State museum highlights area activist Cady-Stanton

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

ALBANY — It is almost impossible to walk the streets of Johnstown and not be reminded of its rich history and involvement in the Woman’s Right Movement. So much attention is often given to Seneca Falls as being the birthplace of the movement, but for one special girl, that fight began in Johnstown. The passion and the drive of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, along with other suffragettes, is being celebrated in a New York State Museum special exhibit.

The museum opened “Votes for Women, Celebrating New York’s Suffrage Centennial” last week, a display that honors the centennial of women’s suffrage in New York state. It is meant to bring awareness to the struggle for equal rights. The exhibit is featuring artifacts and images from the collections of the State Museum, State Archives, State Library, cultural institutions, and as well as private donations.

In a statement from State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, she explains that the state felt compelled to put together something that would expose the deep-rooted history of this movement in New York.

“We are honored to share the story of how women over the course of decades fought so passionately for the right to vote for their daughters, granddaughters, nieces and future generations. Now thousands of visitors to this exhibit will gain a full understanding of this pivotal moment in our history and know that the fight for equal rights did not end in 1917 but continues today,” said Elia.

A portion of the exhibit focuses on Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her leadership during the “Votes for Women” fight in New York, resulting in the passing of the referendum for women’s suffrage. The artifacts include items from the 19th century through present day. Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s writing desk is part of the exhibit and is on loan from Coline Jenkins, a member of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton family.

A passionate writer, Stanton used to learn the power of print and used it to fight for women’s suffrage. Stanton communicated her call for change through newspaper articles, convention addresses she could not attend in person, and in speeches delivered by Susan B. Anthony.

Much of the written history of Stanton talks about her time in other parts of the state, but it was her childhood years spent in Johnstown that helped shape who she was, according to Johnstown City Historian Noel Levee. Levee said as one of the most influential women in world history, Stanton, instrumental in seeing women receive the right to vote.

“Stanton was the progenitor of the cause for women’s rights, not only for this nation, but for the world over. It was right here in Johnstown that she had the inspiration for her Crusade, as well as the inception of it,” said Levee.

Levee said the first Cady Mansion stood on the northeast corner of Main and Market streets, where a bronze plaque can be found on the site. He said growing up she spent time in the Johnstown law office of her father, Supreme Court Judge Daniel Cady, where she felt her father’s helplessness when women came to him for legal help.

“Elizabeth resolved to work to right the wrong,” said Levee.

After receiving her education in the Johnstown Academy and Emma Willard Seminary in Troy, she organized in Seneca Falls the first Woman’s Rights Convention. From the time of the convention until her death in 1902, she made thousands of speeches throughout the country, including the State Legislature and the U.S. Congress.

Museum Chief Curator of History Jennifer Lemak said the exhibit highlights the success of many woman, including Stanton.

“Throughout the exhibition, we use the biographies of the women who lead the movement to tell the story of the fight for women’s rights in NYS. As such, Stanton appears first, and most prominently, as a young woman in Seneca Falls, learning to take care of her home and family, and questioning women’s place in society,” said Lemak.

Lemak said the reason behind the traveling exhibit is due to the smaller institutions who loaned their best artifacts for the exhibition here in Albany. We wanted to share the centennial celebration with them in some way and felt a panel exhibit could help with that. The museum created a six-panel traveling exhibition based on the larger Votes for Women exhibition that can be displayed at smaller venues around the state. A large-scale exhibit–tion and companion catalog titled, “Votes for Women: Celebrating New York’s Suffrage Centennial,” will be at the museum from now through May 13, 2018. Anyone interested in hosting this exhibition in your local library, museum, or historical society, please contact Lemak at The NYS Museum.

Levee said while Seneca Falls was at the heart of the movement, it is important for people to remember where Stanton’s crusade began.

“All of her life our Notable made periodic visits to Johnstown to be with friends and family. Her roots were here. In Johnstown, we must never forget, she was probably the most famous woman of her time, in the U.S. and throughout the world,” said Levee.

By Patricia Older

Leave a Reply