A Note to My Readers: It’s Women’s History Month and I am reading material on the Suffrage Movement as it relates to my hometown of Auburn, New York. Auburnians Emily Howland, Julia C. Ferris, Sara Wadsworth, Lucy Brown Mosher and Eliza Wright Osborne were influential suffragettes and leaders in the movement. A plaque in their honor was installed in the reception room of the National League of Women Voters in Washington, D.C. on April 15th, 1931. Their biographies characterize these women as determined and dedicated as prominent leaders in political, social and educational activities in Cayuga County and New York State.
Dr. Emily Howland from The Emily Howland Papers, Cornell University
Miss EMILY HOWLAND was born on a farm near Sherwood, Cayuga, New York on November 20, 1827 to Slocum and Hannah Talcott Howland. She was reared as a Quaker, educated in Sherwood and later at a Society of Friends school in Philadelphia. Miss Howland’s life was dedicated to education, women’s rights and the abolition of slavery. In 1880 she published a monograph entitled “Early History of Friends in Cayuga County” which recounted the Quaker families and characters and the history of Scipio Meeting. For me it is a delightful read because in 1829 my Quaker family migrated to the west side of Cayuga Lake and became members of the Scipio Meeting.
Emily was a teacher before the Civil War and after the Emancipation Proclamation she nursed and taught in a camp for freed slaves. Fearlessly she continued her work there despite a severe outbreak of smallpox. After the war, as Miss Howland continued her mission for education and health for all, she established schools for the freed slaves in Virginia.
Returning to her roots along Cayuga Lake, Emily turned her energies toward women’s suffrage and became a delegate to state and national conventions and at one time addressed the United States Senate. It was not uncommon to see her giving speeches in the streets of Auburn and Syracuse.
In 1882 Emily also founded a school in Sherwood, New York and in 1927 it was renamed Emily Howland School in her honor. In 1926 she was the first woman in the state to be honored by the New York State Board of Regents with an honorary doctor of letters.
A woman of great intellect and leadership skills, she managed two Cayuga County farms and was a director for the Aurora National Bank. During her lifetime, she was a member of the board of no less than 30 schools.
Miss Emily Howland died on June 29, 1929 in Sherwood at the age of 101 years and is buried in Howland Cemetery in Ledyard, New York. The inscription on her monument reads:
She wished to have these words upon her stone.
“I strove to realize myself and to serve. Purposes nobly fulfilled.”
Miss JULIA C. FERRIS was also an educator and independent woman. Born at 16 Court Street on July 3, 1844 to Charles Thacher Ferris and Jane Underwood, she studied in Auburn public schools and was a graduate of Albany Normal College at the age of 16. Julia first taught at the Basswood Street School in Aurelius and then on to the No. 1 School in Auburn (Fulton Street School). After the Civil War she taught at a private school which was held over Sutton’s Drug Store on Genesee Street and then went on to be principal at the Genesee Street School. Briefly she was a teacher at a girl’s school in Detroit, but returned to Auburn in 1878 where she taught at Auburn High School. From 1881 to 1887 she was principal of North Street School. In 1888 she went on to head the mathematics department of the Central Grammar School until her retirement in June of 1913. It was estimated that she had taught in excess of 7, 500 pupils
“hammering the puzzling problems of ‘rithmetic into the heads of youth today”.
From 1914 to 1928 she was commissioner of education, a political position that she did not seek. In fact, she was nominated by educators and former students and placed on the ballot. She won over other candidates with a resounding margin and went on to be named as president of the board.
When Julia C. Ferris died in 1928 at the age of 83, Mayor Charles Osborne ordered the flags on all public school buildings to be flown at half-staff until after her funeral. She is buried in the Ferris family plot in Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, New York. Julia’s sister, Mrs. John G. Hosmer survived her as well as many nieces and nephews.
Sara Wadsworth 1916
Miss SARA WADSWORTH was the daughter of Auburn scythe manufacturer David Wadsworth and his wife Phebe E. Partelow. She was born in Auburn to wealth and leadership as was her brother David, Jr. who served at one time as Mayor of Auburn. Sara served at separate times as the president and the treasurer of the Cayuga County Woman Suffrage Association and was praised for her dedication giving the better part of her own time and money to the cause. Her home at 210 West Genesee Street (situated at the corner of Genesee and Fort Streets) was the family home that she inherited from her father. One of the loveliest homes in Auburn, it was a constant venue for teas and boarding for suffrage organizers, speakers and dignitaries. In 1937 the old Wadsworth Mansion, as it was known, was dismantled and all of the antiquities and valuables auctioned off to the highest bidder.
