Women in the World of Frederick Douglass by Leigh Fought

Women in the World of Frederick Douglass by Leigh Fought, at the San Francisco Public Library

I just finished this book about Frederick Douglass by scholar Leigh Fought. I’m at the library right now, about to turn it back in, and have that feeling of afterglow which follows reading a fascinating story while gaining much deeper understanding of a subject that’s long inspired me.

Not only did I get to know the character and work of Douglass much better, his struggles, triumphs, mistakes, virtues, flaws, and motivations, I learned about the ways in which women shaped his life and ideas and made his work possible. I had uncovered pieces of this larger story when following his life and ideas last year, but Fought’s work tells this larger story fully and compellingly and then some. This not only a book about these personalities and how they met, fell in love, collaborated, clashed, helped, betrayed, and so on, but it’s about the real human side behind the various social movements Douglass and the women in his life were a part of. And for many, still a part of, through their memory and influence. It’s about the antislavery movement, the women’s rights movement, the suffrage movements, the worker’s rights movement, the Civil War, the formation of the Republican Party as a free soil, pro-Union party and its after-war (what I consider) devolution into the economy-above-all party, and many other potent movements shaping and reshaping American society.

I very highly recommend this book, and think you’ll love it as I do.

Enjoy!

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The “Woman’s Rights” Man: A New Book on Women in Frederick Douglass’s World, by Ibram X. Kendi

Left: Leigh Fought, image Le Moyne College; right, Anna Douglass, image Library of Congress

The author of Women in the World of Frederick Douglass is Leigh Fought. Professor Fought is an associate professor of history at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York. She was an associate editor on the first volume of Frederick Douglass’s correspondence at the Frederick Douglass Papers, published by Yale University Press in 2009. Her previous books includes Southern Womanhood and Slavery: A Biography of Louisa McCord (University of Missouri Press, 2003) and Mystic, Connecticut: From Pequot Village to Tourist Town (History Press, 2006). Professor Fought earned her Ph.D. in U.S. history from the University of Houston and a Master of Library Science degree from Simmons College in Boston.

In his extensive writings, Frederick Douglass revealed little about his private life. His famous autobiographies present him overcoming unimaginable trials to gain his freedom and establish his identity—all in service to his public role as an abolitionist. But in both the public and domestic spheres, Douglass relied on a complicated array of relationships with women: white and black, slave-mistresses and family, political collaborators and intellectual companions, wives and daughters. The great man needed them throughout a turbulent life that was never so linear and self-made as he often wished to portray it.In Women in the World of Frederick Douglass, Leigh Fought illuminates the life of the famed abolitionist off the public stage. She begins with the women he knew during his life as a slave: his mother, from whom he was separated; his grandmother, who raised him; his slave mistresses, including the one who taught him how to read; and his first wife, Anna Murray, a free woman who helped him escape to freedom and managed the household that allowed him to build his career. Fought examines Douglass’s varied relationships with white women—including Maria Weston Chapman, Julia Griffiths, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Ottilie Assing—who were crucial to the success of his newspapers, were active in the antislavery and women’s movements, and promoted his work nationally and internationally. She also considers Douglass’s relationship with his daughter Rosetta, who symbolized her parents’ middle class prominence but was caught navigating between their public and private worlds. Late in life, Douglass remarried to a white woman, Helen Pitts, who preserved his papers, home, and legacy for history.

By examining the circle of women around Frederick Douglass, this work brings these figures into sharper focus and reveals a fuller and more complex image of the self-proclaimed “woman’s rights man.”

In this well-researched and richly textured book, Leigh Fought gives us a fascinating new view into the life and times of one our most famous and revered figures: Frederick Douglass. As he freely acknowledged, women helped make Douglass the man he became. So we, too, are in debt to the women whose stories come so vividly alive in these pages.”—Annette Gordon-Reed, author of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

Ibram X. Kendi: What are the principle findings or arguments of the book? What do you hope readers take away from reading it?

Leigh Fought: Frederick Douglass would not have become one of the greatest black activists of the nineteenth century without the work of women. This was not the cliché “behind every great man is a woman.” Women played a central role in his intellectual development, his independence as a man and activist, his economic well-being, his challenge to racial stereotypes and prohibitions, and the persistence of his place in history.

When I started this project, I was simply interested in finding more about all of these women who seemed as fascinated by Douglass as I was, except that they actually knew him. I also thought that the project would be synthetic. As it turned out, others had expressed little curiosity about most of the women themselves, with the exception of those women who merited their own biographies. Then, as I began to reconstruct the lives of the women from original research in order to explain their interaction with Douglass, I began to see a feminine space around him, much like the concept of a “negative space” in art. That feminine space, like most feminine spaces, was where the real action took place. If you want to know about a life, that is the place you have to investigate.

In Women in the World of Frederick Douglass, readers will meet a host of fascinating, resourceful women, some of whom might otherwise remain footnotes. The women featured in this book had the most dramatic influence on Douglass’s life, but they also had their own agendas and contexts that explain the ebb and flow of their relationships with Douglass, as well as his respect for or sympathy with them. The abuse suffered by slave women and the capitulation of white women to the institution of slavery shaped his childhood, laying the foundation for the man he became. In his adulthood, each woman at some point formed a partnership with Douglass to advance a cause against racism that extended beyond abolition and the end of slavery. His relationships with all of these women exposed the variety of ways that gender and race were employed as tools of oppression. At the same time, he and they mobilized their resistance along those very same lines. While the story of women in Douglass’s world does not preclude other actors or influences in his life, by bringing them into focus their biographies add nuance and deeper understanding to his.

This piece was originally published at Black Perspectives, the blog of the AAIHS, on May 1st, 2017, the release date of Ms. Fought’s book

Ibram X. Kendi is the associate editor of Black Perspectives. He is the author of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (Nation, 2016), which won the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction. In August, Kendi begins a new position as Professor of History and International Relations and the Founding Director of the Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center at American University. Follow him on Twitter @DrIbram.

~ Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Interview with Leigh Fought on Anna and Frederick Douglass

In my research and fact-checking for the final installment of my travel series following the life and ideas of Frederick Douglass, I stumbled on this recommendation on John Muller’s blog again. Thank you for this, John, and I’ve relied heavily on your work for my D.C. travels, I couldn’t have done it as enjoyably and as thoroughly without you!

Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia

Anna Murray DouglassIf you haven’t reviewed the Douglass travel writing at “Ordinary Philosophy,” you should!

In the meantime, check out an interview with Prof. Leigh Fought here!

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New Podcast Episode: Frederick Douglass Rochester NY Sites, Day 2

Douglass scholarship articles and posters, Dr. David Anderson's office, Nazareth College Rochester, 2016 Amy CoolsListen to this podcast episode here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

Tenth day, Tuesday March 29th

I begin my day with an early visit to Dr. David Anderson, a Frederick Douglass scholar, visiting professor at Nazareth College, founding member of Blackstorytelling League, and an all around delightful and fascinating man! He is kind enough to grant me an interview of an hour or so, which ends up turning into a much longer conversation than that.

