Questions raised from the 2013 Cradle Blogging Tour

– Will New York State hold a suffrage centennial in 2017? If so, who will move the initiative forward?

– Will there be a next step in the federal government’s creation of a Votes for Women trail in NYS’s “Cradle” of the women’s rights movement in the US?

– Is it likely that the NYS Legislature will approve funding to move to the next step on its initiative to create a statewide Women’s Heritage Trail?

– Where are the supporters of rocking the cradle so that New York State can benefit from much-needed economic development from cultural and heritage tourism associated with the 2017 and 2020 suffrage centennials?

As the federal government shutdown continues, the progress on the Votes for Women heritage trail has been put on hold. That project has reached the stakeholder criteria phase, and there’s no way of knowing if and when the next phase will be reached without federal funding. Movement this year on approval for the Harriet Tubman home in Auburn, NY is also on hold. The entire NYS Congressional delegation put its weight behind the idea of the Tubman home becoming a national park. We visited the Tubman home during the 2013 Cradle blogging tour and that story is in the pipeline. As for the prospect of state funding to move forward on a New York State women’s heritage trail, this possibility is also unknown. The state Capitol in Albany, NY is in between sessions and nothing will start moving until the opening of the NYS Legislature in January 2014. Friends and supporters –rub the sand out of your eyes and let’s get moving!

DAY #4: Continuing on to Seneca Falls, NY on the blogging tour!

Elizabeth Cady Stanton houseThe doors were locked this past week at the Elizabeth Cady Stanton home at the national park in Seneca Falls, New York. We barely got out of town before the federal shutdown was announced, but fortunately there was enough time to take in the visitors’ center, and experience the rebuilt Wesleyan Chapel, the Hunt and M’Clintock homes, where the organizers of the event met and set into motion an event that sparked a social revolution.

On the road we discovered rather quickly that daily blogging was ambitious. We completed Days #1, 2, and 3 before surrendering to the call of adventure and moving forward to experience as much as possible without keeping to the daily grind. We traveled to Johnstown, Fayetteville, Auburn, Rochester, and Farmington. No small accomplishment. And we’re catching up now that we’re back in the saddle of our so-called normal lives.

We won’t neglect bringing everyone up to date, eventually. Hang in there. Our blog entries are also available on the New York History site. So subscribe to Let’s Rock the Cradle, or check in with New York History. Here are some 2013 posts:

“Can the Women’s Rights Trail Become Reality?”  by Marguerite Kearns and Olivia Twine, New York History, October 8, 2013.

“Women’s Rights: The Matilda Joslyn Gage Home, by Olivia Twine and Marguerite Kearns, New York History, October 2, 2013.

In Johnstown, NY: “Hopes for Votes for Women Trail Funding,” by Olivia Twine and Marguerite Kearns, New York History, September 30, 2013.

“A Report from the Sojourner Truth Statue Unveiling,” by Olivia Twine, New York History, September 24, 2013.

“An unlikely witness to suffrage movement in Rochester,” New York History, by Olivia Twine. September 2013.

“‘Spirit of 1776 Wagon’ Recognized by Legislative Resolution,” by Olivia Twine, New York History, July 2, 2013.

“Suffrage and Global Citizenship,” by Olivia Twine. New York History. June 20, 2013.

Brimstone, Booze and the Ballot: Susan B. Anthony vs. Matilda Joslyn Gage,” by Olivia Twine, New York History. March 21, 2013.

 

DAY #3: Stopping by the home of Matilda Joslyn Gage

Susan B. Anthony's roomBy Olivia Twine and Marguerite Kearns

It’s helpful to know about the Matilda Joslyn Gage Center in advance or you might miss it when driving through Fayetteville, NY even though it’s strategically located on the main street.

Fayetteville is a small upstate town in the “cradle” of New York’s women’s rights movement, centrally located for those activists who worked with Gage and others while seeking radical social change in the years before and after the Civil War.

Though suffragist Matilda Joslyn Gage is viewed by some as having been written out of history or that her contributions have been marginalized in the suffrage movement, this perspective may be undermined by such upcoming events as the one-woman show, “Mimi Kennedy Finds Matilda Joslyn Gage,” at the Everson Museum of Art’s Hosmer Auditorium in Syracuse, NY on October 3, 2013 at 7 p.m. The event is a fundraiser for the Girl Ambassador for Human Rights Program, the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation, and the Everson Museum of Art. Mimi Kennedy most recently appeared in Woody Allen’s film, “Midnight in Paris.”

