In a modern era when political pundits are urging more loudly than ever that youngsters and apathetic layabouts ought to register to vote, and then actually get up off their butts and go vote at every possible opportunity, this year seemed like a good time for a bit of history and education about an era when the American government decided it was high time to basically double the size of the electorate and stop being stubborn pigs about their patriarchal chokehold on quote-unquote democracy. But first, one woman had to help convince them.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. Normally we’ll choose one major locale as our primary objective, drive that-a-way, and concentrate on exploring the vicinity for a few days before retreating.
We crafted this year’s itinerary with a different approach. Instead of choosing one city as a hub, we focused on one of the motifs that’s recurred through several of our trips: grave sites of Presidents of the United States of America. Our 2018 road trip would effectively have the format and feel of a video game side quest — collecting nine American Presidents across ten presidencies, four states, seven days, and 2000 miles…
It was 2 p.m. by the time we exited Buffalo at long last on Day Two. Despite spending more hours than intended, we still didn’t see all its points of interest. Nevertheless we had a deadline to meet and spare change to part with on the New York State Thruway. Toll roads are an inevitable part of some road trips depending on where you go. State governments in the northeast U.S. in general love toll roads like Cookie Monster loves cookies.
Apropos of our last stop, our route took us past still-existing portions of the Erie Canal, according to small signs along the way.
Our next attraction was in the city of Rochester, in a mixed-demographic residential neighborhood with narrow streets and a lovely park to one side. I followed the directions as best I could and pulled up in the last open parallel space in front of what I was 90% sure was the right house. After a moment, a gentleman walked out the door and tended to the smoking barbecue grill on his front lawn.
Then Anne pointed out our actual destination on the other side of the street, the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House. I threw the car into reverse, backed up, lurched forward, and took the last open parallel space in front of their place instead.
For those just joining us in American History 201: Susan B. Anthony was a key 19th-century activist in the suffrage movement, among the loudest trying to drum up legislation for women’s voting rights nationwide. As proclaimed in a handy timeline display at the Hayes Museum, black male slaves were granted voting rights shortly after the Civil War and decades before the same rights would be granted to any women. From 1866 until her death in 1906, Anthony and her Mary lived in Rochester and used their home as headquarters in the War on Sexist Voting Laws. Eventually their struggle was recognized and validated, and the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution became the law of the land in 1920…once 36 states agreed to ratify it, a process that took fourteen months of cajoling and foot-dragging.
(Even after its official adoption, the other twelve holdout states as of 1920 — roughly ten of them in the South — slowly signed up to join the future one by one over the next few decades. High-five to Mississippi for finally ratifying it in 1984, which I’m sure made for quite the major story on MTV News.)
We’d arrived in time to sign up for the 3:30 docent-led tour, and whiled away the extra minutes in their gift shop. For a souvenir I bought a DVD of the 2015 film Suffragette, which I didn’t realize was about British women’s voting rights, but it worked anyway. As Carey Mulligan and her costars tell it, England’s road to suffrage seemed quite the vicious battle, with much more window-smashing, bombing, and inhumane imprisonment for offenders than the American version. Despite a terrible bit of martyrdom at a horse track and one inspirational speech from special guest Meryl Streep, full suffrage wasn’t granted over there till 1928. Advantage: Susan B. Anthony.
Several of us showed up for the 3:30 tour, for which I served humbly as the token male. I was graciously accepted among their ranks and never once felt oppressed, objectified, or ostracized.
Not pictured: the bedrooms and other areas of the house containing more mundane objects from way back when. Those are a given when touring any historical house, but not exactly the selling point for us. This wouldn’t be the last historical house we’d tour on this trip, though we agree it was the more engaging of the two.
Also, the Anthony House and Museum were only part of our Sunday travel tribute to Susan B. Anthony. To be continued!
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