Frederick Douglass New York City Sites

Bank of New York at Wall and William Sts NYC, 2016 by Amy Cools

Bank of New York (cornerstone laid June 22 1797) at Wall and William Streets, New York City

Three old buildings on historic S. William Street, 2016 by Amy Cools

Three old buildings on historic S. William Street

Fourth Day, Wednesday, March 23rd

I arrived yesterday afternoon in New York City and had a good hangout with my friend with whom I’m staying (thanks, Devin!).

After doing more research and mapping out today’s journey, I head to my first destination. I take the subway to lower Manhattan to the Brooklyn Bridge stop, zigzag my way southeast to Wall and William Streets, then down to S. William St. Wall Street was the northern border of the city when it was still young, so I decide it’s as good a way as any to get a feel for the old city, though really, the truly old intact buildings in NYC are scattered, and few. I’m only looking back to the 1830’s for this trip, but as you may know or may remember from my earlier series on Ernestine Rose and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, this city has a long history of tearing everything down regularly and starting fresh.

Stone St on the other side of S. William NYC, 2016 by Amy Cools

Stone St on the other side of S. William St., New York City

I’m heading to S. William because, as you may remember from my account of yesterday’s travels, Douglass accidentally referred to the Willow St. depot in Philadelphia as the William St. depot, which was the New York one. It doesn’t say specifically in any of his accounts that he went to the William St depot the day he arrived in New York City on Monday, September 4th, 1838. He would have arrived at a New York City wharf coming across from a New Jersey train station. I interpret his mistake, though, to indicate he did go to William St. that day, especially combined with his description of being among the bustle of Broadway and gradually making his way north to Center Street. The general route makes sense.

Foundation brickwork from 1830's building at 13 S. William St, 2016 Amy Cools

Foundation brickwork from 1830’s building at 13 S. William St, NYC

I photograph a row of older buildings at the foot of William St. As you can see by the numbers near the peaks of the facades, they’re dated at the turn of the century, more than half a century after Douglass arrived here, newly freed by his own efforts.

As I draw near to the buildings to take a closer look, I spot a historical plaque on 13 S. William St, the one with the year 1903 prominently displayed near the pointy top. That’s the year it was rebuilt after a fire in a more fashionable Dutch Revival style; the original building was under construction when Douglass was here in NYC in 1838, and the foundations remain. The buildings’ other entrance is on Stone St, to the east and parallel to S. William St as it curves around and up in a northeasterly direction. I see from early New York City atlases that the streets here retain their shape and direction from Douglass’ days here. So even if Douglass didn’t come to the William St. depot when he arrived, he was near this part of town, this is one of the few places where anything still stands from that time, and he probably went there at some point since his memory was familiar enough with the name of the William Street depot to transfer it to the Philadelphia one when he tried to recall it later on.

Sign at Collect Pond with story and picture of The Tombs, NYC, 2016 by Amy Cools

Sign at Collect Pond with story and picture of The Tombs, New York City

Criminal Courts building on Centre St, New York City, photo 2016 by Amy Cools

Criminal Courts building on Centre St, New York City

So back to following Douglass, and in this case to a place he went for certain. I make my way north, just as he did on his way ever more surely to freedom, to Centre St. across from the site of The Tombs. It stood at the site where Collect Pond now stretches between Lafayette and Centre Streets, at cross streets White and Leonard. It was an Egyptian revival building (hence the name, as in ancient Egyptian tombs) repurposed as a prison because it was ill-suited for its original purpose. In his Life and Times, Douglass recalls meeting a sailor named Stuart who saw him across the street from where his house stood on the west side of that street. Stuart takes an interest in him and befriends him right away. I’m sure it had much to do with Douglass’ appearance, since he dressed as a sailor himself for his escape: sailors were held in especially high regard in this part of the world at this time, so he felt he was less likely to be challenged, and since many black people were employed as sailors, he felt he’d more likely pass without notice.

Douglass’s new friend Stuart gave him shelter for the night. Since Stuart lived across from The Tombs on Centre St., his house would have stood somewhere on the grounds now occupied by the enormous New York City Criminal Court Building.

