Did you know that around 150 years ago, women could be arrested in the United States for exercising their right to vote? Yes, that's exactly what happened in November 1872 when suffragist Susan B. Anthony and 14 other women from Rochester, New York, cast their ballot at a local booth. A couple of weeks later not only was she found guilty but the inspectors who had allowed the women brigade to vote were also jailed. She was tried and fined $100 with costs. Anthony refused to pay but was not imprisoned so could not appeal the verdict.
To know more about a woman recognised for her seminal role in the women’s suffrage movement as well as her role as a civil rights advocate, you may pay a visit to the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House in Rochester, New York. The museum collects and exhibits material related to Anthony’s life and work, and offers tours and interpretive programs.
Although better known as a suffragist, Anthony (1820-1906) was also active in other areas such as anti-slavery campaigns, temperance, married women’s right to property, education for women and Blacks, etc. Along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Parker Pillsbury, she began a newspaper called ‘The Revolution’ where the masthead read, “Men Their Rights and Nothing More, Women their Rights and Nothing Less.”
In the museum, you will find the famous ‘alligator purse’ which became synonymous with her campaign for financial rights for women.
The US Post Office issued a three cent stamp with her likeness in August 1936 and later issued a 50 cent stamp in 1955 to mark the 50th anniversary of the day she met President Theodore Roosevelt to speak of submitting a suffrage amendment to Congress.
She is also the first woman to be honoured with her likeness appearing on a circulating United States coin. Although the coins were last minted in 1999, they are still in circulation.
Interestingly, the building which houses the museum today, from where Anthony was arrested for voting, also has a history as interesting as its former owner. Originally built as a two-story, 12-room brick house in the Italianate style by a Madison Street dentist, it was bought by Susan B Anthony’s mother in 1866 after the extended family stayed here for a few years as tenants.
It became the headquarters of the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA) when Susan B Anthony was elected the association’s president. The first floor parlours become public offices, while guest rooms were used for mail, in connection with the New York State Constitutional Campaign. The third story, including a workroom, was added in 1895 for use in researching, compiling, and writing the History of Woman Suffrage and the biography of Susan B. Anthony. It was in this house that Anthony breathed her last.
However, following the death of Mary Anthony (Susan’s sister who had subsequently bought the house from their mother), the house passed through several hands, serving as a family dwelling as well as a boarding house.
It was not until 1944, when the Rochester Federation of Women’s Clubs placed a simple marker at the home, demands for converting the house into a memorial began. The following year, they raised funds to buy the house and establish a museum. In 1966, it was declared a National Historic Landmark.
Since 1998, the building is being gradually restored to make it look as it was when Anthony lived here. For example, according to the museum website, replacing the roof with cedar shingles and yankee gutters, restoration of plaster, walls, ceilings, floors, and windows, installing wallpapers matching them to photos taken during the yesteryears, replicating the original faux-grain painting on doors, floors, and windows, and replacing late-twentieth-century light fixtures with modern equivalents of the original gas lights.
The National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House, located at 17 Madison Street, is open for walking tours but these have to be booked online . Note: Identity proof and vaccination guidelines apply.