“Set the wild echoes flying”: Helen Potter Impersonates

The letter’s dateline reads Hazleton, Sunday, October 21, 1877. “My dear Miss Potter,” the writer begins,

As you are to imitate Mrs Stanton here I thought I would tell you how I was dressed last night that you may come as near as possible.

Before she left this coal mining town of northeastern Pennsylvania for the next lecture on her own schedule, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, that writer, advised Helen Potter, the woman who would pretend to be her later that week.

Helen Potter had created a career as an impersonator. She could imitate the acting styles of the best actors and actresses touring the country and deliver excerpts from the texts of the most popular speakers on the circuit, copying their styles, gestures, and attitude on stage. She was immensely popular, starting in the mid-1870s; as the Woman’s Journal put it, “In her peculiar line she is unapproached and unapproachable.”

Helen Potter in character as John B. Gough.

Helen Potter (1837-1922) on stage in character as John B. Gough, temperance lecturer, when in her forties.

That residents of Hazleton could hear the real thing one night and the impersonator a day or two later seems extraordinary. But it makes some sense, too: earlier in 1877, Helen Potter and another object of her talents, Susan B. Anthony, toured Illinois at the same time. After all, an impersonator’s artistry can only be appreciated if her audience is familiar with the real thing; it was in Helen Potter’s interest to know where the originals of her act were already known.

Most of what people know nowadays of Helen Potter comes from a how-to book about her career and technique, Helen Potter’s Impersonations, published in 1891. More details

Helen Potter as something close to herself, the frontispiece in Helen Potter's Impersonations

Helen Potter as something close to herself, the frontispiece in Helen Potter’s Impersonations

about her performances came to light with the advent of digital newspapers in which it is possible to search by word and name across many locations; queries about her uncover scattered advertisements and theatrical reviews from New York to St. Louis, though no one has yet reconstructed her travels. Another perspective is added through evidence, like the letter above, that Potter knew Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and no doubt others of her originals.

In her book, Helen Potter teaches how to observe an actress or lecturer and make useful notes about the performance. Instructions for her imitators, for anyone wanting to impersonate, say, John Gough as she did, include the kind of stage directions that result from observation of Gough at work.

Enter with an overcoat on your arm, place it over a chair, sit down and look about. Then rise, take a sip of water, wipe your mouth with a white handkerchief, replace it in the coat pocket (rear), straighten up, and begin your lecture.

With additional perspectives, the transaction between impersonator and her object becomes more complicated. For example, the New York Times noticed John B. Gough in the audience on November 12, 1877, while Potter impersonated him; once the observed performer, Gough was seen observing the observer’s performance. Another paper reported that Gough “has given her useful suggestions” about delivering his speeches. In practice, Potter’s art had curious elements of collaboration.

Susan B. Anthony’s diary reveals that on August 31, 1876, Helen Potter called on her at the home of Elizabeth Stanton in New Jersey.

At Tenafly– Miss Helen L. Potter came over & spent the day– She personates me in her entertainments this Season–my answer to Judge Hunt, Why Sentence should not be pronounced–

Associate Justice Ward Hunt of the U.S. Supreme Court had presided over Anthony’s federal criminal trial in 1873 and famously if misguidedly asked the routine question, “has the prisoner anything to say why sentence shall not be pronounced?” She answered with a forceful statement of equal rights. Anthony sometimes repeated it at the close of her own lectures, and now Potter would amplify her words.CpPotterasSBAAlthough the diary entry is silent about Potter’s plans for Stanton, it is likely the women settled that too. Potter selected the Declaration of Rights of Women of the United States, written that summer for the Centennial of 1876 and presented in Philadelphia on the Fourth of July. It was an odd choice: it was not one of Stanton’s lectures and lacked the cadence of oral performance. Stanton was not even the Declaration’s sole author. But it did condense the rights of women into a powerful message.

Attention to appearance, to hair, glasses, and clothing, was part of Potter’s art. She described how she and those who learned from her could look like John Gough and Susan Anthony. For Stanton, she prescribed

A rich, dark robe, plainly made, open at the throat, revealing a soft white kerchief or lace crossed underneath, and a tabbed head-piece of black thread-lace, complete the toilet.

She included a photograph of Stanton from which she had derived that costume but not of herself dressed to match. Stanton’s directions to Potter in Hazleton suggest that she had seen the impersonation somewhere; Potter’s description was not published until 1891, yet Stanton knew what needed to change. “Well, I did not wear a black lace on my head, simply my hair nothing more,” she began. With costume-designer’s detail, Stanton went on to describe what  fabrics she’d worn in what layers, ending with,

 a piece of soft blond lace round the neck & running to the waist with a large cameo pin, the lace puffed a little round the pin.

Potter’s real strength lay in elocution, habits of speech, and voice control. To preserve her art and allow imitators to learn her craft, Potter created a system of notation to record the sounds, pitch, and timing of her subject’s public speech. She later described it as a quest “to perpetuate, by diacritical marks and descriptions, what is now (in 1914) so marvelously and perfectly done by the phonograph.” In this opening paragraph of Anthony’s reply to the judge, some of Potter’s codes are put to use.

Helen Potter's codes remind her and instruct students how to sound like Susan B. Anthony speaking in federal court in 1873, from Helen Potter's Impersonations, p. 12.

Helen Potter’s codes remind her and instruct students how to sound like Susan B. Anthony speaking in federal court in 1873, from Helen Potter’s Impersonations, p. 12.

The judge’s voice is marked as a nasal monotone. The backward slashes that pepper the paragraph indicate “downward pitch, to the next bar or change,” and they capture a distinctive pattern in Anthony’s voice that is not so abundant in Potter’s marks for other speakers. The symbol (s<) indicates her voice should increase in force through the entire sentence that starts “My natural rights” or “Your denial.” The degree signs indicate that a word or syllable is uttered at a high pitch, so in the words “Re°publican form of government” the pitch rises on the second syllable. And so on.

Potter’s impersonation of Susan Anthony appears to have been second only to her John Gough character in popularity. In Philadelphia in April 1877, a theater critic was not at all impressed by Potter’s program until she performed Anthony.

Then followed the crowning triumph of the evening’s entertainment. We imagined it was the redoubtable Susan herself that was before us. For this personation she received a deserved call before the curtain.