Among many other things too numerous to describe in full here (I’ll bring more details of our talk into the discussion of my subsequent discoveries), we talk about the Douglass family as a whole, and especially, Frederick Douglass’ wife Anna…. Read the written account here:

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, entirely supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Frederick Douglass Seneca Falls, Canandaigua, Honeoye, and Mt Hope Cemetery Sites

Women's Rights National Historical Park headquarters, Seneca Falls NY

Women’s Rights National Historical Park headquarters, Seneca Falls NY

Eleventh day, Tuesday March 30th

It’s a beautiful, clear sunny day, and the chill of the morning gives way to a balmy afternoon. I drive about an hour east and slightly to the south, through the lovely Finger Lakes region of New York to Seneca Falls.

I’m here to visit what’s now the Women’s Rights National Historical Park, which is headquartered at 136 Fall Street in Seneca Falls. I begin with the reconstructed Wesleyan Church next door at Fall and Mynderse Streets, the site of that momentous occasion which brings me here. I’ve long wanted to visit this place and had hoped to do so during my history of ideas travel series about Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but didn’t have enough time during that trip to make the journey, about a five hour drive from New York City one-way. But here I am at long last.

Wesleyan Chapel, site of 1st Women's Rights Convention, Seneca Falls NY, 2016 A Cools

Wesleyan Chapel, the site of the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention of 1848

Interior of the rebuilt and restored Wesleyan Church. It went through several remodels and incarnations as various businesses, but much of the original brickwork remained, including some of the original plaster underneath layers of paint and later interior walls

Interior of the rebuilt and restored Wesleyan Church where the Convention was held. It went through several remodels and incarnations as various businesses, but much of the original brickwork remained, including some of the original plaster underneath layers of paint and later interior walls, now preserved beneath sheets of plexiglass

On July 19th and 20th of 1848, Frederick Douglass attended the Women’s Rights Convention here, the first women’s rights convention in the United States. This convention grew out of the abolitionist cause, directly and indirectly, to which Douglass had dedicated his life.

1848 Seneca Falls Woman's Rights Convention commemorative plaque in the Wesleyan Chapel

1848 Seneca Falls Woman’s Rights Convention commemorative plaque in the Wesleyan Chapel, placed here on the 60th anniversary of the Convention in 1908

Directly, Stanton and her fellow abolitionist Lucretia Mott were incensed that they were forced to sit in a segregated balcony at the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, along with all of the other female attendees. To make matters worse, women were not allowed to speak during the proceedings at all. Stanton and Mott planned to do something about the injustice that pervaded even this supposed haven of enlightened humanity. At Seneca Falls, they did, though Stanton’s activist efforts had been delayed, as would continue to be the case for many years, by frequent childbearing and resulting family responsibilities, to Susan B. Anthony’s dismay.

Indirectly, the women’s rights movement had, for many, come to be identified with the abolitionist movement, as many realized that many of the same and similar arguments for the liberation of black people applied to the liberation of women. If all human beings were equal in that they shared the same basic human nature and dignity (which according to many, was bestowed by God), they were entitled to the same political rights as any other person and had the same moral claim to just and kind treatment by their fellow human beings. If this were true for black people and for people of other races, how could this not be true for women? Women’s consciousness of their subjugated status had been growing for a long time, but it was the reform era of Stanton and Douglass that saw the first serious efforts to enact more substantial, comprehensive laws to protect and establish the political and social rights of women.

Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton sculptures at the Women's Rights National Historical Park museum, part of the 'First Wave' sculpture group by Lloyd Lillie

Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton sculptures at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park museum, part of the ‘First Wave’ sculpture group by Lloyd Lillie

It was here that Douglass met Stanton in 1848, and they became lifelong friends, though their relationship was deeply strained at times by the same disagreements and racist rhetoric over the 14th and 15th Amendments that had marred his friendship with Susan B. Anthony. (You may remember the story of Stanton’s bad behavior in my earlier account of visiting other New York sites.) I like to imagine the tiny 5′ 3″ Stanton and the over 6′ tall Douglass, both indomitable, both intellectually gifted, sometimes deep in conversation, and sometimes delivering speeches in their very different yet forceful and convincing rhetorical styles. Douglass was the only black person in attendance at the Convention, and not only was he the only man who stood in favor of Stanton’s initial motion for a resolution calling for women’s suffrage, he was the only one to do so at first. It was initially too controversial even for most of the attendees, who were calling for better property and child custody rights. He delivered one of his trademark eloquent speeches in favor of Stanton’s motion, and it was so convincing that it passed by a narrow majority, though unfortunately, the resulting storm of media criticism caused many to withdraw their names afterwards.

Douglass’ feminism was inspired by gratitude as well as his sense of justice and intellectual commitment to logical consistency. As he wrote in his Life and Times ‘Observing woman’s agency, devotion, and efficacy in pleading the cause of the slave, gratitude for this high service early moved me to give favorable attention to the subject of what is called “woman’s rights” and caused me to be denominated a women’s-rights man. I am glad to say I have never been ashamed to be thus designated. Recognizing …moral intelligence and the ability to discern right from wrong, good from evil, and the power to choose between them, as the true basis of republican government, to which all are alike subject and all bound alike to obey, I was not long in reaching the conclusion that there was no foundation in reason or justice for woman’s exclusion from the right of choice in the selection of the persons who should frame the laws…’ (Autobiographies 906-07).

Soujourner Truth statue and plaque at the Women's Rights National Historical Park, and 'The Truth Sings' quilt by Alice Gant, on temporary display

Soujourner Truth statue and plaque at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park, and ‘The Truth Sings’ quilt by Alice Gant on temporary display

Among the varied and fascinating exhibits I see at the museum, I find two of Sojourner Truth: one a statue with a plaque telling of her momentous ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’ speech, and another a quilt, which warms my heart because as you may already know, I’m a quilter myself. Douglass referred to Sojourner Truth as his ‘good old friend’ and like Douglass, though she hoped for a peaceful end to slavery, she came to believe that war would be necessary. In an instance that he relates in his Life and Times, Truth asked him: ‘Frederick, is God dead?’ He answered: ‘No, and because God is not dead slavery can only end in blood.’ Douglass’ answer reflects sentiments found in Thomas Jefferson’s remark on slavery ‘I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just’ and in Abraham Lincoln’s words from his Second Inaugural Address: ‘Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue …until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, ….so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether’.

Gerit Smith, Theodosia Smith, and Frederick Douglass share an antislavery podium. This photo reproduction is on display at the Seneca Fall WRNHP

Gerit Smith, Theodosia Smith, and Frederick Douglass share an antislavery podium. This photo reproduction is on display at the Seneca Fall WRNHP

An interesting fact I learned at the Seneca Falls museum: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Gerit Smith, Douglass’ great friend, mentor, and political ally, were cousins, and she met her future husband at Smith’s house. Smith was a philanthropist, radical politician, reformer, and activist, and a profound influence on Douglass, whose shift in views on the role of politics in reform and the correct interpretation of the Constitution brought them in closely in line with Smith’s own. Smith provided financial and moral support for Douglass’ North Star and rallied his friends to do the same, and Douglass threw his support behind Smith’s successful run for Congress in 1852, though not his unsuccessful run as a Radical Abolitionist presidential candidate against Republican Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Douglass’ pragmatism ruled in this instance, and he supported the candidacy of the latter.

Smith was also a supporter of John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, a story which we’ll return to in my next travel account.