Sara was a delegate to conventions and conferences and traveled often in the company of Mrs. Osborne to promote women’s suffrage. Sara’s politics were more of the intellectual and genteel persuasion and she frequently wrote other groups and asked that they refrain from picketing as it detracted from the message. She traveled often and used the ‘boardroom’ approach to ply her message and in confrontation with male politicians was intelligent and stern yet gracious. She impressed them with her intellectual skills and often won them over to at least have a discussion. That said, when pressed and the heat was on, Sara was a presence at the 1916 street rally to demonstrate at the New York State Republican Convention held in Saratoga, New York. She lectured to other suffragette groups on
“how to raise and spend money”.
In a letter to the Citizen Advertiser, she reports that as treasurer of a fund for The Women’s Union in 1922, she had managed the donation of Mrs. Osborne in the amount of $25,000. Sara was often found in fundraising events for the Women’s Union and though she was pouring tea, she was often in the role of financial management.
Sara died in 1927 at the age of 76 and is buried in the Wadsworth family plot in Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, New York.
Eliza Wright Osborne
Mrs. ELIZA WRIGHT OSBORNE was the wife of David Munson Osborne and the daughter of David Wright and Martha Coffin and the niece of Lucretia Mott. Born on September 3, 1830, Eliza was a powerful force in the Suffrage Movement doing
‘everything for the cause of suffrage that her position as one of Cayuga County’s leading women would, who believed in the cause.”
Like her friend and fellow activist, Sara Wadsworth, she was born to a family of influence. When she married David M. Osborne, a wealthy farm machinery manufacturer, she plunged into the Women’s Suffrage Movement and with her fellow Auburnian suffragettes assumed positions of leadership. She traveled to conferences and conventions and in her own home hosted regular meetings which often included Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. She was described as a “lover of books and a woman of wide reading” as well outspoken and courageous with a devotion to principles yet with a love for flowers and humanity. Her collection of books was reported to be massive. At the age of 80 and showing no signs of losing her passion for women’s suffrage, she led a delegation to Albany and appeared before legislative committees to promote the cause.
Eliza’s information is archived in the Library of Congress in the NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks, 1897-1911 and in Collections of letters at the Smith College. One such letter written in 1892 from Elizabeth Cady Stanton shows the endearing relationship the two women had and the delight in one another’s wit.
In a recent letter… speaking of the occasion when we last met you say, “why was Mrs. Stanton so solemn?” to which I reply, Ever since an old German Emperor issued an edict, ordering all the women under that flag to knit,…I have felt humiliated whenever I have seen any daughters of our grand republic knitting,…or occupied with any of the ten thousand digital absurdities….
Looking forward to the scintillations of wit,…the mysteries of theosophy, palmistry, mental science, the revelations of the unknown world where angels & devils do congregate, looking forward to the discussions of all these grand themes, in meeting the eldest daughter of David and Martha Wright, the niece of Lucretia Mott, the sister in law of William Lloyd Garrison,…one can readily imagine the disappointment I experienced when such a woman pulled a cotton wash rag from her pocket & forthwith began to knit…: it was impossible for conversation to rise above the wash rag level….
Who can wonder that I was “solemn” that day? I made my agonized protest on the spot, but it fell unheeded &, with a satisfied sneer, Eliza knit on….I not only was “solemn” that day, but I am profoundly solemn whenever I think of that queenly woman & that cotton wash rag. And yet one can buy a whole dozen of these useful appliances…for twenty five cents!! Oh Eliza, I beseech you, knit no more.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
In 1910 with her health failing, Eliza had to decline her attendance to a rally. In good humor and still in the game, she writes –
My dear Anne: –
It certainly would be dandy to join your party and go on to Albany. When I was there last spring I said I never would miss another one, but all the same I have to miss it. I am not quite graduated from my nurse and not at all able to leave home for which I am exceedingly sorry. It will be might interesting this year, and what do you think of a man lobbyist? Funny what a snarl they have got into regard to the different schemes of the different people who have lately come into the work. Thank you for the clippings.