At New York City’s Chickering Hall, in November 1877, Potter performed Anthony so well that a critic for the New York Times celebrated ideas that his newspaper disliked when the real Anthony spoke them.

Then Susan B. Anthony stood up for the rights of female citizens, proclaimed her title to the franchise, resented the tyranny of her lord and master, man, and proclaimed her unalterable determination of combatting it forevermore. The vraisemblance was undeniable, and the applause was hearty.

Did Susan B. Anthony ever see the performance of herself? In a lull in her demanding lecture schedule in March 1877, she traveled all day across Illinois, as she wrote in her diary,

to hear & see Miss Helen Potter–in her personalities–she gave Ristori, Charlotte Cushman–A. E. Dickinson & John B. Gough–she has marvelous powers of imitation–

A week later in St. Louis that program included Susan B. Anthony. Did Helen Potter decide not to perform Anthony in her presence? Did Anthony record everyone but herself in her diary? Summing up their encounter, Anthony wrote,

Had a good visit– Miss P. seems a very earnest soul for equality for women–

This visit of Potter and Anthony reveals one more kind of collaboration. According to her agent, Helen Potter earned the extraordinary sum of $20,000 from her performances in her second season on tour. At Peoria, she paid some of that money to Anthony. For immediate comfort, Potter insisted on paying for a room at the Peoria Hotel for her guest after the performance; for future ease, she made a gift to Anthony of $100,

said it was for S B A. personally–no society no committee–no cause but S. B. A.

Potter retired from touring sometime in the 1880s and prepared her book, convinced that she could teach what she had done. She was back on stage for the huge celebration of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s eightieth birthday on November 12, 1895 in the old Metropolitan Opera House. Stanton wrote a speech for the occasion but could not stay on her feet long enough to deliver it. She invited Helen Potter to stand in. Stanton introduced her and then sat on the stage to listen. No one recorded how Potter dressed for the occasion or whether she imitated Stanton’s voice and delivery. But one reporter, describing her role in the celebration, seemed to recall Potter’s heyday and the interplay between the real and the imitation on public platforms:

A Miss Helen Potter then read a most brilliant paper, which had been written by Mrs. Stanton, and contained all the statements that Mrs. Stanton would like to have said, but her health forbade the exertion.

 Birthday§§§§

Some useful books:
# Helen Potter, Helen Potter’s Impersonations (New York: Edgar S. Werner, 1891).
# Albert Milton Tennant, Genealogy of the Tennant Family, Their Ancestors and Descendants Through Many Generations (Dunkirk, N.Y.: Dunkirk Printing Co., 1915), 145, 229-231.
# James B. Pond, Eccentricities of Genius: Memories of Famous Men and Women of the Platform and Stage (New York: G. W. Dillingham Co., 1900), 170-171.
# National Protection for National Citizens, 1873 to 1880, vol 3 of Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, ed. Ann D. Gordon et al. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2003)

Text of Susan B. Anthony’s answer to the judge: http://ecssba.rutgers.edu/docs/sbatrial.html

Exhibit on Helen Potter: http://www.americanantiquarian.org/Exhibitions/Beauty/pleasures.htm

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“The Experience Married Life Has Given Them.” Really?

It’s no secret that men resisted woman suffrage. Over many generations, a majority blocked changes to laws that limited voting rights to males. Why all those individuals felt so strongly about controlling the ballot box is seldom asked. Biographers and political historians ignore the question, and after fifty years of the new women’s history, it is still intellectually respectable to omit from his biography a man’s opposition to women’s rights.

Samuel A. Foot was no ordinary opponent, muttering to his pals about keeping women in their place. While serving his first term in the New York Assembly in 1856, Foot fashioned himself the man to stem the tide of women’s rights. Installed as chairman of the Committee on Judiciary, Foot blocked modest reform bills and wrote an infamous report against women who dared to seek legal equality.

Samuel Alfred Foot (1790-1878), the man himself.  He chose this image to include in his Autobiography.

Samuel Alfred Foot (1790-1878) in the image he chose to include in his Autobiography.

Foot was and is, in some circles, an estimable man of his century. Lawyer, writer, district attorney of Albany, assemblyman, and judge of the Court of Appeals of New York, this “Eminent Jurist” was eulogized by the New York Times in 1878.

He passed through his life . . . without reproach, and honored for the manly qualities he exhibited. . . . Each good cause found in him a champion, each bad one a persistent opponent. He preached by example no less than by precept.

Not then and not since have accounts of Foot paid any attention to his extreme resistance to women’s rights. Neither have his admirers tried to understand that extremism in relation to his better deeds. Let’s consider the possibility that his attitude toward women mattered.

Foot’s chance to behave badly came in fall 1855. While he campaigned for office, the New York State Woman’s Rights Committee circulated a petition asking for voting rights. It put forth a simple argument: the women of New York are “recognized as citizens” and suffrage “cannot justly be withheld” from citizens.

We, the undersigned, do therefore petition that you will at once take the necessary steps so to revise the Constitution of our State that all her citizens may enjoy equal Political Privileges.

Petitions were returned to Susan B. Anthony and sent on to Albany during the legislative session which ran from January 1 to April 9, 1856.

Appeal and petition, Frederick Douglass' Paper, 26 October 1855.

Appeal and petition, Frederick Douglass’ Paper, 26 October 1855.

When the first petition from the campaign, signed by residents of Saratoga Springs, reached the Assembly on January 19, members referred it to the Committee on Judiciary. On February 2, assemblymen introduced petitions from Ontario, Livingston, Rensselaer, Wyoming, Westchester, and Chemung counties; on February 4, petitions came from constituents in Onondaga, Yates, Erie, and Queens counties; and so it continued.

As petitions piled up, Samuel Foot ignored them until, in mid-March,  colleagues pressed him to report back from the committee. His Report on Women’s Rights was read aloud in the Assembly Chamber on March 14 and, according to local newspapers, “set the whole House in roars of laughter.”

Foot got right to the point: “The judiciary committee is composed of married and single gentlemen,” with married men in the majority. This non sequitur about marital status set up his joke. “The bachelors on the committee, with becoming diffidence,” he went on, “have left the subject pretty much to the married gentlemen.” And those husbands brought “the experience married life has given them” to the subject. From experience they knew,

that ladies always have the best piece, and choicest titbit at table; they have the best seat in the cars, carriages and sleighs; the warmest place in winter and coolest place in summer. They have their choice on which side of the bed they will lie, front or back.

