How To Take A Self-Guided Historical Feminist Tour Of Upstate New York
Unless somebody wants to make my day and tell me otherwise, I'm going to assume we still haven't perfected time travel. So we're never going to be able to go back and experience for ourselves exactly what it was like for the original suffragettes fighting for women's equality in the US, back when their views were deemed controversial, threatening, and even absurd. But if you still want to try and relive the iconic history of the women's suffrage movement in 2016, the good news is that you don't need a working time machine to take yourself on a historical feminist tour of New York state and see the stories come back to life in a meaningful, impacting way. The people of I Love New York were kind enough to take me to these landmarks to see and experience it for myself.
A lot of people have some idea of the feminist origins of New York through the iconic Seneca Falls Convention and tales of Susan B. Anthony, but the feminist history of that area is actually much richer and deeper than that. Particularly in the area surrounding the Finger Lakes, the history of the movement is preserved in landmarks, museums, the homes of suffragettes, and even in the local culture. All of this is set on a backdrop of gorgeous lake views, greenery, and bustling areas that will make your visit well worth staying however long it takes to soak in the history of the surrounding areas. You can get a sense for the lake views just by taking a look at this map of the different stops.
If you want to see the scope of the feminist history of the Finger Lakes, stops in Rochester, Seneca Falls, and Syracuse will give you a proper sense for it, as well as plenty of opportunities to travel off the beaten path and learn more about the other hot spots in the area. Here are a few you should definitely have on your list.
Rochester, New York
The Main Attractions
There are love letters to Susan B. Anthony all over this city. The Susan B. Anthony House is preserved in its original location on Madison Street, along with her sister's home, which now serves as a visitor's center and gift shop. The house offers guided tours from Anthony enthusiasts and hosts events throughout the year, and gives you an awe-inspiring sense for all of the rich history that took place within its walls — including Anthony's arrest in her parlor after she tried to vote in the 1872 election, and the desk where she made all of her correspondences.
Just beyond her house is the famous statue of Susan B. Anthony having tea with Frederick Douglass, "Let's Have Tea," situated in the quaint Susan B. Anthony Park. A short drive from there is Friends Of Mount Hope Cemetery, where visitors pay homage to Susan B. Anthony by leaving a collection of rocks perched on her gravestone.
While You're There
Hungry? Visit the 1872 Café, a joint coffee and pizza place that is themed head-to-toe in celebration of the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote. (They'll get the food to you hella faster than the government gave you that voting right.)
While you're in town you can also get a sense of the local culture by visiting the eclectic ARTISANworks, which features winding rooms with radically different art themes, including an intriguing and historically-rich Marilyn Monroe-themed art room. Rochester also boasts the original Wegman's Super Store, which I only suggest visiting if you want to feel a serious brand of FOMO when you go back to your ordinary, Wegman's Super Store-less life again.
Seneca Falls, New York
The Main Attractions
When you hear Seneca Falls, your first thought is probably of the Seneca Falls Convention, the first women's rights convention held in the US in 1848. But the feminist history of the area is actually much deeper than that, preserved in the Ganondagan's Seneca Art & Culture Center in Victor, just 40 minutes outside of Seneca Falls. Featuring interactive displays, guided tours, and a replica of a 1670 Longhouse, the center highlights the culture of the Seneca and Iroquois people native to the area, as well as their traditionally matrilineal society that continues to this day.
Seneca Falls itself has enough dedicated to the history of women's suffrage in one long stretch of The Women's Rights National Historic Park, which has enough landmarks and sites to keep you occupied for the entire day, if not two. Among them is Center for Great Woman and National Women's Hall of Fame, an organization that indoctrinates and recognizes great American women. Walking through the hall will give you all kinds of insane #LifeGoals and respect for these great women, but the best part is that the center will soon be expanding to the historic Seneca Knitting Mill to become a more interactive, dynamic experience for visitors by the end of 2016.
