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 coverage area. Nearly forty such pages will have “gone live” on freethought-trail.org by August 26, the hundredth anniversary of woman’s suffrage.

We also present two more of the seventeen sites in west-central New York where superstar orator Robert Green Ingersoll delivered one of his famous lectures.

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. In this issue, we preview upcoming Freethought Trail coverage of NYSWSA’s conventions in Ithaca (1894, 1911), Rochester (1896), and Geneva (1907).

Ithaca

NYSWSA’s twenty-sixth annual convention was held in Ithaca on Monday through Friday, November 12–16, 1894. Plenary sessions were held at the Lyceum Opera House and Library Hall. Convention headquarters was the Clinton House hotel. Speakers included Susan B. Anthony, physician/minister/suffrage campaigner Anna Howard Shaw, liberal minister Annis Ford Eastman, and regional activist Jean Brooks Greenleaf.

Cornell university cofounder Ezra Cornell gifted Library Hall to the city of Ithaca shortly before the university’s opening.

 

Library Hall was demolished in 1960; the site is now a small urban park.

 

North Cayuga Street entrance to the former Lyceum Opera House, apparently photographed in 1924, shortly after its conversion to a motion-picture theater.

 

This building (viewed from across South Cayuga Street) replaced the Lyceum Theater following its demolition in or shortly before 1934. The Ethiopian restaurant seen at left occupies the exact location of the Lyceum’s box office.

 

Annis Ford Eastman was an early woman minister and a strong advocate for woman’s rights and suffrage.

 

The design of the Clinton House (erected 1828–1929) exemplifies the Greek Revival style that swept America during the late 1820s and throughout the 1830s.

 

The forty-third annual NYSWSA convention unfolded in Ithaca on Tuesday through Friday, October 31–November 3, 1911. Speakers included Susan B. Anthony, Anna Howard Shaw, and regional activists Harriet May Mills, Emily Howland, Ella Hawley Crossett, and Eliza Wright Osborne. All public sessions occurred at First Baptist Church. The Ithaca Hotel served as convention headquarters. A reception was held at the home of local suffrage leader Juanita Breckinridge Bates. Thanks to Patricia Longoria, Carol Kammen, Elaine Engst, and Timothy Binga for research assistance.

Plenary sessions were held at First Presbyterian Church (erected 1844, expanded 1859). It is one of several churches surrounding Ithaca’s DeWitt Park.

 

Pioneering woman minister Juanita Breckinridge Bates hosted a reception at her mansion. She looks remarkably youthful in this 1915 photo, when she was fifty-five years of age.

 

No images of the Bates mansion are known to exist. The structure was apparently razed and replaced in the 1960s by this nondescript professional building.
Rochester

The twenty-eighth annual NYSWSA convention was held in Rochester on Tuesday through Thursday, November 17–19, 1896. Speakers included Susan B. Anthony, Lillie Devereux Blake, and Rochester activist Jean Brooks Greenleaf. That conference year would be her final one as NYSWSA president. Plenary sessions were held in Music Hall; the Whitcomb House hotel served as headquarters, as it had in 1890. The Livingston Hotel held a banquet in honor of Susan B. Anthony.

Music Hall, an auditorium seating more than one thousand, occupied the second floor of the 1890 Rochester YMCA headquarters (tall round-topped windows).

 

The YMCA building was razed in 1927 and replaced by a theater seating 3,500. It was replaced by the 1967 Xerox Tower, then the world headquarters of Xerox Corporation.

 

Rochester suffrage campaigner Jean Brooks Greenleaf led NYSWSA from 1890 to 1896.

 

The six-story Whitcomb House hotel was erected in 1872 and demolished in 1947.

 

It is unknown what occupied the Whitcomb House hotel site until 1973, when the twenty-seven-story Chase Tower opened. In 2015, it was renovated as a mixed-use structure called The Metropolitan.

 

The Livingston was a prominent hotel on Rochester’s Exchange Street. Its date of demolition is unknown.

 

The Livingston Hotel site is now a dreary parking lot.

 

Geneva

The thirty-ninth annual NYSWSA convention was held in Geneva on Tuesday through Friday, October 15–18, 1907. Speakers included Susan B. Anthony, Anna Howard Shaw, and Harriet May Mills. Plenary sessions were held at the First Baptist Church; the Hotel Nester served as headquarters, as it had during NYSWSA’s previous Geneva convention ten years prior. Regional suffragist Elizabeth Smith Miller hosted a reception at her mansion, Lochland.

The First Baptist Church (1894), designed in the Romanesque Revival style, still stands. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

 

The Hotel Nester overlooked Seneca Lake from atop a downtown bluff.

 

The Hotel Nester was razed in the 1980s and replaced by this high-rise senior citizens’ residence.

Ingersoll Spoke Here

Elmira

Ingersoll lectured twice at the Elmira Opera House. On February 25, 1878, he delivered the popular political lecture “The Liberty of Man, Woman, and Child.” On April 23, 1895, he delivered the hard-hitting freethought lecture “About the Holy Bible.”

Interior of the Opera House, afterward known as the Lyceum Theater

 

The Opera House was razed in 1949. On its site now stands this downtown bank and office structure.

 

Norwich

On February 26, 1885, Ingersoll delivered his freethought lecture “Orthodoxy” at the Breese Opera House in Norwich, the seat of Chenango County. Thanks to Joan Lieb of the Chenango County Historian’s Office for research assistance.

Early photograph of the Breese Opera House. The auditorium occupied the third floor (note extra-tall windows). Image courtesy Chenango County Historian’s Office.

 

The Breese is the only Freethought Trail building where Ingersoll spoke that still stands. It contains shops and luxury apartments and is the tallest structure in the historic Chenango County Courthouse District.

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 coverage area. Nearly forty such …

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