The list goes on, peaking with this drollery:

if there is any inequality or oppression in the case, the gentlemen are the sufferers. They, however, have presented no petitions for redress, having doubtless made up their minds to yield to an inevitable destiny.

Playing petitioners’ plea for constitutional equality as if it were marital tension better left at home, Foot never conceded that these constituents deserved a real answer.

Charred remains of a petition sent to S. A. Foot’s committee in 1856.  New York State Archives. Damage occurred when the State Capitol burned in 1911.

Charred remains of a petition sent to S. A. Foot’s committee in 1856. New York State Archives. Damage occurred when the State Capitol burned in 1911.

What could be worse than women daring to trespass on political turf? Husbands who let them do it. Foot ended his report with some petticoat-shaming.

On the whole, the committee have concluded to recommend no measure, except that, as they have observed several instances in which husband and wife have both signed the same petition, in such case they would recommend the parties to apply for a law authorizing them to change dresses, so that the husband may wear the petticoats, and the wife the breeches, and thus indicate to their neighbors and the public the true relation in which they stand to each other.

Colleagues recognized the incivility of Samuel Foot’s performance. As laughter faded on March 14, Henry Northup observed that Foot said nothing about voting rights or political equality. He moved that the report be sent back to committee, “with instructions to submit a report touching the subject of the prayer of the petitions referred to them.” The Assembly rejected Northup’s motion, but in the very next item of business, a majority rebuked Foot in a related matter. They had sought his committee’s counsel on a bill expanding the property rights of married women. When Foot reported against taking any action, Andrew Warner moved that the bill be printed and taken up by members regardless of Foot’s opposition. The Assembly agreed.

In one last reprimand a week later, members took away Foot’s power to block women’s rights in committee: they referred the petitions to the friendlier Committee on Claims. According to William Hay, a distinguished lawyer and ally of the woman’s rights committee, Foot was quite angry; he “squealed out his angry opposition, in the old stupid slang (or Shakespeare perverted from ‘Macbeth’), about unsexing women with the right of suffrage.”

Undated photograph of Old Capitol, Albany. New York State Archives. Built in 1806, the building was razed in the late 1860's to allow for construction of a new capitol. (New York State Archives)

Undated photograph of Old Capitol, Albany. New York State Archives. Built in 1806, the building was razed in the late 1860’s to allow for construction of a new capitol.

In the short term, Foot stonewalled to prevent discussion of voting rights in that legislative session. In the long term, his report became a totem in the battle for woman suffrage. First, Foot included the report and an introduction to it in his Autobiography published sixteen years later. By then, by 1872, the topic of women’s political rights was not new, surprising, or confined to Albany. Campaigns were national in scope, and women of Wyoming and Utah enjoyed full voting rights. Time and social change, however, did not lessen Foot’s resistance. Indeed, he added a boast about his talent for obstruction.

The committee regarded the idea of changing the order of an infinitely-wise Creator in regard to the sexes of those created in his own image, as too absurd for serious consideration, and determined to make no report on the subject. . . . The result showed that it was just the right way of putting down such nonsense. . . . . It killed women’s rights for the time and for several years afterwards.

Then, nine years later, in 1881, Foot’s report surfaced in the History of Woman Suffrage, in a chapter about the agitation in New York. There historians of women controverted Foot’s arrogance and the euphoria of his obituary. The report was introduced as the work of a reputable man gone bad, in a damning crescendo of words likely written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. (Odds are that Stanton knew Foot through her father, Daniel Cady.)

Mr. Foote (sic) was at one time a member of the bar of New York, associating with some of the first families in the State–a son, a husband, a father–and yet in his maturer years he had so little respect for himself, his mother, wife, and daughters as to present in a dignified legislative assembly the following report on a grave question of human rights–a piece of buffoonery worthy only of a mountebank in a circus.

In a stunning return, on May 23, 1915, the New York Times published Foot’s buffoonery again, as a message from “Mrs. J. Alex Mahon,” a leader in the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage. New Yorkers were debating woman suffrage that season in advance of a state referendum in November. Mrs. Mahon, citing Foot’s Autobiography as her source, redeployed the report in her campaign to defeat woman suffrage.

Though Foot-the-reactionary was inscribed into women’s history within a few years of his death, his modern champions simply ignore that facet of the man and make no effort to explain how the views and tone of his report accord with the man they admire. Foot is classified today as a “luminary” by the New York State Unified Court System. His prominence as a champion of male-only government gets no mention. By historians, Foot is respected for his swift opposition to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Dred Scott case in 1857. In his second term in the Assembly, he introduced resolutions condemning the decision. A year later, he wrote a widely circulated speech about how the decision threatened the Constitution. These are good deeds, but someone needs to explain how they coexist with the smug extremist who mocked women for expecting something from their government–and boasted about it later.

Who's extravagant now, Sam? A suite of furniture made by cabinetmaker Duncan Phyfe for Samuel A. Foot, as displayed in the American Wing,  Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

Who’s extravagant now, Sam? A suite of furniture made by cabinetmaker Duncan Phyfe for Samuel A. Foot, as displayed in the American Wing, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

Sources

Autobiography: Collateral Reminiscences, Arguments in Important Causes, Speeches, Addresses, Lectures and Other Writings of Samuel A. Foot, LL.D., Counselor-at-Law, and Late Judge of the Court of Appeals, 2 vols. (New York: n.p., 1872). Available free on the web. Foot reminisces in vol. 1 about the writings included in vol. 2.

Journal of the New York Assembly, 79th session, 1856.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage et al., History of Woman Suffrage, (New York: Fowler and Wells, 1881), 1: 629-631.

Just another luminary: https://www.nycourts.gov/history/legal-history-new-york/luminaries-court-appeals/foot-samuel.html

Dred Scott decision: http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/connections/slaves-court/history6.html  The full text of Foot’s 1858 speech is also part of the same lessons.

A man of expensive tastes: http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/galleries/the-american-wing/738

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“To Celebrate Worthily”: When Birthdays Are No Longer Your Own

Excerpt from "Save the Date" brochure issued by Anthony Birthday Celebration Committee.