Gerit and Ann Smith, photos from the Hutchinson family scrapbook at the Lynn Museum and Historical Society

Gerit and Ann Smith, photos from the Hutchinson family scrapbook at the Lynn Museum and Historical Society

Elizabeth Cady Stanton's house in Seneca Falls, NY

Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s house in Seneca Falls, NY

An interior view of Elizabeth Cady Stanton's House, Seneca Falls

An interior view of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s House, Seneca Falls

After a thorough tour of the exhibits, I continue to Stanton’s house. Though it’s on the other side of the river, it’s officially part of the park, which includes other locations of significance in the women’s rights movement here in Seneca Falls and one in neighboring Waterloo. It appears now a very simple clapboard affair, though I learn from the Park Service historical sign that it had been about twice the size that it is now and the Stantons had a lot of work done to make it a comfortable and lovely home, naming it ‘Grassmere’ after poet William Wordsworth’s place. But Stanton was restless here, missing the busy social life she had enjoyed in Boston and bored with full-time housekeeping and child-rearing. The convention revived her spirits, as did traveling to speak at subsequent women’s rights conventions in Rochester and elsewhere, and her collaboration with Anthony, which lasted for the rest of her life. They met here in Seneca Falls three years after the 1848 convention, introduced to each other by Amelia Bloomer, for whom the early-feminist long-puffy-pants were named and which Stanton and Anthony could not be persuaded to adopt. They wanted to be taken seriously and felt the strange pants would distract from the message of their cause. They were right.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton house historical marker, with the Seneca River in the background

Elizabeth Cady Stanton house historical marker, with the Seneca River in the background

Main St, Canandaiga, NY

Main St, Canandaigua, NY

Canandaigua Courthouse, site of Susan B. Anthony Trial

Canandaigua Courthouse, site of Susan B. Anthony Trial

 Canandaiga's City Hall, NY

Canandaiga’s City Hall, NY

I continue my travels east toward my next destination via Canandaigua, a town which had come up in my discussion with Douglass scholar David Anderson and my visit to the Susan B. Anthony House in Rochester.

I find myself first at the Ontario County Courthouse on Main St at Ontario, where Susan B. Anthony was put on trial for voting in 1873. As I speculated in the account of my second day in Rochester, Douglass must have been proud.

Douglass was a keynote speaker at the August 4th, 1857 celebration here, of the West Indies Emancipation of August 1st, 1834, when the approxomately 750,000 slaves of the British West Indies were freed, at least formally. Douglass addressed his remarks to ‘Mr. President’, by whom he meant Austin Steward. Steward was a friend and important influence on Douglass, and according to David Anderson, the Douglass scholar I talked with yesterday, he asked, if Britain can separate from slavery, why not the United States?

Steward fled slavery and gained his freedom in 1813. He become a successful Rochester businessman, a writer of one of the great slavery narratives Twenty-Two Years a Slave, and Forty Years a Freeman, and was President of the Board of Managers for the Wilberforce colony in Canada, founded as a haven for black people fleeing oppressive laws in Ohio.

Excerpt from speech at Canandaigua, NY, 1857 on Frederick Douglass statue in Rochester

Excerpt from speech at Canandaigua NY in 1857, on the pedestal of the Frederick Douglass monument / statue in Rochester’s Highland Park

I haven’t been able to uncover the exact location where Douglass gave his famed speech here, the speech that yielded one of his most famous quotes: ‘If there is no struggle, there is no progress’. According to the sources I do find, there were parades. I’m guessing they would have happened on Main Street, perhaps beginning or ending at City Hall as many public celebrations of civic events do.

Austin Steward is buried in here in Canandaigua. I’m rapidly running out of time for the day and I still have several places to visit and many miles to drive, so I press on and don’t seek his burial site today, as much as I wish to. But if you have the chance to visit, he was buried at West Avenue Cemetery in 1860. Please pay my respects for me until and if I have the opportunity to do so myself.

I continue east, a lovely drive of one hour on Highway 20A to where it turns into West Main St in Honeoye. My destination is the Pitts mansion, located just west of Church St which t-bones northward off W. Main. On the north side of the street, there’s a two-story white house with a pointy roofed little front door porch, and a prominent historical marker out front.

Gideon Pitts House, Honeoye, NY, home of the father of Helen Pitts Douglass

Gideon Pitts House, Honeoye, NY, home of the father of Helen Pitts Douglass

Near the end of January in 1884, the newly married widower Douglass and his wife Helen Pitts Douglass traveled to Honeoye to visit her father and his old acquaintance and fellow abolitionist, Gideon Pitts. They had known each other since the 1840’s, and Helen may even have met Douglass when she was a child. Despite his abolitionist beliefs and old ties to Douglass, Pitts did not allow Douglass to enter the house. Pitts was far from the only one of Douglass’ friends and colleagues to disapprove of their marriage; interracial marriage was widely seen as a step too far even by many of the most committed abolitionists. But some stood by him, as you may remember from my earlier accounts. This was Stanton’s opportunity to stand by him as he had stood by her 36 years ago at Seneca Falls, and she did so by writing him a letter of congratulations, which was kept out of the press only at the urging of Susan B. Anthony, always on the defense against anything that might hurt the women’s suffrage cause. Stanton had become more radical and nonconformist by this time, and had discarded the racist rhetoric and attitudes she had adopted in the fight over the 14th and 15th Amendments.

Anthony Family Farm photo, Susan B. Anthony House Museum, Rochester NY

Anthony Family Farm photo reproduction in an exhibit at Susan B. Anthony House Museum, Rochester NY. The photo is flipped from the original digitized on the University of Rochester website, see links below.

Brooks Ave and Thurston Rd, near Anthony farm site in Rochester NY

Brooks Ave and Thurston Rd near Anthony farm site in Rochester NY

Looking down a private road toward the Anthony family lands and farm site, Thurston, Genessee Park and Brooks, Rochester, 2016 A Cools

Looking south from Brooks Ave down a private road, between Thurston Rd and Genessee Park Blvd, toward the Anthony family farm and general direction of the house site

I return to Rochester by continuing east on 20A, then the 390 north, to the easterly outskirts of town near the airport where the Anthony family land and farmhouse used to be. The house stood on a rise not far from Brooks Ave, somewhere between Genessee Park Blvd and Thurston Rd, on an elevation south of Brooks. Susan B. Anthony lived here until 1862; she moved into the house I visited on my second day in Rochester in 1865, with her sister Mary and her mother Lucy.

Douglass was a regular visitor at this house around 1850, where friends and fellow reformers would gather. Anthony ran the farm at this time while her father was away working in Syracuse, and took care of her ailing mother; the next year, she would meet Stanton and they would begin their lifetime partnership as women’s rights activists, which took her away from home for long periods. Daniel and Lucy Anthony, Susan’s parents, were progressive Hicksite Quakers like Douglass’ close friends Amy and Isaac Post, and like the Posts, were proponents of women’s rights and ardent abolitionists. Their farmhouse here, then in the town of Gates, and Susan’s cousin Asa’s house not far away at 446 Post Ave (I don’t make it to this house today), were stops on the Underground Railroad. Douglass told of one occasion around this time of a warning that they received about a slave catcher pursuing three escapees, one of whom was sheltering at the Douglasses’, one at Asa Anthony’s farm, and another in Farmington 18 miles away. The Rochester abolitionists helped spirit the men away to freedom in Canada via Lake Ontario, as they helped so many others escaping through here.

