Learn the stories of American suffragettes and early women’s rights advocates by using this guide through the suffragette trail in upstate New York.
Many of the most important suffragettes who fought for women’s right to vote were from New York State. In 1848, a handful of women organized the first women’s rights convention attended by several hundred people in Seneca Falls, New York. Explore the history of this event and its impact on generations of female leaders with a visit to Seneca Falls and other locations along New York’s Women’s Heritage Trail. Learn the stories of these famous women in U.S. history while traveling about 350 miles from Rochester to New York City.
Stops along the way take you through the restored home of suffragette Susan B. Anthony and Eleanor Roosevelt’s Val-Kill Cottage. Relax during your trip with stops at cozy antique inns — complete with fireplaces — and sample the cuisine at historic, farm-to-table eateries.
The Crime of Voting
Start your discovery tour with a visit to civil rights champion Susan B. Anthony’s home in Rochester, the site that also served as her base of operations while campaigning for women’s voting rights over the course of decades. While there, she was famously arrested in 1872 for the “crime” of voting; she was later found guilty and fined. Women won the right to vote in New York State in 1917 and throughout the entire nation in 1920.
Now a museum and a National Historic Landmark, Susan B. Anthony’s home is fully restored in the style of the period, from the wallpaper to the woodwork. Peek into the bedroom to see the quilt that this talented women’s advocate helped sew. The alligator-skin handbag she carried across the U.S. and Europe while campaigning for women’s rights is also on display.
An hour’s drive takes you to the historic town of Seneca Falls and the Women’s Rights National Historical Park. If the town looks familiar, it’s probably because locals believe it was the inspiration for Bedford Falls, the fictional setting in Frank Capra’s holiday movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
After getting oriented at the historical park’s visitor’s center, which has a collection of exhibits and historical artifacts, take a tour of Wesleyan Chapel, where hundreds of activists gathered to sign a Declaration of Sentiments during the women’s convention. The former home of suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who organized the convention and drafted most of the declaration, is also in town. The park’s 100-foot water wall, inscribed with the words of the declaration, is a favorite stop.
Continue east to Harriet Tubman National Historical Park to view the home and grounds of this famed abolitionist and human rights leader. After emancipating herself and making more than a dozen trips to rescue and free family members and friends from slavery, she lived in the Auburn residence until her death. Nearby and also open to the public is the historic home of Matilda Joslyn Gage, a notable suffragette whose home was a station on the Underground Railroad.
Your women’s heritage tour should definitely include Shaker sites, including the Watervliet historic Shaker settlement in Colonie and the Shaker Museum in Mount Lebanon. The Shaker community was founded by Ann Lee in the late 1700s based on principles of equality, regardless of gender. The museum’s collection includes furniture, textiles, tools, and art.
Suffragette Influence and Inspiration
The women’s heritage trail continues south with a few notable stops that celebrate famous women in U.S. history who were influenced by the suffragettes. For example, Kate Mullany was a laundry worker in Troy who organized an all-female labor union in 1864. Her red brick home is now a national historic site.
The Steepletop estate in Austerlitz is the preserved home of Edna St. Vincent Millay, a renowned author in the early 1900s. She wrote about women’s rights and incorporated those themes into some of her poetry. Her gardens, gravesite, and the cabin where she often wrote are now open to the public along with the Millay Poetry Trail.
Closer to modern times, revered human rights leader Eleanor Roosevelt moved to her beloved Val-Kill cottage in Hyde Park in 1945 and lived there for the rest of her life. You can take a guided walk on the same trails she strolled.
Inns and Eateries
Upstate New York is known for its gorgeous fall foliage, picturesque towns, and historic bed and breakfast inns, so if you’re looking for a place to stay that will make you feel even more connected to the history you are learning about, you are in the right place. In Seneca Falls, try Barrister’s Bed & Breakfast Inn, a stately property dating from the1860s. In Albany, the elegant Morgan State House Inn dates back to 1884.
Check into the luxurious Aurora Inn, built in 1833, and enjoy a meal at its popular American cuisine restaurant. If you’re a fan of New York’s famed farm-to-table tradition, head to Madison Bistro in Wampsville or Blooming Hill Farm in Blooming Grove.
Driving the Women’s Heritage Trail in New York State takes you on a journey into the lives of the suffragette leaders who were pioneers for women. What historic location are you most looking forward to seeing on your next trip to New York State? Share your women’s heritage must-see sites with us on Twitter.