Excerpt from “Save the Date” brochure issued by Anthony Birthday Celebration Committee.

Susan B. Anthony’s 80th birthday, 115 years ago today, coincided with her retirement from the presidency of the National-American Woman Suffrage Association at its annual convention in Washington, D.C.  Elaborate birthday celebrations kept returning to the topic of race in the nation’s past and present.

The party started in the afternoon of February 15 here, at Washington’s Lafayette Square Opera House, one of the largest halls in the city (left), where every seat was taken. The men and women arriving for this public event received a program (right), listing musical performances and speakers.

Lafayette Square Opera House, 1895, Inland Architect and News Record, 26 (January 1896)

Lafayette Square Opera House, 1895, Inland Architect and News Record, 26 (January 1896)

Program Cover for Birthday Celebration at Lafayette Square Opera House.

Program Cover for Birthday Celebration at Lafayette Square Opera House.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Festivities resumed in the evening at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, where two thousand guests passed through a receiving line to shake Miss Anthony’s hand. Janet Jennings, a nurse during both the Civil and Spanish-American Wars and a nationally published journalist, wrote of this reception:

The great hall of statuary was brilliant with lights and fragrant with flowers. Among the paintings was the portrait of Miss Anthony presented to the gallery that day by Mrs. John B. Henderson of Missouri. Taking it all in all, no woman in the nation ever had such a tribute to her worth and and work as this celebration to Miss Anthony.

The local Evening Star noticed  that

A number of local organizations of women, among them almost the entire membership of the Washington College of Law, attended the reception in a body.

Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1897, 17th Street. Undated glass negative, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Corcoran Gallery of Art, 17th Street. Undated glass negative, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Just having Susan B. Anthony in town prompted some unease about racial discrimination in the capital city. On the day the Washington Times covered her parties, a columnist collecting gossip “In the Hotel Corridors” revealed that African-Americans who called on Miss Anthony at her hotel were denied use of the elevator. He went on to complain not about the racism of hotel management but about female journalists/suffragists who reported the fact back to their hometown papers.

"In the Hotel Corridors" column, The Times (Washington), 16 February 1900.

“In the Hotel Corridors” column,  Times (Washington), 16 February 1900.

To Helen Pitts Douglass, the white widow of Frederick Douglass who lived in Washington, the more worrisome types attracted to the city by Susan B. Anthony were suffragists from the South whose states had already deprived black men of any right to vote. She attended a few meetings of the delegates ahead of the birthday and complained to a friend on February 12, “Sat. evening Louisiana spoke, and three times the little thing declared for ‘white supremacy’–apparently to no one’s discomfort.”

At the Opera House, both groups were in the audience when Joseph H. Douglass, the talented twenty-nine year old grandson of Frederick, stepped on stage to play a violin solo, the Hungarian Rhapsodie by Stjepan Hauser. Joseph also led an orchestra at the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s reception. After the music, at the Opera House, Coralie Franklin Cook rose to deliver what the program called, “Greetings from Colored Women.” Cook, who is thought to be the first descendant of Thomas Jefferson’s slaves to complete college, was a professor of English and Elocution at Howard University. Of the birthday girl, she had high praise:

Our children and our children’s children will be taught to honor her memory for they shall be told that she has always been in the vanguard of the immortal few who have stood for the great principles of human rights.

Cook then reminded her largely white audience that the premise of mobilization for woman suffrage had been the promises of equality, that

not till [woman] had suffered under the burden of her own wrongs and abuses did she realize the all important truth that no woman and no class of women can be degraded and all women kind not suffer thereby.

Coralie Franklin Cook (1861-1942)

Coralie Franklin Cook (1861-1942) spoke at Opera House celebration.

Joseph Douglass, age 29, played at both Birthday Celebrations. Here he plays for his grandfather, Frederick Douglass, prior to his death in 1895.

Joseph Douglass played at both Birthday Celebrations. Here he plays for his grandfather, Frederick Douglass, prior to his death in 1895.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helen Douglass, again writing on February 12, was clearly disappointed in Susan B. Anthony’s record on race. They were acquaintances, perhaps friends, who had worked together planning Frederick Douglass’s funeral five years earlier. But Helen placed a very large burden on Susan and, indeed, on the woman suffrage movement. She expected them to champion universal voting rights—black and white, man and woman—against a tide running the other direction in southern states.

The colored people do not like Miss Anthony, and she has lost the chance of a life time, the chance to endear herself and her cause to thousands to whom suffrage is as important as it is to herself,–the chance to put the association on record as standing squarely for humanity and loyalty–the chance to stay the advance of a spirit that is encroaching upon the safety of our Republic and to lead and strengthen the moral purpose of the women of the land.

Susan B. Anthony’s retirement went into effect before her birthday. Maybe she was testing her new liberty when she rose to speak at the conclusion of the Opera House program. At age 80 and without office, she could not rise to Douglass’s challenge, but she could certainly show the white supremacists in the audience where she stood. She could strive to merit Coralie Cook’s high praise. Reports of her remarks differ. Emma Sweet, a skilled stenographer and occasional assistant to Anthony, probably filed this first passage with the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. Tired and a bit overwhelmed, Anthony expressed gratitude for letters and telegrams from around the world and continued:

but none has touched me so deeply as that which came from a little town in Alabama with a postal order for 80 cents. It came from a woman whose mother and father have clanked the chains of slavery, and those 80 cents are worth more than the wealth of the Indies to me, and as I have sat and heard from all these friends here, nothing has touched me so deeply as from her whose face is of a deeper hue, and no music has touched me like the music of Frederick Douglass’s grandson.

There the report slipped into paraphrase, but we can pick up the thread in the Woman’s Tribune. Anthony thought this was a good moment to talk about the importance of slavery and its abolition in sharpening the nation’s ideals of liberty and forging strong people.

Nothing speaks so strongly for freedom, for liberty in this nation as does the fact that descendants of families who went through that great agony are able to secure development and opportunities for education, and to stand on this platform and celebrate my half century of work for liberty–the peers of any Anglo-Saxon.

Almost as afterthought, she added:

I am glad of the development that has come to women of the Anglo-Saxon race too.

