May 2016


Rochester Public Library

Once home to historic figures like Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, Rochester, New York, stood at the center of 19th- and early 20th-century American reform movements. This exhibition looks at the contribution these and other Rochesterians made to the decades-long struggle for woman suffrage, highlighting some of the successes and challenges of that movement at the local level. From the collection of the Rochester Public Library Local History & Genealogy Division.

Susan B. Anthony
Rochester, New York, was home to Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), whose tireless dedication to the campaign for women's right to vote has earned her iconic status in American history.

17 Madison Street, Rochester, NY.
Susan B. Anthony's home from the 1860s until her death in 1906. This was the site of her 1872 arrest for voting illegally and headquarters for the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) when she was its president, 1892-1900.

A portrait of Susan B. Anthony at age 50.

Susan B. Anthony's press pass for the Centennial Exposition of 1876, the first World's Fair held in the United States. Anthony was representing the Leavenworth (Kansas) Times.

"Political equality
of rights for women--
civil and political--is
to-day, and has been for
the past half-century the
one demand of
Yours Sincerely
Susan B. Anthony"

Susan B. Anthony met Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1851. For over fifty years, the two women worked together as leaders in the struggle for women's rights, developing a deep friendship in the process.

Evincing both her philosophy and her celebrity, this calendar juxtaposes Susan B. Anthony's well-reasoned arguments for enfranchising women with domestic scenes of her in and around her home.

A testament to her importance, Susan B. Anthony's 86th (and final) birthday celebration was well-attended by prominent national dignitaries, including future president William H. Taft.

In 1948, a NY State Historic Marker was placed in front of 17 Madison St. in honor of its former residents Susan B. and Mary S. Anthony. In 1966, the house was designated a National Historic Landmark.

This statue, created by Rochester sculptor Pepsy Kettavong, memorializes the friendship between Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, fellow Rochesterians and crusaders for civil rights.

Not For (Nor By) Herself Alone
Susan B. Anthony was not the only Rochesterian dedicated to the cause of women's suffrage. Alongside her stood many other women and men without whom the fight for equality could not have been won. The following is but a representative handful of Rochester's most ardent reformers.

Noted abolitionist Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) was also an enthusiastic supporter of women's rights. He lived in Rochester from 1847 until 1872 and was friends with Susan B. Anthony. He attended the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 and was instrumental in getting a suffrage resolution included in the Declaration of Sentiments. Douglass was one of 32 men who signed that document.

Two weeks after the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, there was a second, larger meeting held in Rochester. Abigail Bush (c.1810-c.1899) was elected president, becoming the first woman to preside over a public meeting attended by both men and women.

Amy Post (1802-1889) attended the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls in 1848 and helped organize the second in Rochester two weeks later. She served as treasurer for the local Working Women's Protective Union, and the home she shared with her husband, Isaac, was a stop on the Underground Railroad. The Posts were also key figures in the American Spiritualist movement.

Overshadowed by the legacy of her older sister, Mary Stafford Anthony (1827-1907) actually joined the suffrage movement first, attending Rochester's 1848 convention. In 1885, she organized and later ran the local Women's Political Club (later renamed the Political Equality Club and then the Monroe County Woman Suffrage Party), which took the lead in petitioning the state legislature to pass a suffrage amendment.

Activist and community organizer Hester C. Jeffrey (c.1842-1934) founded a number of clubs for African American women in Rochester, including the Susan B. Anthony Club, the Climbers, and the Hester C. Jeffrey Club. She was also a member of the local Political Equality Club.

Mary T. Gannett (1854-1952) founded the Ethical Club in 1889 and was an active member of the Rochester Woman's Educational and Industrial Union (WEIU), the Political Equality Club, and the Susan B. Anthony Memorial Association.

With encouragement from her friend Susan B. Anthony, writer and literary translator Evangeline M. O'Connor (1843-1940) assembled the Rochester Council of Women in 1899. The Council was instrumental in getting a woman appointed to the local school board and in raising funds to secure the admission of women at the University of Rochester.

Suffrage Strategies
Part of a broader push for women's rights, the suffrage movement was deeply connected to other 19th century reforms, including temperance, abolition, education, moral and religious reform, and the labor movement. Rochester suffragists pursued a variety of strategies to empower women and called upon their fellow reformers to support them in their efforts.

In this letter, Susan B. Anthony lays out a plan to get women elected to the local school board. The successful realization of this goal in 1899 marked the first time a woman was elected to public office in Rochester.

In 1899, Helen Barrett Montgomery (1861-1934) became the first woman elected to public office in Rochester when she won a seat on the local school board. She served for 10 years and helped implement many educational reforms, including the introduction of kindergartens, vocational training, and health education.

Many suffragists believed that women would use the vote to bring about broader social and political change and they used this argument to elicit support for their cause. Susan B. Anthony sent letters like this to various reform organizations, explaining how women's suffrage would benefit them.

"It always has been clear to me that woman suffrage is the one great principle underlying all reforms."
-Susan B. Anthony

This lecture series, hosted by Rochester's Political Equality Club, illustrates the range of topics suffragists considered relevant to their campaign.

In the 1910s, both socialism and feminism attracted support from the political left. This suffrage rally, sponsored by the Socialist Party in Rochester, shows the intersection of these interests.

The vote, suffragists argued, would enable mothers to support laws beneficial to their families. It would also enable women, who were traditionally seen as the moral guardians of their homes, to extend their influence to the rest of society.

A Hard-Fought Victory
Suffrage was not always a popular cause, even among women. Anti-suffragists feared that enfranchising women would lead to social instability and the disruption of traditional gender roles. They argued that women did not need to vote because their interests were protected by their fathers, husbands, and sons, and that the political process would only corrupt them. The elections leading up to New York State's 1917 suffrage victory were hotly contested and Rochester's suffragists never actually defeated their opponents locally, although they did finally benefit from the success of the statewide amendment.

An anti-suffrage message emphasizing the decreasing popularity of suffrage in various states throughout the country.

This anti-suffrage message argues that the vote is a burden that women should not have to bear.

According to this anti-suffrage message, women in New York State neither wanted nor needed to vote because male voters were already protecting their interests.

This pro-suffrage flyer welcomes thoughtful debate on the merits of granting women the right to vote.

A reminder to register and vote for New York to join the list of states that have granted women suffrage.

In response to the argument that most women did not want to vote, New York State suffragists went door-to-door gathering signatures from over one million women who did want to vote--an actual majority of women in the state. This effort contributed to the ultimate success of the state suffrage amendment in 1917.

Rochester Public Library - Rochester, New York
Credits: Story

"Let's Have Tea" photograph courtesy of the City of Rochester, NY.

Suffrage campaign buttons courtesy of the Office of the City Historian, Rochester, NY.

All other items courtesy of the Local History & Genealogy Division of the Rochester Public Library, Rochester, NY.

Created by:

Michelle Finn, PhD
Deputy Historian, City of Rochester, NY
Historical Researcher, Rochester Public Library

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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