Mt Hope Cemetery Gate, photo 2016 by Amy Cools

Entrance to Mt. Hope Cemetery

My last destination of the day, and the last Douglass site I’ll visit in Rochester, is Mt Hope Cemetery just a couple miles west of here off Mt Hope Avenue. It’s lovely, warm, gently breezy, and just a little cloudy when I arrive at the cemetery. I park in front of the administrative offices at the Mt Hope entrance, which is the southernmost entrance on Mt Hope Ave north of Elmwood Ave, between Stewart and Langslow Streets. Heading east into the cemetery, I take the first little road to the right, called Fifth Ave, passing two crossroads and a pond to the left. I come to a little gravel path on my right marked with a historical marker, and take that path to a tall obelisk gravestone on the left (the kind that looks like the Washington Monument). There’s another little gravel path at that corner that turns left, helpfully marked with a pointer sign. The path ends at the Douglass family plot. When I arrive, I’m alone, and it’s peaceful.

Historical marker en route to gravesites of Frederick Douglass and his family at Mt Hope Cemetery in Rochester NY

Historical marker en route to gravesites of Frederick Douglass and his family at Mt Hope Cemetery in Rochester NY

Douglass’ own large central gravestone is prominently marked with brass letters and two rosettes that have weathered to a bright pale green. The taller stone monument behind reads, on the front: ‘To the Memory of Frederick Douglass, 1817 – 1895, erected by his sons Lewis H. and Charles R….’. These are the two sons that fought with the Union Army which their father was so instrumental in integrating. Douglass’ other son, Frederick Jr, had died about two and a half years before Douglass, on August 4th, 1892. On the left side, the monument reads: ‘Anna, Wife of Frederick Douglass, Died 1882’ and on the right, ‘Annie Douglass, Daughter, Died 1860′. She died nine days before her 11th birthday, while Douglass was in Glasgow following his flight from possible arrest in connection with the John Brown case, which we’ll return to in my next account. Douglass hurriedly returned, and he and Anna grieved together.

The return of Anna’s remains to Rochester to be buried next to Annie and her husband is a fascinating story which is generally left out or told incorrectly in Douglass biographies; to hear the story, please listen to my interview with Douglass scholar Leigh Fought.

Gravestones and burial monument of Frederick and Anna, Douglass and their children, and of second wife Helen Pitts Douglass

Gravestones and burial monument of Frederick and Anna, Douglass and their children, and of second wife Helen Pitts Douglass

His second wife, Helen Pitts Douglass, is buried to his left. On her stone, under her name, is engraved ‘…Widow of orator and statesman Frederick Douglass. Through her vision his greatness was memorialized at Cedar Hill in Washington D.C., Mrs. Douglass was the founder of the Frederick Douglass Historical and Memorial Association.’ For the next eight years of her life, following Douglass’ death on February 20th of 1895, she made it her life’s work to preserve and promote his memory and those of his family.

I linger here awhile, to reflect and to rest, I don’t know for how long. After some time, I rouse myself: the cemetery is only open for a little while longer and I have a little more seeking to do.

Historical marker en route to Susan B. Anthony's gravesite

Historical marker en route to Susan B. Anthony’s gravesite

Susan B. and Mary S. Anthony headstones, with Daniel and Lucy Anthony family monument behind and to the right

Susan B. and Mary S. Anthony headstones, with Daniel and Lucy Anthony family monument behind and to the right

His friend Susan B Anthony is also buried here. I return to the main path and wind my way up north and to the left. The path continues to curve around, going up to a rise above a chapel-like structure. A little ways down, just past a tall stone monument on the right crowned with a figure of a young woman holding two tablets propped on her lap, there’s another historical marker and a pointer sign directing you down a gravel path that soon turns right. I follow it where it leads back down parallel to the way I came. A little ways before you see another tall obelisk to the left, there’s a modest little white gravestone on the same side of the path with a rounded top. It’s engraved, simply, ‘Susan B. Anthony, February 15, 1820, March 13, 1906’. Next to her stone is that of her sister Mary, who lived with her in the Rochester house I visited yesterday on Madison St. She was a teacher and in many other ways a wonderful and fascinating woman in her own right. For example, she insisted on equal pay to accept a school principle’s job and stood her ground, refusing to take the job until they agreed, making her the first female teacher to receive a salary equal to a man’s in the state of New York. The Anthony sisters are buried next to their parents, Daniel and Lucy, who instilled the Quaker belief in their daughters that women and men are equal in moral worth and insisted on their receiving the full education generally only given to men. Many other members of the Anthony family are buried here too.

 Amy and Isaac Post headstones at Mt Hope Cemetery, Rochester NY

Amy and Isaac Post headstones at Mt Hope Cemetery, Rochester NY

Amy and Isaac Post sign at site of their house, now the Hochstein School, 2016 A Cools

Amy and Isaac Post sign at site of their house, which is now occupied by the Hochstein School, Rochester NY

While walking back toward the front gate in hopes of finding one last burial place, the security officer driving by tells me it’s just past six, and the cemetery is closed. The time had flown so fast! He’s kind and lets me stay a little longer, since there’s a car broken down in the cemetery waiting for a tow anyway and he has to wait to close up. So I hurry on. I return to the split road entrance to the cemetery from the parking lot at the Mt. Hope entrance, and this time, take it left for just a bit, then take the first right turn onto Evergreen. I pass Second Ave and go about halfway down the next plot to my left. I wander a little and get a little lost, but I’ll skip that part and tell you where I find the easy route: looking to the left from (south of) Evergreen into area 2, you can see a very tall pillar topped with a robed figure pointing to the sky, and just beyond that, what looks like a little stone house. Head straight between the two into the rows of stones, and pretty much directly east of the little stone house, you’ll find a taller, older stone marked just ‘Post’ and one row to the east of that, two stones side by side reading ‘Isaac Post, 1800-1872’ and ‘Amy Kirby Post, 1803-1889’. As you may remember from my account of my first day in Rochester, Douglass and progressive reformers Amy and Isaac Post were very close friends, from the mid 1840’s until their deaths. I was touched the other day when I read this quote from a letter Douglass wrote in April  of 1846, posted on the wall of the Hochstein school at the former site of the Posts’ home:  ‘Amy your family was always dear — very dear to me, you loved me and treated me as a brother before the world knew me as it now does’. It is a rare and precious thing to find such friends.

The cemetery is closed, and I must leave. But my journey is not over…

*Listen to the podcast version here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

~ Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

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Sources and inspiration:

Austin Steward‘. Find a Grave website

Douglass, Frederick. Autobiographies (includes Narrative…, My Bondage and My Freedom, and Life and Times). With notes by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Volume compilation by Literary Classics of the United States. New York: Penguin Books, 1994.

Douglass, Frederick. ‘Two Speeches, one on the West India Emancipation, the other on the Dred Scott Decision.‘, published in 1857 by C.P. Dewey, Rochester NY, digitized by the Central Library of Rochester

DuBois, Ellen. ‘Reconstruction and the Battle for Woman Suffrage‘. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History website

Elizabeth Cady Stanton‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Fought, Leigh. ‘Honeoye, Part 2‘. Frederick Douglass’s Women: in Progress blog

The Frederick Douglass Encyclopedia, ed Julius E. Thompson, James L. Conyers Jr., Nancy J. Dawson. Greenwood Press.