Happy birthday, Susan B. Anthony!

Printed reproduction of painting by Sarah J. Eddy, 1903, inspired by 1900 birthday party. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Printed reproduction of painting by Sarah J. Eddy, 1903, inspired by 1900 birthday party. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Updated February 2016 to add sources

Janet Jennings, “Susan B. Anthony—Story of a Life Devoted to an Idea,” unidentified & undated clipping, Susan B. Anthony scrapbook 1876-1903, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

Helen Pitts Douglass to My dear friend, 12 February 1900, Emily Howland Correspondence, Box 5, Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College.

On Coralie Franklin Cook, https://www.monticello.org/getting-word/people/coralie-franklin-cook    and   https://storercollege.lib.wvu.edu/catalog/wvulibraries:1683

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“She is my goods, my chattels”: Hats, Marriage, and Possession

Mrs. Lovett of Troy, New York, needed supplies for her job making hats. Working from home, she had a millinery business “in her own name.” Though Troy, located at the eastern end of the Erie Canal along the Hudson River, was a thriving city, Mrs. Lovett traveled to New York City to buy her goods. It was 1851, and she could board a ship down the river or ride the brand new Hudson River Railroad from Troy to Manhattan’s West Side. Maybe the trip was also a quest for fashion, an opportunity to see the newest styles and bring back what she needed to copy them.

Hats of 1851. Godey’s Lady’s Book, 43 (November 1851).

Hats of 1851. Godey’s Lady’s Book, 43 (November 1851).

What began as creative economic activity by Mrs. Lovett crashed into the legal walls erected around every married woman in New York State–and most other states. When Mrs. Lovett returned to Troy, the millinery goods that she acquired “on her own credit” were seized by Abram Witbeck, sheriff of Rensselaer County, to settle a judgment against her husband. With the sheriff’s help, her goods paid off a Mr. Robinson to whom S. Porter Lovett, Jr., owed $402.80.

The Lovetts sued the sheriff and Robinson for wrongful taking of property. It is from the opinion in their case delivered by the New York State Supreme Court that we learn their story. The opinion, written by Justice John Willard, also spells out the stark terms governing property within marriage. Justice Willard wrote,

That the legal title to the goods after the purchase by the wife, became vested in the husband, and was thus amenable to the execution under which they were taken.

In other words, Mrs. Lovett never did own the supplies she purchased to earn a living. Lest there be any confusion, the court rephrased the fact: if a married woman purchases goods, the goods become the property of her husband “at the moment of the purchase.”

 Milliner and Daughter at Work, Springfield, Illinois, ca. 1854. Ambrotype, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Milliner and Daughter at Work, Springfield, Illinois, ca. 1854. Ambrotype, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

The wife’s legal disadvantage arose from common law definitions of marriage that migrated from England to early America. Marriage erased a woman’s legal identity, and without that identity she could not own anything, including herself. In the famous passage by William Blackstone, an English jurist whose Commentaries on the Laws of England shaped American law:

By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband; under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs everything.

So the court reminded the Lovetts,

the husband, upon the marriage, becomes entitled to all the goods and chattels of the wife, and to all sums of money which she earns by her skill or labor; and these he has absolutely in his own right, and not in hers.

In an example favored by Susan B. Anthony when she lectured on women’s rights, a married woman did not own the false teeth in her own mouth.

A Milliner’s Shop. Unattributed, undated woodcut

A Milliner’s Shop. Unattributed, undated woodcut

Little attention has been paid to the variety of baneful effects this law of marriage had on families at every economic level. To modern ears, “married women’s property rights” sounds like a problem affecting the wives of landed gentlemen or other privileged couples. But in fact, even a married woman’s wages of labor were not her own. In the Lovetts’ case, the law disadvantaged husband and wife together: in seizing the raw materials with which presumably Mrs. Lovett could have earned a profit, the sheriff increased the husband’s debt.

By 1851, activists in New York State had opened a public conversation about how and why to change the laws affecting married woman’s property. The legislature enacted minor changes in 1848 and 1849 that allowed married women to possess property as their own under specific circumstances. The Lovetts had heard that conversation and recognized in it their own predicament. When they sued for wrongful taking of property, they argued that the new laws protected Mrs. Lovett’s millinery supplies, safe from seizure for her husband’s debts. There is no record of how an attorney built that argument; all that survives is Justice Willard’s dismissal of it. As he read the new law, a wife could possess her own property only if it came to her as a gift or bequest from someone other than her husband. Of Mrs. Lovett, Willard wrote,

The difficulty which the plaintiff has to encounter is, the goods in question did not come to her by inheritance, devise or gift.

I learned about this case and legal opinion from Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who cited it in a speech she gave in 1854 about the laws of New York. To Stanton, already at the forefront of

Lovett v. Robinson

First page of opinion in Lovett v. Robinson and Witbeck (1852)

campaigns to rewrite New York’s laws, the ruling against Mrs. Lovett demonstrated that legislators in 1848 and 1849 had expanded married woman’s property rights only for women of privilege. Without an inheritance, Mrs. Lovett had gained nothing at all by new legislation. By suing for wrongful taking of property, however, Mrs. Lovett proved the point Elizabeth Cady Stanton hoped to impress upon legislators: women were not choosing to give up control of their wages or their business talent; they had not consented to such laws. Mrs. Lovett needed and wanted change.

Who was this married couple with the vision to make a claim that could have pushed the boundaries of the law? Curiously, nothing is known about them except the husband’s name, S. Porter Lovett, Jr. Mrs. Lovett’s given name appears nowhere in the court’s opinion. Working from his name, I think I have identified them; their story can be tentatively told. According to the federal census of 1850, Porter Lovett, merchant, and his wife, Susan, both born in Massachusetts, boarded at a house in Troy’s Third Ward. By 1860, two people of the right age, born in Massachusetts, and listed as S. P. Lovett lived in New York City. Again, they boarded. On this occasion, the census taker found them with a fourteen-year old son. When Samuel Porter Lovett, Jr., died in New York in 1861, his body was taken to Beverly, Massachusetts, for burial near his parents. Mrs. Lovett kept at her work in the city: S. P. Lovett, milliner, later Susan P. Lovett, milliner, doing business at 753 Broadway, appears in city directories late into the 1870s. On the marriage certificate of her son, Edward C. Lovett, in 1875, her name is given as Susan Palmer Lovett. When Mrs. Lovett died in 1901, she was buried in Beverly’s Central Cemetery next to her husband. Perhaps we might sing forth the honour of her name.

