Honoring Suffrage’s Centenary/Ingersoll Spoke Here

Tom Flynn

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.

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 during 2020.

We also present some of the seventeen sites in west-central New York (yes, we found three more) where nineteenth-century orator Robert Green Ingersoll delivered a lecture.

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 Rochester (1890) and Auburn (1904), as well as a related convention in Churchville (1905).

Rochester

NYSWSA’s twenty-second annual convention was held in Rochester on Tuesday to Thursday, December 16–18, 1890. Plenary sessions were held at the old First Universalist Church. Speakers included Susan B. Anthony, physician/minister/suffrage campaigner Anna Howard Shaw, nationally prominent suffragist Lillie Devereux Blake, and NYSWSA president Jean Brooks Greenleaf. Other venues included the Whitcomb House hotel, where executive board meetings were held, and the Rochester Chamber of Commerce office, site of an evening reception.

Plenary sessions were held at First Unitarian Church (erected 1847, razed 1906).
The Beaux-Arts Hotel Seneca opened on the site of the original First Unitarian Church in 1908. In the same year, flush from the sale of its old church, the congregation opened a Romanesque Revival church that stands today just three blocks to the south.
The Hotel Seneca was razed circa 1969 and for some years hosted an urban mall. Now there’s just an office building, home to media companies.
Business meetings took place at the Whitcomb House hotel (erected 1872, razed in 1947).

 

Now on the site of the Whitcomb House is The Metropolitan, a 2015 mixed-use conversion of 1967’s twenty-seven story Chase Tower.
A gala reception for Susan B. Anthony was held in the Chamber of Commerce offices on the top floor of the 1853 Rochester Savings Bank building.
The Rochester Savings Bank building was replaced by this 1955 bank building, now housing private offices.
Jean Brooks Greenleaf (1831–1918) was elected president of NYSWSA at the Rochester convention. She would serve until 1896 and remained active in the cause until after Susan B. Anthony’s death in 1906.

 

Auburn

The thirty-sixth annual convention of NYSWSA was held in Auburn on Tuesday to Thursday, October 17–20, 1904. Speakers included Susan B. Anthony, Anna Howard Shaw, and local suffrage activist Eliza Wright Osborne, widow of Auburn business leader David Munson Osborne and a top leading donor to the suffrage movement. Plenary sessions were held at Music Hall. The Osborne House hotel was convention headquarters with business meetings being held at the Osborne Annex. Ms. Osborne hosted a reception at her home.

Music Hall, site of plenary sessions, occupied the second floor of this mid-1880s commercial block. Its space was abandoned in 1922; the building was razed in 1975.
The eight-story Edward T. Boyle Center, a senior citizen residence, occupies the sites of Music Hall and the Osborne Annex, of which no period photos exist.

 

A reception was held on October 17, 1904, at this mansion, built at an unknown date by farm equipment magnate and later Auburn mayor David Munson Osborne (d. 1886). His widow, Eliza Wright Osborne, became a suffrage activist and major donor. The mansion was partly demolished in 1936.

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The Osborne mansion site is principally occupied by Auburn United Methodist Church. The mansion’s library wing escaped demolition. Out of view at left in this photo, it awaits restoration by a community nonprofit.
Eliza Wright Osborne (1830–1911) hailed from a Quaker reform family. She married David Munson Osborne, Auburn’s leading industrialist and one-time mayor. After his death in 1886, she embraced the suffrage cause.
Churchville

On Tuesday, May 2, 1905, the Monroe County Political Equality Club (a local affiliate of NYSWSA; Rochester is the county seat of Monroe County) held a convention whose speaker list might have better suited a statewide convention. Susan B. Anthony, Anna Howard Shaw, NYSWSA president Jean Brooks Greenleaf, and Syracuse activist Harriet May Mills headlined the gathering at Union Congregational Church in rural Churchville.

The village is not named for any house of worship. Rather, it is named for Samuel Church, proprietor of an early sawmill and grist mill.

Union Congregational Church looks little different than it probably did in 1905.

 

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 is known to have spoken.

Syracuse/Wieting Opera House

Robert Green Ingersoll delivered five lectures here. On November 13, 1877, he gave his popular political lecture “The Liberty of Man, Woman, and Child.” The others were controversial lectures on religion: “Ghosts” on February 22, 1878; “What Must We Do to Be Saved?” on December 13, 1880; “The Foundations of Faith” on February 25, 1896; and “Why I Am an Agnostic” on January 4, 1898.

One of Syracuse’s premier theaters, the Wieting Opera House seated over 2,000 persons. It was erected in 1856, rebuilt after major fires in 1881 and 1896, and demolished in 1930.
The Wieting Opera House site now hosts this nondescript hotel and convention center.

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. 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 …

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