Frederick Douglass Project Writings: West India Emancipation.’ From the University of Rochester Frederick Douglass Project, River Campus Libraries website

Gerrit Smith‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Heritage Documentation Programs: Wesleyan Chapel‘. National Park Service website

Jaschik, Sue. ‘Lucy Read Anthony and Daniel Anthony‘. Epitaph, by the Friends of the Mount Hope Cemetery, Vol 26 No. 1, Winter 2006, found the University of Rochester website

Lewis, David. ‘Steward, Austin (1793-1869)‘. Blackpast.org

Morry, Emily. ‘Susan B. Anthony’s Rural Roots‘. Local History Rocs! blog by Rochester’s Public Library Local History and Genealogy Division

Muller, John. ‘Death Knocked on the Door of the Frederick Douglass Family Too Often…’ Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia blog

Pierce, Preston E. ‘Main Street Guided History Walk: Special Walking Tour of Lower North Main Street Cannadaigua.’ Ontario County website

Pitts Mansion – Honeoye, NY‘. Waymarking.com

Schmitt, Victoria Sandwick. ‘Rochester’s Frederick Douglass Part One‘ and ‘Rochester’s Frederick Douglass Part Two‘. Rochester History journal, Vol. LXVII Summer 2005 No. 3 and Vol. LXVII Fall 2005 No. 4. McFeely, William. Frederick Douglass. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1991.

Seneca Falls Convention‘. In The Encyclopedia of New York State (from selected entries published online)

Truth, Sojourner. ‘Ain’t I A Woman?’ Delivered 1851, Women’s Rights Convention, Akron, Ohio.  National Park Service website

Wellman, Judith. ‘The Seneca Falls Convention: Setting the National Stage for Women’s Suffrage.’ The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History website

The West Indian Colonies and Emancipation‘. From the Living Heritage: Parliament and Empire series, at Parliament.uk

The Trial of Susan B. Anthony: A Short Narrative‘. History of the Federal Judiciary, Federal Judicial Center website

Women’s Rights National Historical Park website, National Park Service

Frederick Douglass, Rochester NY Sites Day 2

Douglass scholarship articles and posters, Dr. David Anderson's office, Nazareth College Rochester, 2016 Amy Cools

Articles, posters, and mementos of Frederick Douglass scholarship and events, Dr. David Anderson’s office, Nazareth College of Rochester

Tenth day, Tuesday March 29th

I begin my day with an early visit to Dr. David Anderson, a Frederick Douglass scholar, visiting professor at Nazareth College, founding member of Blackstorytelling League, and an all around delightful and fascinating man! He is kind enough to grant me an interview of an hour or so, which ends up turning into a much longer conversation than that.

Among many other things too numerous to describe in full here (I’ll bring more details of our talk into the discussion of my subsequent discoveries), we talk about the Douglass family as a whole, and especially, Frederick Douglass’ wife Anna.

As discussed in the account of my day in Lynn, Anna took in piecework from Lynn’s thriving shoe industry, attaching uppers to soles, to help support the family. According to Anderson, she brought in enough money doing this to put all of the money which Douglass sent home from his 1845-1847 British Isles tour into the bank. This is but one example of Anna’s hard work and skill as a household manager. The extent of Anna’s contributions to Frederick’ life is often overlooked, Anderson says: if people understood the degree to which Frederick relied on Anna, emotionally as well as logistically, people would understand much more about him too. From the beginning of their relationship, Anna supported his efforts to better himself and to make his escape, selling some of her belongings to fund it and helping him to plan it all out. Anna made the Douglass family home a happy one, and for many stretches especially in Douglass’ earlier years as a traveling speaker, she was often the sole financial support of the family. And when Frederick away on his innumerable meetings and lecture tours, she sent clean clothes ahead to wherever he was traveling, so he was always ready to appear in public neat, tidy, and comfortable.

Anna Douglass circa 1860, image from the Library of Congress collection

Anna Douglass circa 1860, image from the Library of Congress collection

Anna did all of this though she could not read or write. As Anderson points out, people often confuse illiteracy with lack of intelligence, and this simple fact, in addition to the general reticence of her personality, has long caused many to write her off as an influential or even very significant figure in Frederick’s life. In fact, she was resourceful, orderly, dignified, creative, and kept their ever-changing and complex life as the family of a traveling speaker and activist together, all while taking care of their constant flow of house guests, including Underground Railroad refugees. As she had been in Lynn, Anna was initially a member of the local Anti-Slavery Society but withdrew at some point. Anderson says it was because of apparent disdain of some of the members for Anna, perhaps because of her lack of education. I ask Anderson if the Society was elitist, but he thinks while this is a possibility on the part of some members, he doesn’t see J. P. Morris, a successful barber and leader of the black contingent of the Rochester Society, this way at all. Presumably, Morris would have set the tone for Society meetings. Whatever or whoever the source of Anna’s discomfiture, she was a dignified person, and it’s easy to see why she would withdraw if she did feel her dignity under attack in any way.

Amy Cools and Frederick Douglass scholar David Anderson at Nazareth College. Pro

Amy Cools and Frederick Douglass scholar David Anderson in his office at Nazareth College.

For more about Anna Douglass, please listen to my conversation with Leigh Fought, who has made a study of Anna for her upcoming book on the women in Frederick Douglass’ life.

Among the many things I discuss with Anderson, I ask him where Rochester’s City Hall was in 1865; when I had looked for it, I found that the first official one, now called Irving Place / Old City Hall, was built in 1875 at 30 West Broad Street. He thinks it was probably on Broad St because that was the city center, but to make sure I have the exact location, he directs me to the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County, to the City Historian’s office in the Rundel Building at 115 South Avenue. So that’s where I head next.

Rundell Building, Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County

Rundel Building, of the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County, at 115 South Ave

Index references to Old City Hall and Peck Estate, City Historian's Office of Rochester Public Library, 2016 Amy CoolsThe Rundel building is a handsome structure built spanning the years from the 19-teens through the 1930’s, and its pale gray-brown stone walls are punctuated with inscriptions, including this paraphrase of a John Dewey quote: ‘Education is more than preparation for life, it is life itself’. I’m sure Frederick Douglass would heartily concur, as much as he stressed the practical importance of education as well.

Librarian Cheri Crist, so knowledgeable and so generous with her time, proceeds to help me find what I’m looking for. Not long ago, she made a far more exciting discovery: a previously unknown Frederick Douglass photograph, taken in about 1873 and lost in the depths of the archives for over a hundred years. Today, Crist provides me with sources to help me track down the 1865 location of City Hall, starting with a search of the index card files, though we don’t find any that indicate the right time period there. We decide to cross reference some index entries with old newspapers, and Veronica Shaw helps me find old microfiches of the Rochester Daily Union. (*A clarification from Cheri Crist since this account was published: ‘The resources that we consulted at the Rochester Public Library are from the collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division, which is the department I worked for [as opposed to the City Historian’s office, which is a different entity]’. Thank you for the clarification, Cheri!)

