Recently historians have been extensively researching the problems of African American women African American women joining with white women to fight for the right to vote. In most instances white suffragists ignored Black women working for the cause, and in the worst case they actively discriminated against African American women.
But new research has yielded a remarkable discovery from Albany in 1880. In that year Black and white women in Albany joined together to fight for women’s suffrage. It started in early 1880 when the New York State Legislature enacted a law (known as the “School Suffrage Law) allowing women to vote in school elections in April, 1880.
C. Mary Williams
When the Albany Woman’s Suffrage Society was formed to organize women to actively participate in the vote it included an African American woman, C. Mary Douge Williams, was selected as a Vice President for the 11th Ward, in what is now known as Arbor Hill. The inclusion of an African American woman in this effort was nothing short of groundbreaking; there is no evidence this was happening anywhere else in the nation. And the result of Mary’s involvement was startling.
The Suffrage Society leadership appears to have made an excellent strategic decision in its choice of Mary Williams. In 1880 there was no more well-respected family in Black Albany than the Douges. Mary was the perfect choice to organize Albany’s African American women to vote. She was 48 and her family lived at 25 Lark St. near the corner of Livingston Ave., close a small enclave of the people who had represented the powerful and elite of Albany’s Black community.
Mary was quite successful. The April 1880 “National Citizen and Ballot Box” edited by Matilda Jocelyn Gage* reported, “…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.”
We found the names of 28 women who successfully voted in the 1880 School Suffrage election (based on reporting from newspapers of the time). Of these women, almost 1/3 (9) were African American, yet at the time African Americans made up less than 2% of the city’s population.
Who Were The Women?
Mary Williams was the daughter of Michael and Susan Franks Douge. At a young age Mary became a teacher in Albany’s segregated Wilberforce school, and subsequently married the principal Henry Hicks. After his death and the Civil War she went to Virginia and South Carolina to teach Black children. There she met and married Andrew Williams; the couple returned to Albany, and lived with her parents.
Susan Douge voted in the 1880 election as well; she was 74. She was born free in Albany, the daughter of Mercy and John Franks from Dutchess County. (It’s quite possible that Mercy and John were once enslaved by the Franks family of the Hudson Valley and New York City which included several generations of slave importers and traders.) Susan had been a founder of the African American Female Lundy Society in Albany in 1833. The Society was named after Benjamin Lundy, a fiery white abolitionist publisher of a well-known anti-slavery newspaper. (Lundy visited Albany in the late 1820s and made quite an impression.) It provided mutual relief and aid to members of the African American community, aided freedom seekers who came through Albany to escape slavery, and supported the efforts of both Black and white abolitionists.
Michael Douge was said to have come from a family that left Haiti during the 1790s Revolution in that country. He was a well-known barber and member of the Underground Railroad (UGRR) in the Albany from its earliest days. He was major figure in local Black civic affairs, and attended the first New York State Colored Convention, held in Albany in 1840, as well as subsequent local conventions. After the enactment of 15th amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1870, which permitted Black men to vote, Michael was an integral part of the Black Republican politics in the city.
The Douges were the “power couple” of African activists and anti-slavery abolitionists in Albany for decades, dating back to the 1820s. Their marriage in 1827 was announced in “Freedom’s Journal”, the first African American newspaper published in the U.S.
Most of the other African American women who voted in 1880 shared similar backstories.
Ann Bell was 67, the widow of Henry Bell who had been a trustee of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME)Church. In 1880 she was living at 169 Second St. in Arbor Hill, supporting herself as a laundress. Living with her was her son Charles, who worked as Pullman railroad sleeping car porter. Charles had served in the 54th Massachusetts, the first “colored” regiment raised in the North during the Civil War. He survived the Battle of Fort Wagner (memorialized in the movie “Glory”). In 1880 Ann was president of the Female Lovejoy Society, founded in the late 1830s. The Lovejoy Society was another female African American mutual relief association. (The Society was named after Elijah Lovejoy, a white radical abolitionist newspaper publisher murdered in 1837 by an angry anti-abolition mob in Illinois.)
