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Cracking Suffrage History

On Tuesday, June 25, 2013, the University’s Susan B. Anthony Center for Women’s Leadership joined the National Council of Women of the United States in their offices in New York City to open a “Woman Suffrage Party" safe.

For as long as anyone can remember, the safe has sat locked and unopened at the group's offices near the United Nations building. To solve the mystery, the Anthony Center hired a professional safecracker to break open the accidental time capsule.

UPDATE: So *what* was in the safe?

Safe's contents:

  • A key in the door of a wooden chamber within the safe
  • Also in the wooden chamber, a change purse with foreign coins and at least one bill. Currency is from Mexico, France and other countries
  • Also in the wooden chamber, an envelope with a post office time stamp of 1999 and a credit card expiring in 2002 inside
  • Also in wooden chamber, a small wooden stamp (for inking, not a postage stamp)
  • Small blue box with a silver brooch inside. The box and brooch indicate it is from John Wanamaker (A well-known jewelry store in NYC)
  • A small, modern looking metal candy box containing an assortment of keys that appear to go to storage
  • Two silver hearts (about palm-sized) from the Museum of Modern Art that fit together to form a sculpture
  • Large coin with Florence Kelly’s name engraved on it contained in a pouch
  • A boxed Smithsonian replica of Susan B. Anthony’s gavel, presented to her in 1888 at the first convention of the National Council of Women in Washington DC.
  • Corporate seal to emboss official papers
  • Metal box marked, “corporate papers”, contained about a dozen manila envelopes, one marked 1931 certificate of incorporation, an IRS letter (1940), a letter regarding a loan (1967), and tax documentation for New York
  • A box with six mounted replicas of murals from the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago of historical women figures
  • open safe shows contents Tax documents from 1931 and a building lease from the 1990s were among the items found in a New York City safe linked to Susan B. Anthony.
  • woman kneeling in front of open safe Catherine Cerulli (right), Director of the Susan B. Anthony Center for Women's Leadership and Mary Singletary (left), President of the National Council of Women of The United States, examine the contents of the safe.
  • safe cracker working on safe Safe cracker Elaad Israeli works on the safe.

Watch as the safe is opened

What do *you* think is in the safe? #whatsinthesafe

During the countdown to Tuesday’s revelation, we asked some scholars, current-day women’s rights activists, and the public to weigh in on what they suspect—or wish—is inside.

Angela Clark-Taylor
Program Manager with the Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender and Women's Studies

Lori Birrell
Historical Manuscripts Librarian, Rare Books & Special Collections

Kaitlin Legg
Program Assistant with the Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender and Women's Studies

"My guesses at what’s inside the safe is a suffrage flag that was used during rallies, pamphlets and papers reflecting their cause and struggles, and a trinket, like a pin. Maybe even a hand written letter from one of the founders or members of the organization. Oh, and wouldn’t it be cool if they wrote a list of things they hoped would change or be different in 100 years." 
Kirsten Buscetto
Program Coordinator, Susan B. Anthony Center for Women’s Leadership

“Finding a flask in there would be a big surprise!”
Elizabeth Goodfellow
Assistant editor,

"I would say items in the safe may include Anthony's  bail receipt from her arrest for voting in 1872 (she refused to pay it—she could fight the case if sent to jail—but it was paid in her stead by her lawyer.  She was livid and tried unsuccessfully to revoke the payment).  I think she'd like to see the receipt buried!

A copy of The Revolution might be included (a suffrage newspaper published by Anthony and Stanton).  