By changing the balance of power in how suffrage leaders are viewed after more than 100 years, we inevitably run into the factions that have sprung up in this slice of women’s history. There are those for whom Susan B. Anthony is the star of the movement. Still others seek justice for Matilda Joslyn Gage to create what they believe is her rightful place in the sun. We’ve run into yet another contemporary interest group that’s opinionated about suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt and those who maintain she has crowded out Harriot Stanton Blatch in the memories of contemporary people.

Back in the days when Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), and Gage (1826-1898) were amicable, all three activists were in the forefront of the early struggle for women’s equality together. Over time their roles became more defined. Susan became the activist. Gage and Stanton were the theorists. They were close for several decades and then splits caused many ragged edges.

During the good times, Susan visited Matilda in Fayetteville and etched her name on a pane of glass in the upstairs bedroom window. The signature is real (see upper pane, middle segment). But as movement politics became complicated, numerous disagreements drove a wedge between the three who had previously been considered the “triumvirate” of the women’s rights movement.

The reasons for this aren’t overtly featured in the interpretative information at the Gage Center in Fayetteville, though someone could ask the appropriate questions and find answers from the docents. The tours are primarily self-guided. Once you step through the portal of the Gage Center at 210 East Genesee Street, the veil between the past and the present thins.

It seems as if suffrage leader, writer, and abolitionist Matilda Joslyn Gage’s spirit lingers in every room. It isn’t a stretch to imagine Matilda and Susan discussing movement strategy, or the joyful sounds of Matilda’s children playing, or the lingering voice of L. Frank Baum, Gage’s son-in-law who told Dorothy stories to his children and then went on to write the internationally acclaimed “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” Baum and Maud, Matilda’s daughter, were married in the front parlor, and there are no ropes to prevent visitors from sitting on chairs or playing the parlor piano to join in with the celebration.

The Gage Center in Fayetteville is not only a historic home, it’s an interactive museum. You’re invited in, told to check your dogma at the door, and to think for yourself. A day’s visit isn’t a casual activity. This is a museum of ideas.

Ideas are what drew Stanton, Anthony, and Gage together in the early days of the movement and what later drove them apart. Ultimately it boiled down to a question of doing things “right” versus doing the “right” thing. Susan B. Anthony built a broad national coalition for the winning the franchise for women and set aside other issues Gage felt were extremely important, such as the separation of church and state. Matilda Joslyn Gage wouldn’t compromise when it came to standing firm about issues she insisted were important. Elizabeth Cady Stanton also challenged her old friends because of her views.

The friendships and political alliances, personal and social interests associated with Gage, Anthony, and Stanton comprise a web of complexities that have engaged scholars for decades. Gage didn’t want just to reform a social system. Her experience with Haudenosaunee culture convinced Gage that a matrilineal society not only worked, but that gender relationships could be balanced. Issues of race further drove some suffragists on the national level apart and others, together. The alliances and compromises associated with the suffrage movement bring to light the many difficulties and complexities of this 72-year nonviolent social revolution to advance the equality agenda.

Because the Gage Center lies in the “Cradle,” it’s essential to drive by the Gage home in Fayetteville and spend a few hours. Inside the building, visitors can almost hear Matilda Joslyn Gage whispering in their ears when they relax on couches and chairs within the walls of the home where Gage lived for 44 years. You can write on the walls or watch a film. Young people can play with toys, sit on chairs, read her books and scrapbooks, dress in Native American clothing, play with a dollhouse, and ponder provocative quotes posted on the wall.

When you’re invited to write a note to Matilda at the very desk where she worked, you sense that not only did she needle people in her own time, she pushes you to think about the implications of all your actions today. Gage was controversial, and she remains so in these times with her probing questions about the nature of freedom, the importance of going beyond reform to a radical restructuring of social systems, and much more.

“This should be a house of dialogue about social justice ideas, as it was during the time Gage lived here. There’s no reproduction wallpaper and furniture; no artifacts drive this story,” explains Sally Roesch Wagner, Ph.D., executive director of The Matilda Joslyn Gage Center. Wagner is a Gage scholar and an advocate of bringing Gage to the forefront of public awareness after years of what she believes is a lack of recognition for her contributions and distinct perspectives.

The Matilda Joslyn Gage house is an essential part of the “Cradle” of the women’s rights movement in America that is located within a cradle-like shape consisting of historic sites in a concentrated geographic area of the Finger Lakes region of New York — once a hotbed of free thought.

The Finger Lakes region has many attractions, including wineries, scenic views, golf, lake cruises, skiing, a Native American historic site (Ganondagan), and much more. The fact that the “Cradle” is easily accessible from the NYS Thruway makes it a natural destination for visitors. But in this time of economic challenges, historic sites are scrambling to keep their doors open. The Gage Center, for example, must rely on admission fees, fundraisers, donations, and the labor and enthusiasm of volunteers where burnout often enters the picture, a situation facing nonprofits all over the nation. This is why the Mimi Kennedy performance on October 3rd and fundraisers like it play such an important role in the Gage Center’s programming.