Grave, Samuel P. Lovett, Jr., Central Cemetery, Beverly, Massachusetts, courtesy of Find A Grave. Records indicate Susan Lovett's burial nearby.

Grave, Samuel P. Lovett, Jr., Central Cemetery, Beverly, Massachusetts, courtesy of Find A Grave. Records indicate Susan Lovett’s burial nearby.

φ

Find the opinion of Justice Willard in Nathan Howard, Practice Reports in the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals of the State of New York, vol. 52, pp. 105-107. [Known in legal circles as Howard’s Practice Reports 52 (1852) 105.]

For Stanton’s lead to this case and her review of other laws in 1854, see In the School of Anti-Slavery, 1840 to 1866, vol. 1 of Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, ed. Ann D. Gordon, et al. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1997), 240-260.

Title quotation from William Shakespeare, Taming of the Shrew and used by Stanton in her speech of 1854.

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Rambles with Umbrellas

"What to Do with Our Ex-Presidents? Susan B. Anthony Knows" by C. L. Bartholomew, Minneapolis Tribune, 26 April 1905

“What to Do with Our Ex-Presidents? Susan B. Anthony Knows” C. L. Bartholomew, Minneapolis Tribune, 26 April 1905

This is my favorite cartoon–perhaps my favorite picture–of Susan B. Anthony. She was eighty-five years old when the artist Charles Lewis Barthomolew, or Bart, imagined her charging flat out after a chubby former president of the United States. He captured the vitality for which the public knew her over half a century, and she liked the cartoon enough to keep it in a scrapbook. There’s Uncle Sam in the background shaking with laughter, while Grover Cleveland runs ahead of his hat. To accent the chase, long strides, and speed, Bart dared to expose Miss Anthony’s ankles, though he covered them with spats. On a ceremonial sash, he supplied her name, though most readers of city newspapers in 1905 would recognize her anyway: the center part, hair pulled back over the ears into a loose bun, simple glasses, and chiseled jawline–these were essential elements used for decades by painters, cartoonists, even photographers to present Susan B. Anthony to the public.

Cleveland had written a foolish, condescending article for the Ladies’ Home Journal, imploring women to stay away from clubs and public life and focus instead on making their homes more comfortable. As if Cleveland stuck his hand in a beehive (as another cartoonist imagined the uproar), swarms of women replied. In this, the second of his cartoons about the flap, Bart spotlights the special sting of Susan B. Anthony’s response: alluding to Cleveland’s muddy sexual history and illegitimate child, she told an interviewer that he “is a very poor one to attempt to point out the proper conduct of the women.”

I want to understand the umbrella. Why is it here? There’s no evidence that Miss Anthony carried an umbrella more often than any other 19th century man or woman. Yet it appears in other caricatures of her. She did own an umbrella. Like everyone else who ever owned one, she occasionally left hers behind. We know that because she wrote letters to arrange for its return. Nothing in the drawing indicates bad weather, and the umbrella is tightly furled. This is not a tool for protection against rain. It is a weapon moving toward a target.

Umbrellas became fashionable in England and the U.S. late in the 18th century, and by the time of Anthony’s birth in 1820, they were becoming unisex accessories. In many 19th century cartoons, the symbolic functions of an umbrella don’t seem to be specific to men or to women.  Rolled up and secured, an umbrella just became a weapon disguised as an accessory.

Currier & Ives, 1876. Prints & Pholtographs Division, Library of Congress.

Currier & Ives, 1876. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Here, in a lithograph by Currier & Ives from 1876, two factions of New York’s Democratic party, differentiated by social class (check out their shoes), kick up dust in New York City. The working stiffs on the left fight with cudgels, a stubby blunderbuss, and what looks like a broken stool. The gentlemen on the right rely on weapons they have at hand–walking sticks, a few dueling pistols, and one umbrella. (Note that the sophisticated Democrat and Susan B. Anthony were schooled in different ways to grip the umbrella.)

Still Scolding, by John S. Pughe, Puck, 20 Jan 1904, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress

“Still Scolding,” John S. Pughe, Puck, 20 Jan 1904, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress

John S. Pughe complicates the idea of umbrella as weapon in this cartoon for Puck. He depicts Senator George F. Hoar (his name is inscribed on his bonnet) in the clothes of a woman, immobilized by his skirt and protecting child-sized leaders of Colombia and the Philippines. Pughe refers to a specific contest underway in the Senate. Hoar, Republican of Massachusetts and a well-known opponent of the new American empire, was trying to stop plans for the Panama Canal. His opposition is made feminine, more mothering than manly. His (or is it her?) raised umbrella is impotent: it cannot even reach, let alone endanger, Uncle Sam. In a good example of over explaining, someone added the title “Still Scolding.”

Election Day! copyrighted by Eugene W. Gustin, 1909, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress

“Election Day!” copyrighted by Eugene W. Gustin, 1909, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Sometimes an umbrella is just decoration. Artists deploy it to complete a look or ensemble and indicate that a man or woman is out and about in public or ready to enter that wider world.  Here, in a cartoon copyrighted in 1909 by Eugene W. Gustin, an artist and art publisher in New York, comedy based on men’s anxieties about allowing women to vote works because of the umbrella. That is, we know, before she reaches the door, that this mother is stepping out with her umbrella hooked over her arm. It is the apron’s antithesis. All the elements of her costume are in place.

Rt. Rev. Thorold, Bishop of Rochester, by Leslie Ward, Vanity Fair, 10 Jan 1885

Rt. Rev. Thorold, Bishop of Rochester, by Leslie Ward, Vanity Fair, 10 Jan 1885

Rt. Rev. Ellicott, Bishop of Gloucester & Bristol, by Leslie Ward, Vanity Fair, 18 July 1885

Rt. Rev. Ellicott, Bishop of Gloucester & Bristol, by Leslie Ward, Vanity Fair, 18 July 1885

 

In caricatures of newsworthy Englishmen in the London journal Vanity Fair,  Leslie Ward, or Spy, dresses these bishops for strolling the city streets and adds their umbrellas.