Plat Book of the City of Rochester New York, 1888, Rochester Public Library

Plat Book of the City of Rochester New York, 1888, Rochester Public Library

Print of old article, Rochester's Evening Union on sale of Peck Building-City Hall and my notes

Print of old article, Rochester’s Evening Union on sale of Peck Building-City Hall and my notes

Our initial hunt leads us, after many twists and turns among newspaper accounts and old atlases, to an early location of City Hall. I’m all excited about the discovery until a careful rereading of the evidence shows this was in fact Old-Old-Old City Hall, prior to 1856, too early for the historical event I’m following today. Though we first find the wrong place after much searching and end up having to start over again, I find the wild goose chase to be lots of fun: it involves searching through pages and pages of old newspapers facsimiles and city atlases, getting a good glimpse of the history and layout of the city that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the level of historical detective work this Douglass journey has led me into all along! We do subsequently find Old-Old City Hall, which, funnily enough, turns out to be much simpler search, it’s just that the right clue doesn’t turn up first: we had started with the index card files rather than old city atlases. More on that soon when I get to the site. In any case, I hope this search leads to a new index card in the City Historian’s files for City Hall between 1856 and 1875.

I realize, as soon as we find the site I seek, that the day’s really getting on, since I spent such a long, absorbing time with Anderson at Nazareth College and Crist at the City Historian’s office. I skeddadle to my next destination, the same place I start my tour of Rochester yesterday. It’s the Susan B. Anthony House at 17 Madison Street.

Susan B Anthony House (left) and Museum (right), at 17 Madison, Rochester

Susan B Anthony House (left) and Museum (right), at 17 Madison, Rochester

I visit the Susan B. Anthony House today for many reasons. I know Douglass and Anthony were friends (at least sometimes, and of different degrees and kinds when they were). Henry Louis Gates’ timeline in his Douglass Autobiographies compendium and history mentions Douglass visiting her at her Rochester home more than once in 1850, and other sources describe their visits as a regular occurrence around that time. And since they were sometimes friends and always activists in the same causes and lived in the same city for so long, Douglass must have visited Anthony here, right? Well, I find out early in the tour that while Douglass may have visited Anthony at this house and there are many good reasons to think he had, there’s no actual documentation of this. Anthony moved into this house 15 years after that particular 1850 documented visit, and other visits on several occasions while she was living in the family farmhouse now on the outskirts of Rochester, near the airport; more on that in a future account. Douglass lived in Rochester until 1872, and Anthony was among his many friends who pleaded with him to stay. So they must have been on good terms at that time, and she had been living in this house for 7 years by this time. I consider it likely, given all this, he would have visited her here at some point.

 Front Parlor of Susan B Anthony House in Rochester. I snap this photo before I see the 'no photography' sign, thinking the policy was the same here as in the museum. But the deed was done, and I'm not one to let a good photo go to waste

Front Parlor of the Susan B Anthony House in Rochester. I snap this photo before I see the ‘no photography’ sign, thinking the policy was the same here as in the museum. But the deed is done, and I’m not one to let a perfectly good photo go to waste

 Parlor of Susan B. Anthony House, photo of photo at museum exhibit

Parlor of Susan B. Anthony House as it looked in her time, this is my photo of the photo at the museum exhibit

Susan B Anthony House Museum plaque telling the story of her arrest for voting in 1872

Susan B Anthony House Museum plaque telling the story of her arrest for voting in 1872, and a brief timeline of her life

I have a most delightful visit, in a quiet moment between tours, with Linda Lopata, the Visitor Center manager, and Carolyn, Mary, and another kind woman whose name I can’t recall at the moment; if you read this, please excuse my forgetfulness, and I would be delighted to be reintroduced! They have a wealth of information to share and couldn’t be more kind, and are so sweet in their interest in my project and willingness to help. We talk some about Douglass, about whom they’re quite knowledgeable, and a lot about Anthony, including her arrest at this house for voting in the 1872 presidential election along with fourteen other women. Try as I might in an hour-plus-long search, I can’t find their names listed anywhere. It bothers me somehow to leave them anonymous, as all the sources I’ve found so far do, when they acted as bravely and with as much conviction at the polls as Anthony did! (I would be grateful, dear reader, if you happen to know how where to find their names and can pass the word along. Unless, of course, these women desired their names to remain anonymous, as was their right, to avoid scandal or censure. UPDATE: the always delightful and helpful Paige Sloan sent me a link to a page where the names of these brave voters are listed: their names are Charlotte Bowles Anthony, Mary S. Anthony, Ellen S. Baker, Nancy M. Chapman, Hannah M. Chatfield, Jane M. Cogswell, Rhoda DeGarmo, Mary S. Hebard, Susan M. Hough, Margaret Garrigues Leyden, Guelma Anthony McLean, Hannah Anthony Mosher, Mary E. Pulver, and Sarah Cole Truesdale.) The officials who allowed them to register to vote likely sympathized with their cause, and were certainly convinced by her interpretation of the 14th and 15th Amendments, that the first strongly, and the latter less so, implied that women had the right to vote.

Douglass, the ardent feminist and advocate of universal suffrage, must certainly have approved of this bold move, and the fact that all save one voted for his preferred candidate Ulysses S. Grant would have pleased his too. But he was no longer in town to lend his support in person, since he and his family had already moved to Washington D.C. that July.

S. Main and Fitzhugh Sts, site of Rochester's City Hall in 1865

Monroe County Executive Office building at S. Main and Fitzhugh Streets. The north of the building, where Patrick Printing is now, covers the site of Rochester’s City Hall in 1865. Pindle Alley runs through that little space you can see between the MCEO building and the Powers Building next door

My next destination is less than a mile almost directly east, at S Fitzhugh St just a little south of Main, to the site of the City Hall in 1865 we had searched for so assiduously this morning. The digitized 1863 map we found on the Monroe County Library System’s website shows that it stood where the Monroe County Executive Offices stand at 39 West Main is now. The long red brick building’s north end covers the site. As you can see from the ‘Reference’ (legend) at the top right of the map, #55 identifies that City Hall location, just across the street from that Old-Old-Old City Hall site we discovered at the corner of Main and tiny Pindle Alley, and just a little north from the Irving Place Old City Hall built in 1875, all three within a two-block radius.

Abraham Lincoln with his son and 2 views of his tomb, from Hutchinson scrapbook at Lynn Museum

Abraham Lincoln with his son and 2 views of his tomb, photos from the Hutchinson family scrapbook at the Lynn Museum

I seek this site today because Douglass gave an impassioned, impromptu eulogy here in remembrance of his hero and friend Abraham Lincoln. A crowd had gathered here on April 15th, 1865 to mourn Lincoln’s death that morning, and they called upon Douglass to speak. He did so, delivering by all accounts one of the most moving addresses he ever gave. As Douglass sadly told them, ‘It was only a few weeks ago that I shook his brave, honest hand, and looked into his gentle eye and heard his kindly voice.’ That occasion was on March 4th of that same year, when Douglass went to the White House to congratulate Lincoln on his second inauguration and the excellence of his address. A you may remember, Douglass was critical of Lincoln’s first inaugural address, with its weak stance on slavery. The second, besides its sheer eloquence and beauty, was unapologetically anti-slavery, so of course Douglass heartily approved of it. Douglass went to the White House on his own account and was turned away at the door by two officers who said they were instructed by Lincoln not to admit black people. Douglass accused them of lying, which they were, and insisted on entering. He was ultimately successful, and when Lincoln spotted Douglass across the room, he called out ‘Here comes my friend Douglass’ and shook his hand. This was a moment of great triumph and validation for the proud, dignified Douglass, and he would treasure it for the rest of his life.

Downtown United Presbyterian Church and adjoining hall with 1848 Rochester Women's Rights Convention commemorative plaque. The sun was sinking low behind the church when I took this photo

Downtown United Presbyterian Church and adjoining hall with 1848 Rochester Women’s Rights Convention commemorative plaque.