Preserving Susan B. Anthony’s signature etched into a pane of glass in a historic building in a small upstate New York town may not be a high priority for some who are acutely aware of a world struggling with enormous social and economic crises. Others insist that community and financial support of historic sites like this should be an essential element in the development of a geographic theme park that features key players of the suffrage movement, plus many grassroots activists who were involved in the movement, including African Americans (Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman) and other including Quakers who were involved in both abolition and women’s rights.

Gage, Stanton, and Anthony worked together, argued with each other, and carried the torch for women’s rights for decades in the “Cradle” of the women’s rights movement in the United States. And there’s a growing audience of visitors and those from the US and around the world who are interested in learning more about these times and then applying the lessons learned to the personal and social challenges of today.

Awareness of and support for historic sites in Johnstown, Seneca Falls, Fayetteville, Rochester, Auburn and other destinations in the “Cradle” are viewed by many as a critical part of plans for bringing more visitors to New York in the ongoing efforts to link economic development to cultural and heritage tourism. Cultivating more interest in the “Cradle” is essential for the upcoming NYS suffrage centennial celebration in 2017 and the national suffrage centennial in 2020. About this, many agree.

Susan B. Anthony’s signature on the window pane in Matilda Joslyn Gage’s home is documentation of their friendship. Although there were strategic and theoretical differences between them toward the ends of their lives, the ultimate success of their efforts by the next generation would have been impossible without the dedicated mutual friendship of Stanton, Anthony, and Gage. For this, there is still much to celebrate. And promoting trips to the “Cradle” is just what “I Love New York” should be thinking about.

 

The Gage Center in Fayetteville, NY

By Olivia Twine and Marguerite Kearns

Window with Susan B. Anthony's signature

The upstairs second-floor window where the signature of Susan B. Anthony is etched in the glass. Photo: MK

It’s helpful to know about the Matilda Joslyn Gage Center in advance or you might miss it when driving through Fayetteville, NY even though it’s strategically located on the main street.

Fayetteville is a small upstate town in the “cradle” of New York’s women’s rights movement, centrally located for those activists who worked with Gage and others while seeking radical social change in the years before and after the Civil War.

Though suffragist Matilda Joslyn Gage is viewed by some as having been written out of history or that her contributions have been marginalized in the suffrage movement, this perspective may be undermined by such upcoming events as the one-woman show, “Mimi Kennedy Finds Matilda Joslyn Gage,” at the Everson Museum of Art’s Hosmer Auditorium in Syracuse, NY on October 3, 2013 at 7 p.m. The event is a fundraiser for the Girl Ambassador for Human Rights Program, the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation, and the Everson Museum of Art. Mimi Kennedy most recently appeared in Woody Allen’s film, “Midnight in Paris.”

Gage Center in Fayetteville, side view.Gage Center in Fayetteville, NY, side view.

By changing the balance of power in how suffrage leaders are viewed after more than 100 years, we inevitably run into the factions that have sprung up in this slice of women’s history. There are those for whom Susan B. Anthony is the star of the movement. Still others seek justice for Matilda Joslyn Gage to create what they believe is her rightful place in the sun. We’ve run into yet another contemporary interest group that’s opinionated about suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt and those who maintain she has crowded out Harriot Stanton Blatch in the memories of contemporary people.

Back in the days when Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), and Gage (1826-1898) were amicable, all three activists were in the forefront of the early struggle for women’s equality together. Over time their roles became more defined. Susan became the activist. Gage and Stanton were the theorists. They were close for several decades and then splits caused many ragged edges.

During the good times, Susan visited Matilda in Fayetteville and etched her name on a pane of glass in the upstairs bedroom window. The signature is real (see upper pane, middle segment). But as movement politics became complicated, numerous disagreements drove a wedge between the three who had previously been considered the “triumvirate” of the women’s rights movement.

The reasons for this aren’t overtly featured in the interpretative information at the Gage Center in Fayetteville, though someone could ask the appropriate questions and find answers from the docents. The tours are primarily self-guided. Once you step through the portal of the Gage Center at 210 East Genesee Street, the veil between the past and the present thins.

It seems as if suffrage leader, writer, and abolitionist Matilda Joslyn Gage’s spirit lingers in every room. It isn’t a stretch to imagine Matilda and Susan discussing movement strategy, or the joyful sounds of Matilda’s children playing, or the lingering voice of L. Frank Baum, Gage’s son-in-law who told Dorothy stories to his children and then went on to write the internationally acclaimed “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” Baum and Maud, Matilda’s daughter, were married in the front parlor, and there are no ropes to prevent visitors from sitting on chairs or playing the parlor piano to join in with the celebration.

