In 1876 the “Albany Evening Journal” newspaper ran an ad for Dr. Rachel C. Martin advertising the availability of garments for “Under Dress Reform” and electro – thermo treatments. At that time there were only three female physicians in Albany, and they all treated only women and children in the most traditional ways. Dr. Martin’s path (and her advertisement of services) seemed more than just a bit unconventional, We needed to know more about her. She was clearly a woman ahead of her time.
Rachel was born in 1819, daughter of John Cutler, a watchmaker and son of a Revolutionary War soldier, and Magadelena Goewey from an old Albany area Dutch family. She was one of four children who survived to adulthood. It seems to have been the most ordinary of families. In 1848, when Rachel was about 28, she married Joseph Martin and moved to Philadelphia. At this point her father had passed away, her sister Ann was married and her mother was living with Ann. There’s scant information about her life in Philadelphia. Her husband was listed as a sewing machine maker in that City’s 1860 directory.
In 1861 we found Rachel had left Philadelphia and about age 41ish, enrolled in the Albany State Normal School to become a teacher, one of the few jobs available to women. At that time only single or widowed women were permitted to teach. Rachel was neither.
Her husband died a year later in Philadelphia in 1862. His death notice mentions he was the son-in-law of John Cutler; Rachel isn’t mentioned. This was the same year Rachel’s mother Magdalena is died; there is no mention of Rachel in that death notice either. Something had caused a schism between Rachel and her family.
Next, we found Rachel listed as a teacher in Albany directories. In the middle 1860s she had a “select school” at 696 Broadway. Starting in 1866 we found newspaper ads for Rachel Martin’s dance classes, conducted by a variety of dancing “professors” at both the 696 Broadway (a/k/a Kinter Garden Hall) and a State St. location. In 1869 she was operating both a school in that location AND a Turkish Bath!
Rachel Martin was clearly determined to make her own way in a world where women were expected to depend on men – fathers, husbands or brothers.
In 1869 and 1870 Rachel was lecturing in Albany on “Social and Domestic Reform” and “What Woman has done and can do to establish herself” (in the Assembly Chamber of the NYS Capitol) and in surrounding counties on the issue of women’s suffrage. She was a one woman juggernaut for equal rights. In July 1870 she took the stage with Susan B. Anthony in Saratoga Springs at a woman’s suffrage convention in Congress Hall. The issue at hand was the enactment of federal legislation providing voting rights for Black men while excluding all women. In May 1870 she was again standing with Susan B, Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton at the Apollo Hall in New York City at the Union Suffrage Convention. (Unlike Anthony and Stanton Rachel had no family supports or husband – Rachel was an anomaly.)
(In the 1870 census Rachel is identified living in Albany with an Albert Cutler, age 21, born in New York State. Another mystery. Is Albert her son? A nephew? Why the Cutler surname? In any event Albert disappears from the records never to be seen again.)
And now another plot twist. In 1871 when Rachel was in her early 50s she enrolled in the newly established New York Free Medical College for Women. (It’s clear from NYS records and newspaper reports that she played a key role in securing State legislative approval for the College.)
Who saw this coming? We did a little digging and found a possible answer. In the late 1860s and 1870 Rachel’s establishment at 696 Broadway was next door to that of Dr. Emma Burleigh* who at the time appears to have been the only female physician in Albany. It’s quite likely that Dr. Burleigh influenced Rachel’s decision to attend medical college.
In 1873 Rachel graduated from Medical College and became Dr. Martin (or “Mrs. Dr. Martin” or “Dr. Mrs. Martin” – it’s clear the world was grappling with what to call married female physicians). But rather than practice medicine she appears to have spent the next year living in Brooklyn and lecturing throughout that borough and Manhattan on behalf of the temperance and women’s suffragist movements.
By 1876 she returned to Albany and opened her own practice, specializing in women’s health issues, including undergarment reform. Dress reform was a hot topic of the time. Many physicians and feminists were trying to persuade women to abandon tightly-laced whale bone or steel-ribbed constricting corsets. (It would take another 40 years and a shortage of steel in World War I to get women to stop wearing corsets.)
In that year she lectured in Saratoga Springs on the general topic “Reform”. A Saratogian newspaper article notifying the public of the forthcoming lecture said, “The Doctor is highly spoken of by the press as a clear thinker and a good speaker”. And yet in April 1880, when Rachel became a founding member of the Albany Women’s Suffrage Society, the press singled her out and savaged her. The Argus didn’t bother referring to her as “Dr.” or even “Mrs. – massive shade for the time. At the first meeting of the Society the Argus reporter didn’t share the sentiments of the Saratogian. He refers to her “wanting in propriety” and “lack of perception”. Oh boy! She seems to have ruffled some feathers.
In the 1880s Rachel divided her time between Saratoga Springs (probably in the “Season”) and Albany, Although in 1880 she’s the second physician to register with the town of Saratoga Springs, in 1885 the town board of Saratoga Springs appointed Dr. Martin as the town nurse, rather than as a physician. (Sigh.)
Finally, about 1891 she returned to Albany and entered the Home for the Friendless (a/k/a The Guardian Society) on Clinton Ave. It was large well-appointed retirement building for older, single Protestant ladies with some funds, but without family. (In the terminology of our day, it was a continuing care community – residents turned the bulk of their assets over to the Home in exchange for a promise to be well-cared for to the end of their days.)
But there’s life left in Rachel. In her last public act in 1894 she wrote a letter to the editor of “Argus” in which she called out prominent Albany attorney Matthew Hale who had just given a major address railing against votes for women to a large anti-suffrage group. In the letter she said “.. if he (Mathew Hale) would track up the bad men as sharp as the bad women politics would not need the women as they do now.” (Smackdown.)Dr. Martin died in 1901. She’s buried in Albany Rural Cemetery Section 89 Lot 32.
