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