Finger Lakes Women in History | Beyond the Nest (Rochester)

Finger Lakes Women in History

-by Carol White Llewellyn


Although women have always made up roughly half of the population of the Finger Lakes region, there are remarkably few tangible reminders of the role they played in history, since they were often behind the scenes, caring for home and hearth.  When they made contributions of the sort that would give them recognition today, their contributions have often been lost to history. Their homes were seldom preserved, since those buildings were generally the property of their husbands, fathers, or male members of their familiy (The Married Woman's Property Law was first passed in NYS in 1848, paving the way for other states to follow suit). You will also be hard pressed to find the date in which the first statue dedicated to a woman was erected in the U.S.  Below, we pay tribute to historic women of the Finger Lakes region whose contributions have been acknowledged and commemorated.  


These are listed as if you were going to start in Rochester, NY, travel east, and then circle south and west. Please note that some of the sites, which we have indicated, cannot be visited as tourism destinations, but can be viewed from the exterior. Please be sure to check website and/or call in advance of visiting these destinations.


Susan B. Anthony Museum & House (17 Madison Street, Rochester NY 14608) - 17 Madison Street was the home of Susan B. Anthony and her sister Mary from 1865 until both died, Susan in 1906 and Mary in 1907.  If the walls could talk, they'd tell the fascinating story of the suffrage movement and the roles many women in Western New York played, not the least of which was the indomitable Susan B. Anthony.  The house and museum pay tribute to Ms. Anthony by sharing her story as Civil Rights Leader, Suffragist, Temperance Worker, Publisher, and Abolitionist, including her arrest for voting in 1872. Within the museum you'll also find information about others who were integral to the Suffrage Movement and see actual artifacts that belonged to her. Docents are available to answer questions, and group tours are available.  While visiting the house, be sure to go to the nearby Susan B. Anthony Square to view the lovely sculpture of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, "Let's Have Tea," by Rochester artist Pepsy Kettavong.


Anna Murray Douglass Academy School #12 (999 South Ave. Rochester, NY 14620) - Although this is not a tourism destination, RCSD School #12 was renamed in honor of Anna Murray Douglass, the first wife of Frederick Douglass. The school is located on the site at which the 2nd home owned by the Douglass familiy was located in Rochester, NY. This is the home that burned down, often attributed to arson, and that was the catalyst for Frederick Douglass and his family's move to Washington, D.C.  Although Anna Murray Douglass never had the opportunity to become literate, she was an activist and abolitionist in her own right and an excellent money manager, which contributed to her husband's success. She would no doubt have been honored to have a school named after her. One of the DouglassTour statues of Frederick Douglass, sculpted by Olivia Kim, is located in front of the school.


Anna Murray Douglass Gravesite (located in Section T Lot 26 of Mount Hope Cemetery at 1133 Mt Hope Ave, Rochester, NY 14620)  - Anna Murray Douglass is buried near husband Frederick Douglass in Mount Hope Cemetery. Mount Hope Cemetery, dedicated in 1838, is the oldest municipally-operated Victorian cemetery in the United States and a beautifully landscaped example of the rural cemetery movement.  In addition to Anna Murray Douglass' and Frederick Douglass' graves, many of Rochester's most famous residents are interred there, including Rochester's Founder, Nathaniel Rochester, and Susan B. Anthony and her sister, suffragist Mary Anthony. Friends of Mount Hope offer a variety of guided tours throughout the Spring, Summer and Fall months. Visitors can enjoy docent-led or self-guided tours. 


Jigöhsahsë’ and Seneca Women at Ganondagan State Historic Site (1488 NY-444, Victor, NY 14564) - Jigöhsahsë’ was named "The Mother of Nations" for her role in embracing The Peacemaker's message and in guiding the formation of the Iroquois Confederacy. Since that time, the Hodinöhsö:ni’ women have been a force in the culture of equity, justice, and the power of thinking with a “good mind” for their people, setting the example and strongly influencing the leaders of the Women’s Rights movement in the United States. Ganondagan State Historic site celebrates this with a new exhibit, Hodinöhsö:ni’ Women: From the Time of Creation in the Seneca Art & Culture Center. In addition, there is a replica 17th-Century Bark Longhouse and marked trails for self-guided hikes located on land that was once the home of as many as 4500 Seneca people.