But Rachel left one last mystery. Her gravestone also carries the name of James Whelply, who died in 1875. It’s a joint headstone. It took a while to sort this out, with the help of Paula Lemire, Historian at the Cemetery and Lorie Wies, Local History Librarian, Saratoga Springs Public Library.
Rachel was named in Whelply’s will and inherited money. The cemetery plot was provided for Whelply and Rachel in 1875 by the daughter of Whelply’s best friend. James Whelply was a number of years older than Rachel, an attorney who grew up in Albany who never married. You can draw your own conclusions about their relationship, but we think that at some point they were devoted lovers, which is why they share a plot and headstone.
This is the last surprise in a surprising life of a woman who marched to the beat of her own drum.
*Dr. Emma Burleigh would become a woman of great notoriety. She was born outside Utica, married young, was abandoned by her husband in England who kidnapped her children, who she never saw again. In the 1850s she graduated from a female medical college in Philadelphia. She acted as an agent for a NYC publisher who sent her to Albany to lobby the Legislature to adopt his textbooks and charts for statewide use. It appears she was quite a favorite with NYS legislators. She had a torrid affair with Benjamin Sickles, who would become well-known Civil War general and who was also notorious for killing his wife’s lover, the son of Francis Scott Key. He was not convicted, having invoked what would become known as the “insanity defense”. Emma had several children by a former classmate from her home town while living in Albany. By 1871 Dr. Burleigh was lived on Howard St. between Lodge and Eagle. In 1872 she was accused of being an abortionist (no criminal charges were brought.) In the same year her lover turned she and her children out of the Howard St. house he owned. She traveled to Utica, followed him onto a horse car, pulled a gun and attempted to shoot him. Sadly, she killed his companion. She was tried and found not guilty. She returned briefly to Albany. She lived the last years of her life, surrounded by her children, on the Jersey Shore.
Mary Williams was born Catherine Mary Douge in Albany in the 1830s to Susan and Michael Douge. Michael was born in Albany around 1800. More research is needed, but we think his father may have been part of the slave revolt in Haiti in the 1790s.
By the 1830s Michael and Susan were leaders of the African community in Albany. Michael was a barber, and through newspaper accounts of the time we can see that he was in the middle of everything that affected the community socially and politically; advocating tirelessly for the rights of his people. Meanwhile Susan was organizing the Female Lundy Society, the first African-American women’s charitable organization in the city. They were both deeply involved in support of the African M.E. Church.
In the early 1840s we find the family living on Plain St. in Albany in a building owned by Benjamin Lattimore. Lattimore was one of the first Albany men to attend the earliest Colored Conventions (the first national expressions of abolition and political equality free Blacks in the U.S.). Lattimore was a friend of Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison and anyone of consequence in those movements.) So it’s safe to assume that Douge family had similar linkages to the world outside Albany.
In 1847 Mary became an assistant teacher in the segregated Wilberforce School for African children in Albany. It was here she would meet her first husband, Henry Hicks, who was at one point principal of the school. Although Henry died in 1853 Mary would teach at Wilberforce for another 6 years or so.
We lose track of Mary until after the Civil War. Despite the fact that appears to have been suffering from TB she ventured south to Virginia and South Carolina to teach children and adults recently freed from enslavement. She would have taught under the auspices of the Freedmen’s Bureau. (One of the assistant commissioners of the Bureau, J. Sella Martin, was the husband of her childhood friend Sarah Lattimore. )
While in South Carolina Mary met her second husband, Andrew Williams, and the couple returned to Albany.
In 1880 we find the couple and their daughter Susie living with Mary’s parents at 25 Lark St.*In that year the New York State Legislature enacted a law permitting women in New York to vote in school elections. This is known as the “School Suffrage” law. Lillian Devereux Blake, the president of the New York State Women’s Suffrage Association had lobbied tirelessly for the law. She and others used it as a catalyst to establish women’s suffrage societies around the state. The first meeting of the Albany group was held in March, 1880.
The immediate goal of the women was to get the word out about the School Suffrage and get women registered to vote in the school commissioner election on April 15 . Mary was in the thick of it. We can only depend on spotty newspaper accounts of the time, but at least 6 African-American women from Arbor Hill voted. (We suspect there were more.) They included Mary, her mother and Julia Myers, daughter in law of Stephen Myers, superintendent of Albany’s Underground Railroad.
Mary was committed to women’s political equality. She would become the Vice President of the Society, and remain in that position for at least 2 years (she and her mother voted in 1882).
The importance of Mary’s participation in the Society as an officer can’t be underestimated. It tells us that Albany’s women suffrage activities at that time included women of color, unlike other areas of the country. It’s quite possible that she may have been influenced through her family’s personal connections to Douglass, who was one of the only 2 Black men to sign the “Declaration of Sentiments” at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 advocating political equality for women. Or even Susan B.Anthony herself who had close personal connections with members of the African American anti-slavery and temperance community in Albany for decades.
It speaks to Mary’s significance in Albany, both in the White and African American communities, and the esteem in which she was held. Mary died in 1884. In her death notice it refers prominently to her membership in the Suffrage Society. That mention makes us think that she was proud of her role in the political equality movement for women, and she understood its importance. Her father was afforded full voting rights in 1870 with the passage of the 15th amendment. Yet she and her mother and other women who had worked tirelessly to improve their world would be denied that right for another 50 years until the passage of the 19th amendment. We suspect that reactions ranged from grave disappointment to outright fury.
In 2020 we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution that allowed women to vote. Most history of the suffrage movement focuses on the 20th century and the triumvirate of Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the 19th century.