Living with Ann was her sister Diana Williams, age 68, who also voted in the 1880 school election, and Diana’s husband John Williams. John had served as a trustee of the AME Church with Henry Bell. In the 1840s and 1850s John Williams was a member of the UGRR. After the 15th amendment was enacted he became active in Republican politics, and in the successful effort to de-segregate Albany public schools in 1873.
Frances Butler Dorsey, age 42, lived at 156 Third St. with her husband Sylvester Dorsey. He had served in the 26th NY CT (colored troop) regiment in the Civil War. In 1880 he was the armorer of the Albany Zoave cadets of the 10th NY National Guard unit (white) at 80 State St. In 1880 Frances was a member of both the Lundy and Lovejoy Societies.
Frances’ father John Butler had been a barber on the city and we believe he was member of the local UGRR. He had also been an active member of the local African Temperance Society, a group that included many members of the UGRR. Frances’ uncle was Dr. Thomas Elkins (her mother’s brother), a well-known Black physician, dentist and pharmacist. Elkins was a key member of the Albany UGRR Vigilance Committee, and conducted induction physicals for local men enlisting in the 54th Massachusetts in the Civil War.
Her younger sister Isabella was married to Thomas Sands Pennington. Pennington was the son of Rev. James W. S. Pennington, a key figure in the anti-slavery fight for decades. He was a close friend of Frederick Douglass; Pennington performed the marriage between Douglass and his first wife Anne Murray, immediately after Douglass’ escape to freedom. Her brother-in-law Thomas had apprenticed under Dr. Elkins in the 1850s when Frances was a teenager (and was probably a member of the city UGRR), and served in the 20th NY Colored Troop regiment in the Civil War. In 1880 he was the only Black pharmacy owner in Saratoga Springs.
Matilda Leggett was 29 and single. She lived at 158 Third St. (next to Frances Dorsey) in Arbor Hill with her widowed father Henry. He had been employed by the Delavan House Hotel, along with Stephen Myers, who was the head of the UGRR in Albany at the time. In the 1880 census Henry is listed as a cook and Matilda as keeping house.
Both Matilda’s parents are identified as being born in Schodack, NY in Rensselaer County in the 1820s. Based on available historical data we believe their families had been enslaved at one point by the Leggett family which spanned the Hudson Valley to New Yok City. (The Leggett-Hunt African Cemetery has recently been re-discovered in Hunt’s Point in Brooklyn. )
Julia Lawrence Myers was 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 Jr., son of Stephen Myers who had been the supervising agent of UGRR in Albany in the 1850s. Her husband was employed at the New York State Capitol. It’s quite possible her father Peter Lawrence may also have been a member of the UGRR. Both her father and husband were active in Republican politics in the 11th ward in Arbor Hill in 1880. In 1919, long after the death of both her husband and father Julia was active in Albany County Republican politics.
Anne Shelve was 43 and lived 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 husband was very active in Republican politics for many years. Ann was member of both the Lundy and Lovejoy Societies in 1880.
Sarah Sandford Smith was 58. She was born in Albany. Sarah was the only Black woman who voted in 1880 who did not reside in Arbor Hill. In 1880 she lived at 410 Madison Ave. just below Lark St. (the house was destroyed by fire in 2017) with her husband Joseph A. Smith. For decades Sarah was a stewardess on the People’s Line, which sailed steamboats between Albany and New York City (in the late 1850s her daughter Mary Jane joined her). The Line transported so many freedom seekers before the Civil War the boats were sometimes called “abolition ships”. Sarah was a member of both the Lundy and Lovejoy Societies, and had served as an officer in both organizations at various times.
Joseph was originally from Charleston, S. C., the son of a white merchant and an enslaved mother. His father sent him North about the time of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. He had an extensive career working as a steward/butler and concierge in private homes and hotels, and appears to have used those connections a peripheral part of the UGRR in the 1850s. In 1880 he was the head usher at the United State Hotel in Saratoga Springs. (His book “Reminiscences of Saratoga”, published in 1897, is fascinating.)
