Susan B. Anthony, Lydia Mott and Albany

While Anthony is closely associated with the city of Rochester, she spent considerable time in Albany with her BFF, Lydia Mott. It was in Albany she had her epiphany and began devoting her life to women’s rights and suffrage.

Susan was from Adams, Mass. She was 17 when she met Lydia Mott, a young Quaker woman from Albany,  teaching at Molson’s Female Seminary, a Quaker boarding school outside Philadelphia. There was a family linkage-Daniel Anthony, father of SBA, had attended a Quaker school, Nine Partners (Millbrook, Dutchess County), where he had had been taught by James Mott (Lydia’s cousin) and Lucretia Mott, wife of James. Susan and Lydia (and Lydia’s sister Abigail) would became friends for life. However. Susan’s father was in the midst of dreadful financial troubles, and she was forced to leave school

2By the late 1830s Lydia was already involved in women’s rights, working to get the married women’s property act passed in New York State (that would happen in the late 1840s), and running a men’s haberdashery store on Broadway near Franklin St. to support herself and two sisters. In 1839 Susan worked for 4 months as a teacher in New Rochelle, a job she found entirely unfulfilling and could not countenance the disparity in wages between male and female teachers,. For the next 6 years she taught in Washington County where the family was now living, feeling increasingly constrained and yearning for something she couldn’t quite identify.

By the early 1840s both Lydia and Anthony were becoming involved anti-slavery activities in their own ways. None of their correspondence survives, but we can only imagine how the pen flew across the pages. Lydia and her sister Abigail had already made the acquaintance of Frederick Douglass (Susan later wrote that Abigail taught Douglass how to read.) Meanwhile Susan was toiling away.

In 1845 Susan’s father (using part of his wife’s inheritance) bought a farm in Rochester NY. Things were looking up. In 1846 Susan was invited to teach in Canajoharie. She makes a success of it and the job pays well (For the first and probably the last time she spends some of her money on clothing and finery.. a fancy hat, a shawl, a fur muff, jewelry – hard to imagine when we look at photos of her in later years.) While in Canajoharie she spends much time in Albany with Lydia and Abigail. Anthony’s biographer (Ida Harper) says:

“Their modest home was the rallying center for the reformers of the day and it was here Miss Anthony met many of the noted men and women with whom she was to become so closely associated in the future.”

The Mott homes, first on Maiden Lane and then on Columbia St.,would serve that purpose for the next 3 decades. There wasn’t social activist who did not visit the Motts when they were in Albany They’re the people we have come to think of as the men and women who changed America – William Lloyd Garrison, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Wendell Philips, Gerrit Smith.

While she was in Canajoharie Susan became more deeply involved in the temperance movement – and it was there in 1849 she gives her first speech.

After 2 years she returns to Rochester; the beloved cousin with whom she had been living in Canajoharie dies in childbirth. Susan’s grief is boundless.

By 1850 Susan abandons teaching and throws herself into the temperance cause. While she supported equal rights for women, her biographer says she was still not convinced about the need for women to vote. In 1850 the beautiful Abigail Mott died while she and Lydia were in Battle Creek Michigan visiting family. Susan raced to be at Lydia’s side in Albany.

5Susan reached the turning point of her life in Albany in 1852. It was the stuff of high drama. She was appointed a delegate to the NYS Sons of Temperance convention in Albany that year, held at the State Street Baptist Church.

Susan rose to speak and the chairman told her, “sisters were not invited to speak, but to listen and learn”. She and a handful of other women walked out. They went to Lydia‘s house at 37 Maiden Lane (Sandwiches To Go is there today). She told them they should hold their own meeting. It sounded like wise counsel. Lydia found them a venue for the meeting, the First Presbyterian Church on the corner of Philip St, and Hudson Ave., and took them to see Thurlow Weed, the publisher of the “Albany Evening Journal”. He approved heartily of the meeting and promised to advertise the heck out of it in the paper.