But there were hundreds of thousands of women who fought for their rights over multiple generations. They included many women in Albany.Generally the story of the women’s suffrage movement starts with the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 and “the Declaration of Sentiments”, the document that stated the principles of women’s rights. Over decades women chipped away at the ties that bound them. Along the way there were some small victories – changes to women’s property rights, divorce laws and guardianship laws that began to favor custody for mothers.
1880 School Suffrage Law
In the late 1800s states started to pass laws that allowed women to vote in school and some other municipal elections. Women who met the same requirements as men were allowed to vote. In New York State the initial “school suffrage” act was passed early in 1880.
The Albany Women’s Suffrage Society
The Albany Women’s Suffrage Society, in response to the new State law, was established under the auspices of the New York State Women’s Suffrage Association. The first general meeting on March 19, 1880, was held at the NYS Geological Hall on the corner of State and Lodge Streets before the proposed vote on April 15, 1880. About a hundred women (and some men) attended.The importance of the Suffrage Society in Albany can’t be under-estimated. In 1880 Albany had a population of 90,000 and was the 21st largest city in the country. It was a hub of industry and forward thinking commerce. Yet in many ways Albany was still the sleepy, totally traditional and “proper” town it had been before the Erie Canal propelled it into the 19th century. It was devoted to the status quo. Even newcomers quickly adopted the cultural zeitgeist of the city. Albany was in no way a “modern” city of thoughts and ideas. James H. Wilcox in the “Women’s Journal” (Boston) said, “Albany County was .. deemed almost hopeless, the conservativism of its social aristocracy being intense and powerful”.
Suffrage Society Officers
Mary Seymour Howell became the President. She was 35, lived at 1 High St. (corner of State St. opposite the Capitol) with her husband George Howell, who was the Assistant Librarian of the NYS Library in the Capitol. She had formerly been a teacher and employed by NYS to give training institutes for teachers. Mary would be the most active member of the woman’s rights movement in Albany for the next 2 decades. She served as an officer of the NYS Women’s Suffrage Society, did a lot of public speaking across the country, toured New York State with Susan B. Anthony, and testified to Congress. (There’s a description of the Society in its early years in a “Bi-centennial History of Albany County”, written by her husband and Jonathan Tenney in 1886.)
C. Mary Williams was the First Vice-President. She was African American, 48, and lived at 25 Lark St. with her husband Andrew and her daughter in the home of her father and mother, Susan and Michael Douge. Catherine had been a teacher in the segregated Wilberforce School for African-American children in Albany, and after the Civil War had gone into the south to teach Black children under the auspices of the Freedman’s Bureau. She would be an active member of the Society until her death from tuberculosis in 1884.
Hendrika Iliohan became the Treasurer. She was 30, and a naturalized citizen, born in Holland. Her husband Martin was baker (also born in Holland), and in 1880 they lived at 154 Livingston Ave. (near North Swan St.) with 1 son. She would remain an active member of the Society until the family moved west in the late 1880s.
Kate Stoneman was elected Secretary. Stoneman was 33, single and living at 134 Swan St. between Madison Ave. and Hamilton St. She was a teacher at the NYS Normal School. Kate was a lifelong women’s rights pioneer and member of the Albany Woman’s Suffrage Society, and then its successor, the Political Equality Club. She would become the first woman to graduate from Albany Law School.
The first order of business of the Society was to identify two candidates for run for school commissioner. The group nominated Emily Weed Barnes and Mary Pruyn. Barnes was 22, the granddaughter of Thurlow Weed. Weed had been the owner of “Albany Evening Journal”, the most widely read newspaper in the country in the 1850s, and a political king maker in the Republican Party, helping to elect Lincoln. Weed was a strong supporter of women’s suffrage. Mary Pruyn was 60; she the wealthy widow of Samuel Pruyn, a prominent Albany attorney and businessman. The couple had been well known for their philanthropy and charitable good works. After her husband’s death she spent many years in in Japan as a missionary. Alas, both women declined.
The Society established an executive committee and designated committeewomen in each election ward to canvass prospective voters. It printed a circular to be distributed, “Women’s Right to Vote in Albany and Other Cities and Villages”, that instructed women on the new law, how to register and vote, and concluded with the following. “Every woman who registers and votes this spring helps the cause of virtue and justice throughout the world”
We think over 100 women in Albany tried to vote in the 1880 school suffrage election. There are no official records, and all we have to rely upon are spotty newspaper accounts of the time. We know from these accounts that it wasn’t easy, and all sorts of obstacles were thrown in their path. First they had to register. While some women enrolled with ease, others were denied that right.
Inspectors refused to allow women to register in the Third Ward (including South Pearl and Arch Streets) and the Fourth Ward (including South Pearl and lower Hamilton Streets). In the Sixth ward (the heart of downtown Albany) 14 women tried to register, but were turned away. The “National Citizen and Ballot Box” newspaper reported that at least 50 women enrolled, but many others were refused that right. Despite impassioned pleas from about a half dozen women (and spectators) who tried to register to vote in City Hall they were denied. Even the local judges refused to intervene. (A newspaper observed that some of inspectors were store owners, and the fashionable and quite wealthy women among those denied the right to enroll made it known they and their friends would henceforth boycott those merchants.)
There is no way of knowing how many women were discouraged from enrolling when reports of the rudeness, mockery, ridicule and open hostility of the election officials were made known.
Yet other women enrolled with little problem. “… half a dozen colored females headed by Mrs. C. Mary Williams, Vice President of the County Woman’s Suffrage Society went to the place of registration in Eleventh Ward and had their names enrolled. They were followed by an immense crowd of white and colored people, and when they issued from the place of registry on the street, were cheered in an hilariously boisterous fashion. Mrs. Williams is a stately mulatto of considerable education and refinement.” “National Citizen and Ballot Box”, April 1880.
