Celebrating history and women’s rights

Women dressed in period garb hold signs during a downtown Johnstown ceremony honoring Elizabeth Cady Stanton. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

JOHNSTOWN — Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the focus of attention in her hometown this past week, with a marker and ceremony in her honor, and a female U.S. senator singing her praises.

A New York state historical marker was unveiled outside the historic Fulton County Courthouse Friday in a ceremony honoring city native and American suffrage giant Stanton.

Prior to the unveiling, the women’s rights leader was lauded during a ceremony at the downtown Charles Jenner Memorial Bandshell.

“This was Elizabeth’s legacy,” Johnstown 3rd Ward Councilwoman Helen Martin stated, after unveiling the marker.

The state marker reads: “Suffrage Pioneer Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1815-1902, Her father practiced law here in early 19th Century, inspiring her fight for Women’s Rights. William G. Pomeroy Foundation 2017.”

The Elizabeth Cady Stanton Women’s Consortium obtained a grant from the Pomeroy Foundation for the marker honoring Stanton and her father, Judge Daniel Cady. The marker was made available in recognition of the anniversary of New York state Women’s Suffrage in 1917.

The consortium conducted an unveiling ceremony at the courthouse, but not before a program at the Charles Jenner Bandshell that featured Martin as mistress of ceremonies.

“This is a very exciting afternoon for those of us with the consortium,” Martin said.

Mayor Vern Jackson welcomed the gathering, while city historian Noel Levee provided a brief history of Johnstown during Stanton’s life.

“Early Johnstown was made up of wooden-framed houses and businesses,” he said.

Johnstown was a “bevy of activity” in 1814, just before Stanton’s birth, Levee said.

Great-great-granddaughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Coline Jenkins, said her famous relative spent 55 years of her life studying the effects of laws. By 1848, she said Stanton was studying women’s property rights, marriages and divorces.

“You have a tremendous burden on your shoulders,” Jenkins told city residents.

She urged that city residents learn about Stanton because the city will surely be in the spotlight in three years when the women’s right to vote is celebrated.

Dr Melinda Grube, interpreter of woman’s suffrage history, did a reenactment of Stanton.

She gave a moving account of when Stanton was 11 and her brother died. Stanton’s heartbroken father told her: “Oh my daughter, I wish you were a boy.”

Grube depicted how Stanton tried the rest of her young life to prove she was the best among her peers in class and sport at the Johnstown Academy, but to no avail in her father’s mind.

Stanton said her father saw her as inferior, but “I would have that not be my future.”

A longtime interpreter of regional women’s rights and suffrage history, Grube brought Elizabeth Cady Stanton to life as she reminisced about her childhood and girlhood in the Cady home and how these early memories shaped later years of activism.

Grube is an adjunct lecturer in history at Cayuga Community College in Auburn. Her research focuses on the intersections of human rights activism and the dynamic religious, intellectual, and spiritual diversity of the “Burned Over District” of central and western New York in the 19th Century.

The ceremony group then went over for the unveiling on the West Main Street side of the courthouse.

The William G. Pomeroy Foundation Historic Roadside Marker Program provided for the historic marker dedicated Friday.

The purpose of the William G. Pomeroy Foundation Historic Roadside Marker Program is three-fold: to preserve a town or village’s history; to promote historic tourism and economic development; and to provide cultural and economic benefits.

The foundation launched its Historic Marker Program in 2006 in a limited number of counties in Central New York. In 2012 the program was expanded to include all municipalities and 501C3 organizations in New York state as eligible grant recipients.

A representative of U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik read remarks about Stanton.

Stanton was also the subject of remarks from U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who toured the Johnstown Historical Society and Museum Thursday.

“New York’s history is so rich with leaders of the suffrage movement,” the senator said. “All men and women are created equal. There’s no doubt she’s one of the greatest leaders in American history.”

Gillibrand said it is now up to generations ahead to carry on Stanton’s legacy, adding: “I think it’s especially meaningful now.” She said women need equal pay and more opportunity.

She said women should be encouraged to engage in public service.

“We should learn from the suffragettes,” she said. “Frankly, we are the suffragettes of this generation.”

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at [email protected]

By Patricia Older

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