathered Star quilt. Susan’s diaries and biography demonstrate that the three oldest sisters remained close all their lives, for they all lived in two red brick houses on Madison Street in Rochester.
Hannah bore three sons and a daughter. By the time her sister Guelma died in 1873, Hannah was already showing signs of tuberculosis herself and, at the urging of Susan and D.R., spent time in Colorado for her health and then took up residence in Leavenworth with D.R.’s family. Eventually Hannah’s husband and children were called from Rochester, and she succumbed to her illness.
She was buried in Leavenworth, KS, the first of the clan to be interred there. Susan stayed in Leavenworth for six more weeks, eventually returning to Rochester with Hannah’s only daughter Louise, who would live with Susan and Mary until she graduated from the Rochester Free Academy. (Harper p. 477)
Susan B. Anthony House, Rochester, NY. Photo by Jeanne Gehret
Susan B. Anthony gave approximately 100 speeches a year, by her own account, crisscrossing the United States to do so. Her woman suffrage campaign even took her to Europe and earned her an audience with Queen Victoria. Underlying her familiarity with travel, however, she had a strong sense of home and family that brought frequent bouts of homesickness and a longing for her kin.
Recently I watched In The Heart of the Sea, a visual feast for those interested in the whaling industry of the mid-nineteenth century. I found several noteworthy parallels with the book I’m writing about Daniel Read Anthony’s bride Anna Osborn, who grew up in Martha’s Vineyard, one of the great whaling communities of that era.