Mary Clark Thompson and Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion Historic Site (151 Charlotte St, Canandaigua, NY 14424)  - Raised in Cananadaigua, Mary Clark's father Myron Holley became Governor of New York State in 1935, and the family moved to Albany, where  Mary met her future husband, Frederick Ferris Thompson. Although the couple resided in New York City, they spent summers in Canandaigua, where they build a 40-room Queen Anne Style Mansion and named it Sonnenberg, meaning "Sunny Hill" in German.  The Thompsons were renowned for their philanthropy, creating endowments and making generous donations that benefitted colleges and hospitals, founding the Metropolitan Museum of Art and contributing to the Bronx Zoo. Following her husband's death, Mary continued her philanthropic pursuits, and had nine gardens added to Sonnenberg. Today, the 50-acre estate, mansion, gardens, and greenhouse are meticulously maintained amd can be visited in spring, summer and fall.


Ontario County Courthouse (20 Ontario Street Canandaigua, NY 14424)  - Although this is not a tourism destination, we include it because it is the site at which Susan B. Anthony was tried in the United States v. Susan B. Anthony case for voting in the 1872 election, when women had not yet been granted suffrage. Judge Ward Hunt instructed the jury to find her guilty and sentenced her to a fine of $100, which she indicated she would never pay. He determined she would not be imprisoned for her failure to pay, effectively preventing her from taking her case to the Supreme Court.


Hydesville Memorial Park and The Fox Sisters (Hydesville Rd, Newark, NY 14513) - The Fox sisters, Leah, Margaretta and Catherine (Kate), were founders of modern day Spiritualism. Having moved into a house reputed for having strange rappings and unexplained noises in Hydesville with their family, the two younger sisters, Kate and Maggie, claimed to communicate with a spirit they referred to as ‘Mr. Splitfoot,’ who they claimed was killed in the house and buried in the basement. The body of a peddler named Mr. Splitfoot was later discovered buried behind a false wall in the basement.  Currently, only the base of the house exists, and tours are available only by contacting the caretaker of the property.


Elizabeth Blackwell and Hobart & William Smith College (300 Pulteney St, Geneva, NY 14456)  - Although this is not a tourist destination, Hobart & William Smith College proudly recognizes Elizabeth Blackwell as an alumna. Elizabeth Blackwell is recognized as the first woman in the U.S. to receive her degree as a Doctor of Medicine. Born of a family who immigrated to the U.S. from England, she was rejected from many medical schools due to her gender. The exception was Hobart College, then known as Geneva Medical College, in which the male students voted on Blackwell's acceptance. Dr. Blackwell went on to publish the first medical article written by a woman and she founded the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. Finding the medical environment in the U.S. intolerant of women, she sailed for Britain, and in 1874, she opened the London School of Medicine for Women. Dr. Blackwell was inducted into the Women's Hall of Fame in 1973.


Elizabeth Cady Stanton House (32 Washington St, Seneca Falls, NY 13148)  - You can view the exterior of the home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, which housed her family of nine, and in which Ms. Stanton worked tirelessly with sister suffragists to launch the women's rights movement.  She called her home “The Center of the Rebellion.” 


Women's Rights National Historical Park & Wesleyan Chapel (136 Fall St, Seneca Falls, NY 13148) Built in 1843, the Wesleyan Chapel was the location of the first Women's Rights Convention on July 19 and 20, 1848 at which the Declaration of Sentiments was signed. This site pays tribute to that first convention and the women who were instrumental in women's suffrage. Although little of the original chapel remains, the renovated building is built on the footprint of the original Chapel, and highlights some of the materials of the original building as well as its history. In the onsite building, sculptures and exhibits recognize the contributions of the corps of suffragists in the Women's Civil Rights Movement.


National Women's Hall of Fame (76 Fall St, Seneca Falls, NY 13148) - Currently located in the The Helen Mosher Barben Building in the Historic District of Seneca Falls, in 2020, the National Women's Hall of Fame will move to the newly-renovated Seneca Falls Knitting Mill, in recognition of the role women played in the industrial revolution. The National Women's Hall of Fame pays tribute to some of the most influential contemporary and historic women throughout history through exhibits and oral histories, plus a national induction ceremony recognizing some of our  country's most influential women.