Why Did so Many Black Women in Albany Vote?
There are many reasons, but first and foremost, women had been excluded in the 15th Amendment. African American women in Albany stood shoulder to shoulder with Black men since the early 1800s, creating an African American community where they could live as free Black people (although slavery didn’t end in New York State until 1827). They had fought for education for their children, had been instrumental in the establishment and survival of the Black churches that were the foundation of the Black community, and they too had been part of the fight against slavery and worked in the city’s UGRR.
The real answer may be quite simple. The newspaper stories of the time recount white women being refused the right to register to vote, or if registered, actually vote. They were often harassed, ridiculed and even physically threatened at polling places. No law enforcement came to their defense; no judge would help them. But that appears not to have happened in the polling places where there was active involvement of Black men – specifically in the 11th ward of the city. Although there were small Black-only enclaves in the ward, it was not segregated, and it appears to be the one ward in the city, based on the addresses of women who voted in 1880, where white and African American women were allowed to register and to vote without incident.
*Gage co-authored with Stanton and Anthony the first three volumes of “A History of Woman Suffrage” in 1879.
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.
We’ve been taking a deep dive into the African American population in Albany in the 1800s, to try to get a sense of what their lives were like before the Civil War -the defining event of the century., and after.
One couple, Michael and Susan Douge, stands out for their dedication for decades – to their community and to the causes of abolition before the Civil War and equal rights after the War. They were perhaps the most influential couple in Albany’s African American community during the 19th century.
Michael was born in New Yok City in 1804, son of a freeman. There is some evidence that his father had been enslaved in Haiti, but made his way New York after the slave revolt in the 1790s. Susan was born in Albany; we know little of her origin story. Census data indicate her mother, Mercy Franks, was born in Dutchess County in the 1780s; she’s identified as a free woman in the 1820 Albany census. She may have been married to John Franks who appears in the 1833 city directory. By 1844 Mercy is identified as a widow. The Franks may have once been enslaved by the Franks family in the Hudson Valley who were slave importers and sellers for several generations.
In 1827 the Freedom’s Journal, the first African American newspaper in America (published in New York City) carried the wedding announcement of Michael Douge (New York City) and Susan Ames (Albany) on April 25, 1827 . The ceremony was performed by Rev. John Chester of Albany’s Second Presbyterian Church.
In 1830 Michael is identified as a hair dresser, living and working at 14. South Pearl, close to State St.
By the time Michael was in his late 20s he became publicly involved in Albany’s African American community. In 1831 the Albany African Clarkson Society (Thomas Clarkson was an Englishman who campaigned vehemently against the slave trade) held a major event, including a procession, accompanied by music through the streets celebrating the 4th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in New York State; Michael Douge gave the major address.
Throughout the 1830s he continued his involvement. He writes letters to The Liberator the anti-slavery newspaper published by William Lloyd Garrison. He was one of the founders of the Philomethean Society, a Black literary association in 1835, (modeled after a similar society in New York City); an officer in the “Colored Person Union” of Capital District (est. 1837) dedicated to moral improvement and education of the Black population, and active in a group vehemently opposed to African American colonization in Liberia and elsewhere, outside of the United States.
Both Michael and Susan were active in establishing the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Albany.
In 1833 Susan was one of the founding members of the Female Lundy Society. (The Society was named after Benjamin Lundy, a white abolitionist who published the newspaper “The Genius of Universal Emancipation”);it was dedicated to charitable works in the African community and anti-slavery activities.) In 1837 she was also part of the group of Black women that established Albany’s Female Lovejoy Society. (Elijah Lovejoy was a white abolitionist and newspaper publisher murdered in Ohio in 1837 for his anti-slavery views. His murder shocked the nation.)
In 1840 Michael was an attendee of first New York State Convention of Colored Citizens , which happened to be held in Albany. The same year he was part of a group of men who lobbied to establish a publicly-funded school for Black children as the city had done for white children. Ultimately they was successful and by the mid-1840s the Douge’s daughter Catherine Mary was a teaching assistant at the segregated Wilberforce School for African American children. (Although records indicate that the Douge children, along with children of some other African families may have been allowed to attend white schools.)