1848 Rochester Women's Rights Convention plaque, Downtown United Presbyterian Church

1848 Rochester Women’s Rights Convention plaque at the Downtown United Presbyterian Church.

My next destination is just two long blocks north, Downtown Presbyterian Church at 121 Fitzhugh St. It’s a lovely building with beautiful stained glass windows. It takes many, many attempts to snap any photos I can use since the sun is sinking low right behind the church, and still, I can’t quite color-correct the photos enough to do it justice. In the process, three ladies on separate occasions stop to exclaim something to the effect of ‘isn’t it beautiful?’ and to invite me an event going on there that evening. On an adjoining building to the left of the church, there’s a plaque commemorating the 1848 Rochester continuation of the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention, which we’ll discuss in my next day’s account of this journey. This used to be the Unitarian Church, and the meeting was held in the church building itself. Douglass spoke at this convention as well, according to Ms. Lopata at the Susan B. Anthony House. In his remarks, he reiterated his conviction that he could not deny a woman any right he claimed for himself, nor could any just individual do so.

 American Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Douglass family congregation Rochester

American Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in the historic Corn Hill neighborhood of Rochester. The Douglass family were members of this congregation who worshiped in one of the church’s earlier incarnations nearby, no longer standing

Son House apartment building site on Greig St, Corn Hill, Rochester NY, photo 2016 Amy Cools

Site of apartment building on Clarissa at Greig St where the great Son House once lived.

I zigzag my way a little over half mile east to the historic Corn Hill District, where the Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church now stands at Favor and Clarissa Streets, just off Ford. According to Cindy Boyer, Rochester’s Landmark Society director of public programs, ‘Clarissa Street was once the business and cultural heart of Rochester’s African American community… In the 1950’s, it became a jazz and entertainment hub.’ Exploring Clarissa St on my way from the current location of the AME Zion Church at 549 Clarissa St to the old site, I notice one of those distinctive blue historical marker signs and discover that the great bluesman Son House lived on Clarissa at Grieg St in the 1960’s. Cool.

The original site of the AME church was just a little east of this one, on the northeast corner where Spring and Favor streets once intersected, near where the 490 freeway now passes through. Anderson directs me here in our discussion this morning, as the Douglass family belonged to this progressive congregation, dedicated to reform and the education of black children. The church was also an important stop on the Underground Railroad. It had been reorganized and rebuilt by Thomas James, a former slave who became a minister and educator who founded new congregations in several cities. James was the one, according to Anderson, who had licensed Douglass, many years ago, to preach in New Bedford.

According to Michelle Finn, Deputy Historian of the City of Rochester, ‘The third church building, which is depicted in this photograph, featured memorial windows dedicated to Douglass, Anthony, Harriet Tubman and others’. I wonder why ‘featured’ is in the past tense: the photos reveal it’s the same building that stands today, and it appears there’s stained glass within the outer panes I can see from where I’m standing. Perhaps the stained glass windows are no longer intact; the church is all closed up, padlocked and surrounded by chain link fence so I can’t approach it to make sure.

I continue on, crossing over the Frederick Douglass-Susan B. Anthony Memorial Bridge, which carries Interstate 490 over the Genesee River in downtown Rochester, to my next destination.

Rosetta Douglass home at 271 Hamilton Street at Bond

Rosetta Douglass home at 271 Hamilton Street at Bond

 Another view of Rosetta Douglass home at 271 Hamilton Street


Another view of Rosetta Douglass home at 271 Hamilton Street

At 271 Hamilton Street at Bond, there’s a two story blue house which was not long ago discovered to be a home owned by Douglass and his daughter’s family. This makes it the first house that Douglass owned and stayed in for any length of time that’s still standing, so I’m very excited to discover it too! Anderson’s colleague and fellow historian Jean Czerkas made the discovery of the deed for the house that had Douglass’ name on it. ‘She’s serious!’ said Anderson to me this morning. Czerkas has made many other important discoveries in local history over the years, including sites associated with the life and work of Austin Steward, one of Douglass’s fellow black abolitionists and Underground Railroad operatives and a successful Rochester business owner. ‘[Czerkas] helped me in another way’ Anderson continued. ‘She found out Austin Steward had children buried in Rochester.’ Steward is a fascinating figure, I’m very glad to learn about him and encourage you to so as well; like Douglass, he wrote a narrative of his life first as a slave, then as a free man and anti-slavery activist.

Douglass’ daughter Rosetta and her husband Nathan Sprague lived in this house for several years before following her father to Washington D.C. Douglass kept the house, however, listing himself as a boarder. Since he had fought so long for the right to vote and residents of Washington D.C. could not vote in presidential elections at the time, he retained that precious right for himself by keeping an official residence in Rochester.

James P. Duffy School at site of Frederick Douglass Rochester farm home, under construction

James P. Duffy School, which stands on the site of the Douglass family home and farm, then on the outskirts of Rochester, on South Avenue. The school is being remodeled and improved.

Fredrick Douglass Community Library at James P. Duffy School, site of South Ave Douglass home

Fredrick Douglass Community Library adjacent to the Duffy school, original site of the Douglasses’ South Ave home

I head south on Alexander St and turn left on South Avenue, which continues to take me south toward Highland Park. I look for the historical marker which I read is located at the site now occupied by James P. Duffy School at 999 South Ave near Highland Park, and for the community library now named after Douglass. Anderson said he and other local historians and citizens are making good headway in getting the school renamed after Douglass too. I easily find the school, which is being rebuilt. But I find no historical marker, though I circle the building slowly and scan the area carefully. Perhaps it’s been taken down until the construction is done, or it’s obscured by the large quantity of construction equipment and materials here now. (Update: fellow Douglass enthusiast and Rochester resident Paige Sloan comes to the rescue again and does a little more searching, locating the historical marker at this site. See the photos below.)

Frederick Douglass South Ave home site, photo 2016 by Paige Sloan

Frederick Douglass South Ave home site near the school under construction, with the historical marker now visible from this angle just beyond the red sign since it’s now leaning to the left. Photo 2016 by Paige Sloan

Frederick Douglass South Ave home site marker, 2016 Paige Sloan

Frederick Douglass South Ave home site marker, 2016 Paige Sloan

In 1852, Frederick Douglass moved his family here from that urban red brick house on Alexander Street to a hill top farmhouse on what was then the outskirts of the city. It was private, with no near neighbors, plenty of land surrounding it, and fruit trees galore: a perfect setting for five growing children and for sheltering runaway slaves. Both Douglass family homes in Rochester were Underground Railroad institutions.

Douglass loved his South Ave home and farm. He built a cozy office and library upstairs, he loved to ride his large white horse on the grounds, he planted trees with his own hands, his sons worked the land, and Anna kept a beautiful and orderly home. They lived here for twenty years, until June 2 1872, when it burned to the ground. The family escaped unharmed, and friends helped the family save many of their personal goods and all of the animals, but many of Douglass’ important papers and bound volumes of every issue of the North Star were burned. We suffer their loss too, as copies of very many have never been found elsewhere. Douglass was of town the day the house burned, and returned the next day having heard the news. He believed the fire was purposely set; the fire insurance company agreed with him. He had continued to struggle with elements of racism even in this relatively tolerant city, the city he said he felt most at home in, enough to believe the worst. He was so bitter over it that he decided to move his family to Washington D.C. for good. Their daughter Annie had died here in 1860 at only 10 years old; perhaps Anna’s unabated grief made her more amenable to moving from the place they had called home for twenty five years.