.On the day of the 1880election there were varying circumstances. A local newspaper reported that Kate Stoneman was the first woman to vote – bright and early at 8:30 AM, “just like a little man”. Other women were successful as well, but some were denied the right to vote. “In the 13th ward the inspectors refused to accept the women’s votes, even though they were registered.” “Albany Morning Express” April 15, 1880. (The area immediately surrounding the Capitol comprised the 13th ward.) The same thing happened in the 17th ward (almost everything east and north of Clinton Ave. down to the River).
The newspapers identified about 30 women who voted successfully. (We assume there were others.) We know some were members of the Suffrage Society: others we think were not. But they represented “Every Woman”. They were a remarkably diverse group. They were old and young and middle-aged. Many were married, some widowed, others single. Some were enormously wealthy, and others were probably barely scraping by (based on their address in the 1880 census); most of the women seemed to be middle class. (We suspect that there were more women who lived in North Albany and the South End, less economically advantaged areas, who tried to vote; but they lived in the wards where there appears to have been the greatest and most systemic voter suppression.)
Most listed their occupation as “keeping house” in census data, but some were employed as teachers; there were several seamstresses and paid/unpaid housekeepers; one woman was a laundress. Two women managed the House of Shelter, a refuge for women of “ill-repute” found by Mary Pruyn and her husband Samuel. The three female physicians in the city were part of the founding group of the Society, and we know 2 voted successfully.
Most were native born, but a few were naturalized citizens.
There was a dedicated contingent of African-American women, who had seen their fathers, husbands, brothers and sons get the vote a decade earlier under the 15th amendment. We know that these women had stood by the side with their male counterparts as they fought against slavery and for political equality. Yet they were not rewarded.
The women represented most areas of the City. The largest group lived in the upper middle class area that we think of as Center Square and Hudson Park today. Another group of women, Black and White, came from a middle class neighborhood in Arbor Hill, bounded by North Swan St, North Swan, Lark St. and Livingston Ave. Given the response of the election officials in the South End/River Wards and in North Albany, we’re not surprised no women from those areas were identified.
In the subsequent years the school votes became more complicated and difficult. At every turn there were attempts to discourage and deny women the ability to vote in school suffrage elections. In the early 1880s both the New York State Attorney General and Assistant Attorney General rendered widely circulated opinions that were at odds with the actual law – if a husband was qualified to vote, a wife was not eligible. Some election officials believed that if there were other elections (besides a school commissioner vote) women were not eligible to vote. Election inspectors who opposed women’s suffrage became emboldened over time. In 1885 even Mary Howell was denied the right to vote. She attempted to get a judge to provide a legal remedy; he refused. This happened all over the state. A newspaper report from 1885 estimated that the number of women who voted in Saratoga Springs in 1880 dropped by more than half in 1885.
Nevertheless the Albany Women’s Suffrage Society persisted, and it acquired new members. It was provided the opportunity to hold meetings in the Assembly chamber of the Old Capital (before it was demolished) and then met in Tweddle Hall, a large theater/auditorium on the corner of State and Pearl. Besides the women’s franchise, they lobbied for pensions for the women who had served as nurses in the Civil War, supported the NYS Governor when he appointed women managers to one of the boards of a NYS insane asylum, and lobbied for a woman matron in the Albany Police Dept.
In 1884 a new suffrage group was formed in the City – the Political Equality Club. It included both men and women in its membership. Mary Seymour Howells became president, It included many of the same women who had been original members of the Suffrage Society. We suspect these women were members of the both groups.
Yet it wasn’t all roses. In 1885 Martha Winnie was elected president of the Society. Martha was a local woman who attended the NYS Normal School. She’d worked her way up through the Albany public school system and was the principal of School 17 (a rarity for a woman at the time). After her election she was fired by the Board of Education. (She was ultimately appointed as a school principal in Glens Falls in 1893.) Martha was called the “first martyr for the cause. Ironically, her successor as President was Joan Cole, wife of the Superintendent of Albany Schools. (Mr. Cole ensured that the Albany school manual include a copy of the 1880 school suffrage law.)
Around 1890 Society membership and activities began wane, despite the fact that the National Women’s Suffrage Association was formed that year. There are fewer newspaper references to the Political Equality Club as well. And then came buzz saw – the Anti-Suffragists of Albany organized to ensure that the NYS State Constitutional Convention in 1894 did not propose a change to the state constitution that permitted women to vote. The Anti’s were mostly rich women who ruled Albany society, and were supported by the Episcopal Bishop of Albany, William Crosswell Doane who wielded enormous influence.. They were loud, well-financed and married to men with enormous political clout. They often met in the building on State St. housing the Albany Historical and Art Society (now the Albany Institute of History and Art) , which it appears, from newspaper accounts, they considered their private club house.
The Anti’s were successful. There would be no proposed constitutional amendment to permit NYS women to vote until 1915. But, in a bit of delicious irony Mrs. Katherine Gavit was the grand marshal of the Albany Suffragette parade in 1914. Her mother-in-law Fanny was one of the most influential members of the Anti’s, and an officer in the New York statewide anti-suffrage association. (Tense Thanksgiving dinners we suspect.)
But the Albany suffragists carruied on. They re-formed in 1900 under the Political Equality Club banner. The new group included at least five of the original Suffrage Society members – Mary Howell, Kate Stoneman, Joan Cole, and Adeline and Julia Coley.
Who Were the Woman?
Agnes Anable was 31, daughter of a wealthy local business man. She lived at 162 Hamilton St. with her 4 children and her husband Henry, who owned an insurance concern. Agnes voted 1880.
