Women’s History Sites in New York & the Suffragists Who Made It Happen
August 18, 2020
Today marks the anniversary of a monumental moment in women’s history – it’s the centennial of the ratification of the 19th amendment. That means that 100 years ago today, women were given the right to vote. In the politically divisive climate we are living in today, one thing unites women: we can vote. And there are several women we owe that right to. Several incredible women who fought for our rights – and the center of this battle was fought in New York State. So today, pay your respects to the suffragists who changed the world at these women’s history sites in New York.
Today, there places around the state where we can honor these women – from Rochester to Seneca Falls and Auburn to Syracuse. Museums, former homes, a heritage center, and gravesites – several of which have been dedicated as historical sites by the National Park Service. You can find a map of sites at the bottom of the article. Where will you go first?
Please note that some of these sites are closed or have reduced hours due to the current pandemic. To help continue preserving the history, there are many virtual offerings available.
A special thank you to Cayuga County Tourism for inviting me to visit some of the sites mentioned here.
The Women Who Changed History
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Born: November 12, 1815 in Johnstown, NY Died: October 26, 1902 in New York, NY
Elizabeth Cady Stanton is synonymous with the women’s rights movement. Close friends with many fellow abolitionists and suffragists throughout her life, she played a critical role in the fight for equality for all. Elizabeth published the Declaration of Sentiments with the help of fellow feminists and presented it at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848.
Susan B. Anthony
Born: February 15, 1820 in Adams, MA Died: March 13, 1906 in Rochester, NY
Perhaps the most famous of the suffragists in the women’s rights movement, Susan B. Anthony was a lifelong advocate for women’s suffrage and the abolition of slavery. Together with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, she founded several organizations for equal rights. Susan is considered to be the leader of the women’s rights movement. She was also famously arrested in Rochester for voting in the 1872 election.
Born: January 3, 1793 in Nantucket, MA Died: November 11, 1880 in Cheltenham, PA
Lucretia Mott was very outspoken against slavery and for women’s rights to vote. She helped Elizabeth Cady Stanton draft the Declaration of Sentiments at the Seneca Falls Convention.
Martha Coffin Wright
Born: December 25, 1806 in Boston, MA Died: January 4, 1875 in Auburn, NY
Sister of Lucretia, Martha was also an active feminist and abolitionist during the 1800s.
Born: September 25, 1805 in Cayuga County, NY Died: June 21, 1865 in Washington, DC
Frances Seward was the wife of William Seward, governor of New York and later US senator and presidential hopeful. She was also close friends with the Motts, and active in the women’s rights and abolition movements. The Seward home in Auburn housed several slaves in the basement kitchen on their path to freedom.
Born: March 1822 in Maryland (née Araminta Ross) Died: March 10, 1913 in Auburn, NY
Harriet Tubman is most notable for her work with the Underground Railroad, and the hundreds of slaves she helped to get free. But that’s not all she did. Harriet was a strong believer in equality for all. Harriet was the main speaker at the first meeting of the National Federation of Afro-American Women.
Matilda Joslyn Gage
Born: March 24, 1826 in Cicero, NY Died: March 18, 1898 in Chicago, Illinois
Matilda Joslyn Gage was far ahead of her time in the 1800s. She was outspoken, fearless, and independent. Matilda spoke at the National Women’s Rights Convention in Syracuse in 1852, being the youngest to do so. She revenisked her wealth and reputation by housing several slaves during their movement along the Underground Railroad. Matilda was president of the New York State Suffrage Association and later the National Women’s Suffrage Association.
Born: November 20, 1827 in Sherwood, NY Died: June 29, 1929 in Aurora, NY
The daughter of a prominent businessman, Emily was a strong advocate for women’s rights. Her life’s work contributed to the creation of dozens of schools, particularly those serving Black students. She was close friends with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, organizing meetings and speaking at events. She even traveled to London to speak about women’s suffrage with Queen Victoria. Emily was the first woman to receive an honorary degree from SUNY Albany.
Born: 1857 in Syracuse, NY Died: May 16, 1935 in Syracuse, NY
Harriet May Mills was a lifelong resident of Syracuse, and also played a crucial role in the women’s suffrage movement. In addition, she was one of the first women to graduate from Cornell once women were allowed to enroll. Harriet was very active in politics and was the first women to run for a statewide office in 1920. She dedicated her life to women’s suffrage and political movements and never married or had children.
Seneca Falls: Where Women’s History Was Born
The start of the Women’s Rights Movement dates back to the mid-1800s when women started coming together to talk about their lack of rights. The first official point in women’s history happened on July 19, 1848 in Seneca Falls with the National Women’s Rights Convention. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott led the event.
It wasn’t just the right to vote that women were fighting for. Back then, women couldn’t attend college, work in certain professions, and lacked a lot of the freedoms that were granted to their male counterparts. It wasn’t right. And it wasn’t fair. Something had to be done.