 

 

Shut Out Again! And All Her Own Doing, Too!  Puck, 14 Nov 1894, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress

“Shut Out Again! And All Her Own Doing, Too!” Puck, 14 Nov 1894, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress

In another cartoon about squabbles among Democrats, this time in 1894, the artist Charles Jay Taylor renders the losing faction as a tired woman tossed outdoors with her luggage. Unlike the bishops, she is not in control of the impression she makes. As an echo of her own situation, her umbrella lacks power or purpose.  Yet the artist thought she needed it for whatever journey awaits her.

Finally, in an early caricature of Susan B. Anthony, “The Woman Who Dared,” artist Theodore Wust gives her a furled umbrella that reinforces and literally supports her provocative pose; it is a prop for a bit of an attitude–a woman who still dares.

"The Woman Who Dared," by Theodore Wust, Daily Graphic, 5 June 1873.

“The Woman Who Dared,” by Theodore Wust, Daily Graphic, 5 June 1873.

This cover appeared ten days before she went on trial in federal court for the crime of voting “without having a lawful right to vote . . . being then and there a person of the female sex.” Around her on a public square a woman serves as a police officer, a man brings home the groceries, and another carries his baby. Behind them, two bands of women are about to meet, one marching for their rights and the other rallying around the slogan, “We favor union–to a Man.” It’s a topsy-turvy world, Wust suspects, and at its center is a monumental woman with an umbrella.

Six years after this cartoon appeared, Susan B. Anthony described it to an audience of activists in St. Louis in 1879. A writer for the Globe-Democrat paraphrased what she said:

she was represented as at least seven feet high, head and feet in proportion, wrapped in the stars and stripes, which came to the top of a very long and very large boot, carrying the proverbial blue cotton umbrella. She would never forget, she said, the casual remark she overheard of a lady who had just heard her lecture: “Why, I had no idea that Miss Anthony was a decent-looking woman.” [Laughter.]

What caught her attention? Her abnormal size, her ankles, and her umbrella. Her clothing comes only to the top of her boot, she recalls. Her umbrella is blue cotton. For a long time, this detail about fabric and color seemed to me unusually fanciful for Susan B. Anthony. Why say that? It turns out she was being literary. The “proverbial blue cotton umbrella” refers to a novella by Eliza Leslie, Henrietta Harrison; Or, The Blue Cotton Umbrella, published in 1838 and “Republished by request” in Godey’s Magazine in 1877. Henrietta Harrison’s uncle loses his silk umbrella, buys a sensible blue cotton one, and resists his niece’s admonition that it “is such an umbrella as no gentleman can possibly carry.” Henrietta’s acceptance of its simplicity tracks the next phase of her education. If Theodore Wust imagined himself placing a silk umbrella beneath Susan B. Anthony’s arm, she swapped it out for blue cotton. The rest of his representation she could accept.

Φ

Special thanks to staff at the Prints & Photographs Division who thought to index “umbrella” in images in their care.

Gustin’s 1909 image survives too as a postcard printed in color:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/pennstate_harrisburg_archives/8044061632/

On the history of umbrellas, two sites get right to the point:  http://www.janeausten.co.uk/18th-century-umbrellas/     http://www.oakthriftumbrellas.com/pages/umbrellas4.htm

You too can read Henrietta Harrison. There are several sources on the web providing free access to the 1838 printing. One book, two stories: Eliza Leslie, Althea Vernon; or, The Embroidered Handkerchief. To which Is Added, Henrietta Harrison; or, The Blue Cotton Umbrella

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Under the Snow, Politics Flourishes

Photograph, Union Pacific Trains Snowbound in Laramie Plains, Winter, 1869-70

Photograph, Union Pacific Trains Snowbound in Laramie Plains, Winter, 1869-70

The original caption to this photograph taken near Cooper Lake, Wyoming, reads, “Six Passenger Trains Snowed in on the Laramie Plains. Union Pacific Railway, Winter of 1869-70.” Passengers were snowed in for weeks. Grenville Dodge, the engineer who surveyed and set this route for the new Transcontinental Railroad, opined, “Probably that winter’s experience with snow was the worst the Union Pacific has ever experienced.”

Maybe so, but stories survive from a major snow event on the railroad two years later, and this time, record experiences of passengers. In late December and early January 1871-72, the Union Pacific stranded eight hundred passengers in Wyoming along the same stretch and further east, between Laramie and Cheyenne. The names of a dozen or more passengers are known. Reporters collected their stories at Chicago, and one of them kept her diary on the trip. Perhaps theirs was not “the worst” winter mishap on the Union Pacific, but, arguably, theirs had the greater impact on American history. Friendships and alliances to last lifetimes sprang up, and snow shaped the fight for woman suffrage.

Cast of Characters

In the week before Christmas, Congressman Aaron Sargent, returning to Washington from his home in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, procured a Pullman car for himself, his wife, and their three children. Sargent was, politically speaking, a railroad man; he wrote the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 during his first term in Congress, and the corporations that built and operated the transcontinental line knew him as a useful friend. When he moved from the House to the Senate in 1873, he became known as the “Senator for the Southern Pacific Railroad.” Ellen Clark Sargent, his wife, had made a name for herself as a woman suffragist in California. When she reached Washington, she became a resident lobbyist, organizer, and treasurer for the National Woman Suffrage Association. Ella, Lizzie, and George, the children, were seventeen, fourteen, and eleven.

Aaron A. Sargent, Member of Congress from California, c. 1862, Matthew Brady's Studio, National Archives

Aaron A. Sargent, Member of Congress from California, c. 1862, Matthew Brady’s Studio, National Archives

The Sargents invited their new acquaintance, Susan B. Anthony, to share the Pullman car. At the end of a six-month speaking tour on the West Coast, she too needed to reach Washington.  Anthony caught up with her hosts on December 27 at Ogden, Utah.

