GENESEO — Some history is being honored in Livingston County, shedding light on the female heroes.
A Shaw Sisters Dedication Ceremony was held on Aug. 23 at 22 Main Street in Geneseo to showcase the Centennial of Women’s Suffrage in New York.
The Livingston County Historian’s Office partnered with William G. Pomeroy Foundation to make this possible through grants.
Geneseo Mayor Margaret Duff welcomed the crowd to the special event that honors female heritage.
“Thank you all for coming. Today, In Rochester, is the opening of the Seneca Falls Revisited to examine where we are in the struggle for women’s equality. I am proud to be here, and welcome you to the unveiling of two Geneseo residents who were active in the Women’s Suffrage Movement,” she said. “I want to thank Amie Alden, Livingston County Historian, or securing a grant with William G. Pomeroy Foundation to erect this historical roadside marker. I also want to thank Marilyn Dragoni for supporting this unveiling at her home.”
Duff added that the colors purple, gold, and white were used to the suffragettes to symbolize the movement.
“The Shaw sisters (Nicolas and Eleanor) were born approximately 20 years after the Women’s Convention in Seneca Falls that started the struggle for Women’s Rights,” she said. “Voting was only one item in the 16 Grievances and 12 Resolutions laid out in the Declaration of Sentiments. It was the one that caused the most discomfort.”
“Here we are today, 170 years after that convention, 101 years after women gained the vote in New York, and 99 years after Congress passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution,” Duff continued. “The fact that the Shaw Sisters were still fighting this fight in their lifetime speaks to the courage and perseverance of the men and women who saw this as essential. Standing up for what you believe in takes courage and perseverance. As evidence by the history of the Suffrage Movement, many never see the results of their labor. The Shaw Sisters did. I am very grateful to them all.”
Amie Alden, Livingston County Historian talked about the importance of this day that honors Nicolas Shaw Fraser and Eleanor Shaw Smith at their original home on 22 Main Street.
“This day is about where we were, and about how far we have come. I am so appreciate that so many people have come today. It is always a privilege to be part of anything like this,” she said. “I want to thank Holly Watson, who has recently been appointed Deputy County Historian. She is the first in the county. She makes my work life feel so much less stressful. I hope it is the beginning of a long relationship.”
William Wadsworth made history when he brought the Fraser’s to Geneseo. Prof. Fraser established the Agriculture Farm at Cornell University. The Wadsworth’s brought him here to advance the area in fruit and vegetable production.
“I have spent the last 20 years researching women’s experiences in Livingston County, and trying to uncover the details of their distinctive social, economic, and political world. This is an essential dimension of our shared history that I feel has been in the shadow for far too long,” Alden said. “Why these ladies? Why are they significant? In my research once in a while you discover something you didn’t expect. I came across these two ladies time and time again in my Women’s Suffrage research.”
“Nicolas and Eleanor were on the front lines of the two largest reform movements that changed America. Their involvement and direct connection to the highest levels of the suffrage and temperance movements were intertwined,” Alden continued. “Their stories I feel for a long time exemplified the dedication of those who endured the suffrage movement across the country towards progress. Livingston County was a hotbed for progressive reform in mid to late 19th century. This was not the outpost. This was a place where people really wanted to be.”
Alden said that this county was a place women came together to organize and fight for what they believe in.
James Wadsworth at the other end of Main Street and his wife, Alice, were part of the National Anti-Suffrage Party. They had a stronghold on the area, and this made it very hard on the Shaw Sisters and others.
“Imagine two of the most influential people not just in the state, but in the whole country just a half-a-mile away trying to undo everything they worked for,” Alden said. “I think this actually sparked the Shaw Sisters determination. They were inspired by their trailblazing aunt the Rev. Dr. Anna Howard Shaw that put her nieces under her wing. As a female physician and one of the first Methodist pastors and renowned national and international temperance leaders; her far reaching influence no doubt opened doors for the Shaw Sisters. The sisters went on to empower all woman.”
David Parish, Geneseo Town Historian, thanked Alden for bringing honor to generations of Geneseo women. He went on to honor other women in the area for saving the old village park, first female county clerk, and the employer at the jam kitchen who hired Nicolas Shaw Fraser.
Alden told Genesee Country Express that by 2020 she plans on having a Historical Women Trail in Livingston County to honor the 100 years of women right to vote. She wants to honor the women leaders in every village and town in the county. Taking on a project like this is a lot of work, and will be a beautiful testament to the power of equality.
If any organization wishes to help with this historic project contact Amie Alden at 5 Murray Hill Drive in Mount Morris or call 585-243-7955.
(Note: It was discovered too late that the Shaw sister named Nicholas is actually spelled Nicolas in history. The name appears as Nicholas on the marker.)