National Women’s Equality Day is this Sunday August 26th in celebration of the 19th amendment’s certification. In 1920, the 19th amendment granted women the right to vote on this day.
It is a shame that many do not realize there is a holiday that celebrates such a monumental time in American History. The holiday started in 1971- so it is not something relatively new. I discovered the holiday in a calendar that marked pretty much all national holidays. Otherwise, it would be a day just like any other. But, now that I am in the know, I like to take some time to remember how much women struggled to gain the right to vote.
I am not a stranger to the suffrage movement. In fact, I have spent a fair amount of my time studying the movement. My Honors Thesis was about the suffrage movement in the Finger Lakes region because of two extremely important individuals (this might be an opinionated statement). Elizabeth Smith Miller partnered with her daughter Anne Fitzhugh Miller to start a Political Equality Club in Geneva, New York. Elizabeth was the second cousin of Elizabeth Cady Stanton so she knew a few people in the movement. Elizabeth was also the woman who started wearing bloomers in the public sphere. I digress, but the Miller women were key to the New York State suffrage movement. Besides lobbying in Albany and sometimes in Washington, D.C., they were one of the largest political equality clubs in the state, and also had the most male involvement in all clubs of the state. However, the most important part of the Miller story I believe are the suffrage scrapbooks they left behind. There are numerous volumes of scrapbooks located at the Library of Congress, but are conveniently available online.
So, what does this all have to do with the Kent-Delord House Museum? Well, for one, the Museum is also not a stranger to the suffrage movement. Fanny Hall was actively involved in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Fanny attended many state and national conventions, and we have her ribbons from the conventions in our collection. Fanny first served as secretary of the Plattsburgh chapter starting in 1875, and later served as President of the County Union.
One important aspect of the women’s suffrage movement was how women became empowered and involved in activism. The most famous names in suffrage history like Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton started their activism in the abolitionist movement. Susan B. Anthony started her activism work in the temperance movement. Through temperance, Fanny became familiar with Susan B. Anthony and the issue of women’s suffrage.
While the Kent-Delord House Museum is not directly tied to women’s suffrage, that is not what National Women’s Equality Day is all about. It is about women’s equality. Many of the Delord women and Plattsburgh women worked for women’s equality in their own ways, leaving behind their legacies of strong, independent women.
Betsey Delord was known for being business savvy. While Henry was away, she had to maintain the store. In a letter that she wrote to Henry while he was away on business, she says,
“I have sent you, Mr. Delord, two as good loads as ever pack’d together. You cant conceive what a woman of Business I am when no one interferes to perplex me. I was u this morning soon after daylight and have every thing ready for a start in Good season….one of the best wives in the world, B.D.”
Betsey was not the first woman in her family to show such independence in the business world. Her mother was able to support her three daughters after her husband died by opening a bakery shop in Plattsburgh. It is no surprise that Betsey was able to flourish in the business world.
Betsey’s daughter Frances Henrietta unfortunately led a short life. But, what is important about Frances’ story is her education. Frances attended boarding school in Champlain, New York. This was during a time where women were not expected to get an education. By getting an education, Frances was asserting herself as equal to men. During a trip to the Albany area, Frances even met Emma Willard, who was a pioneer in women’s education. Emma Willard opened the Troy Female Seminary which was later named the Emma Willard School in her honor. You might recognize a graduate from there- Elizabeth Cady Stanton! Through her education and through the people she met, Frances Henrietta was still working toward female equality, even if she was not aware of it!
Fanny also worked for female equality in her own way. Besides the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement, Fanny was also an inventor. Fanny created Fanoline which was an ointment that could be used to cure basic human ailments from chapped lips to hemorrhoids. After patenting Fanoline, Fanny even started her own company with stock shares called Cumberland Bay Works. It was not a huge moneymaker, but not many women had the opportunity or power to start their own companies or to patent their own inventions. Fanny was also a philanthropist- she was active at the Home for Friendless Children, an orphanage in Plattsburgh, and also studied nursing on her own to treat patients that could not afford to see a doctor. Fanny established through her actions that women are just as capable as men, and what is not worth celebrating about that?
There were other Plattsburgh women who established themselves outside the home. The neighbors of the Delords Lucretia and Margaret Davidson were famous poets lauded by Washington Irving. This was during a time when some women were afraid to publish books under their own name and used male pennames instead.
I wanted to also take this time to add a humorous anecdote. While I was browsing through the Miller suffrage scrapbooks, I found a little bit of information about Plattsburgh. It turns out that Plattsburgh was one of the cities in New York, before women’s suffrage was added to the state constitution, which allowed for female taxpayers to vote on tax issues. When suffragists were lobbying in Albany to extend these rights throughout the state, anti-suffrage women from Plattsburgh were there to protest the issue without realizing Plattsburgh already granted women these rights.
While celebrating National Women’s Equality Day, it is important to remember all women who left the domestic sphere and took a chance in the public sphere- from receiving an education to opening and operating a business- these are all important when it comes to equality. Women who opposed suffrage are also important to remember because they remind us how far women have come.