Hoping and know that you will have a perfectly delightfully time, believe me,
Affectionately & Most regretfully yours,
Eliza W. Osborne
Eliza Wright Osborne died in Auburn on July 18, 1911 at the age of 82 and was cremated and buried in the family plot in Fort Hill cemetery between the graves of her husband and daughter. Eliza and David have generations of descendants. She was the only one of these amazing women that did not live to see the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.
Mrs. LUCY M. BROWN MOSHER was born on September 27, 1844 in Clay, Onondaga, New York, to Mr. and Mrs. Seeber and Margaret Brown. The Browns moved to Fleming and then to Union Springs where she met her husband, Charles S. Mosher. The Browns and Moshers arrived in Auburn in 1882 and Lucy immediately became involved in her new community in religious, social and political pursuits. Lucy was best noted for her work during the suffrage campaigns of 1915 and 1917 arousing the interest of the community. She was chairman of the speakers’ bureau and directed speaking tours and mass meetings and her home, too, was the site of teas and social hours for dignitaries who spoke at the Suffrage headquarters.
I have an affinity for Lucy as she, too, was a genealogist and loved her heritage. The Mosher home at 125 East Genesee Street was not only a gathering place for women’s suffrage events such as The Society for Political Education, but it was also a museum to her family heritage. One of her favorite treasures was a
quilt fashioned by her mother with a signed block bearing an autograph of General Lafayette which had been signed by him when he visited Cayuga County in 1825.
Unfortunately the relic was lost in 1916 in a fire at their home. Lucy was a wonderful storyteller. At a Brown family gathering, she told the story of her maternal grandmother’s saga along the Mohawk River as an infant. Her grandmother was ‘stolen by the Indians’ from the family log cabin while she was asleep in the cradle while her distraught mother was threatened by the Mowhawk invader. It was claimed that it was the ‘renegade’ Joseph Brandt who had instigated the murder and scalping of white settlers from New York to Pennsylvania and who was a British ally under Burgoyne. For eight years the child lived with the Indians while her father, friends and neighbors searched for her. When they found her, the Indians wanted money for her return. A large sum of money was offered by the father and the little girl was returned to her family. She was not accustomed to their way of living and was homesick for her Indian family. Eventually she adapted and, as they say, the rest was history.
LUCY M. BROWN MOSHER died in her Genesee Street home on January 27, 1922 and is buried in Fort Hill Cemetery alongside her husband, Charles and their son and only child, Judge Edgar Seeber Mosher. Lucy and Charles have generations of descendants.
Vira Boarman Whitehouse circa 1915
Author’s Note: The resolve and great character of these women speaks volumes about the journey they had to take among some harsh attitudes regarding equality that existed by both men and women. There was an Anti-Suffrage Movement and other women echoed the sentiments of the men in their opposition to women ‘getting the vote’. Auburn members of the State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage proclaimed “hundreds of thousands of votes of illiterate women would show a criminal disregard for American institutions”.
In an open letter in 1917 to Senator Elon R. Brown, a New York State suffragette leader, Vira Boarman Whitehouse, challenged the senate leader’s perfidy.
‘Dear Sir – Although your party endorsed the principle of woman suffrage at its national convention and recommended submission of woman suffrage to the voters of New York state at the next election in November, at its state convention, and although you yourself voted in favor of this resubmission amendment, nevertheless, in your speech to the senate on Monday, March 12, you say:
“I am opposed to woman suffrage because it conflicts with my ideals of manhood and womanhood. The present European conflict illustrates my point. Who fights? The men of France or the women of France? Who for Belgium? Women can neither defend themselves nor the state.”
When I began to read about these women, I thought it would be a brief research in order to gain a simple biography for each one and a sense of the history. As I began to unearth more about them, I realized the subject of suffrage history was highly complex and spanned over scores of years of daunting struggle. In fact, the lives of these most interesting women were so full of character, charm, intelligence and fearless commitment that I became overwhelmed with the scope. Each of these women met the barriers of bigotry and unvarnished prejudice from men in power and indeed from some of their own sex. To be considered as too illiterate as to be criminal in matters of American institutions in light of their great intelligence and capabilities seems unfathomable to me.
As a mother, grandmother, historian and an accomplished businesswoman and leader in my own right, I owe them a gratitude for forging a path for me and the future of our nation.
It is a sisterhood and probably why I cannot knit, Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher
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