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The meeting was a resounding success. Elizabeth Cady Stanton sent a letter that was so radical only Susan had the courage to read. Several months later Anthony convened a women’s temperance convention in Rochester; it was another success. The same year there was anti-slavery convention in Rochester; Lydia attended with Susan. It was here that her biographer says she gained the courage to become an active abolitionist as others were (Lydia had been a member of the Underground Railroad in Albany for years). In September Anthony attended her first women’s rights convention in Syracuse. The cause of women’s rights, including securing women the right to vote, became her life.

Susan and Lydia worked tirelessly separately and together for the next 20 years. In 1854 Albany was the site of a Woman’s Right Convention. Lydia did the organizing and Susan did the speaking. In 1860 Susan helped Lydia establish the American Anti-Slavery Depository stocked with pamphlets, literature and books on Steuben St. In 1861 when National Women’s Rights Convention was held in Albany, Lydia worked tirelessly behind the scene, doing much of the administrative/logistical work, while Susan, who had now become a powerful speaker, took to the stage. They were a team. After the end of the Civil War Mott and Anthony stood steadfastly side by side as they made it clear to other members of the Anti-Slavery Society that abolition of slavery was insufficient and there had to be a constitutional amendment granting African Americans the right vote.

They were there for each other at the great moments of their lives. In 1867 Susan made an impassioned speech to the NYS Constitutional Convention at the old State Capitol, imploring the right to vote “irrespective of race, color or sex”. In 1872 Susan was arrested for voting in a federal election in Rochester. She was indicted in federal court in Albany’s old city hall (same location on Eagle St. as it is today) by a panel of male jurors from Albany. Lydia now owned a boarding house at 87 Columbia St., just a stone’s throw from the Capitol and City Hall. She provided a place of comfort and ease – a retreat for Susan (and their friends) as they fought the great political battles of the 19th century.

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7In 1875 when Lydia lay dying from tuberculosis Susan went to her side  on Columbia St. and nursed her for weeks. When Lydia died Susan wrote: “There passed out of my life today, the one, next to my own family, who has been the nearest and dearest friend to me for thirty years.”

Lydia is buried in Lot 3, Section 49 of the Albany Rural Cemetery.

 

 

 

(We like telling this story, not only because it’s about Albany, but it let’s us talk about a young and lovely Susan B. Anthony, so different from the photos when she was older, and how she came to her calling. We love origin stories. And it allows us to tell the story of Lydia Mott, the forgotten hero of the 19th century suffrage movement.)

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Lydia Mott is probably the most important woman who ever lived in Albany and you probably never heard of her

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Lydia was born into a a large Quaker family  in 1807,  The family alternated between Long Island and Albany. In the 1820s, some of the family settled permanently in Albany, where the brothers and several of the sisters taught school (first on Broadway and then at the corner of State and Lodge). In the 1830s Lydia went to teach at a Quaker boarding school in Philadelphia where she met Susan B. Anthony. They would remain best friends for 40 years.*

Upon her return to Albany Lydia became a shop keeper, selling men’s furnishings (shirts, gloves, scarves, etc.) Her first store was on Broadway, while the family lived on Chapel St. Her brothers died relatively young, and Lydia would maintain the business with the help of her sisters, Abigail (who passed away in 1851) and Jane (who outlived Lydia). The business moved to several locations including Maiden Lane, over a period of 15 years, until she started acquire property in Albany and operated a boarding house at 716 Broadway in the late 1850s until about 1870. This alone would have been amazing accomplishment for a single woman in the mid-19th century, but it was her extracurricular activities that are truly remarkable.

By the late 1830s, when she about 30, Lydia began to translate her interest in women’s rights and abolition into action. Several years before Susan B. Anthony became associated with women’s suffrage, Lydia was working in the trenches with feminist movement pioneers like Ernestine Rose, the Grimke Sisters, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott (whose husband was Lydia’s cousin and part of the vast Quaker reform activist movement.) Most of these women were also knee deep in anti-slavery activities. (Lucretia Mott and Stanton first met at an ant-slavery convention in London in 1840 to which they were not admitted because they were women.) Lydia Mott hosted lobbying activities and monitored legislative action from her home near the Capitol that were critical to the passage of The NYS Married Women’s Property Law in April, 1848 (which a gave women right to own property independent of their husbands).