Women’s Rights National Park
A collection of buildings from the Seneca Falls Convention have been declared a National Park to honor the history that was made there. Visitors can walk along Elizabeth Cady Stanton Park, looking out over the Cayuga-Seneca Canal. Across the street, the Declaration of Sentiments lives on, etched into metal on the walls of the national park. Don’t forget to step inside Wesleyan Chapel, where roughly 300 women attended the convention over 170 years ago. Lastly, Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s House still stands today and during normal operating procedures, visitors can take a tour inside.
Women’s History Sites in Auburn
Equal Rights Heritage Center
Established in 2018, the Equal Rights Heritage Center in Auburn is a celebration of all the heroes who have fought and continue to fight for equality throughout our history. Not just for women’s rights, but for Blacks, LGBTQ, and other minorities. The building honors the people, the locations, and the events across New York.
There are several interactive exhibits at the heritage center, including maps, audio recordings, and tablets. The walls are lined with photos and quotes from the leaders of each of the movements. It’s incredibly powerful – and because of its importance, the center is FREE to visit.
Harriet Tubman Home
After fleeing her life of slavery in Maryland, Harriet Tubman made her home in Auburn, New York. She became the “Moses” of her people, leading countless more slaves to freedom through her work on the Underground Railroad. Later in her life she joined fellow women in the area in her support of the women’s rights movement.
Once restrictions are lifted, visitors will once again be able to tour her property, which was also declared a national park in 2017. Learn more about Harriet and her life at the visitor center and neighboring historic home.
William Seward was the governor of New York, a US senator, and lastly Secretary of State. A fierce abolitionist, he was the favorite to win the presidency in 1860, but lost to outsider Abraham Lincoln. The two later became friends and served together in the government.
Seward’s wife, Frances, was active in the Underground Railroad, and visitors to the house can see the basement room where the slaves hid. She was also close with fellow suffragists, often contributing to the cause and fighting for women’s property rights.
Howland Stone Store Museum
The Howland family were wealthy and influential in their community during the 1800s. Because she had the means and the motivation, Emily Howland played a critical role in the education of Blacks and fighting for women’s rights. The store has since been converted into the Howland Stone Store Museum. It now holds the largest collection of women’s suffrage posters in the country.
Fun fact: the museum is also home to a rare piece of history – a ticket for the Underground Railroad!
Construction is currently bring done on the former family home down the street, Opendore. The house is set to become a museum honoring the women’s suffrage movement.
Fort Hill Cemetery
Another way to honor the suffragists in Auburn is by visiting their graves at Fort Hill Cemetery. If you pick up a pamphlet at the heritage center, you’ll get a map of the most notable people buried there. Some of the most prominent permanent residents include Harriet Tubman, the Seward family, and the Mott family.
Women’s History Sites in Rochester
Susan B. Anthony Museum & House
Embrace yourself in history by visiting the Susan B. Anthony Museum & House in Rochester. Visitors can walk through the rooms that once belonged to the famous American woman, suffragist, and abolitionist. The dedicated national historic landmark was not only her home, but also the headquarters for the National American Women Suffrage Association as well as the site of her famous arrest in 1872.
Mount Hope Cemetery
Mount Hope Cemetery has several notable residents that draw visitors wanting to pay their respects. The two most famous? Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. While Susan’s fame is well documented already, Douglass was also a suffragist. He was one of very few men who attended the Seneca Falls Convention, and he continued to advocate for women’s rights throughout his life.
Women’s History Sites in Syracuse
Matilda Joslyn Gage House & Museum
Matilda Gage was revolutionary for her time. She fought her women’s rights, exposed sex trafficking, advocated for Native Americans, and hid slaves through the Underground Railroad. Her home was frequently visited by fellow suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. It has since been converted to a museum, which is FREE to visit.
While Matilda had requested to be cremated, her remains are buried with her husband’s at Fayetteville Cemetery, not far from her home. Visitors can easily pay their respects by entering through the main entrance and taking the second left. Her large headstone is on the right side of the road.
Harriet May Mills House
Harriet May Mills lived in Syracuse for all her life, though she traveled while advocating for women’s right to vote. Her home, in which she and her family lived for many years, fell into disrepair. Then in 2001, an effort was made to save the historic house. Now it serves as a halfway house for women recovering from addiction. While it is not a tourist attraction, visitors can still stand outside to honor Harriet next to her historical marker.
There are several books and movies made about the suffrage movement. One of my favorites is the film Iron Jawed Angels, documenting the fight of Alice Paul and Lucy Burns. They led rallies and marches, were imprisoned, and declared a hunger strike, all leading to the eventual ratification of the 19th amendment. Luckily for us, Iron Jawed Angels is available to watch for free on YouTube.
If you’re interested in learning about the women’s suffrage movement in other countries, Suffragette is another great film to check out. This one is on Netflix and it documents the story of Maud Watts and the fight for women’s rights in England.
There are also countless books documenting the incredible journeys of these women.
Women’s Rights Today
While significant progress has been made in regards to women’s rights throughout history, there is still a lot to be done. It is widely known that women make less money doing the exact same work as men. And women of color? They make even less. It still isn’t right. And it still isn’t fair. Something has to be done.
So take a day to visit these women’s history sites in New York and pay your respect to the ladies who led the charge for equality.