Seneca Falls Celebrates 100th Anniversary
Matilda Joslyn Gage appeared in Seneca Falls last weekend! The 4th of July saw the usual fireworks and marching bands marking another year since we became the United States of America. The celebrations went on, though we certainly don’t seem very united right now.
But another celebration occurred just a bit later in the month. This one had most women united on the point of this celebration’s purpose. The middle of the month marked the 100th anniversary of New York women gaining the legal right to vote!
Every year in July Seneca Falls has a weekend full of celebrating women’s history and accomplishments. But this year was a hallmark year and was celebrated with a gusto outpacing other years. This jam-packed event began at 9:00 a.m. Friday, July 14th, with a Convention Days Press Conference, appropriately slated for the Women’s Rights National Historical Park and adjacent Wesleyan Chapel.
This was followed by Historical Actress Eleanor Stearns doing a living history presentation of Amelia Earhart. I wasn’t there for this act of delving into an iconic heroine’s history, but I know it was wonderful. This same woman did the impersonation of Earhart for the Women Beyond Boundaries group I belong to last year. Speaking as Amelia and from the depth of her soul, she told her story “live” and included personal little-known facts about her early life. Stearns really knows how to make her character come alive. It seems especially real, as she wears an aviator’s outfit to tell us her brave story.
I did arrive in time for the presentation by Leigh Fought on her book, Women in the World of Frederick Douglass. Though Douglass, in his memoirs, never wrote about his participation in that first Women’s Convention in Seneca Falls, others did record his appearance and support for women. Stanton called him “African Prince.” Douglass had never seen women as weaklings so championed their rights hand-in-hand with the anti-slavery cause. In fact, one of his first partners in speaking was Abby Kelly. Kelly is mentioned early in my book on Matilda Joslyn Gage, as she was an early influence on Gage’s mother and herself when Matilda was still a child and heard her speak. Douglass also collaborated with Ida B. Wells, the black woman who fought so hard against the pandemic of lynching. Together they integrated these two movements. Douglass stated, “Right has no sex; truth is of no color.”
Many other women, black and white, helped Douglass throughout his life and he gave them credit. His first wife, a free woman with a little money, used it to finance their trip North. After she died, Douglass married a white woman, which caused a scandal at the time. But this woman also greatly advanced his legend by collecting all his papers after his death and sharing them with the world. I was pleased to hear that Fought had included in her book the connection between Douglass and Rev. Jermain Loguen. Loguen’s daughter married Douglass’ son Lewis.
The day included Women’s Rights Trivia, a talk about Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her cousin, Gerrit Smith, and a music performance by a group I have heard and enjoyed before, “Flock of Free Range Children.” After this group—which was made up of many different and unusual instruments—there was more live music by Paige K.
Closing out the day was “The Innocence of Experience: Fanny Seward in Her Own Words,” a play written and performed by Maria Coleman, and “How, Why, and by Whom was the Women’s Rights National Historical Park Created?”) I love both of these topics but, sorrowfully, I had to miss them.
The Visitor Center’s Guntzel Theater hosted many presentations throughout the weekend. This first day also hosted a talk by the author of The Road to Seneca Falls, Judy Wellman, who talked about her new book: Seneca Falls: Beginning of the Woman Suffrage Movement? These one-woman shows I had to miss, as well as the untold story of an American Hero, Dr. Mary Walker. She was the second female physician in the U.S., a Civil War Veteran and the only woman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.
In addition, there were many exhibits and museums to visit throughout the day. They included historical actors portraying Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. There was even a scavenger hunt with prizes at the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Saturday was proclaimed “Indigenous Women’s Day.” A keynote speaker, Elizabeth Nyamayero presented “HeForShe Global Solidarity Movement” which invites people around the world to stand together to create a bold force for gender equality.
Many other events took place on Saturday. The highlight for me would have been hearing my favorite singer Joanne Shenandoah singing beautiful songs with her sister Diane and her daughter Leah. However, I had to miss this wonderful event, as I was conducting a retreat workshop for Women Transcending Boundaries at a member’s home on Cazenovia Lake. I was frustrated that I could not get to Seneca Falls on this day. I was told by others who did get to attend that their singing was mesmerizing. (It usually is!) An additional frustration was that I also had to miss a living history presentation of Matilda Joslyn Gage!
I persisted, and drove again to Seneca Falls on Sunday. I participated in a full day of events. This day was billed as “We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For.” This day I bought several books from those who gave book talks. And several people bought Quoting Matilda from me, including a man from North Carolina who came to Seneca Falls to play the role of Frederick Douglass. (See picture!) Another was the woman we can thank for spearheading the movement to get a woman’s picture on the $20.00 bill. I had met her before when she presented at the Gage House several months ago. This day she was in Auburn, where I stopped on my way home from Seneca Falls. There was a delightful gathering in the backyard flower gardens of the Seward House. This gathering included a local support group honoring Harriet Tubman and a 90-year-old woman dressed as Tubman. It was an old-fashioned strawberry ice-cream sundae social.
I was delighted with the people I met (including an astrophysicist whose name was Judy Pipher) and the connections I made. It was a joyful and meaningful weekend. I especially got emotional listening to the beautiful voices of Concinnity: Visions of Hope Choral Concert. They sang many Mother Earth and empowering women songs and their harmonies where thrilling.
There was so much going on at overlapping times that I missed a lot. One was a visit to the Ganondagan State Historic Site where Seneca and Mohawk women demonstrated cornhusk work and basket-weaving. However, today, I went to Ganondagan with my friend Wanda Woods. We met with her brother at his tent filled with beautiful leatherwork and jewelry. They are both Oneida Wolf Clan members and the elder siblings of Joanne and Diane.
All of these special places are open to visit at other times as well. I hope many of you reading this will go yourselves—and take your families with you!