The Gage Center in Fayetteville is not only a historic home, it’s an interactive museum. You’re invited in, told to check your dogma at the door, and to think for yourself. A day’s visit isn’t a casual activity. This is a museum of ideas.

Ideas are what drew Stanton, Anthony, and Gage together in the early days of the movement and what later drove them apart. Ultimately it boiled down to a question of doing things “right” versus doing the “right” thing. Susan B. Anthony built a broad national coalition for the winning the franchise for women and set aside other issues Gage felt were extremely important, such as the separation of church and state. Matilda Joslyn Gage wouldn’t compromise when it came to standing firm about issues she insisted were important. Elizabeth Cady Stanton also challenged her old friends because of her views.

The friendships and political alliances, personal and social interests associated with Gage, Anthony, and Stanton comprise a web of complexities that have engaged scholars for decades. Gage didn’t want just to reform a social system. Her experience with Haudenosaunee culture convinced Gage that a matrilineal society not only worked, but that gender relationships could be balanced. Issues of race further drove some suffragists on the national level apart and others, together. The alliances and compromises associated with the suffrage movement bring to light the many difficulties and complexities of this 72-year nonviolent social revolution to advance the equality agenda.

Because the Gage Center lies in the “Cradle,” it’s essential to drive by the Gage home in Fayetteville and spend a few hours. Inside the building, visitors can almost hear Matilda Joslyn Gage whispering in their ears when they relax on couches and chairs within the walls of the home where Gage lived for 44 years. You can write on the walls or watch a film. Young people can play with toys, sit on chairs, read her books and scrapbooks, dress in Native American clothing, play with a dollhouse, and ponder provocative quotes posted on the wall.

Matilda Joslyn Gage's writing desk

Matilda Joslyn Gage’s writing desk at the Gage Center.

When you’re invited to write a note to Matilda at the very desk where she worked, you sense that not only did she needle people in her own time, she pushes you to think about the implications of all your actions today. Gage was controversial, and she remains so in these times with her probing questions about the nature of freedom, the importance of going beyond reform to a radical restructuring of social systems, and much more.

“This should be a house of dialogue about social justice ideas, as it was during the time Gage lived here. There’s no reproduction wallpaper and furniture; no artifacts drive this story,” explains Sally Roesch Wagner, Ph.D., executive director of The Matilda Joslyn Gage Center. Wagner is a Gage scholar and an advocate of bringing Gage to the forefront of public awareness after years of what she believes is a lack of recognition for her contributions and distinct perspectives.

The Matilda Joslyn Gage house is an essential part of the “Cradle” of the women’s rights movement in America that is located within a cradle-like shape consisting of historic sites in a concentrated geographic area of the Finger Lakes region of New York — once a hotbed of free thought.

The Finger Lakes region has many attractions, including wineries, scenic views, golf, lake cruises, skiing, a Native American historic site (Ganondagan), and much more. The fact that the “Cradle” is easily accessible from the NYS Thruway makes it a natural destination for visitors. But in this time of economic challenges, historic sites are scrambling to keep their doors open. The Gage Center, for example, must rely on admission fees, fundraisers, donations, and the labor and enthusiasm of volunteers where burnout often enters the picture, a situation facing nonprofits all over the nation. This is why the Mimi Kennedy performance on October 3rd and fundraisers like it play such an important role in the Gage Center’s programming.

Preserving Susan B. Anthony’s signature etched into a pane of glass in a historic building in a small upstate New York town may not be a high priority for some who are acutely aware of a world struggling with enormous social and economic crises. Others insist that community and financial support of historic sites like this should be an essential element in the development of a geographic theme park that features key players of the suffrage movement, plus many grassroots activists who were involved in the movement, including African Americans (Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman) and other including Quakers who were involved in both abolition and women’s rights.

Gage, Stanton, and Anthony worked together, argued with each other, and carried the torch for women’s rights for decades in the “Cradle” of the women’s rights movement in the United States. And there’s a growing audience of visitors and those from the US and around the world who are interested in learning more about these times and then applying the lessons learned to the personal and social challenges of today.

Awareness of and support for historic sites in Johnstown, Seneca Falls, Fayetteville, Rochester, Auburn and other destinations in the “Cradle” are viewed by many as a critical part of plans for bringing more visitors to New York in the ongoing efforts to link economic development to cultural and heritage tourism. Cultivating more interest in the “Cradle” is essential for the upcoming NYS suffrage centennial celebration in 2017 and the national suffrage centennial in 2020. About this, many agree.

