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Seneca Falls celebrates women who fought for right to vote

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 16 December 2015 at 12:00 am

Statuesque, New York – An occasional series

Photos by Tom Rivers

SENECA FALLS – In the spring of 1851, two women met and they would form one of the most powerful two-person teams in New York history for the next 50 years.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were both leaders in the push for women’s rights, including suffrage.

They met in Seneca Falls in an encounter arranged by Amelia Bloomer, a dynamo in her own right. She also is famous for “Bloomers.” She was the first woman to wear pantaloons under her dresses, and is wearing the style in this depiction.

Seneca Falls commemorates this meeting with statues of the three women by the Cayuga-Seneca Canal. They are shown by East Bayard Street. These statues are life-size, and are slightly elevated from ground level.

The statues – “When Anthony met Stanton” – are a gift from New York State to Seneca Falls in 1998, when George Pataki was governor. The gift was made “On Behalf of the Governor’s Commission Honoring the Achievements of Women,” according to a plaque by the display.

Susan B. Anthony is at left, with Amelia Bloomer in center and Elizabeth Cady Stanton at right. The statues were dedicated on July 18, 1998. A.E. Ted Aub served as a sculptor of the statues.

Anthony and Stanton were the prime movers in the fight for women’s right. They weren’t alive when women finally achieved the right to vote on Aug. 26, 1920 with the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Stanton for 50 years would write hundreds of letters to the editor, and give numerous speeches. She wrote articles on divorce, property rights and temperence. (She also adopted the Bloomer costume.) Anthony was a Rochester school teacher who was unrelenting in her organizational skills, lobbying and execution of the women’s rights agenda.

Seneca Falls has adopted the statue depiction as an icon for the many signs in the community directing people to historic sites and public services.

There is another series of bronze statues in Seneca Falls, home of The Women’s Rights National Historical Park. The U.S. government created the park in downtown Seneca Falls and commissioned 20 statues of the “The First Wave.”

Sculptor Lloyd Lillie created the life-size bronze statues of the five women who organized the First Women’s Rights Convention, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton at left. The display includes a few of the men who came in support of social, political, and religious equality for women. Acclaimed abolitionist Frederick Douglass is depicted in center.

Thomas and Mary Ann M’Clintock were active in the women’s rights movement, and also actively championed abolition, temperance and Native American rights. They attended the first women’s rights convention on July 19-20, 1848. The original Declaration of Sentiments was written at the M’Clintock house in nearby Waterloo.

The statues in the lobby of the Visitor Center at the National Park in Seneca Falls represent the first wave of women’s rights activists in the United States. There were more than 300 women and men who organized and participated in the first Women’s Rights Convention.

The “Declaration of Sentiments” declared that “all men and women are created equal.” The document demands equal rights for women in property and custody laws, educational opportunities, and participation in the church, professions, and politics.

Seneca Falls is about the same size as Albion and Medina. I was there over the weekend for the “It’s A Wonderful Life” festival. Bedford Falls in the famous movie is believed to be based on Seneca Falls.

The community is a vibrant place. It capitalizes on its role in U.S. history and has fun with its possible connection to one of the most popular movies of all time. I picked up a lot of ideas for how Albion, Medina and our other communities could better promote their history.

Albion could certainly do more showcasing its ties to Charles Howard and his role in shaping the look and behavior of Santa Claus through his Santa School. Albion could develop a Santa Claus museum in the downtown. It would add a lot of energy to Main Street and help nearby shops capitalize with Santa-themed merchandise. (Seneca Falls has a museum for It’s A Wonderful Life and uses the movie as a focus for a very popular community festival. I ran the 5k race on Saturday that had 4,000 runners.)

It would be interesting to see how the local government, including the county, helps with the projects in Seneca Falls. I would guess there is a nice public-private partnership with lots of volunteers. But the government probably needed to step up with money and personnel to get these projects off the ground.

The Women’s Rights National Historic Park is in a renovated downtown building in Seneca Falls.

The National Women’s Hall of Fame also is in a downtown building, but that organization is looking to create the “Great Hall of Women” in a massive former knitting mill, a $25 million project with state support. That site could open next December.