In 1843 he was part of a group of men, including, Rev. Benjamin Paul (one of the founders of the Black Wilberforce Colony in Canada), Thomas Paul (the noted teacher in Albany and Boston and one time William Lloyd Garrison printing apprentice), and Benjamin Lattimore and William Topp (active members of the Underground Railroad in Albany) who presented an address to Governor William Seward, thanking him for what he had done for the Black community. (Seward would go on to be a U.S. Senator from New York State and Lincoln’s Secretary of State.)
During the 1830s and 1840s the Douges were busy raising their children – (Catherine) Mary, (Susan) Cornelia, Francis, Julius , and John. Michael’s barbershop seems to have thrived. In early Albany city directories they’re listed various as living at 14 South Pearl St., just in from State St. Through the 1830s and early 1840s they remain in the South End, living in in various locations on South Pearl St.
At one point in the mid-1830s the Douges lived at 9 Plain St,, owned by Benjamin Lattimore, Jr. Lattimore was one of the first Albany men to attend Colored Conventions (the first national expressions of abolition and political equality for African Americans). He was a friend of William Lloyd Garrison, and anyone of consequence in the early days of the anti-slavery and political equality movements in the 1830s. It’s safe to assume that through him and others the Douge family shared similar linkages to the world outside Albany. These would come to include Frederick Douglass, who had close ties to many white and Black abolitionists in the city.
By the mid-1840s the Douges moved to 100 Franklin St,. where they remained for a number of years.
While teaching the Wilberforce School Mary married the principal Henry Hicks. Sadly Henry died only a few years after the marriage; in 1855 Mary is identified as living with her parents and her two small children, along with her younger brothers.
Abolition is a Douge family affair. When Mary was just 17 she became a subscriber to Frederick Douglass’ Northstar newspaper. (In 1853 Michael and other local prominent African American abolitionists gathered at the A.M.E church to endorse the Frederick Douglass Paper\ the successor to the Northstar.)
By the mid-1850s the Douge sons had assumed the role held by their father. and were participating in the Colored Conventions and delegate selection for Frederick Douglass’ nascent National Council for Colored People.
After the Civil War Mary went south to teach freed Blacks under the auspices of the Freedman’s Bureau while her parents raised her children. Susan continued her activities with the Female Lundy and Lovejoy Societies.
Michael appears to have been slowing down, but he did play a role, along with his sons Julius and John in Black Republican politics in the city. Julius was also one of a about a dozen prominent African American men in the city who lobbied the Board of Education to permit Black children to attend local (white) public schools, and to admit Black children to the Free Academy (High School) over a number of years (In 1873 they were successful.)
Julius was cut from the same mold as his father, and was soon a member of the African American Masonic Lodge and the Black chapter of the Oddfellows The Douge men were members of the Charles Sumner Association – a mutual aid society for African Americans in Albany (its motto was “ We care for our sick and bury our dead”), as well as the Burdett-Couts Benevolent Association.
But the battle for equal rights was not over. Mary Douge Williams stepped up for women’s suffrage, and became a vice president of the newly formed Albany Woman’s Suffrage Association in 1880. There is a wonderful description in a suffrage newspaper of very dignified Mary leading a contingent of African American women, including her mother Susan, then in her late 70s, to register in Arbor Hill (where the Douges were now living at 25 Lark St.) and vote in the School election of 1880. (This was the first time New York State allowed women to vote.) We know that Mary and Susan voted in subsequent years.
Then tragedy struck. Michael died at the age of 79 in late 1883 and Mary, at age 51, less than six months later in 1884. (Their children Cornelia and Francis had both passed in 1859.)
But Susan continued to play an active role in her community as a member and sometimes officer of both the Lundy and Lovejoy Societies until she died in 1897 at the age of 92. She would live to see her grandson Robert Douge become only the second Black man to graduate from Albany Law School in 1890.
Michael and Susan Douge and other family members are buried in Lot 3 Section 99 of Albany Rural Cemetery.