The Seneca Falls “Declaration of Sentiments” 3 months later in July, 1848 focused attention on the women’s rights movement, and over the next 30 years Lydia was at the center of the activities in the critical state of New York. It was here in Albany in 1852, when Susan B. Anthony, spurred on by Lydia, decided to focus her enormous energy on this issue of women’s rights. (They both had been denied admittance to a Temperance convention because they were women.). Lydia organized the conventions (ever the businesswoman, she was adamant that an admission fee be charged and speakers paid), coordinated lobbying, and corresponded with other states and key leaders. Her home was the gathering place when anyone came to Albany to discuss women’s rights. In 1873 when Susan B. Anthony was indicted by a federal grand jury in Albany’s old City Hall on Eagle St., she stayed with Lydia at her home, now on Columbia St.

But that wasn’t enough for Lydia. At the same time she had her awakening about women’s rights she became passionately involved in anti-slavery activities. Initially her involvement was local. She was the only White female member of the Albany Vigilance committee. She served as a conductor on the city’s Underground Railroad for fugitive slaves. In the 1840s Rosetta, eldest daughter of Frederick Douglass, was placed in the care of the Mott sisters for 5 years (Abigail taught Frederick Douglass how to read and write.) She coordinated the conventions, organized the correspondence and lobbying and scheduled speakers. Again the Mott home became the home away from home for William Lloyd Garrison, Gerrit Smith, Wendell Philips and other leading lights of the anti-slavery movement when they were in Albany.

As the movement picked up intensity in the 1850s, Lydia made her way to the national stage. By 1858 she was a vice president of the American Anti-slavery Society.

Lydia Mott was at the intersection of and played a key role in two of the most important social and political reforms of this country. There are few if any histories of the anti-slavery or women’s rights movements that don’t mention her or don’t include her correspondence with national leaders of the movements. During her life time she was nationally known; she was often referred to in the newspapers the same way as they referred to Susan B, Anthony, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Yet in this country and in even in her own city she is mostly forgotten. How does that happen? How does a woman so critical to our history simply disappear?

*Lydia was so important to Susan B. Anthony, that as Lydia was nearing the end of her life in 1875 , Susan cast aside her fast paced and often frenetic women’s rights travels and speaking engagements to spend the last month of Lydia’s life with her on Columbia St.

The Federal Indictment of Susan B. Anthony – Albany NY 1873

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On November 5, 1872, Anthony cast her ballot for Republican Ulysses S. Grant and was elated at having taken direct action to achieve suffrage. In a letter to close friend Elizabeth Cady Stanton, she wrote, “Well I have been & gone done it! Positively voted the republican ticket—strait—this A.M. at 7 o’clock & swore my vote in at that.”

Several weeks after she voted she was arrested in her home in Rochester. After her arrest, she was taken to a Federal office where she discovered that the other dozen or so women who had voted and the election inspectors who permitted her to vote, had been arrested as well.

The Federal government decided to single out Anthony for prosecution. The first phase of the legal proceedings began in federal district court in Albany in 1873. There was no federal courthouse in the City, so the initial hearings were held in upstairs chambers in City Hall. (That would be the first City Hall, which was destroyed by fire in 1880; its replacement is still located on Eagle St. in the same location.)

In the 3rd week of January 1873 Anthony was indicted by grand jury of 20 men in the Northern District Court, “for knowingly, wrongfully, and unlawfully voting for a member of Congress without having a lawful right to vote…the said Susan B. Anthony being then and there a person of the female sex.”

At least 8 of the men were Albany City men; 1 was a deputy sheriff and the others were well-to-do businessmen (including James Goold, owner of the largest carriage factory in Albany).