I'd even think Anthony would like to see Stanton's uterus in the safe, as Stanton's constant state of pregnancy kept her off the suffrage lyceum circuit all too often.  ….Stanton would be long past child bearing by 1888, though."
Monique Patenaude
Assistant editor,
(PhD in history, University of Rochester 2013)

"On a whimsical note, it's amusing to imagine that the party planned a time capsule for our delectation more than a century into the future.  But the opening of the safe, whatever it contains, will likely serve as a reminder of how far we still must go to achieve the goal of equal rights for women that Anthony, Barton, and Truth worked for.  They and other figures from our past continue to serve as role models and inspiration in the ongoing effort for women to achieve equal opportunity and equal pay, freedom from violence, and health and safety for themselves and their families."
Honey Meconi
Director, Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender and Women’s Studies
Susan B. Anthony Professor of Gender and Women's Studies

"Love letters..."
Joan Saab
Associate Professor of Art History/Visual and Cultural Studies
Chair, Department of Art and Art History

"This sounds like fun!!
I think that the safe might contain the following:

  • NCWUS official documents (ex. council's charter)
  • 1878 first draft of the 19th amendment
  • letters from influential people supporting the cause
  • paid invoices
  • photos"

Sylvie Beaudette
Assistant Professor of Chamber Music & Accompanying Director of Summer@Eastman

"I have no idea – really – what will be in the safe.  However, the opportunity to find new documentation regarding the women's movement is unique.  Given the location of the safe, and nobody knowing the last time it was opened, perhaps it contains archival documents related to the National Council.  Given the founders were all well educated women, we can hope the documents will provide insight into our country's history regarding women's rights."
Catherine Cerulli
Director, Susan B. Anthony Center for Women’s Leadership

"I am hoping that there are some sound recordings in the safe that are previously unknown. Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, so it's not impossible. I'd love it if the recordings involved women singing, playing instruments--or speaking about their visions of how to improve life in America. The phonograph was not as widely used as the camera back then. So such recordings could be fascinating in a whole host of ways."
Ralph P. Locke
Professor of Musicology, Eastman School of Music

"I'm hoping that our foremothers placed items into the safe that express the sentiments of the pre-suffrage time -- possibly Susan B.'s bloomers! I see everyone wearing comfortable slacks today, and can't help but think of the ridicule Susan had to endure for wearing bloomers. I'd love to see a pair of bloomers, handed down through posterity."

"I also hope that we find some tokens of all the programs she held in the New York area, when her office was in Room 2 of Cooper Union's main hall. The safe is so heavy I'm betting that it existed from that time. Susan was the person who made all the arrangements for speakers and had to account for all the funds. I'm guessing that the safe moved from the suffrage days to the National Council of Women when she founded it in 1888. The early work of the Council was dedicated to suffrage, which was what Susan saw as the most important aspect to empowering women. Today we know it was only the start of a very long path to equality."
Leslie Wright
Chair, 125th Anniversary Committee
National Council of Women, US

"In thinking about what members of the women’s suffrage party might wish to keep very, very secure, I began to wonder if the safe contains evidence of a scandalous nature, possibly regarding a politician that would be pivotal to their cause. Not that I think they would flagrantly hold the politician for ransom. However, this might have been some sort of security for them that they could use in some way at some point."
Mary Ann Mavrinac
Vice Provost
Andrew H. and Janet Dayton Neilly Dean of River Campus Libraries

The women's suffrage movement was a long and hard-fought struggle for civic equality. As the safe opens, my hope is that it will reveal the true spirit of equality. Some think of the movement as one led by women of privilege who excluded their sisters from other socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic groups. I would love for a those who have the honor of opening the safe to find a speech, photograph, or any documentation that our trailblazers were willing to cross all societal lines to unite for the cause of women. Such transgression of barriers would lend strength to the future of all women and men fighting for racial, economic, and gender equality.
Victoria E. Ott
Associate Professor of History, Birmingham-Southern College

Receipts. And maybe a signed and marked up copy of The Woman Suffrage Cook Book.
Nora L. Rubel
Associate Professor, Department of Religion & Classics

I was wondering where the safe was housed before and how it was delivered to 777 UN Plaza.

I hope there will be writings about the trials and tribulations of Susan B. Anthony and her friends, along with photos documenting historical moments in their lives.
Joan Fyfe
1997-2007 Rotary Intl. Rep. to the UN/NY
Past treasurer of the National Council of Women at the US and current NCW member

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