Anthony, Stanton, Bloomer Statue (E Bayard Street and Spring Street, Seneca Falls, New York)  - While in Seneca Falls, be sure to visit the sculpture, designed by Ted Aub in 1998, located on the shore of Van Cleef Lake at E Bayard Street and Spring Street. This lovely statue pays homage to Susan B. Anthony, Cady Stanton and Amelia Bloomer.


Harriet Tubman Home (80 South Street Auburn, NY, 13021)  - Harriet Tubman was known as "The Moses of Her People" for her abolitionist work guiding slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad. She was also an armed scout and spy for the Union Army during the American Civil War.  In 1859, she purchased land and a house from Secretary of State William H. Seward, a transaction that was illegal at that time, and there she cared for her parents. In 1903, she donated a deed of property to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Auburn with the instructions that it be made into a home for "aged and indigent colored people."  In 1911, she was admitted to the home that had been erected, where she passed away in 1913. Today, you can take a guided tour of Ms. Tubman's homestead and the historic park.


Mathilda Joslyn Gage Home (210 E Genesee St, Fayetteville, NY 13066) - Mathilda Joslyn Gage was an abolitionist and passionate suffragist. Together with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the three founded the National Woman Suffrage Association and co-edited the first three volumes of the six-volume The History of Woman Suffrage. Gage came to Anthony's aid when the Suffragist was arrested for voting. She also tested the law in her own right by unsuccessfully trying to vote. In 1880. when New York State allowed women to vote in school districts where they paid their taxes, she led 102 Fayetteville women to the polls. She was also a champion for the rights of Native people and held the conviction that women should have the same equality held by Haudensaunee (Iroquois) women. The various rooms in the home of Mathilda Joslyn Gage are dedicated to her many interests.


Glenn H. Curtiss Museum (8419 State Route 54 Hammondsport, NY 14840) - Although little is mentioned about the exhibit on the website, The Glenn H. Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport dedicates an important section of its transportation museum to Women in Aviation. The exhibit includes a tribute to Ameila Earhart, as well as paying homage to the many aviatrices of the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) who, during World War II, ferried warplanes across the United States to free male pilots for combat overseas. 


Narcissa Prentiss Whitman House (7225 Browns Corners Rd, Prattsburgh, NY 14873) - Narcisssa Prentiss grew up in Prattsburgh, NY, became a teacher and married Dr. Marcus Whitman in 1836. Together, they journeyed acrosss the U.S. and she was one of the first two white women to cross the Rockies. Together, she and her husband established a mission in Oregon at a time when few settlers had traveled that far west. In addition to being Narcissa’s birthplace, the house contains artifacts, quilts, antique clothing, and a room dedicated to the Pratt family, founders of Prattsburgh. There is limited availability to visit, so be sure to check the schedule or call in advance.


Clara Barton Museum of the Red Cross (57 Elizabeth St, Dansville, NY 14437)  - Clara Barton founded the first Red Cross chapter in Dansville in 1881. This building, donated to the Red Cross in 1949 by the Noyes family, currently serves as the Chapter 1 headquarters for the Red Cross. The museum pays tribute to the role Clara Barton played in the foundation of the American Red Cross, and contains an archival collection, historic Civil War-era artifacts, and other Red Cross history memorabilia


Mary Jemison at Letchworth (Letchworth State Park, close to Portageville Entrance) - Today, on a bluff above the Middle Falls, visitors can find the marker and statue of Mary Jemison next to an original cabin built by Mary for her daughter Nancy. Across the grove is the 50′ x 20′ Revolutionary War-era Seneca Council House, discovered in Canadea, NY, preserved by Willaim Letchworth, and moved to its current location in 1871. Mary Jemison was kidnapped by the French and Shawnee as a girl and traded to the Seneca, or Hodinöhsö:ni’ people. She chose to remain among her adopted people throughout her life, marrying a Seneca man named named Hiakatoo. Through negotiations at the Treaty of Big Tree, Mary was instrumental in helping safeguard almost 18,000 acres of land known as the Gardeau Reservation.


Photos by Carol White Llewellyn.

If you know of other destinations that should bei part of this article, please send a note to us!