Anthony went to trial about 6 months later in western  New York.  She was convicted.  She never paid served time and never paid her fine.  The indictment and the trial made her a cause celebre across the nation, which is capitalized upon to bring further attention and support  for women’s suffrage.

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The Story of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Albany Part II – Women’s Rights in the Gilded Cage – 1880 -1900

 

In the early years of the campaign for women’s right in New York State there was just a handful of women and some men in Albany aligned with the cause, but over three decades progress was been made.

Finally, after the Civil War more women in Albany became active in the movement. By then state laws had been enacted that gave women additional rights to own property, engage in business, manage their wages and other income, sue and be sued, and be joint guardian of their children.

In 1880 the NYS Legislature enacted a law that permitted women to participate in school votes that involved taxation and representation. (This had followed a series of dramatic and well-staged Women’s Tea Parties across the country.) The women of Albany were ready. Mary Seymour Howell, wife of a NYS librarian and Kate Stoneman, a faculty member at the State Normal School (now the University at Albany), sprang into action and organized women to get out the vote.9

When the day of the vote came about 25 women summoned their courage and went to the polls. Howell and Stoneman had worked with the election inspectors and things went fairly smoothly (although women were denied the right to vote in several districts). Stoneman (who would later become the first female lawyer admitted to the NYS bar) was the first to vote at about 8 am.

The names of the women who voted were identified in the newspapers. The women represented an astonishing and remarkable cross –section of women of all types and ages. They included widows who were running boarding houses, women who were housekeepers in some else’s home; single school teachers; wives of teamsters; wives of men building the new Capitol, an Afro-American woman whose husband was a barber, the only female doctor in the Albany, and, Stoneman and Howell. Of note were Jane Hoxsie and her daughter-in-law Elizabeth – Jane was the last link to the earlier days; she had been a spectator, along with Lydia Mott and Phoebe Jones, in City Hall during the indictment of Susan B. Anthony in 1873 for voting in a federal election.

Shortly thereafter the women founded the Albany Woman’s Suffrage Society. While Howell and Stoneman were elected officers, other women were tapped to play key roles. One woman was Experience Miller, with a completely different background from Howell and Stoneman. Miller was a Civil War widow in her 60’s, reduced to keeping house for a physician who was willing to allow her daughter-in law and 2 grandchildren live in the household. It was clear that all sorts of women were joining the cause.

Over the next several years Howell emerged as a leading light on the national women’s rights scene, allying herself closely with Anthony and Stanton.

Howell was an eloquent and forceful speaker who traveled across the country, attending state and national conventions. In 1885 she made a powerful speech to Congress that specifically addressed need for the women of Albany to have the vote. 12

Other women became involved. There were women physicians and wives of physicians and the wives of bakers, and lots of single school teachers and librarians. But supporting women’s suffrage was still a dangerous business. Martha Winne, a graduate of the NYS Normal School, was the principal of school 17 (the building can still be seen on lower Second Ave). She was fired by anti-suffragists on the Albany School Board when she was elected president of the Suffrage Society.

Nevertheless, they persisted. In 1885 Stoneman, Howell and several others tried to cast their ballots in a general election; they were turned away. Howell, undaunted, went to a judge in Troy to get a court order permitting them to vote. The judge refused on the grounds he had insufficient constitutional knowledge.

Despite these setbacks by the 1890s women (and men) across the country (and in Albany) had flocked to the cause. Social reformers in the State were making in-roads on labor laws, public health and the temperance faction had gained significant traction. Most unions supported the cause and even the Grange Associations across NYS were supportive (as men left the farms for other employment, the agricultural work fell to women). It looked like a critical mass was being achieved that might tip the balance.

Then the NYS Constitutional Convention of 1894 happened. The Albany branch of the NYS Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage was established to counteract the possibility of a woman’s right amendment to the NYS Constitution.

