The roots of women's history in the Finger Lakes runs deep in Ontario County.
It has been said that well-behaved women seldom make history. If this is true, then the Finger Lakes has a long “her-story” of misbehaving.
During the 19th century, the Finger Lakes was a hotbed of activism for women's rights and all forms of equal rights. You can retrace the footsteps of some remarkable women and events with a visit to these museums, parks, and landmarks.
The native Seneca and Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) women, who lived in the region long before European settlers arrived, also played an important role in the evolution of women's rights. Jikonsaseh, known as the Mother of Nations, passed her title down through generations, and is credited for establishing the rights and responsibilities of male and female leadership role in the Iroquois Confederacy. The Seneca’s matrilineal society gave considerable influence for women, as inheritance and property were passed down through the maternal line. You can learn about the Seneca and Haudenosaunee people and their culture at Ganondagan State Historic Site.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 1816 Farmington Quaker Meetinghouse served as a crossroads for activism to promote equal rights for all, including women, Native Americans, and African Americans. The building is under restoration, but events surrounding its historical importance take place in the area on a regular basis.
The Ontario County Courthouse in Canandaigua is the site of Susan B. Anthony’s trial for voting in the 1872 presidential election. The judge steered the jury to convict her without discussion, but she refused to pay the $100 fine. Today, visitors can see the courthouse and the statue of Lady Justice standing proudly on top, including her namesake road separating the courthouse from Finger Lakes Visitors Connection, located at Susan B. Anthony Drive.
Sarah Hopkins Bradford (1818-1912) is another prominent figure in the history of women’s rights. A famous children’s book author who lived in Geneva, she was known for her “Sunday School” books that taught moral lessons to youngsters. In the late 1860s, when Harriet Tubman was struggling to keep her house in Auburn, her supporters came up with a plan to find a skilled writer to write Tubman’s biography and give the proceeds to Tubman. Bradford became that biographer and formed a close friendship with Tubman. Bradford’s Geneva home at 629 South Main Street is now the admission office for Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910) was another fixture of Geneva history, as the first woman in the United States to receive a medical degree. A bronze statue of Blackwell can be found on the campus of Hobart and William Smith Colleges where she attended then called Geneva College.