In 1872, Susan B. Anthony led fifteen other women from this house at 17 Madison Street to a polling place around the corner on West Main Street (a barbershop, at the time), to demand to be allowed to vote. She used the 14th Amendment, which defined U.S. citizens as “All persons born or naturalized in the United States,” as her justification. It worked.
Two weeks later, U.S. Marshall E. J. Keeney unhappily came to arrest Anthony for that act of civil disobedience. He didn’t want to handcuff her, but she insisted. At the trial, she was found guilty of voting illegally, though her sentence, a $100 fine, was never enforced.
Located on the west side of the city of Rochester, New York, this house is where Anthony lived for the last forty years of her life, when she wasn’t traveling around the country campaigning for, among other things, women’s right to vote.
Anthony never owned the house herself — her mother Lucy bought it in 1866, and later sold it to her sister, Mary — but while Anthony lived there she hosted and worked with such historical figures as Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who also happened to be her good friends.
The house was first purchased to be turned into a museum in 1945 by the Rochester Federation of Women’s Clubs, who had raised the money to preserve it. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1966, and tours of the house have been given since the 1970s. The site includes the Visitor Center and Museum Shop next door, in a house once owned by Anthony’s sister Hannah. Here there is a rare photograph of Anthony wearing something other than her iconic black dress, and facing forward — she usually posed in profile to hide the fact that she had one crossed eye.
The Museum has a mix of artifacts from the period, as well as some associated with Anthony herself. There is a Singer sewing machine she gave as a wedding present, a horsehair couch, a desk that was given to her and Stanton when they started their newspaper, The Revolution, and the pew Anthony and her family sat in at the First Unitarian Church of Rochester. There is also her iconic alligator-skin purse, one that she often carried with her and that has inspired generations of jump-ropers:
Call for the doctor! – Call for the nurse! – Call for the lady with the alligator purse!
“Mumps!” said the doctor. “Measles!” said the nurse. “Vote!!” said the lady with the alligator purse!!
The house is always changing, as more details about how it looked at the time Anthony lived in it are discovered. Occasionally rooms are closed to tours, but typically they include most of the first two floors, as well as the attic which Anthony had added to the house in 1895. She simply needed more room to work on the multi-volume “History of Woman Suffrage,” written with her collaborators Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage and Ida Husted Harper.
Also included is the room where she died in 1906 at the age of 86, shortly after having given her “Failure is Impossible” speech in Baltimore, but sixteen years before the group’s six-volume “History” would be completed.