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The women in this group came mostly from the wealthier classes; their headquarters was at 13 Elk St. in the area known as “Quality Row” (a/k/a “Millionaire’s Row”). These women great social standing, money and political clout.

13And the Lord was with them in the form of William Croswell Doane, Bishop of the Albany Episcopal Diocese, a vehement and somewhat rabid anti-suffragist.

Despite submission of over 600,000 petition signatures gathered from all over the NYS in favor of a woman’s right to vote (vs. 15,000 from the “Anti’s’) and impassioned speeches by Anthony and Albany’s Mary Seymour Howell, the Convention refused to support putting a woman’s suffrage proposition to NYS voters.

The Story of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Albany – Part I; The Mothers of Invention

Before 2017 closes, the 100th anniversary of the women of NYS getting the vote, we thought we needed to tell you the story of how the women of Albany figured in that history. The NYS Museum focused on that statewide struggle and the Institute of History and Art focused on the the Albany women who opposed a woman’s right to vote. S0, we felt we needed to tell you what we could about the women who lived in Albany and how they figured in the NYS women’s rights movement. It’s a story that’s never been told in its entirety before, and we decided it was high time. We did a deep dive and found some very interesting stuff about the women and the critical roles they played.

Because the struggle spans 70 years and multiple generations we decided to post in a 3 part series.

Here’s the first part.

Part I – The Mothers of Invention 1848-1879

The women’s rights movement started with a hastily put together meeting in Seneca Falls, NY in summer 1848. It was the brainchild of two staunch abolitionist women – Lucretia Mott and Elisabeth Cady Stanton. What emerged from Seneca Falls was a “Declaration of Rights and Sentiments”. Frederick Douglass, the only Afro-American to attend the meeting, said the result was a “grand movement for attaining the civil, social, political, and religious rights of women”

While the focus was on changing national laws barring women from voting across the country, a key goal was to change New York laws. The Seneca Falls attendees were mostly New Yorkers and believed that if you could change our laws that would change the national landscape.

2Influencing NYS law meant coming to Albany to lobby the Legislature. That started in 1854 when the 2nd NYS Women’s Rights Convention met in Albany. The Convention was held in Association Hall in the upper rooms of the Young Men’s Association at 40 State St. (about where the Hampton Plaza is today). Hundreds of women from all over the state flocked to Albany; on the last day they made their way to the old Capitol to listen to Stanton petition a committee of the NYS Legislature.

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We can imagine scores of women trudging up the hill to the old Capitol 3.3building in pouring rain and icy mud (it was mid-February in Albany), some in heavy crinolines, shawls and bonnets, others in the new “Reform” dress or “Turkish Costume”, loose trousers under a skirt, pioneered by Amelia Bloomer (who had attended the Seneca Falls Convention). Newspapers described convention attendees as “grannies, old maids and young Bloomers.

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But few women from Albany were involved in the woman’s rights movement in its first decades. This general lack of interest would continue for another 25 years or so. Yet during that time Albany was a hub of suffragist activity. Albany hosted several more NYS and national women’s rights conventions. Stanton gave a remarkable address to the NYS legislature in 1860 that resulted in major changes to laws affecting women’s rights; Anthony and Stanton addressed the 1867 NYS Constitutional Convention; Anthony was indicted for violating federal election law in the old City Hall on Eagle St. in 1873 and the next day testified to the NYS Constitutional Convention.

A local newspaper described Albany women as “singularly apathetic” on the issue of woman’s rights during that period.

But there was a quartet of Albanians who were the backbone of the movement in its early days; 3 remarkable women and 1 man.

Phebe Jones (P.H. Jones) was an activist from the earliest days of the movement. She was a widow, originally from Troy, who moved her business to Albany in the mid-1850s. Jones owned a men’s haberdashery at 584 Broadway and lived on Columbia St. She was a Unitarian involved in all sorts of social reforms as well as women’s rights. Both Jones and her daughter Margaret were close allies of Susan B. Anthony, who had joined the movement in 1852 (sort of late in the game).

