Rochester, Caldwell [i.e. Lake George] and Ogdensburg, NY: February 8-27, 1855.
Together, 6pp. Usual folds Item #365265
Among the earliest Susan B. Anthony letters we have encountered, the present correspondence relates directly to the beginnings of her work advocating for women's suffrage.
Anthony was introduced to Elizbeth Cady Stanton in 1851 and attended her first women's rights convention the following year, quickly rising to become one the leaders of the movement. In the summer of 1854, focus turned to New York State, where legislative petitions were drafted for both suffrage and for equal property rights. "The work in the State of New York was now thoroughly systematized. Susan B. Anthony was appointed General Agent, and it was decided to hold a series of Conventions in all the counties and chief cities of the State, in order to roll up mammoth petitions with which to bombard the Legislature at every annual session. Two appeals were issued to the women of the State, one in June, prepared by Mr. Channing, and one in December, by Mrs. Stanton. A number of able speakers joined in the work, and the State was thoroughly canvassed every year until the war, and petitions presented by the thousands until the bill securing the civil rights of married women was passed in March, 1860" (Stanton, et. al. History of Woman Suffrage, I:p.619).
In order to keep pressure on the legislature to consider the petitions, besides the aforementioned conventions, Anthony began a grassroots speaking tour through upstate New York in the winter of 1854-1855, a model that she would eventually employ to build the movement nationally. "At the close of 1854, Miss Anthony decided to make a thorough canvass of every county in New York in the interest of the petitions to the Legislature, a thing no woman ever had dreamed of doing." After receiving a $50 donation from Wendell Phillips to fund the trip, "with this money in her pocket, and without the promise of another dollar, she started out alone, at the beginning of winter, to canvass the great State of New York ... The plan adopted was to hold these meetings every other day, allowing for the journey from place to place; but whenever distances would permit, one was held on the intervening day. Occasionally Miss Anthony had the assistance of another speaker, but more than half the meetings were conducted with the little local help she could secure. In the afternoon she would read half of her one and only speech and try to form a society, but there was scarcely a woman to be found who would accept the presidency. In the evening she would read the other half, sell as many tracts as possible and secure names to the petitions. In almost every instance she found the sheriff had put up her posters, inserted notices in the papers, had them read in the churches and prepared the courthouse for her ... Most of the towns never had been visited by a woman speaker, and wagon-loads of people would come from miles around to see the novelty" (Harper, I:, pp. 122-124).
The present small archive concerns the arrangements for such a meeting, comprising her correspondence with Edwin Clark, the owner of Eagle Hall in Ogdensburg, arranging to rent the space for March 1, 1855 and sending the text for a circular.
She writes on February 8, 1855: "Will you rent your hall for a Woman’s Rights Meeting on Thursday evening March 1 - on what terms - if your hall cannot be had what one can - Will you see that Handbills are printed and properly posted & that notice is inserted in your City papers- please answer at your earliest convenience and I will send you form of Notice of Bill.”
Included in the group are retained drafts of Clark's replies. He writes on February 13th, stating that the hall can be rented for ten dollars and that “the printers here will print and circulate or post any bill you may require.” Anthony then replies, on February 22, from Caldwell [i.e. Lake George], thanking Clark for the reply and writing: “I will be there at that time. Enclosed is a form of handbill, which you will please hand to the most liberal of your printers, or the one you think will be most faithful in having the Bills thoroughly posted, and the one who will give Editorial notice of the meeting. I will settle all bills at the time of meeting, shall go from Malone to Ogdensburg on Thursday A.M. If possible, please have notice of the meeting given at your churches on Sabbath - also in your schools."
The enclosed proposed handbill, signed within the text by Anthony, reads:
(Form of Handbill)
Susan B. Anthony / of Rochester / Will Speak on the /Recurring, Legal & Political / Disabilities of Woman / at Eagle Hall / On Thursday Evening March 1st / at 7 O’Clock / Admission 12-1/2 cts
The lecture in Ogdensburg, however, never took place, with Clark replying to Anthony's letter on February 27: "Yours of the 22d did not come to hand till late this evening which I must regret as I engaged the Hall (only last night) ... for Thursday Evening and his notices will be published in the papers to day ... The Hall is not now engaged for any other evening and if any other will answer please advise me and I will see the printers print and circulate the bills."
Harper recounts the hardships of that 1855 speaking tour during one northern New York's coldest and snowiest winters. Quoting from Anthony's journal, she recounts the difficulties of getting from small town to small town via sleigh and particularly notes the difficult trip to Ogdensburg at the end of February 1855, where she was staying with a cousin: "The next morning she hardly could move and the women of the family had to help her make her toilet. Nothing they could say would persuade her to remain; she was advertised to speak at Canton and proposed to do it if she were alive, so she was carried out, put into a sleigh and driven seventeen miles actually doubled up with her head on her knees" (Harper, I:p. 127).
Anthony built the grassroots methods that would eventually lead to the movement's success during these early years. Her entry in the American National Biography states: “The political methods that Anthony worked out in New York set the pattern she would follow nationally for the rest of her life. Her objectives were to change laws, and she took her arguments to the public through lectures, pamphlets, subscription newspapers, and personal appeals for signatures on petitions. Each year had its cycle: fieldwork with education and petitions paced to produce an annual presentation of opinion to the legislature. At Albany she would schedule the best speakers in a large meeting to coincide with the start of the legislative session in order to attract politicians and the press. As the movement gained importance, she could schedule hearings as well. When she left a town, she sought to leave behind some 'wide-awake' individuals who would carry on the education.”
The present letters are the earliest Anthony letters we have handled and find nothing earlier in the auction records for the last century.
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