2020 is the 100th anniversary of the ratification of 19th amendment allowing women to vote. The language is stunningly simple, but reflects over 70 years of struggles by generations of women (and some men).
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex.”
Beginning in the late 1840s women began to make some modest gains (married women were allowed to own property, divorced women could be granted custody of children, etc. ), and in some states women could vote in all elections and some in some elections (school board). But women met defeat in many states.
In the 1890s a NYS constitutional convention refused to ratify for referendum a woman’s right to vote. But the women of the state re-grouped, and by the early 1900s the campaign began anew.
By 1914 it was approaching full throttle. And so the women of Albany and the surrounding area mounted a huge demonstration in the form of a parade in June 1914 in downtown Albany.
Hundreds of women participated; most wearing white dresses and sashes of yellow as they marched through the streets. There were teachers, nurses, women from the trade unions, other working women, older married women and their daughters, single women, widows, college women. They came from all walks of life – rich and poor. And there was a men’s division.
The Grand Marshal, astride a horse, was Katherine Hulst Gavit. Ms Gavit had been president of the Albany Equal Rights Group for many years. She was a graduate of Syracuse University, and had worked at the NYS Library where she had met her husband (one of the librarians). (Her mother-in-law was one of the leaders of the anti-suffrage campaign mounted during the NYS Constitutional Convention of the 1890s.)
Other marchers included Elizabeth Smith who would become head of Albany’s first unified library system in the 1920s, and teenage Frances Vosbugh who would become a physician and start the first birth control clinic in Albany in the early 1930s.
Through the efforts of the women of the Albany area and others woman’s suffrage made it on the ballot in New York State in 1915. It was defeated (Albany County voted no). In 1917 it passed (the men of Albany County voted no again, but it didn’t matter), and women in New York State could vote.
Many of the women who participated in the suffrage movement, including Katherine Gavit, went on found the League of Women Voters.
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.
Recently the owners of Bongiorno’s restaurant at 23 Dove St. (on the corner of Spring St.) sold the business. (Don’t panic .. it’s still open -under new ownership; the folks who own the Dove and Deer, just across the street at Dove and State Streets.) A question came up. How old is the building and has there been a restaurant in that location for 130 years as some think? So we decided to do some digging. Like most Albany stories, we uncovered some fascinating stuff.
As far as we can tell 23 Dove St. was built in the early 1850s – which meshes with the age of the Dove & Deer, built in 1854. By the early 1850s Albany was bursting at the seams. In 1840, the population was 34,000 – within a decade in 1850 it was 51,000, and Albany was the 10th largest city in the country. The city pushed rapidly north, west and south from its core. Wagons carrying lumber trundled through the streets from the barges unloaded at the docks, barrels of nails from foundries on the River and bricks made in the huge brick works that ringed what is now Lincoln Park.
The Coley Sisters and Their School
We believe 23 Dove was initially used as a residence, but in 1864 it became the “Misses Coley’s School”. There were 3 Coley sisters who became teachers – Adeline, Jane and Julia – originally from Duanesburg. They were the daughters of Amy and David Coley, who fought in the War of 1812, and granddaughters of Joseph Coley, who came from Westchester County and fought in the American Revolution.
The Coley sisters graduated from the NYS Normal School in 1846, 1850 and 1853 respectively. (The Normal School is now the University at Albany.)
In 1In the early 1860s we find the sisters teaching in public schools ; one is an assistant principal School 7 on Canal St. (now Sheridan Ave.) and another assistant principal in School 5 on North Pearl (north of Clinton Ave.) They’re all living with their widowed mother at 220 State St.
In 1864 the sisters took a risk and made a radical change, opening the Misses Coley School (known as the Coley Cottage School) at 23 Dove St. * (It appears 220 State St was sold to acquire 23 Dove.) The school was quite successful and became a fixture in Albany for the next 40 years or so, forming the minds of several generations of young middle and upper class Albanians who would dominate business, politics and society until the mid 20th century.
