University of Rochester

Conference Explores History of Suffragist Called 'Aunt Susan'

March 6, 2006

Note: University Community Eligible for Anthony Conference Discount. Two sessions will be broadcast live over the Internet.

Susan B. Anthony, the first woman depicted on U.S. currency, is the figure schoolchildren study when they learn about the history of woman suffrage. Her lectures and travels put her in the forefront of the struggle for women's rights, to which Anthony devoted more than 50 years. During her lifetime, she saw women gain rights to property, to more co-education, and even to their own children, though she died March 13, 1906, without seeing women achieve the right to vote.

A century later, a first-of-its kind women's history conference, dedicated solely to Anthony, her work, and her contemporaries, is bringing together scholars from across the country to re-examine her role and influence in history.

The program for "Susan B. Anthony & the Struggle for Equal Rights," scheduled at the University of Rochester from Thursday, March 30, to Saturday, April 1, explores a variety of issues related to women's reforms as well as the ways Anthony and her colleagues were involved in the struggle for equal rights.

"Over the decades, the women's movement has been looked at from different perspectives, like ethnicity and race," said Mary M. Huth, conference co-chair. "We want to go back and look at the person who led the movement for 50 years. Anthony was revered and it was her followers who carried the torch until American women got the right to vote in 1920."

"Recently, there has been much scholarly work done on the role of other suffragists," added co-chair Christine L. Ridarsky, a doctoral history student at the University of Rochester. "We need to re-evaluate Anthony's role. For example, there has not been a lot of discussion about her influence on suffrage movements in the West, where four states gave women the vote before Anthony's death."

Derided by suffrage opponents as the "Old Maid," Anthony was indefatigable, campaigning across the nation and staying active in the movement until her death at age 86. Her young supporters called her "Aunt Susan" and held yearly birthday parties that drew throngs of people around the country. When she died, 10,000 mourners braved a blizzard to pass by her casket.

Conference sessions will examine not just Anthony's work but other topics related to 19th-century women's reforms, including the language and rhetoric used in the movement, barriers to professional women, and dissent within the suffrage movement. In fact, noted Huth, there will be no shying away from discussing the disagreements that arose among the women leaders of the time about divorce laws, religion, race, and radicalism.

"Anthony was supportive of other women and women's roles and would be pleased at the broad scope of the conference," Ridarsky commented.

The conference opens Thursday evening, March 30, with a keynote address by Ann D. Gordon, editor of the Stanton and Anthony Papers Project at Rutgers University and a consultant on the Ken Burns documentary Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Her talk, titled "Knowing Susan B. Anthony: The Stories We Tell of Life," will be presented at 7:30 p.m. in the Hawkins-Carlson Room in Rush Rhees Library on the University's River Campus. It is also part of the Verne Moore Lecture Series sponsored by the Department of History and is free and open to the public.

Among the participants in conference sessions is Spencerport native Nancy Hewitt, director of the Institute for Research on Women and professor of history and women's studies at Rutgers. She is the author of a book on the history of Rochester women titled Women's Activism and Social Change: Rochester, New York, 1822-1872. Other presenters during the sessions on Friday and Saturday, for which registration and fees are required, include Sally Roesch Wagner, executive director of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation in Fayetteville, N.Y.; Faye Dudden, professor of history, Colgate University; Kathi Kern, associate professor of history, University of Kentucky; Lisa Tetrault, assistant professor of history, Carnegie Mellon University; and Judith Wellman, professor emerita of history, Oswego State University of New York.

Huth, a librarian in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of Rochester, also has prepared an exhibition of letters, photographs, and memorabilia drawn from the library's extensive Anthony and woman suffrage collections. Titled "Celebrating 'A Heroic Life': 1820-1906," the exhibition opens on the anniversary of Anthony's death, March 13, and continues through Aug. 31. It is located in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections in Rush Rhees Library on the River Campus and is free and open to the public.

A Web site providing more information on the conference sessions and presenters can be found online at http://www.rochester.edu/SBA/100years/conference.html.

The conference is sponsored by the University of Rochester's Anthony Center for Women's Leadership, the Department of History, and Rush Rhees Library, with additional support from the Goldberg-Berbeco Foundation and the Lloyd E. Klos Historical Fund of the Rochester Area Community Foundation.




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