Mrs. Emily Weed Barnes was 52, daughter of Thurlow Weed. She was married to William Barnes, a wealthy and prominent attorney; they had 5 children. The “National Citizen and Ballot Box” – newspaper of the women’s suffrage movement, published by Matilda Jocelyn Gage, described her as a political powerhouse as she lobbied the NYS Legislature for women’s rights.
Anna Belle was African American, age 67, a laundress who lived in the household of her sister Diana Williams at 169 Second St. with her adult son Charles. She voted 1880.
Matilda Wilkie Blair was 61, twice a widow, with several children living at 8 Delaware Ave., near Lark St. Matilda voted in 1880 and registered in the 16th ward in 1882.
Martha Bradt was 42, married to a druggist who owned his own business. They lived at 43 Chestnut St. where she kept house and had 2 children. She voted in 1880.
Ella Brown, 23, was married to a proof reader; they lived with her parents at 27 Hawk St. Her mother, Mary Melius voted with her in 1882. Mary’s husband worked for the county clerk and is listed in in the 1880 city directory as “supervisor of the 14th ward’, which may explain why many of the women were successful in voting in that Ward.
Mary Brown voted in 1885 (We have no additional information.)
Josephine Burlingame, age 54, lived at 322 Hudson Ave, with her husband, a lawyer, her children and her siste-in law Imogene Burlingame, a school teacher who registered in the 16th ward in 1882.
Harriet V. Chapin, was 49, with one daughter. She was married to the assistant superintendent of the Boston and Albany Railroad (he was the son of the president of the company). They lived at 35 Chestnut St., (just down the block from Martha Bradt). Harriet was Vice President of the Society in 1885, but also a member of the Political Equality Club.
Joan Cole was 35, with 2 children, married to Charles Cole, Albany’s school superintendent. They lived at 192 Elm St. Joan was active in the Society for at least 5 years, and was president in 1885.
Adeline, Jane and Julia Coley were unmarried sisters who ran a private school at 23 Dove St. on the corner of State St. (The building is still there; most recently housing Bongiorno’s Restaurant.) Prior to opening their private school they had all taught in public school. Julia had been one of the first teachers at the Wilberforce School for African children. Jane was 60, Julia aged 50 and Adeline 48. All three sisters graduated from the NYS Normal School in Albany in the 1840s and 1850s. They were lifelong staunch supports of women’s rights and members of the Albany Women’s Suffrage Association, and Adeline served as an officer in various capacities over the years, and in its successor the Albany Political Equality Club.
Catherine Cook was 50 with 1 child living at home at 235 Elm St.; her husband was a school teacher. The newspapers reported she registered in the 16th ward in 1882 and 1885. She became a member of the Political Equality Club.
Teresa Corr, 37, was born in Ireland, the wife of a stone cutter working on the new Capitol. They lived at 361 Myrtle Ave. with their 6 children. Theresa voted 1880.
Mary Dare was 40, lived at 48 Howard St., single and a naturalized citizen (born in England). She was the assistant matron of the House of Shelter, a refuge for destitute and fallen women. She was refused the right to register to vote in 1880.
Adelia Dexter lived on Spring St., near Cortland Place. She was 48, married to a teamster (but also an owner of several pieces of property) and the mother of 4 children. Adelia voted 1880.
Frances Dorsey was African-American, 39 and lived at 159 Third St. Her husband Sylvester served with a regiment of “Colored Troops” raised in Ithaca NY in the Civil War, and was the armorer of the National Guard unit in Albany in 1880. She was president of the Lovejoy Society, an African American women’s charitable organization. Frances voted 1880 and registered in 1882.
Susan Douge was African-American, 74 and lived at 25 Lark St. (near the corner of Livingston Ave.) Susan was a person of great importance in the African-American community in Albany. In the 1830s she was a founder of the Female Lundy Society, the first African-American charitable organization in Albany. Her husband Michael, a barber, worked tirelessly in the Albany community for decades – founding the M.E. Church, working for equal education for children, working constantly in the context of the “colored conventions” for political equality. Susan’s work is less documented. Susan voted 1880 and registered in 1882. Her daughter Mary Williams was the first Vice-President of the Society.
Mary Dubois, M.D. was 38, the first Female physician admitted to the Albany County Medical Society. She was single and lived with her sister Sarah at 194 Hamilton St. She registered in 1880.
Matilda Fiedler, age 40, was born in Germany, and lived with her husband, a brewery clerk, at 212 Livingston Ave. She registered in 1882 in the 11th Ward.
Hannah E. Flansburgh, 48, lived at 80 Jay St., with 1 son at home. She was the wife of a printing press manufacturer. She voted 1880, 1882 and 1883.
Isabella Frank registered in 1880. No further information.
Sarah Fry, 52, was a widow, acting as a housekeeper for her retired brother. They lived at 231 Livingston Ave. She registered in 1882 in the 11th Ward.
Catharine Goewey, MD was 60, lived at 286 Hudson Ave. She specialized in pediatric and woman’s homeopathic medicine. She registered in 1880.
Jennie Green registered in the 17th Ward in 1882. (We have no additional information.)
Mary Hall was 31, and a widow, with 2 young sons, living at 159 First St. with her mother. She registered to vote in the 17th ward in 1882.
Jane and Elizabeth Hoxsie: Jane was 60 and Elizabeth, 30, was her widowed daughter-in-law. Jane’s husband was a foreman on the construction of the State Capitol. They lived at 198 Hudson Ave, with Elizabeth’s son. Jane was the last of the old guard of women’s rights activists; she’d been involved with Lydia Mott and Anthony in the preceding decades. (In 1873 when Anthony was indicted in 1873 in federal court in Albany’s City Hall for voted in a Congressional election in Rochester local newspapers noted that Jane was in the gallery, sitting next to Lydia. ) Jane and Elisabeth voted in 1880.