The sisters were models of the Protestant ethic and rectitude (piety, charity, hard work, diligence, moderation in all things and good works). They attended the Pearl Street Baptist Church on North Pearl (the Ten Eyck Plaza is there today), until it was demolished and then re-constituted in a new building at 275 State St. as the Emmanuel Baptist Church (where they were Sunday school teachers).
The Coleys were lifelong and very active members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, not from a moral sense, but from what they believed was a practical view… alcohol lead to domestic violence and child abuse, and often reduced families to poverty.
Women’s Suffrage Headquarters
But don’t get the wrong idea about the sisters; they were hardly pliable , not meek and mild. They were dedicated women’s suffrage activists when such women’s rights agitation wasn’t at all fashionable. When the NYS Legislature gave women the right to vote in school elections in 1880 Adeline and Jane were among the 2 dozen or so Albany women to cast their ballots, much to the shock of many.
Adeline was a member of the Albany Woman’s Suffrage Society (treasurer at one point) in the 1880s, and its successor, the Albany Political Equality Club. The Club’s meetings were held at 23 Dove St. (its headquarters) in the first five years of the 20th century.
The Coleys were also shrewd business women. They acquired property – on Dove St., upper State St. (315 served as a Boarding House for female Normal School students) and Hamilton St., and yet continued to serve as trustees of the Open Door Mission -for destitute genteel women (mostly elderly teachers) and the Teacher’s Relief Society.
Their mother Amy died in 1882 and sadly Jane passed later that year (her cemetery card lists the cause of death of as exhaustion). But Julia and Adeline carried on with the school. Adeline passed away in 1916; Julia died in 1927 at the age of 97. Julia’s estate (including 23 Dove St.,) was left to her great nephew, William Taylor. In 1931 he and his wife opened the Ye Old Coley Cottage Restaurant.
The Princess Pat Tea Room
In 1933 the restaurant was purchased by Charles and Margaret Pepeski, and they changed the name to the Princess Pat Tea Room (and no, we have no idea why).
The Princess Pat operated at 23 Dove until in the early to mid- 1970s. Many of its customers were single women who lived in the neighborhood. It was a step up from a lunch counter/soda fountain for working women and the term “tea room” signaled it was a “safe space” for women – they wouldn’t be harassed with unwanted attention. They included secretaries, teachers, professors, scientists who worked for the State, librarians, etc.. It was the go to place for meetings – for the DAR, the Junior League, and in the 1930s bridge luncheons which were all the rage.
It was a quaint place with ruffled curtains and colonial chairs. When I went with a family member in the 1950s I was told it hadn’t changed much since the 1930s. The menu I recall had a decidedly feminine vibe – welsh rarebit, salmon and chicken croquettes, cottage cheese and fruit plates, Salisbury steak, hot turkey sandwiches, and cream cheese and date nut sandwiches. (It reminded me of Schrafft’s.) The women wore tailored suits and shirtwaist dresses with good costume jewelry, hats and gloves. When I returned the early 1970s as a young adult, it was if time had stood still. The menu was almost the same, although the hats and gloves were gone, some skirts were shorter and there were several daring women in pants suits.
The next act began when the restaurant was acquired by Felix and Rosanna Bongiorno: it opened in 1978. According to a “Times Union” article the Dove & Deer owners plan on making some renovations and naming the new place Rosanna’s. According to the new owners there will be a new menu, but influenced and inspired by Bongiorno’s.
(We told you there’s always an interesting story.. all you have to do is look around the city and do a little digging.)
*Teaching was a most unkind profession in the 19th century. While almost all teachers were women, a female principal was a rarity. In the 1880s the Albany City School board enacted a rule that if a woman teacher married she had to resign. At about the same time the Cohoes Board refused hire one of my 3 great great aunts who were all teachers (very much like the Coleys); her 2 sisters were already employed in the district (that was enough already!) and the third, Amy, would be taking a job from a man who had a family. Amy went to teach in NYC and was part of group of women who tried to form a teacher’s union. (Wouldn’t you?) It’s abundantly clear why the Coley sisters struck out on their own.
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.