Susan B. Anthony’s signature on the window pane in Matilda Joslyn Gage’s home is documentation of their friendship. Although there were strategic and theoretical differences between them toward the ends of their lives, the ultimate success of their efforts by the next generation would have been impossible without the dedicated mutual friendship of Stanton, Anthony, and Gage. For this, there is still much to celebrate. And promoting trips to the “Cradle” is just what “I Love New York” should be thinking about.

 

DAY #2: The “cradle” of the cradle in Johnstown, NY

Elizabeth Cady Stanton's piano

 Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s piano at the Johnstown Historical Society. Photo: MK

By Marguerite Kearns and Olivia Twine

It’s late afternoon in Johnstown, NY, magic hour, right before sunset when filmmakers capture the best lighting. Nancy Brown, a fifth grade teacher, is waiting to take us to the local historical society and out to dinner with three other board members of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Hometown Association.

This is the town where well-known women’s rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton grew up.  The place is also loaded with history of the American Revolution, plus generations of tanners and workers in the glove industry who lived and worked here. We can’t get to the Johnstown Historical Society at 17 North William Street without passing sites of major historical interest. It’s as if everybody is related in some way to this historical community. It looks like classic small town America, made in America.

The Historical Society building has a front parlor room that’s devoted entirely to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, with things to die for: her piano, her chair, her father’s bookcase, her family bible. They have sleuths volunteering for the board who ferret out facts about the Cady family never known before. Elizabeth’s parents and many of her relatives are buried in the local cemetery. Local people here talk about Elizabeth Cady Stanton as if they’re related to her. And they are. Like they’re first cousins or neighbors.

Yet they feel there’s something lacking, despite the fact that Johnstown has the oldest working courthouse in America, the same courthouse where Elizabeth’s father was a judge. This is an area with strong women, well-known local women, including Molly Brant, Rose Knox, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and a Native American Catholic saint, Kateri Tekakwitha.

Johnstown has a strong revolutionary history, a strong labor history. By going to the next level, the two local organizations are moving into the future by developing awareness through advertizing, street signs, a social media presence, collaboration and partnering. They have organized themselves thoroughly, and the town reflects this with its banners, cell phone tour, and exhibits including one at the local bank, the site of the Cady home where Elizabeth grew up.

The Elizabeth Cady Stanton Women’s Consortium, the umbrella of women’s organizations including the hometown association, is planning a symposium in 2015 to honor the year of Cady Stanton’s 200th birthday.

And still, something is missing. Ask them what they need, and there’s no question in their minds.

“The greatest gift the State could give us would be to fund a Votes for Women history trail,” said Nancy Brown of the Hometown Association. “A trail has been established, but there’s no funding.”

And what else is missing? They say that other historical-related groups located in the “cradle” are worthy, energetic, and well organized, but there’s no unity among the separate organizations. These associations of people may work together and share information, but there’s a recognized need to make a focused effort to get a trail funded that would be good for the state and visitors on a number of levels.

Emphasized Helen Martin of the historical society: “Money for a historical trail is desperately needed. Money –that’s the biggest gift the state could give us. There’s so much potential, like I could see a big convention of womens’ groups in New York State, maybe at the state fairgrounds. Some place where we can celebrate women’s past, get media coverage and press, get the right speakers.”

“We must pull together,” added Nancy Brown. “Look at all that needs to be done!”

“We know our past; we know where we are. But where are we going?” posits Helen Martin. “Let’s break that glass ceiling!”

These community grassroots organizers are aware of what can be accomplished by themselves and the value of working together with others to reach a goal. This involves rocking the cradle.

As we made our way back to the Holiday Inn from the Union Hall Inn Restaurant and dinner with Hometown Association board members Bonnie Valachovic, Barb Taylor, Sandy Maceyka, and Nancy Brown, we asked about their goal. We were told: “…to be the home of women’s equality by 2020.” But isn’t this competing with Seneca Falls? “Oh no,” they said.

“We complement Seneca Falls and other places and sites. There’s no doubt in our minds that Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s experience in Johnstown as a young person made her the revolutionary thinker she was.”

 

The Johnstown Historical Society at 17 North William Street, Johnstown, NY is open weekends 1-4 p.m., Memorial Day through September. Or by appointment 518-762-7076.

The Elizabeth Cady Stanton Hometown Association has a one-hour, one-mile cell phone tour called “Walking the Footsteps of Elizabeth Cady Stanton,” plus events, exhibits, banners and signs throughout the town. They also have a fabulous web site: http://ElizabethCadyStantonHometown.org

 

 

DAY #1: Going home with Sojourner Truth, by Marguerite Kearns

I’m standing in front of the Ulster County Courthouse at 285 Wall Street in Kingston, New York. Not now, but in my memory as I write this. And I’m returning to this same courthouse as I set out with Olivia Twine on a blogging tour of the “Cradle” of the women’s rights movement in the United States.  We’ll be blogging online through the “Cradle” of the women’s rights movement in the US over the next seven days.

