Honoring Suffrage’s Centenary / Ingersoll Spoke Here

Tom Flynn

Oswego City Hall, erected 1871. A reception was held in the council chambers on October 29, 1901. Photo by Haley Karr.

In this feature, we continue the Freethought Trail’s celebration of the centenary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which established women’s right to vote.

The Trail is for anyone who wants to learn more about often-obscure radical reform history. But it’s especially for history buffs who yearn to visit the physical sites and “stand where history happened.” It focuses on “What happened here?” and “What’s there now?”

We present more of the new, site-specific pages devoted to annual suffrage conventions held in west-central New York State, the Trail’s territory. Nearly forty such pages will “go live” on freethought-trail.org from time to time during 2020.

We also present some of the fourteen sites in west-central New York where nineteenth-century orator Robert Green Ingersoll delivered some thirty lectures. To our knowledge, it’s the first time that every venue where Ingersoll spoke in such a broad geographic area has been documented.

Suffrage Convention Sites

The New York State Woman Suffrage Association (NYSWSA) held fifty-two annual conventions between 1869 and 1920; seventeen took place between 1890 and 1914 in west-central New York. These state-level conventions were truly national affairs. In this issue, we preview upcoming Freethought Trail coverage of NYSWSA’s conventions in Oswego (1901) and Utica (1912).

Oswego

NYSWSA’s thirty-third annual convention was held in Oswego, a thriving northerly lake port, on Tuesday through Friday, October 29 to November 1, 1901. Plenary sessions were held at the First Presbyterian Church. Speakers included Susan B. Anthony, physician/minister/suffrage campaigner Anna Howard Shaw, and regional suffrage leader Harriet May Mills. Other venues included the Hamilton House hotel, where executive board meetings were held, and the common council chamber of Oswego’s 1871 City Hall, site of an evening reception. Thanks to city historian Mark Slosek for research assistance.

Thorn Memorial Chapel was the site of all convention events.

 

Utica

The forty-fourth annual convention of NYSWSA was held in Utica on Tuesday, October 15, 1912. It was among the most modest annual conventions, and few details of its program are known. The venue was the Thorn Memorial Chapel, a 1905 annex to the 1865 Tabernacle Baptist Church. Thanks to Janice Reilly of the Oneida County History Center for research assistance.

Ingersoll Lecture Sites

Reactivation of the online Ingersoll Chronology (chronology.secularhumanism.org) made it possible to identify every venue in the region at which Ingersoll was known to have spoken.

Corning

On Friday, May 4, 1894, Ingersoll delivered his political lecture “Lincoln” at the Corning Opera House at 133 Pine Street. Erected at an unknown date, it became the State Theatre in 1923 and was demolished in 1955. The site is now a parking lot. Thanks to Timothy Binga and Hex Kleinmartin for research assistance.

Period image of the Corning Opera House.
View down the parking lot now occupying the site. The Opera house façade would have followed the approximate line of the hedge at right.
Abandoned by its founding congregation in 1936, the First Presbyterian Church lost its steeple at an unknown date. Its current occupant is an American Legion post. Photo by Haley Karr.
 
Undated photo of Sink’s Opera House. Erected in 1869, it was lost in a 1904 fire.
Rome

On Monday, October 18, 1880, Ingersoll delivered a political speech supporting the campaign of James A. Garfield, who would become the twentieth president of the United States. This oration took place at Sink’s Opera House at 104 South Dominick Street. That address no longer exists; it is now part of the Fort Stanwix National Monument, which consumed several blocks of downtown Rome that had encroached on the fort site until the fort was reconstructed in the 1970s. Thanks to Arthur L. Simmons III, executive director of the Rome Historical Society, for research assistance.

Aerial view of the reconstructed Fort Stanwix, restored to its historic footprint 1974–1978. West Dominick Street enters from top right (wide yellow line) and now ends at the fort perimeter. Prior to the fort’s reconstruction, East Dominick Street roughly followed the dashed yellow line. The red arrow marks the approximate location of Sink’s Opera House at 104 East Dominick. The building to the left of the arrow is the Marinus Willett Visitor Center, erected 2005.

 

The Marinus Willett Visitor Center. The location of the Sink Opera House would be about 100 feet to the left of the camera’s position.

 

Syracuse

On April 27, 1894, Ingersoll delivered his political lecture “Lincoln” at the Bastable Theatre, 109 South Warren Street. On Saturday, March 9, 1895, Ingersoll returned to the Bastable to deliver one of his most controversial lectures on religion, “About the Holy Bible.” The Bastable opened as Syracuse businessman Frederick Bastable’s third downtown theater in 1893. The building was destroyed by fire in 1923. The site now hosts Syracuse’s tallest building, recently reconfigured for mixed office, retail, and residential use.

This 1893 etching shows the Bastable Block and Theatre as they appeared upon opening. At this time, the theater’s marquee had not yet been installed.

 

The Bastable Theatre site was claimed by the State Tower Building (1928). After decades as an all-office structure, it has recently been renewed and converted to a mixed-use structure including sixty-one upscale apartments.

 

Newspaper ad promotes Ingersoll’s 1895 freethought lecture “The Bible.” Image courtesy of Doug Schiffer.

Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn is editor of Free Inquiry, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, director of the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum, and editor of The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief (2007).


In this feature, we continue the Freethought Trail’s celebration of the centenary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which established women’s right to vote. The Trail is for anyone who wants to learn more about often-obscure radical reform history. But it’s especially for history buffs who yearn to visit the …

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