Mrs. Martin Johnson was 56, a widow with 3 children who lived at 230 Livingston Ave, She registered in 1882 in the 11th Ward.
Elizabeth Jones, 42 was a widow and the Matron of House of Shelter. She shared lodgings with Mary Dare at 48 Howard St. Elizabeth was denied the right to enroll in 1880.
Helen Knapp lived at 448 Washington Ave., near the corner of N Lake Ave (we think she was a school teacher). She voted in 1880.
Helen Knight, 43, lived at 60 Howard St., near Mary Dare and Elizabeth Jones. Her husband John was the foreman in charge of gas lighting at the new Capitol. She was denied the right to register to vote in 1880 Newspapers referred to her home as the headquarters of the Society in its earliest months in the 1880s.
Sarah Le Bouef was the Vice President of the Society in 1885. She was a graduate of the State Normal School who married Peter Le Bouef, part owner of a collar factory in Troy. They lived at 299 Washington Ave. with their 3 children. Her daughters Emma and Mary would be active members of the suffrage movement into the 20th century.
Matilda Leggett was African-American, 29 and single. She lived at 158 Third St (across the street from Frances Dorsey) in Arbor Hill with her father Henry. He had been employed by the Delavan House Hotel, along with Stephen Myers, who was the head of the Underground Railroad in Albany. Matilda voted in 1880 and registered in the 11th Ward in 1882.
Rachel Martin was a physician, age 60 and a widow. Her homeopathic practice was located on Canal St., (Sheridan Ave. today) and largely devoted to hydrotherapy and undergarment dress reform. She was on the Society’s executive committee in 1880.
Mary McClelland was in her mid-30s, single and a teacher at the NYS Normal School, living at 321 Hamilton St. She was an officer in the Society from about 1883 to 1885. Marty worked for the State Normal School in almost 50 years – retiring in 1917 as an history teacher and the librarian of the School.
Phebe and Susie Milbank were twins, age 50, who were dressmakers living at 270 First St. They registered in 1882 in the 17th ward.
Experience Miller 60, a widow, living at 122 Washington Ave, just west of Lark St. She would be active in the Albany Women’s Suffrage Association until her death in the late 1880s. She voted 1880, 1882. 1883 and 1885.
Ella Moore was 35, single, a naturalized citizen (born in Ireland) and lived alone at 188 Spruce St. She was on the executive committee of the Society in 1885.
Elmina Mount, age 64, lived with her husband, a grocer at 30 Dove St., across the street from the Coley sisters. She voted in 1883.
Amelia Morgan was 65, a widow living at 30 Lexington Ave with her daughter, May Dayton (34) and her husband, a railroad conductor and their 6 children. Both women registered to vote in the 1th Ward in 1882.
Mary Mull was a vice president of the Society in 1883. She was in her mid-thirties, wife of a carriage maker, living at 387 Hudson Ave. with 4 children.
Julia Myers was African American, 35, had 2 children and lived at 169 Third St. (very close to Frances Dorsey and Matilda Leggett). She was the wife of Stephen Myers, son of Stephen and Harriet Myers who ran Albany’s Underground Railroad. Julia voted in 1880.
Jane O’Connor, 38 was born in Ireland, and a widow with 5 children, livings at 107 Green St. between Bleecker and Herkimer Streets in the Pastures. She voted 1880.
Anna Parks was a public school teacher who lived at 129 ½ Clinton Ave; she was member of the Society in 1886.
Harriet Perry was 40, the widow of the former U.S Consul in Panama, with 3 children at home. She lived at 372 Hamilton St. She voted in 1880.
Mary Garrison Pomeroy, 57, was a single, self-styled homeopathic physician who lived across the street from Jane Hoxsie at 197 Hudson Ave. She voted in 1880.
Martha Ann Pulz was in her mid-30s, lived at 336 Lark St. (near Dana Ave.), and was a teacher in school 2 (with Mary McClelland). She registered to vote in the 16th Ward in 1882.
Elizabeth Reese was one the youngest members of the Society in 1885. She was 21 and lived at 357 Hamilton St with her family; her father was a carpenter.
Maria Reston was a widow who lived at 221 ½ Hamilton St in her mid-50s. She was an active member of the Society in 1885.
Anne Shelve was African American, aged 43, living at 49 Lark St. (close to Susan Douge and her daughter Catherine Williams) with her husband Dyer, a hotel waiter and their 3 children. She and her husband were relatively recent transplants from the District of Columbia. Her hudband was active in Republican politics for many years after the 15th amendments was enacted. Anne voted in 1880.
Lucy Smith was 35, with 4 children, the wife of a druggist who lived 246 Washington Ave. She was on the executive committee of the Society and successfully voted in 1880.
Sarah Smith was African American, aged 58 living at 410 Madison Ave. just below Lark St. It’s quite possible Sarah’s husband, Joseph A. Smith, is the same J.A. Smith listed on a broadside advertising an event in Albany in 1863 to celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation. Sarah voted in 1880.
Lillian Taylor, age 30 lived at 26 Chestnut St, and the wife of a printer. She voted in 1883.
Eliza Theis was a widow of about 70, born in Ireland, who lived at 44 Chapel St. In 1885 she attempted to register in the 6th Ward, but was denied.
Jemima Watkins, 51 was born in England. She lived at 90 Beaver St. with her 4 children and her husband James, a piano maker. Jemima was Vice president of the Society in 1885-1886.
Emma Werner was only in her mid-20s, but in charge of membership (as part of the executive committee in 1880) when the Society was first formed. She lived at 56 Eagle St with her husband Charles who was clerk in a railroad office.