We’re hitting the road first in Ulster County where I lived for 20 years from 1972 to 1992, and where I visited the courthouse plaque in Kingston often during the years I lived in Ulster County. Of all of Ulster’s famous historical figures, Sojourner Truth has risen to the top as my favorite.

After the unveiling of a bust of Truth in the Emancipation Hall in the nation’s capitol in 2009, this new statue in New York represents another a major step forward in mainstream recognition of Sojourner Truth as an important traveling minister, major civil rights leader and activist in American history.

She hit the lecture trail on hundreds of occasions to mesmerize audiences with her dynamic perspectives about faith, abolition, and the bondage of women. After each appearance, she moved onto the next stage of her travels. People couldn’t forget her.

Sojourner Truth was born a slave not far from Hurley, the site of Stone House Days, an annual event when every year in July some of the oldest stone homes in the nation, going back to the early Dutch settlement in the Hudson Valley, are open to the public.

No single house is dedicated to Sojourner Truth, though one stone building’s claim to fame is that of a stop on the Underground Railroad. Sojourner Truth walked these streets and passed by these stone houses. As the slave of a Dutch settler, her first language was Dutch. Throughout her life, she spoke English with a Dutch accent.

The county courthouse property on Wall Street in Kingston, featuring the plaque to Sojourner Truth that was installed in 1983, is also the site of the inauguration of New York’s first governor, George Clinton, following his election in 1777.

It’s the same courthouse where over the 20th century, six Ulster County judges condemned seven defendants to death. And it’s the same courthouse where Sojourner Truth stormed through the courthouse doors in 1828 to demand legal redress to free her son Peter who’d been kidnapped and sold into slavery in Alabama. After months of litigation, she won.

Filing a legal suit and winning against a Southern slave owner represented an astonishing feat, an accomplishment that has resonated ever since. NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed Karen Peters to the position of Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division, Third Department in 2012. Peters, who had argued cases in the Ulster County courthouse and served as a judge there, cited the lessons she’d learned from the example of Sojourner Truth. She’s among many who carry that spirit into the present and future.

SOJOURNER TRUTH, THE SHOWSTOPPER, KNOCKED DOWN DOORS

ST LOC Truth and Lincoln

Sojourner Truth and Abraham Lincoln. Library of Congress.

Sojourner Truth was feisty, courageous and outspoken. She knew full well the meaning of bondage and freedom. So it’s significant that the courthouse, that has been a hub of condemning people to bondage and imprisonment going back to the turn of the 20th century, would feature a plaque to celebrate an important cultural treasure such as Sojourner Truth.

She represented the salt of the earth and became a passionate showstopper everywhere she went. Some Ulster County residents rallied in support of her effort to free her son; she forged ahead and stood tall as a Joan of Arc of her times. This example represents just one of many instances in her life where Truth’s determination and persistence couldn’t be stopped.

Truth rose from her seat at the 1851 National Women’s Rights Convention in Ohio to deliver a message that today we recognize as her “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech. This is a well-known and dramatic example of her style, though it was, no doubt, similar to hundreds of other presentations like it.  In some instances she faced mobs throwing stones. On the speakers’ platform she wore a silk scarf with the Biblical quote from Leviticus 25:10: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

Two years ago when visiting the Sophia Smith Collection: Women’s History Archives at Smith College, I requested their file on Sojourner Truth. It contained a small photo of Truth printed on cardboard that she sold to raise money for her travels. Holding something which Sojourner Truth had most likely held herself and sold to an audience member brought me to tears. But then again, I have a soft spot for this sort of thing.

“I’M NOT GOING TO DIE, I’M GOING HOME LIKE A SHOOTING STAR.”

Today, most people must settle for statues, plaques and monuments, a well as the spirit that’s behind them. Sojourner Truth had a corner on the spirit market. She changed her name to Sojourner Truth in 1843 to be consistent with her mission of reaching out to the world. She was driven by spirit with a capital “S” and continues to impress us today with statements that have been passed down over the years such as:

“If women want rights more than they got, why don’t they just take them, and not be talking about it.”

“ . . . I have borne five children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me. And ain’t I a woman?”

“I’m not going to die, I’m going home like a shooting star.”

I’ve always aspired to be like Sojourner Truth, though the attempt represents a pale imitation of the real Sojourner Truth. I’ve called on her spirit whenever I’ve been in jams or up against circumstances or social systems that wouldn’t budge. On the surface, Sojourner Truth had everything going against her and yet she disrupted and moved mountain ranges.