William Topp was a well-to-do Afro-American merchant tailor with shop on Broadway close to that of Jones, between Maiden Lane and Clinton Ave. Topp was an integral part of Albany’s Underground Railroad and an activist for Afro-American rights; he attended a number of NYS and National Colored People’s Conventions, and was a leader in the American Anti-Slavery Society and the NYS Council for Colored People But Topp was an advocate of rights for all, and was an incredibly important supporter of women’s rights, and key actor at national and state women’s rights conventions before his untimely death in the1857.

Margaret Thompson was a young English women who came to Albany in 1850. She was a practitioner of phrenology (a rarity for women in those days). Phrenology was the study of a person’s head shape to determine character and methods of improving character deficiencies. It was, throughout much of the 19th century, a legitimate science. Stanton and Anthony were fascinated by phrenology because its message confirmed their hope of advancement through personal striving and self-improvement. Thompson’s “phrenological museum” was first at 518 Broadway, near the shops of Topp and Jones, and then later on Chapel St. Mrs. Thompson was at one point president of the NYS Temperance Society, as well as being active in women’s rights and the abolition movement. She too was close friend of Anthony. It appears that Margaret passed away in the early 1860s.

1 (2)            Lydia Mott was a radical Quaker who also owned the Gentlemen’s Furnishing store, first at 60 Broadway and then at 540 Broadway. Lydia was a cousin of Lucretia Mott’s husband and part of a group of activist Quakers who were zealously anti-slavery. Lydia first met Anthony when they were students a Quaker girls school in Philadelphia in 1837; they remained the closest of lifelong friends.

Frederick Douglass’ daughter Rosetta lived with the Mott and her sister Abigail for a number of years in mid-1840s. (Rosetta may very well have been recommended to the care of the Motts on by Anthony.) Lydia was an integral part of the Albany abolitionist (including the Underground Railroad) and temperance movements. Mott was instrumental in forming Anthony’s views on these subjects, as well as women’s rights. Long before Anthony became involved in woman’s suffrage in 1852, Lydia was knee deep in lobbying the NYS Legislature, along with Stanton, on the rights of property for married women. One writer suggests that Lydia was a key member of a group of young Quaker women, including Stanton, which first identified the principles in the “Declaration of Sentiments” a number of months before the Seneca Falls Convention, during the annual meeting of NYS Quakers.

From 1852 until her death in 1875 Mott was the lynch pin of the women’s right movement in New York State. She was its great organizer. It was Lydia’s idea to have the 2nd NYS women’s rights convention in Albany; she and Topp were elected vice presidents. Mott appears to have been indefatigable, simultaneously fighting for women’s rights, temperance and abolition, while running her business (with aid of another sister, Jane).

8Lydia is credited with doing much of the coordinating work of the annual conventions state and national conventions and NYS legislative activity. She was the “glue” that held the movement together in its early days. In 1855 the “New York Evening News” lamented that the women’s rights movement needed some new recruits, beside the same old same old: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lydia Mott.

8.1Equally as important, Phebe and Lydia provided a “home base”, first on Maiden Lane and then in their Columbia St. homes for 3 decades. Their cozy hearths and merry homes provided a welcome respite for the abolitionists and suffragists who had spent days making speeches, attending meetings and lobbying politicians in Albany.ly as important, Phebe and Lydia provided a “home base”, first on Maiden Lane and then in their Columbia St. homes for 3 decades. Their cozy hearths and merry homes provided a welcome respite for the abolitionists and suffragists who had spent days making speeches, attending meetings and lobbying politicians in Albany.

Her relationship with Anthony was especially close. Anthony spent most her time crisscrossing the country organizing the movement and giving speeches for women’s rights and other social reforms, but in 1875 when Lydia lay dying of consumption, she dropped everything and spent a month at her bedside. On the day Lydia died, Anthony noted in her diary “There passed out of my life today the one who, next to my own family, has been the nearest and dearest to me for thirty years.”