Some historical details are simply unexpected encounters, unusual convergences, or just the fact that records of a story survive.
Fifteen-year-old Hélène Stanton hopped off the 9 p.m. train in Rochester, New York, on 7 November 1904, while visiting the U.S. for what was probably her first trip here. Her father, Theodore, stayed aboard the train to some other destination. Though Nellie, as she was known, was the granddaughter of a famous American, the late Elizabeth Cady Stanton, she grew up in France, the youngest child of a French mother and an American father.
§ Nellie’s first stop in Rochester was clearly planned: eighty-four year old Susan B. Anthony awaited her at the railroad station and took the young visitor home to spend the night at 17 Madison Street. By arranging to meet her grandmother’s best friend, Nellie scored a coveted opportunity to hang out with one of the world’s most famous women. For her part, Miss Anthony was not content to be the sole attraction of the visit.
§ The next morning, Susan B. and Nellie set out as tourists together. “[T]ook her driving in a.m. to Eastmans,” Anthony recorded in her diary, “she bought a Kodack.” Rochester’s Eastman Kodak Company, making cameras and film, was an international brand, and its founder, George Eastman, though decades younger than Susan B. Anthony, drew comparable attention to their hometown. At the firm’s Camera Works on State Street, visitors could purchase the new Brownie camera–the one most likely purchased by Nellie. The 1904 model is here advertised to young people in the Youth’s Companion.
High Falls, Rochester. Rochester Public Library, Local History Division.
§ With camera in hand, the pair rode on to the High Falls of the Genesee River in the city center, not far from Eastman’s. In her younger days, Susan B. Anthony walked her guests from Madison Street to High Falls to admire this striking natural wonder and historical phenomenon. The High Falls, dropping ninety-six feet as the Genesee flows north to Lake Ontario, powered the mills and factories that clustered around its crest.
Tour complete, Miss Anthony took her guest back home until it came time to catch a 4:00 p.m. train to Geneva, New York. There Nellie would visit her grandmother’s cousin, Elizabeth Smith Miller. She is a “nice girl,” Anthony observed in her diary, who “looks very much like [her aunt] Maggie Stanton.” Maggie was the baby born to Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1852, the year after she and Susan B. Anthony met. Nellie had stepped into family history.
These are details of Hélène Stanton’s day with Susan B. Anthony as sketched in a few sentences in Anthony’s diary. Once upon a time, there were other stories about this visit, principally Nellie’s own. How did she describe events when she reached Elizabeth Miller’s house? What did she tell her father or write home to her mother? And, where, oh where are the snapshots she no doubt took with her new camera? That record is bare.
As for the hostess, the teenage tourist distracted her from thinking about a younger brother, D. R. Anthony, near death in Leavenworth, Kansas. The end came on November 12. Susan B. and her sister Mary promptly headed west on an overnight train.
1. Susan B. Anthony’s diary for 1904 is preserved among her papers in the Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.
2. To see these particular details in context, go to An Awful Hush, 1895 to 1906, vol. 6 of Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, ed. Ann D. Gordon (New Brunswick, N.J., 2013).