Sojourner Truth never wrote a book, though her “told to” life story is available on the internet and contains unforgettable images and descriptions of what it was like to be a slave in Ulster County and the Hudson Valley. See The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave. Reading the account of her life made an indelible impact on me. During the 20 years I lived in Ulster County and traveled the back roads and witnessed a landscape recognizable to Sojourner Truth, I couldn’t help but marvel about how many area residents were unaware of her remarkable story.

This is changing rapidly. The library at New Paltz College (SUNY) is named after Sojourner Truth. A notable number of scholars have devoted their careers to researching and documenting her life. Her Ulster County slave master, John Dumont, will go down in history as promising Sojourner Truth her freedom and then changing his mind. She plotted, schemed, and met her obligations before turning her back on bondage a year before New York abolished slavery in 1827.

Though her given name at birth was Isabella Baumfree, Sojourner Truth is how she is most remembered. She spoke the truth and rattled cages. She held her own on Votes for Women lecture platforms, wore simple clothing described as Quaker-like, and stood next to suffrage activists dressed in gowns and fashionable hats. On November 26, 1883 –130 years ago– she died at her home in Battle Creek, Michigan.

People loved Sojourner Truth for good reason, which makes it appropriate to begin with Sojourner Truth on this blogging tour of the “Cradle” of the women’s rights movement in the US. We’ll be visiting the homes of suffragist Matilda Joslyn Gage, Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, the hometown of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the national park at Seneca Falls. Follow us at: LetsRockTheCradle.com

Along the way I’ll be resurrecting more of Truth’s messages from the past, polishing and fanning their light and glory, and sharing the spirit with others. The new bronze statue by Trina Green of New Paltz is of Truth, as a slave child, working. It’s a reminder to all of us to listen carefully to Sojourner Truth as her words come down to us from a very different time and are very much relevant to today.

Don’t give up. Don’t lose heart. Our vision and determination won’t die. Sojourner Truth has passed on treasures with the messages of her life, spirit and determination as a reminder to make significant change in our world today

And in the end, like Sojourner Truth, we’ll go home like a shooting star.

 

 

 

 

DAY #1. Sojourner Truth Statue Unveiled! by Olivia Twine

Sojourner Truth Statue9-2013 Photo by Olivia Twine, Unveiling of Sojourner Truth statue, Port Ewen, New York. September 21, 2013. Day #1. Blogging Tour of the “Cradle” of the US Women’s Rights Movement.

The unveiling of the Sojourner Truth statue in the town of Esopus, NY, where the abolitionist  preacher was held a slave as a child, was a remarkable experience. I’ve lived in the Hudson Valley County of Ulster all my life and have never witnessed the “owning” of the shameful past of slavery before.  Truth’s statue in the Esopus hamlet of Port Ewen represents the only statue in the world of a child slave at work, according to Ulster County Historian Anne Gordon. Although Truth was well known in her time, her status as an emblem of northern slavery is coming to light on a broad scale. That the people of Port Ewen honor a former slave who left Ulster County and never looked back, that children run their hands over her bronzed back to feel the welts of the beatings she endured here, that the town supervisor proudly describes her as “a child of Esopus,” suggests that we as a people are ready to move to the healing phase of a sordid aspect of our history.

Nancy Giles, the award winning television journalist at CBS News Sunday Morning, was the featured speaker at the unveiling ceremony. She noted that as a child in Queens, she was unaware that slavery existed in the north. Giles was moved that “our sometimes bizarre history” is being discussed now in this small town. “African Americans are the only American immigrants who were property. That’s what distinguishes us from all other immigrant groups,” she said. Truth was part of the suffrage movement of the 19th century and understood the relationship between abolition, women’s suffrage and the life of the spirit.  She would have been surprised at the turnout of African American sorority members of Delta Sigma Theta who turned out by the thousands last March to commemorate the centennial of the 1913 suffrage parade organized by Alice Paul and others in Washington D.C.

Giles offered an interesting update on the “melting pot” metaphor. “I’ve always had a problem with the melting pot — this idea that Americans come together and are melted down into a kind of American stew. I think we’re more like a salad, our diversities tossed together in a delicious dish of individual flavors,” she said.

The unveiling revealed more than a bronze  likeness of a thirteen-year-old. Beautifully rendered by sculptor Trina Green of New Paltz, this fine piece of public art  unabashedly features the welts on the child’s back that resulted from a particularly cruel beating she received at the hands of her second master, John Neely. (Neely became furious when the child misunderstood his orders. At that point in her young life, Truth spoke only Dutch and didn’t understand English.) Born Isabella Baumfree in 1797,  Truth overcame the extreme challenges that faced her and developed into an charismatic speaker who stood more than six feet tall and belted out her point of view in English with a Dutch accent.

