Century-Old Ideals About Womanhood Bring Groans Today


Century-Old Ideals

About Womanhood

Bring Groans Today

Otsego Town Historian Sharon Stuart discusses Susan B. Anthony’s local visits. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

ONEONTA – Digging through the NYSHA archives in 2004, Sharon Stuart, Otsego town historian, found an item that everyone else overlooked.

Susan B. Anthony

“As I was looking through February 1885 issues of The Freeman’s Journal, a name caught my eye,” Stewart said during a Sunday, Aug. 9, talk at the Swart-Wilcox House, “Susan B. Anthony.”

Stuart’s talk on Anthony – she also spoke in 1894 in Oneonta – came two weeks before the 100th anniversary of ratification of the 19th Amendment, which on Aug. 26, 1920, gave women the right to vote.

One of the pivotal leaders in the suffragette movement, Anthony gave a speech in Cooperstown’s First Presbyterian Church on Feb. 9, 1885, a meeting that had never been noted in any Anthony biography before Stuart’s discovery.

“I was looking at information other historians had missed,” she said.

A call to the Ann Gordon librarian at Rutgers University, which had recently published a 16-volume work on Anthony’s life, confirmed Stuart’s suspicions that the visit had been overlooked. “She told me it was on page such-and-such, but when I looked, it wasn’t there,” said Stuart. “She responded, ‘You’re right, it’s not.’”

According to Stuart, Cooperstown was the first stop in a tour across Upstate New York that also included Schenectady, Cooperstown and Troy in hopes of starting county chapters of the women’s rights movement.

Following the meeting at the church, she reportedly went to the courthouse, then on the corner of Main and Pioneer where the Cooperstown Beverage Exchange now stands, and gave a second speech.

Though no reporting of the meeting survives, a satirical report by “Uxorius” appeared in the following week’s edition of The Freeman’s Journal.

“The beneficial effects of the convention were once apparent,” he wrote. “Men, who had always been careless and indifferent upon the subject of domestic duties, went home singing ‘Bye-o-baby bunting, Mama’s gone a’hunting’ and other similar airs, in anticipation, I suppose, of the time when they should be attending to matters adapted to their capacities at home, while they’re wives, having ascended to their appropriate spheres, should be displaying their graces in legislative halls.”

The Cherry Valley Gazette also editorialized her speech in the Feb. 21, 1855, edition, writing, “It really is laughable to think that Women should express any such position. What a figure they would cut at the polls of an Election, peddling tickets for their favorite candidate, and dealing out “nut-cakes” to the Electors.” (sic)

On Feb. 13, four days after the Otsego County appearance, she spoke in Albany, and that speech, which Stuart says was likely similar to what she gave in Cooperstown, was documented in the Albany Argus.

“A man tailor receives $4 to $10 for making a coat; a woman from $2 to $4; a male cook from twelve to twenty shilling per day, while a female, equally skillful, is fortunate to receive as much per week,” she was reported as saying.

When Reverend Bush – a distant relative of the Presidents George and George W. – took over the Presbyterian Church pulpit in 1856, he was horrified to Anthony had been allowed to speak on the church’s property.

“He was not in favor of women’s rights,” Stuart said.

In 1856, The Freeman’s Journal published an excerpt from a speech titled “For The Ladies” that he gave at the Otesgia Society of Cooperstown Seminary, which Stuart read during the presentation, eliciting groans from the audience on the Swart-Wilcox front lawn:

“It will not be your mission, young ladies, to engage in the rough employments of men – to mingle with our rough sex in depositing votes in the ballot box – to sit in the hall of legislation – to wrangle in debate – to declaim at the forum – to ascend to the pulpit – to plow the earth – to navigate the ocean or to fight our battles.”

Anthony made two more visits to the county; the first, in Cooperstown in 1874; the second, at the Women’s State Convention in Oneonta in 1894. The paper at the time wrote very little about it except to report that she had “that old-time fire” in her speech.

Stuart dedicated the talk to her friend Alice Siegfried, who died July 18 at age 88, leaving an empty chair next to the podium. “I know Alice would be here if she was alive,” she said. “I see her sitting with Susan B. Anthony in Heaven.”

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