On June 17-18, 1873, pioneering feminist Susan B. Anthony stood trial. The previous November, Anthony led a group of women who attempted to exercise their rights as citizens by voting in the presidential election in Rochester, New York. Since voting for women was then considered illegal, Anthony was arrested on the charge of “criminal voting,” tried the following June, then fined $100, which she refused to pay.
That same November and for several years after, women in Geauga County, Ohio, staged similar protests, presenting themselves at the polls held at Union Chapel in South Newbury, only to have their votes rejected by male poll takers who were either too patient, or not bold enough, to call County Sheriff Lester Moffett. (And it WAS 10 miles on horseback through the November cold.)Anthony died in 1906 and it was to be yet another 14 years before the unrelenting work of the suffragists was successful. In 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was finally ratified, allowing women to vote. It’s been almost a century now. Do we as a nation, a culture, remember those battles fought in cities and small towns across the nation?
Places provide nonverbal reminders of the amazing and serendipitous stories and lessons throughout American Women’s History. It would be all too easy to forget them and the import those events have on how we live today without those visual clues. Every time I pass little Union Chapel, I am reminded of the effort and cost of what women before me have accomplished. And lest I forget, there’s a big, beautiful, bronze Ohio Historic Marker out front to remind me.
This is what Historic Preservation can provide to a community and a nation.
The National Park Service recognized this when it began developing the Women’s Rights National Historic Park in Seneca Falls, New York. Ursuline student Rachael Toth recognized this when she committed considerable time and energy to researching, writing, and shepherding a nomination for Union Chapel to the National Register of Historic Places. There are plenty more stories and lessons and places in American Women’s History that would benefit from official designations as historic places/landmarks and official plaques through programs such as the Ohio Historic Marker program. It is up to us to identify them and find ways to preserve those sites and lessons for future generations.
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