She withstood the challenges of her enslavement, which included physical torture and deprivation—her feet froze in the winter– and the trauma of being separated from first her parents and then from her children. Far from succumbing to helplessness, Truth fought and won a case in Ulster County Court in 1828 to free her son who had been sold into slavery in Alabama. She summoned her courage and developed her character known around the country as Sojourner Truth, a name she adopted in the 1840s. She is best known for her speech:“..I have borne five children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me. Ain’t I a woman?”

Truth’s parents were enslaved in Africa and purchased by Colonel Johannes Hardenburgh. Isabella was one of 13 children and lived about 30 years in Ulster County as a slave. She was sold several times before New York State enacted the Emancipation Act in the late 1820s. According the “The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, a Northern Slave,” told by Truth in 1850, she was first sold at an auction with a flock of sheep to the cruel Neely when she was nine years old. She was sold again in 1808, this time to a tavern keeper in Port Ewen, Martinus Schryver. Her duties included hauling heavy loads of molasses or liquor by foot over long distances daily. Schryver was said to be crude but honest and kind. Truth was sold again and finally escaped with her infant daughter to the home of Isaac and Maria Van Wagner, who paid her owner for her services until the Emancipation Act went into effect.

The Mid- Hudson River county where Truth endured an unimaginable childhood welcomes her back as a bronze statue. If only the statue would come to life and give us her view of America today.  I would tell her the idea of a slave being honored in Port Ewen’s public square was unimaginable when I was a teenager in the 1960s. ++

 

 

Cradle Tour 2013

Don’t make a fuss. Get on the bus. Mark your calendar and sign up now on our home page.

The tour bus needs paint and a tuneup while we’re getting ready to take off on a blogging tour of the Cradle of the Women’s Rights Movement in the US in late September.

It’s free. Join the fun and give the Cradle a rock and a roll. Image: Adapted from photo by Neil Clifton.

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DON’T MAKE A FUSS –GET A FRONT SEAT ON THE BUS:

Sign up for a free tour of the cradle of the women’s rights movement in the US

Late September is a great time to take a trip when the leaves are turning and soon to be at their peak. We want you to join us on a free tour of the “cradle” of the women’s rights movement in the US. You hop on the blogging bus and take off. As simple as that. Sign up online at the form above or log into LetsRockTheCradle.com  (http://letsrockthecradle.com)

The idea started with the suffrage campaign wagon called the “Spirit of 1776” that had a day of glory on July 1, 2013 when the State of New York designated the “Spirit of 1776” Wagon Day to commemorate the centennial of the wagon’s first journey in 1913 from Manhattan to Long Island to campaign for women’s rights. Both houses of the New York State Legislature passed the resolution on June 18, 2013 creating the 2013 Wagon Day.

Now there’s an opportunity to help us take the suffrage wagon out on the road again with a blogging tour of the “cradle” of the women’s rights movement. Seneca Falls will be one of the stops, plus the Susan B. Anthony House in Rochester, and the home and center of Matilda Joslyn Gage in Fayetteville.

It’s not necessary to leave home to join us on the blogging bus. It’s free. No worries about parking, hotel overnights, meals. This is a road trip to build interest in and momentum for the upcoming centennial of women voting in New York in 2017 and the national centennial suffrage observance in 2020.

If you think it’s early to be thinking about the future, consider this: We have an opportunity to create a splash with our fabulous history in 2017 and 2020, but it requires advance planning and building interest in the opportunities these suffrage centennials provide.

Sign up for the Cradle Road Trip by visiting Let’s Rock the Cradle, a project of Suffrage Wagon News Channel, the web site and blog that tells the story of the suffrage campaign wagon in New York City and Long Island. Subscribe! http://letsrockthecradle.com

You’ll be in the forefront of an effort to rock the cradle. Many individuals and organizations are figuring out ways to rock the cradle too. Have your organization join us by becoming a Friend of LetsRockTheCradle. For more information, contact us at LetsRockTheCradle at gmail.com

Start now by signing up for the blogging tour at LetsRockTheCradle.com!  (http://letsrockthecradle.com)

Don’t make a fuss. Get a front row seat on the Blogging Bus! For more information, visit Suffrage Wagon News Channel (http://suffragewagon.org ) and LetsRockTheCradle (http://letsrockthecradle.com)

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Become part of the Friends of LetsRockTheCradle.com. There’s increasing interest in the upcoming suffrage centennials. It may seem early, but work is underway already for the 2020 centennial celebration of women voting in the US. Sign up. Subscribe by email and follow us by way of social media.