Lavina Willard shared rooms with Kate Stoneman at 154 Swan St. We think she may also have been a teacher at the Normal School. She voted in 1883.
Elizabeth Winhold was 26, and living with her husband, Louis, a cigar manufacturer and seller, at 297 Hudson Ave. Her husband was very active in Republican politics. She voted in 1883.
Diana Williams, African American, was 60 and lived at 169 Second St. with her husband John. It is impossible to underestimate the role of her husband in the African American community in Albany. He had been a close associate of Stephen Myers, and we believe he was active in the UGRR, He was very politically active after the Civil War. Diana voted in 1880.
Margaret Williams, 63, was the wife of a jeweler with business on Broadway. They lived at 203 North Pearl St.
Margaret Wiltsie, 42 was the wife of retired coal merchant who lived at 486 Madison Ave. We think she was related by marriage to the Coley sisters. Margaret voted in 1882.
Martha Van Vechten was about 80, a widow living at 4 Lodge St., with her 2 adult children when she and 6 other women attempted to register to vote at City Hall in 1880, but was refused that right.
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
By 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.
Susan 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.
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.
In 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.)
I came across this picture, taken on State St. in 1911. It’s photo of Dr. Mary E. Walker.
I had one of those lightbulb moments. My Gram used to tell me about a nice old lady in Albany who wore men’s clothing. who often lived at the YWCA on Steuben St. Gram said her brothers and male cousins used to try to knock off her silk top hat with snowballs. And then her uncle would “thrash” them.
To be honest, I filed it under “whatever”. Just another Gram story (there were hundreds – oft repeated) and the reference to men’s clothing meant nothing to me. (I wore jeans.. so what?) Yadda Yadda Yadda. Now I wish I paid more attention.
Dr. Mary Walker is the only female recipient of the Medal of Honor. Her story is remarkable.
She was born in Oswego in 1832 into a family of devoted Christian non–sectarian “free thinkers”. By 1855 she’d earned a medical degree from Syracuse Medical College (only the second women in the U.S. to do so). She set up practice in Rome NY, but volunteered with the Union Army when the Civil War started.
Her initial petition to serve as a physician in the Army Medical Corps was rejected. Yet she waded in, tending the wounded with selfless devotion (and performing surgery when necessary). Finally in 1864 President Lincoln approved her petition, providing the male physicians agreed. Again, she didn’t wait for permission and traveled to the join the Army of the Cumberland. Walker was met with hostility. She compounded her sin of gender by her eccentric dress – she wore bloomers and treated Confederate civilians. Wild rumors circulated. She was a lesbian, she had a high ranking officer lover, she was a spy. In spring 1864 she was captured by Confederate troops and served as a POW for a number of months until released in a prisoner exchange.
In 1865 President Andrew Johnson awarded her the Medal of Honor (she was also awarded a military disability pension for injuries suffered). When a review of recipients was performed in 1917, her name, with about 900 others (including Buffalo Bill Cody), was deleted from the list, thought to have not sufficiently met the standard for the award. In 1977 President Carter’s Administration restored the Medal.
After the War Walker became involved in a variety of social and political reforms including temperance, women’s suffrage and dress reform. In her early days she wore trousers underneath shortish skirts. Later she settled on a traditional Prince Albert coat, necktie and trousers. She was arrested for her “costume” on several occasions as she traveled across the country lecturing and fund raising for her causes.*
It was the issue of women’s rights that consumed most of her attention in later years. Consequently, she spent much time in Washington D.C. lobbying Congress and attempting to sway the New York State Legislature. In the decade or so leading up to the first NYS referendum on a woman’s right to vote in 1915 (which was defeated) she was a constant fixture in Albany. Sadly it seems that her eccentricities deflected from her lobbying efforts.
(Dr. Walker suffered an injury in 1915 and retired to her home in Oswego where she died in 1917. )
As I dimly recall from Gram stories the uncle who would “thrash” the boys for taunting Dr. Walker was a prominent figure in Albany Civil War veterans’ organizations. Thinking back, it seems he expressed no special warmth for Dr. Walker, but did demand the young men of Albany treat her with deference and respect for the role she’d played in the War.
*In 1982 the U.S. Postal Service issued a 20 cent stamp that featured a curiously feminine “very girly” image of Dr. Walker. She probably would not have approved.
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.
Susan B. Anthony, along with a number of other women, were allowed to cast their votes in a Federal election in Rochester in 1872.
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.
By 1900 the suffragists of the previous century had grown old or were gone. After 50 years of campaigning the movement was stalled. Although there had been significant changes in the laws that previously limited women’s rights, the goal of getting the vote appeared no closer than it had in 1848 when the Seneca Falls Convention met.
In New York the mantle had been passed to Harriot Stanton Blatch, the daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She famously said, “The suffrage movement was in a rut.. it bored its adherents and repelled its opponents…”.
Blatch tried to re-invent the movement, focusing on women who were self-supporting. Hundreds of thousands of women now worked in factories and the number of business and professional women was growing exponentially. Blatch started working with the newly created Women’s Trade Union League and other unions, following the model of Emmeline Pankhurst in England. But that too proved slow going. Immediate concerns of low wages and poor working conditions distracted from voting rights.
And as ever the case, although delegations from all over the State came to lobby the Legislature year after year, the movement in Albany sluggishly chugged along with no great vitality. And the wealthy anti-suffragists reigned across the city, discrediting and sometimes ridiculing their opponents.
