March is Women’s History Month!

March 26, 2016
Rundel Auditorium, 3rd floor, Rundel Memorial Building
*Please note: Parking on the Court and Broad street bridges is free on weekends*

Women Voted in New York—Before Columbus

The very first women’s rights convention took place in Seneca Falls, N.Y., 168 years ago, culminating in the signing of the Declaration of Sentiments (a document that has since been lost to history). The resulting women’s rights movement changed the course of history. But to the neighboring Haudenosaunee (traditional Iroquois) communities, political and economic equality among men and women was nothing new. Haudenosaunee women had had this authority—and more—since long before Christopher Columbus came to these shores.

While white women were the property of their husbands and considered dead in the law, Haudenosaunee women had more authority and status before Columbus than New York State women have today. Haudenosaunee women had the responsibility for putting the male leaders in place. They had control of their own bodies and were economically independent. Rape and wife beating were rare and dealt with harshly; committing violence against a woman kept a man from becoming Chief in this egalitarian, gender-balanced society. When women in New York State began to organize for their rights in 1848, they took their cue from the nearby Haudenosaunee communities. Despite the assimilation policies of the United States, Haudenosaunee women still maintain much of this authority today.

The 2017 centennial of women’s suffrage in New York State opens the opportunity for us to explore this new—yet very old—and unknown history of our region. We invite you to join us on March 26 at 1pm for a talk given by Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner, Founding Director of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation in Fayetteville, N.Y. Dr. Wagner holds one of the first doctorates awarded for work in women’s studies (UC Santa Cruz).

Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner

Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner

This program was made possible by funding from the Public Scholars program of the New York Council for the Humanities.  NYCH logo


Rochester’s Rich History for December 2014


The Other Anthony Girl

Don’t get me wrong, Susan B. Anthony deserves her proper respect. Ardent abolitionist, temperance worker, women’s rights advocate, education crusader, labor activist, suffragist, public speaker, writer, leader—her legacy is lasting; her praises duly sung. That said, I thought it fitting this Women’s History Month to pay tribute to another woman from Rochester’s past who is equally deserving of our admiration, if not as privy to our attention: Susan’s younger sister, Mary Stafford Anthony.

Overshadowed in both life and death by her famous older sibling, Mary S. Anthony was a worthy character in her own right. Born on April 2, 1827, in Battenville, NY, Mary moved to Rochester with her family when she was eighteen. Well-educated, she eventually became a teacher. She taught in the city’s public schools for 27 years, retiring from her position as principal of School No. 2 in 1883. In testament to her intellect, a friend noted that Mary was “an excellent mathematician, a natural philosopher and…history was also one of her specialties” (“Death Comes to Mary S. Anthony”).

Close with her sister, Mary shared Susan’s devotion to social justice. In fact, she was the first of the two to enlist in the crusade for sexual equality, attending the second women’s rights convention held in Rochester in August 1848, two weeks after the historic first meeting in Seneca Falls. Mary, unlike Susan, actually signed the Declaration of Sentiments. In November 1872, both Mary and Susan, along with their two other sisters and 10 other Rochester women, challenged state law by registering and voting in the presidential election. Six years later, Mary represented Monroe County at the Rochester convention of the National Woman Suffrage Association. In 1885, she organized and hosted the first meeting of the local Women’s Political Club (later renamed the Political Equality Club); she served as its president from 1892 to 1903. She became corresponding secretary for the New York State Woman Suffrage Association in 1893 and helped run a suffrage campaign headquarters out of the family home at 17 Madison Street.

Mary Anthony was the family breadwinner, caregiver, and household manager. It was she who held down the fort, enabling Susan to devote her time and energy to the cause. Both morally and financially supportive of her sister’s work, Mary helped to fund Susan’s journal, The Revolution, and contributed significantly to Susan’s drive to sexually integrate the University of Rochester in 1900. Mary traveled with Susan to Europe in 1899 and again in 1904 to attend meetings of the International Council of Women. Both sisters were in Berlin when the International Woman Suffrage Alliance was formed; Susan became its first member, Mary its second.

The last trip Mary and Susan Anthony took together was to attend the National American Woman Suffrage Association convention in Baltimore in 1906. A little over a month later, Susan died in their home with Mary at her side. Less than a year after that, on February 7, 1907, Mary, too, passed away in her home, two months shy of her 80th birthday. Sadly, neither sister lived to see their shared dream of woman suffrage come to fruition with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. While Susan’s contribution to this effort has been appropriately noted, Mary’s remains largely and undeservedly obscured.  

The Anthony sisters are buried beside each other in Rochester’s historic Mount Hope Cemetery. Should you happen to be in the neighborhood, consider paying your respects to them both.

~Michelle Finn, Deputy Historian

Mary Stafford Anthony and Susan Brownell Anthony, n.d.
From the collection of the Rochester Public Library Local History Division.


“Miss Mary S. Anthony is Dead at Her Home.” Post Express, February 5, 1907. In Tengwall scrapbook no. 1: 196, Rochester Public Library Local History Division.

“Death Comes to Mary S. Anthony.” Democrat & Chronicle, February 6, 1907. In Peck scrapbook v. 2:61½, Rochester Public Library Local History Division.

Western New York Suffragists. “Mary Stafford Anthony.” Accessed March 23, 2013.