Jefferson quote on the New York City Criminal Courts Building

Jefferson quote on the New York City Criminal Courts Building

Looking up at the words engraved across the center front, something strikes me. I imagine what Douglass would have felt that day if he knew the words ‘Equal and Exact Justice to All Men of Whatever State or Persuasion’ would be etched in stone one day above the place his head lay. After all, it describes very well the central driving principle of his life. (As you can see if you look closely at the name under the quote, this one’s from Jefferson; it’s from his first inaugural address. Regretfully, the author of it never did find sufficient conviction within himself to realize that principle for those of Douglass’ people he held in slavery.)

Church and Lispenard Streets, Tribeca, NYC, photo 2016 by Amy Cools

Church and Lispenard Streets, Tribeca, NYC. The red brick building on the left stands at the site of David Ruggle’s house, now La Columbe Coffee at 36 Lispenard

David Ruggles House Plaque at 36 Lispenard, photo credit Steven E. Greer, used by permission

David Ruggles House Plaque at 36 Lispenard Street

The next morning, Stuart the hospitable sailor accompanied him to David Ruggles’ house. Ruggles was a free black man and an officer on the Underground Railroad, and he had sent for Douglass, inviting him to stay at his place for the next few days at the corner of Church and Lispenard Streets. So that’s where I head next, and it’s in what’s now the TriBeCa neighborhood, just below Canal a little west of Broadway. While Douglass hid out here, he sent for his sweetheart Anna, who had done so much already to help him escape by providing him with his sailor disguise and selling one of her feather beds for travel funds. In fact, she had likely met him on one of the docks at Fell’s Point, where my Douglass travels began. When she heard of his successful escape, she came from Baltimore immediately to join him when she heard of his successful escape. They were married here at the Ruggles home on Sept 15, 1838.

Cooper's Union at Cooper Square and Astor Place, NYC

Cooper’s Union at Cooper Square and Astor Place, NYC

I continue north on Broadway, walking briskly since it’s fairly far, 11 long blocks north and four moderate-sized blocks east. But it’s a beautiful warm day outside and I can’t bring myself to go down in the subway. I’m heading for the Cooper Union foundation building at the southeast corner of the intersection of Astor Place and Cooper Square, a few blocks east of Washington Square and a couple blocks north. It’s a brownstone affair with arched windows built in the mid-1850’s. Cooper’s Union is a school founded on the idea that all people of talent and drive should receive a free, high-quality education whether or not they or their families can afford to pay, and its founder put an enormous fortune where his mouth was.

Historical plaques on Cooper's Union, New York City

Historical plaques on Cooper’s Union, New York City

This building has had about as many great speaker’s voices echoing down its halls as you could wish for, including Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain. In November of 1861, when the building was still fairly new, our hero and their mutual friend traveled to New York City. Six days after delivering a speech for the Emancipation League Speech in Boston, he delivered it again here. Douglass called forcefully once again for the immediate emancipation of all slaves and for the enlistment of black soldiers into the Union Army, which would not be allowed until a little over a year later. Douglass felt it was all-important that black people should be at the forefront of the fight against slavery, which everyone knew, and still does if they’re being honest, was more about slavery than anything else. Not only would this prove to their fellow Americans that black people were as brave and able as anyone else, which most Americans both north and south had trouble believing, it would give soldiers the opportunity to improve their own fortunes by establishing them as heroes, and by instilling in them that sense of confidence and self-worth born of taking their own destinies finally and firmly into their own hands.

Douglass returned to Cooper’s Union to speak more than once. On one occasion on May 30th 1865, Douglass delivered a speech not only memorializing his sometimes target of criticism, sometimes friend, and recently martyred hero Abraham Lincoln, he also denounced the New York Common Council for not allowing black people to participate in Lincoln’s funeral procession in New York City. This town, though in a free state, was not yet a warm and welcoming place for black people. Not only did the very real danger of slavecatchers here convince him to move to New Bedford soon after his arrival in September 1838, on one occasion years later in 1850 he was beaten up by several white men just for walking down the street with two white lady friends of his on his arms. New York City was not, at the time, a place of human rights idealism so much as a place of commerce, and forced free labor can be good for business, or so it was often thought.