Enter a very different society woman who re-energized the movement by her status and pots of money. Alva Vanderbilt Belmont was a force of nature. She was first married to William Vanderbilt (whose claim to fame was the construction of Madison Square Garden). She shocked the work in the 1890s when she divorced Vanderbilt and married Oliver Belmont. Upon his death in 1908, Alva entered the world of women’s suffrage with guns blazing. Alva had notoriously bested “old money” society in NYC when she was married to Vanderbilt and re-invented herself after her divorce. She was determined to set the suffrage world on fire in the same fashion. Alva funded suffrage offices in NYC and Albany. She raised money from other socialites, embraced participation by immigrant and Afro-American women, staged huge demonstrations and rallies with factory workers and supported the massive NYC shirtwaist factory strike of 1909.
By 1910 Albany women were back in the game. The next seven years would be series of highs and lows. “Suffrage week” in Albany became a regular thing during the legislative session. News of women’s suffrage moved from the women’s sections of newspapers to front pages and Albany businesses advertised their support for suffrage through newspaper advertisements.
Rather than traveling the militant route (rock throwing and resultant forced feedings after arrest) that Emmeline Pankhurst and her followers adopted in England, suffragists in New York State went for the dramatic and newsworthy. With more money they were determined to win the propaganda war. In December 1912 there was a 10 day march in the freezing cold from NYC to Albany to present petitions to the incoming Governor, William Sulzer, a friend of suffrage. Newspaper reporters followed the march and there were newsreel films. Albany supporters met the marchers at South Pearl and Second Ave. as they entered the city and escorted them to the Capitol, accompanied by a band from St. Vincent’s Orphan Asylum. But Sulzer was elected with help of Tammany Hall and turned his back on them in favor of “good government”. He was impeached within 8 months, and the dreams of a statewide vote on women’s suffrage disappeared for 1913.
Undeterred, Albany suffragists, whose numbers now were in the hundreds, took to the streets. – They visited the West Albany Railroad shops, and factories across the city. They held open air meetings on street corners on Central Ave., State and Pearl, Delaware Ave, Arbor Hill and Pine Hills. Small groups of young women were dispatched to canvass neighborhoods. With enough money in their coffers they could print pamphlets and literature in multiple languages – French, Italian, German and Yiddish. The Yiddish language materials were incredibly important; the largely immigrant Jewish population in the South End was said to be universally supportive of a woman’s right to vote.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, other society women (not affiliated with the Old Guard Albany Anti’s) and their daughters discovered the suffrage movement was fashionable and there were suffrage balls, teas and receptions. The prospect of being invited to a weekend at Alva Belmont’s famous Marble House “cottage” in Newport had great allure.
In 1914 the suffragists of Albany decided to mass together for a large parade. On Saturday June 6 about 700 men and women from Albany, its environs and across the State, gathered in the late afternoon near the Capitol. They proceeded down Washington to State, down to North Pearl, over to Clinton and south on Broadway and back to State St. The suffragists wore white hats with yellow cockades and white dresses with yellow sashes. There were women on horseback and in automobiles as well as marchers on foot.
In a wonderful bit of irony, the Grand Marshal was Mrs. Joseph (Katherine) Gavit. (The other Mrs. Joseph Gavit, her mother-in-law, had been one of the founding members of the Albany branch of the National Association of Women’s Suffrage. ) Another leader of the group was Harriet Burton Laidlaw, graduate of Albany High; she attained several higher degrees and began speaking for women’s suffrage when she was barely out of school. She married James Laidlaw, head of the State Men’s League (for women’s suffrage) and a wealthy investment banker (the Laidlaw firm still exists), who accompanied her in the parade.
Other marchers included Elizabeth Smith who would become of the first head of the Albany Public Library System in the 1920, Elizabeth Lyons, one of the first women lawyers in Albany, and a teenage Frances Vosburgh, who would become one of Albany’s most prominent physician for 60 years and pioneer the birth control movement in the city in the 1930s.
So, by 1915, victory was just around the corner. There was confidence that the Legislature would agree to put the question of women’s suffrage to the voters. It did, and the referendum was defeated 57% to 43%. The city of Albany voted no.
Again in March 1917 the NYS Legislature again decided that the referendum to amend the NYS Constitution would go to voters. But that vote as not without high drama. At the last minute Assemblyman Clarence Walsh from Albany proposed new requirements for women voters that exceeded those of men (such an Albany thing). The Walsh amendment was resoundingly defeated.
By now a woman named Carrie Chapman Catt was chairwoman of the State Campaign Committee. A windfall dropped into her lap.
In 1914 Mrs. Frank Leslie, publisher of the wildly popular and profitable “Leslie’s Illustrated Magazine” died and left the bulk of her estate to Catt to promote women’s suffrage . After wrangling with other heirs and attorneys Catt finally received $900,000 in February 1917. Game on. Thousands of dollars went into the New York campaign and other funds were used establish the Leslie Woman Suffrage Commission to promote the cause of suffrage through greater visibility in the public eye and through education. It was called the largest propaganda bureau run by women.
Between the money left by Mrs. Leslie (and large donations by a number of men) and the public’s perception of the value of the work women were doing in the War (the U.S. entered World War I in April, 1917) New York State men voted yes to permit women to vote.
The men of Albany voted no, but this time it didn’t matter; there were enough downstate votes to carry the measure.
The dam was broken. Efforts across the country pushing for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution picked up steam. Suffragists ramped up their lobbying in Washington D.C. under the imitable Alice Paul (with help from Catt). In June, 1919 the U.S. Senate passed an amendment permitting women to vote. In August, 1920 the amendment was ratified by a sufficient number of states and a women’s right to vote became the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In November, 1920 8 million women in the U.S. voted for the first time.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And 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.
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.
Influencing 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.
We can imagine scores of women trudging up the hill to the old Capitol building 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.
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.
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).
Lydia 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.
Equally 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.”