Monday, April 13, 2009

Quiet Push to Recognize Suffrage Sites

Quiet Push to Recognize Suffrage Sites

by Peggy Simpson


Media Center

April 9, 2009


Spearheaded by New York Congresswoman Louise Slaughter,

powerful chair of the House Rules Committee, legislation

was signed into law at the end of last month that will

help celebrate the not-so-ancient history of how women

won the vote in the United States.


Virtually unnoticed by the national news media, a Votes

for Women History Trail in western New York has been

authorized to recognize the suffragists who helped

transform this country. The trail will be operated by

the National Park Service (NPS) if Congress provides

follow-up funding for the bill, which passed Congress in

late March and was signed into law by President Obama

shortly before his European trip.


A Votes for Women History Trail would create a drivable

route that visits up to 20 significant sites in the

suffragists' prolonged battle for the vote, from the

Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged in Auburn, near

Syracuse, to the Waterloo and Seneca Falls sites of the

first women's rights conventions, to the trail's western

anchor in Rochester, the Susan B. Anthony House. Point

person for the trail has been Representative Louise

Slaughter, D-NY-a former chair of the congressional

women's caucus-who has sponsored the bill since 2002.


"So many people forget that it was just 89 years ago

that women were finally allowed to vote in this

country," Slaughter said. She praised Obama for signing

the bill "to celebrate the historic events and recognize

the important sites that served as the backdrop in the

struggle for women's equality." The Votes for Women

trail will let Americans "learn more about the heroines

who changed history and opened the doors of opportunity

for future generations of women."


Good political strategy helped move the trail into

reality. Slaughter's counterpart in the Senate had been

Hillary Clinton, now secretary of State. As a stand-

alone bill, the Votes for Women trail had faced one

obstacle after another. Slaughter, now the House Rules

Committee chair with much clout in the New York

delegation, worked with Senator Charles Schumer, D-NY,

to get the Votes for Women bill included (with 160 other

House-passed bills) into the 2009 Omnibus Public Land

Management Act.


In addition to the trail, the new law will expand the

current National Register travel website, "Places Where

Women Made History." As of now, only 44 percent of the

298 sites relevant to women's rights are included in

this. And only 57 of those listed are national historic

landmarks, including the Susan B. Anthony House.


The law also will direct the Department of Interior to

establish a public-private National Women's Rights

History Project Partnership, to help develop

interpretive and educational programs dramatizing the

national women's rights history. The partnership would

be run by a non-governmental entity and would provide

grants to state historic preservation offices for up to

five years to survey, evaluate and nominate women's

rights history properties to be added to the National

Register of Historic Places.


The National Park Service already operates the Women's

Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls. Its

mission would expand to developing brochures,

interpretive documents, maps and an official uniform

symbol to mark the Votes for Women History Trail.


Deborah L. Hughes, executive director of the Susan B.

Anthony House, said that while they probably would get

no direct funding under the trail project, she expects

national and international visibility to increase

dramatically. She is in the midst of a membership and

fundraising drive to retrofit the Anthony house and to

develop an adjacent carriage house as a place for

workshops and programs.


It's something of a miracle that the house still exists-

in much the same configuration as it was when Anthony

lived there from 1866 until 1906.  It remained in

private hands until 1945.


At that time, Hughes said, the Rochester Federation of

Women's Club approached the owners to see if they could

put a sign on the house. That's how they learned the

house was about to be sold again. The federation bought

it and preserved it, with volunteers only, until a first

staff person was hired in 1992. Hughes came 18 months

ago and, in addition to fundraising, is expanding links

with scholars to alert them to the five boxes of

Anthony's correspondence, which individuals have donated

over the years. Most scholars have no idea these

invaluable original sources exist, Hughes said, since

Anthony donated her papers to the Library of Congress.


In a feasibility study on the trail, the NPS said that

"by any measure, the women's rights movement is among

the fundamental, far-reaching, modern reformist

traditions in U.S. history. In its many manifestations,

the women's rights tradition has been characterized by

its challenge to women's subordination to men and its

insistence on a standard of equal treatment, opportunity

and rights. .


"Far from being confined to a corner of American history

as a `special interest,' the battle for women's rights

lies at the center of the public traditions of the

nation. The long pursuit of equality between the sexes

has had immense consequences in American history."


In the 19th Century, New York State was at the cutting

edge of the women's rights movement.


On July 19, 1848, the first Women's Rights Convention

was held at Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, led by

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Martha Wright,

Jane Hunt and Mary Ann M'Clintock. The Declaration of

Sentiments, calling for a broad range of rights for

women including suffrage, was signed by 68 women and 32 men.


Susan B. Anthony later formed the Equal Rights

Association which refuted ideas that women were inferior

to men and fought for the right of women to vote, own

property, keep their own earnings and have custody of

their children. She persuaded the University of

Rochester in 1900 to admit women.


In 1869, Stanton, Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage and

others formed the National Woman Suffrage Association

and Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell and others formed the

American Woman Suffrage Association. These two groups

merged in 1890 and held mass campaigns to win the vote

over the next three decades. That finally occurred with

passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,

certified on August 26, 1920.


The precise locations to be included in the Votes for

Women History Trail will be decided later, but the NPS

feasibility study included a map featuring these sites:

1. Susan B. Anthony House in Rochester


2. Antoinette Brown Blackwell childhood home in



3. Ontario County Courthouse in Canandaigua

(where Anthony was convicted for illegally voting)


4, 5. M'Clintock house and the Jane Hunt house in



6, 7, 9. Jacob P. Chamberlain, Lorina Latham and

Elizabeth Cady Stanton houses in Seneca Falls


8, 10, 11,12 Wesleyan Chapel, First Presbyterian

Church, the Race and Hoskins houses in Seneca Falls


13. Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged in Auburn


14. Harriet May Mills house in Syracuse


15. Matilda Joslyn Gage house in Fayetteville


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