Frederick Douglass Memorial Square at Highland Park, at South Ave and Robinson Drive

Frederick Douglass Memorial Square at Highland Park, at South Ave and Robinson Drive. You can just make out Frederick Douglass’ monument / statue in the background just to the right of the signpost.

Then I continue up the hill, just a short stroll continuing south on South Ave to Robinson Dr, to end my day’s explorations at beautiful Highland Park. It was designed in 1890 by another Frederick, Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of Manhattan’s Central Park and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Olmsted is famous for creating some of the world’s most beautiful parks, with landscapes designed to look as natural as possible while maximizing their utility as public spaces.

Frederick Douglass Monument Statue in Highland Park, Rochester NY

Frederick Douglass Monument and Statue in Highland Park, Rochester NY. It’s the first monument erected to memorialize an African American in the United States.

Frederick Douglass Monument Statue in Highland Park, Rochester NY, closer, 2016 Amy CoolsI cross Robinson Dr. to my right at an angle, then into the park down to Highland Bowl, the natural amphitheatre between Robinson Dr and Reservoir Ave with an Art Deco look open air theater built at its west end. Across the large grassy depression that makes the bowl, halfway up the hill on the other side from Robinson and to the left (or east) of the theater, there stands an 8 foot statue of Frederick Douglass on a tall columnar pedestal, with four plaques curved around it, three containing Douglass quotes. First erected in front of Rochester’s New York Central Train Station in 1899, it was moved to Highland Park in 1941, to place it in a more beautiful, dignified natural setting instead of the dust and bustle of the street corner it had been on. It’s also fitting that it’s placed near the site of his beloved South Ave home.

As you can see from the photos (though I’ve brightened them quite a bit so you can see the details), it’s growing late: dusk is drawing near. It’s been a long and fascinating day, I learned so much it will take some time to process it all, and I’m tired. The park is soft and lovely this evening, the trees bare and gray and lacy with their delicate veiny branches, the grass beetle green in the lowering light. I gaze at the statue awhile and reflect, then I sit in the grass and rest, lazily typing up a few notes. I like the way the statue’s hands are outstretched, palms up, as if Douglass is inviting you to draw near and hear what he has to say. So I’ll let him close this day account’s with his own words, until we meet again in the story of the next day of my Douglass journey:

Frederick Douglass quotes on his monument pedestal

Frederick Douglass quotes on his monument pedestal. There are many more powerful, original, and memorable Douglass quotes than these ones here that I wish they’d included instead. But these were chosen for popularity’s sake no doubt, as they express godly and patriotic sentiments

*Listen to the podcast version here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

~ With special thanks again to Paige Sloan, who heads and teaches a writing program for international students at the University of Rochester and, like me, is a big Fredrick Douglass fan! She provided me with an additional source for my Corinthian Hall research and a photo I neglected to take for my account of my first day in Rochester, and a link to a list of the women who voted with Susan B. Anthony for this day’s account.

~ Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

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Sources and Inspiration:

28. Frederick Douglass Rural Homesite‘. The Freethought Trail website

Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass‘. Lehrman Institute: Abraham Lincoln’s Classroom

Austin Steward, 1794-1860‘. From The Back Abolitionist Papers: Vol. II: Canada, 1830-1865 ed. by C. Peter Ripley, et al, 1992 by the University of North Carolina Press, via Documenting the American South

Blassingame, J. (Ed.). The Frederick Douglass Papers, Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews. 4 volumes, and The Frederick Douglass Papers, Series 2: Autobiographical Writings. 3 volumes. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1979-1999

Cornell, Silas. Map of the City of Rochester, 1863, Rochester Images, Monroe County Library System website

Douglass, Frederick. Autobiographies (includes Narrative…, My Freedom and my Bondage, and Life and Times). With notes by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Volume compilation by Literary Classics of the United States. New York: Penguin Books, 1994.

Dr. David A. Anderson/Sankofa‘, Blackstorytelling League of Rochester

Finn, Michelle. ‘The Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church‘. Democrat & Chronicle: Retrofitting Rochester series

Foner, Philip S. The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, Vol. 1-4. New York: International Publishers, 1950.

Highland Park Conservancy: ‘History of the Park‘ and ‘Park Map and Audio Tour

History & Political Science Directory: David Anderson. Nazareth College website.

History of the Federal Judiciary: The Trial of Susan B. Anthony- Biographies-Other indicted voters. From the Federal Judicial System website

Irving Place‘. In RocWiki, The People’s Guide to Rochester.

Linder, Doug. The Trial of Susan B. Anthony for Illegal Voting, 2001

McKelvey, Blake. ‘Lights and Shadows in Local Negro History‘. Rochester History, Vol 21, No. 4, 1959

Meives, Caitlin. ‘Recognition For a Forgotten Frederick Douglass Site‘. Landmark Society of Western New York website.

Memmott, Jim. Don’t Ignore Douglass StatueDemocrat & Chronicle, July 1, 2015

Morry, Emily. ‘Frederick Douglass Home on Alexander Street’. Democrat & Chronicle: Retrofitting Rochester series

Morry, Emily. ‘Frederick Douglass Monument’. Democrat & Chronicle: Retrofitting Rochester series

Rediscovering Frederick Douglass‘. City of Rochester website

Rundel Memorial Library Building‘. In RocWiki, The People’s Guide to Rochester.

Schmitt, Victoria Sandwick. ‘Rochester’s Frederick Douglass Part One‘ and ‘Rochester’s Frederick Douglass Part Two‘. Rochester History journal, Vol. LXVII Summer 2005 No. 3 and Vol. LXVII Fall 2005 No. 4. McFeely, William. Frederick Douglass. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1991.

Steward, Austin. Twenty-two Years a Slave, and Forty Years a Freeman. Rochester, 1857.

Susan B. Anthony Home & Museum website, all articles linked to on Her Story page

University of Rochester Library Bulletin: Report of the Woman’s Rights Convention, 1848, Volume IV · Autumn 1948 · Number 1. University of Rochester River Campus Library website

Wemett, Laurel. ‘Austin Steward: A Forgotten Figure in Abolitionist Movement‘. Canandaiga Daily Messenger, Feb. 4, 2013.

New Podcast Episode: Frederick Douglass Rochester NY Sites, Day 1

Douglass home at 4 Alexander St in later incarnation as a shop, image Rochester Public Library Local History

Listen to this podcast episode here or subscribe on iTunes

Ninth day, Monday Mar 28th

On a cold, gray, and blustery spring morning, I drive from Syracuse to Rochester NY, and head straight for a certain house very near Susan B. Anthony Square. As I suspect might be the case, the house is closed to the public today so I’ll return tomorrow; I head here first anyway to scope things out in person because it turns out,  I have more free time to explore Rochester this morning than I thought I would. Hooray! …Susan B. Anthony Square, at 39 King St, is a little park crisscrossed with meandering paths and dotted with benches and neatly trimmed shrubbery, in the center of pretty blocks of well-maintained early 19th century houses. The square is dominated by a life-size sculpture of Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony by Pepsy Kettavong, called ‘Let’s Have Tea’, installed in 2001…. Read the written account here:

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