The parks also encompasses landmarks like the Elizabeth Cady Stanton House and the Wesleyan chapel, where Stanton was one of five women to host the first National Women's Rights Convention. Seasonal tours of the Stanton home will give visitors some insight to the restlessness she felt in the town and in her position, famously saying that it made her feel like a "caged lioness," the very feeling that inspired her to fight as hard as she did for women's suffrage.
The park's visitor center also features statues of prominent figures in women's suffrage, and engaging exhibits that give a sense not just for women's suffrage in America, but women's suffrage historically across the world.
While You're There
If you're in the mood to do a little feminist shopping, check out WomanMade Products, which — plot twist — features solely products created by women. For lunch you can stop by Café XIX, a breakfast and lunch place that with sweet treats that features illustrations of prominent figures in the women's rights movement. For some extra feminist flair, stay at the Gould Hotel, which is not only highly central to all of Seneca Falls' attractions but is decorated in golds and purples in celebration of the colors of the women's suffrage movement. Also, fun fact! Seneca Falls is where the famous bridge from It's A Wonderful Life lives, and is home to the It's A Wonderful Life Museum.
A Worthwhile Detour
If you're planning to drive between Seneca Falls and Syracuse anyway, a stop in the quaint village of Aurora will offer some respite from the bustle of everywhere else. The town, home to the picturesque Wells College, also has its own history deeply rooted in women-owned business. The sprawling headquarters of MacKenzie-Childs, the well-known handcrafted pottery and furniture brand, was actually once owned by American Girl brand creator Pleasant Rowland, who brought MacKenzie-Childs out of bankruptcy in 2001 to make it the powerhouse it is today. The lush grounds, museum-like gift shop, and model home of entirely made MacKenzie-Childs are available to tour, and give visitors a sense for the care that goes into each of their artisan pieces from start to finish.
Nearby are the picturesque Inns of Aurora — among them the newly-renovated Rowland House, named after Pleasant Rowland and featuring her own pieces and designs to honor her commitment to preserving and revitalizing the village.
Just down the road from the Inns of Aurora is Long Point Winery, a woman-owned business that features a calming view of the Finger Lakes, acres of vineyard, and if you're lucky, a happy-go-lucky dog who will greet you at the door. When you're there, you can sample and discuss all of the types of wines with the very people who grow and create them for a personalized and uniquely educational wine experience.
The Main Attractions
Listen up, all ye frustrated museum goers: the Matilda Joslyn Gage House is where it's at. Although there are some parts of it that have been historically preserved in the style of the the remarkable suffragist's home, for the most part you can touch and interact with all the different facets of the museum, which is divided by rooms into separate themes that colored Gage's life. Once you finish up your tour, you can visit the sassiest gift shop of all time:
Not too far from the house is Matilda Joslyn Gage's gravesite, which features a famous quote of hers engraved in the stone: “There is a word sweeter than Mother, Home or Heaven; that word is Liberty.”
While You're There
Syracuse is also home to the famous Jerry Rescue statue, which depicts the public rescue of an imprisoned freedom-seeking former slave named William Henry (known as "Jerry"). For eats, head over to Laci's Tapas Bar to share plates with friends — but for the love of all that is delicious, make sure you get a reservation before you head over (and make sure to try the Mac 'n' Cheese Egg Rolls). If you're lucky you'll run into one of the co-owners, partners Laura and Cindy.
If you're going to get the most mileage and accessibility as you can out of this trip, I would suggest driving up or renting a car to get between the different attractions, because bus and taxi transport isn't always feasible. But the scenery will make the drives well worth it — honestly, it's so gorgeous there that every now and then you might feel sad to have to stop driving when you reach a destination, and this is coming from a New Yorker who hates driving. I'd suggest taking at least a few days to make sure you can really get the most out of this trip and still have time to experience a lot of the fun, off-the-beaten path places each locale offers.
And hey, if you're worried about taking too many vacation days to go chase the feminist historical trail, just remember the words of Elizabeth Cady Stanton: "Self-development is a higher duty than self-sacrifice."
Images: Emma Lord/Bustle; Wikimedia Commons; Ganondagan.org