Susan B. Anthony, 1871. Napoleon Sarony, Library of Congress

Susan B. Anthony, 1871. Napoleon Sarony, Library of Congress

On Board the Union Pacific

Susan Anthony did not describe the car she boarded, but she noted that the Sargents and their guests were its sole occupants. The family had an impressive supply of food at hand and the means to cook it. On New Year’s Day, they enjoyed “Roast Turkey, bread & Jelly, spice cake & excellent cup of tea,” according to Anthony’s diary. The next day they supplemented leftovers with dried salmon and crackers, emergency rations provided by the railroad. As Anthony noted more than once, the congressman helped out with the chores. Waking up on her first morning, while the train sat just east of Washakie, she enjoyed “Breakfast at 9.30–Mr. S. Making the tea–& serving as Steward generally.”

Domestic comfort could not mask their situation indefinitely. After one week on the train, Susan Anthony strained to find an upside to her experience:

This is indeed a fearful ordeal–fastened here in these snow banks mid way the continent–at the very highest point of Rocky Mountains fully 8,000 feet above level of the sea–snow melted for Engine Boiler & Car water tanks– Passengers furnished with Soda crackers & dried fish–a train loaded with Coal behind us–hence no danger of actual suffering.

Detail, Ogden to Cheyenne, Map of Union Pacific Railway, 1882, Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress

Detail, Ogden to Cheyenne, Map of Union Pacific Railway, 1882, Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress

In early days of the journey, snow blocked trains ahead of theirs. The Sargents’ car left Ogden on December 28. In the next four days, they waited hours for an “extra engine to take us up the grade”; they “crawled along to Percy–then delayed all night for trains ahead.” By the time they reached Medicine Bow, four passenger trains were crowded together at a full stop. They had caught up with the snow. Two hundred men shoveled the track, and after a day and a night, the train crossed the Laramie Plains “through deep Snow cuts ten miles in length.” They reached Laramie on New Year’s Eve.

It took three days to make the climb from Laramie to the high point at Sherman. A “tremendous wind” blew snow back on the tracks, and twice the train parked in a snow shed for hours. These celebrated structures shielded trains from avalanches and drifts but added to the woes of passengers. “Train drawn under a long snow-shed & hence very close,” Anthony wrote on January 2, “almost suffocating taking smoke of Engine & rare atmosphere together.”

Train in Snow Shed. Harper’s New Monthly Magazine 44 (1872): 880.

Train in Snow Shed. Harper’s New Monthly Magazine 44 (1872): 880.

An impromptu community grew up around the trains. Passengers learned who rode their own and nearby trains. Two sons of the financial journalist David M. Mellis, who had known Susan Anthony in New York, heard that she was in the train behind them and walked back to visit on January 3. Anthony returned their call the next day. John Hipple Mitchell of Oregon, a lawyer, Republican politician, and generally colorful character, rode in the car just forward of the Sargents. He joined Aaron Sargent on a seven mile hike through the snow to Sherman, and he talked law and politics with Susan Anthony.

At last, the party reached Cheyenne on January 5, and “at 1.30–Train was off–& at first class speed–& oh what joy in all faces.” It had taken their train ten days to travel 500 miles from Ogden.  They covered the next 500 in a day.  At Council Bluffs, Iowa, the Union Pacific handed off its problems to the North Western Railway, and the cars of six trains were joined together for a slow and cumbersome last stretch into Chicago on January 8.

Politics, Snow, and Friendships

Politicians talk politics. On this trip, their politics included a hefty dose of women’s rights. At Laramie, where the women of Wyoming had been voting for a year, Anthony and the Sargents were briefed by a local editor on the legislature’s attempt in December to take away that right. Only a veto by the governor killed the bill to disfranchise women. At Cheyenne, they met with the governor himself.

As soon as she boarded the train, Anthony tried to convert Aaron Sargent to her view that the Constitution, without amendment, guaranteed women’s right to vote. “Women are persons–hence citizens–hence voters,” she told audiences on her tour. It was a view with growing appeal among lawyers, a few congressman, and lots of local officials. On that first day, Anthony admitted to her diary, “Mr Sargent not quite convinced as to women being voters under the Constitution as it is.”

Though Sargent doubted Anthony’s constitutional argument about voting rights, it was a disagreement over tactics. Aaron Sargent became the most important advocate of women’s rights in the Senate, fighting between 1873 and 1879 for equal pay in federal employment, the right of women to practice law in federal courts, and their right to vote. In 1878, he introduced the constitutional amendment for woman suffrage that was adopted decades later. The whole family stayed in the fight. When the men of California went to the polls in 1896 to decide if the state’s women would vote, Ellen Sargent, by then a widow, and all three children campaigned for the cause.

John H. Mitchell won election later in 1872 to the Senate and served his first term alongside Aaron Sargent as a dependable vote for women’s rights. When the Senate debated the constitutional amendment for woman suffrage for the first time in 1887, Mitchell was there to vote aye. He was also a familiar face in 1902, when Anthony led a hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Woman Suffrage. The committee’s stenographer reported this exchange.

Miss Anthony. . . . . Senator Mitchell here is an old war horse. I traveled with him thirty-nine years ago over the Union Pacific, and we were snowed in together for nine days. (Laughter.)

Senator Mitchell. We got pretty well acquainted then, did we not?

Miss Anthony. Yes; and you have been a good suffrage man ever since.

Senator Mitchell. You made one convert.

Miss Anthony. Yes; and there were several others. A man came to me at the hotel the other night, who was with us on that trip, who remembered the trials we had.

*************************************

Sources

#  Grenville M. Dodge, How We Built the Union Pacific Railway and Other Railway Papers and Addresses, 22 March 1910, 61st Cong. , 2d sess., Sen. Doc. 447, photograph facing p. 37.

#  Susan B. Anthony’s diaries for 1871 & 1872 are in the Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

Chicago Tribune, 9 January 1872.

Woman Suffrage. Hearing before the Select Committee on Woman Suffrage, United States Senate, on the Joint Resolution (S.R. 53) Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of the United States Extending the Right of Suffrage to Women (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1902), 3-4.

#  To set the details in context, check out Against an Aristocracy of Sex, 1866 to 1873, vol. 2 of Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, ed. Ann D. Gordon, et al. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2000).

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Rochester 1904 / French Teenager Takes in Top Tourist Attractions

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.

 

17 Madison St., Rochester, 1930s. Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey.

17 Madison St., Rochester, 1930s. Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey.

§  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.

Youth's Companion, 26 May 1904

Youth’s Companion, 26 May 1904

§  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, rpf00288.jpg

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.

Sources

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).

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