A view of 9th Ave, west side of street between 37th and 38th Sts, possible site of Apollo Hall in New York City

A view of 9th Ave, west side of street between 37th and 38th Sts, possible site of Apollo Hall in New York City

As you can see from the ever-increasing contrast in the photos as the sun makes it way west and downward, I’m running low on daylight, so I take the subway to my next destination. According to The New York Sun of January 26 1897, Page 3, Apollo Hall was at 495 Ninth Avenue, which is now between 37th and 38th. I can’t be sure that this is the right place, since at this point, I have not found an atlas confirming the location. I just have the street address number, which as we know, can change sometimes, and many results came up for ‘Apollo Hall New York’ keyword search, such as a playhouse which temporarily had Apollo in its name and a Brooklyn one described in The Weekly Democratic Statesman of May 13, 1875, p 4 as being on Fifth St in Brooklyn, a Union Tabernacle house of worship. But the hall named in the New York Sun article seems to be more of a forum for meetings such as the ones Douglass spoke at, and my sources refer to its being held in NYC, not Brooklyn. So, until I discover otherwise (and I’ll let you know if I do, dear readers!), I’ll assume this is the general location. There are no markers that I can find.

American Anti-slavery Society Anniversary program, May 12 1863, N. Y.

American Anti-slavery Society Anniversary program, May 12 1863, N. Y.

On April 9th 1870, ten days after the ratification of the 15th Amendment, the American Anti-Slavery Society met here for the last time. In his speech, Douglass said that the best and really the only way to thank God for the victory over slavery and the newly won right to vote (the 15th Amendment was ratified just that February) was by thanking the men and women who made it happen, because only through them was the will of God apparent. He was sometimes criticized in editorials and in the pulpit, especially by other black ministers, for not prioritizing God in his writing, in his speeches, and his public statements of gratitude. Douglass would have none of it, saying that as long as people did nothing about the injustice and evil done in the world, it was never done at all; the insistence on prioritizing the role of God in the good that’s accomplished can lull people into thinking that, as we sometimes put it today, it’s okay to just hang back and ‘let go, and let God’. Douglass didn’t think his work or that of his fellow activists here was done with the passage of the 15th amendment. He called for a new campaign for women’s suffrage, and he said that the mission didn’t end, only changed, to improve the lot of all suffering people, including Indians, women, and all oppressed minorities

In another landmark moment at Apollo Hall, delegates nominated Douglass as a candidate for Vice President on May 11, 1872.

Here’s the story if you’re interested in getting a little deeper into the historical details (skip this and the next long paragraph if you’re short on time): These delegates were meeting here to organize a new Equal Rights Party out of disappointment and frustration with the Republican’s increasing lack of commitment to progressive values. The Republican Party, Douglass’ party, was starting to fissure over corruption in President Ulysses S. Grant’s administration, the debate over Radical Reconstruction (the policy of guaranteeing full equal political rights to black people and punishing Confederate leaders for waging war against their country), and the party’s increasing tendency to favor corporate and individual business interests over the rights of oppressed persons, especially black people and women. The Equal Rights Party was formed in opposition to the Liberal Republicans as well. Both criticized Grant for doing little to solve the corruption problem as well as for allowing Douglass to be excluded from an important White House meeting of one of the very commissions Grant had appointed him to, as well as Grant’s refusal to chastise the caption of the mail packet, on the return of the commission to DC, who excluded Douglass from the dining room. The ERP and the LR’s believed these discriminatory actions of Grant showed he was not truly committed to the cause of furthering the cause of black cause. But the ERP opposed the LR’s policy of cooperating with southern states-rights contingent who wanted to forgive ex-Confederates and rebuild the south economically, even if it meant sacrificing black civil rights issues.

The newly formed ERP nominated women’s and labor rights activist Victoria Claflin Woodhull for President of the United States and Frederick Douglass for Vice President, a progressive ticket if there ever was one. Douglass didn’t accept, since he believed it imperative that the black vote remained united behind the only party that had, and could still, actually accomplish good things for black people even if some time and compromise were required.  (Here he shows his pragmatist side.) He dismissed the White House commission dinner slight as an oversight, and pointed out that the LR’s and Democrat’s state-rights policies protected the Klu Klux Klan’s terrorism in the South. Grant won the election that fall by a landslide, and Douglass was appointed one of the two electors-at-large for New York State; he and his fellow elector, friend, and mentor Gerit Smith conveyed the results of the New York ballot to the Senate. But Douglass was to find himself ever more disappointed in the Republican Party’s lackluster performance in ensuring that black people actually enjoyed the rights guaranteed to them by the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments.

The former offices of Ida Wells' New York Age newspaper at 230 W. 135th St (center) Harlem, New York City

The former offices of Ida Wells’ New York Age newspaper at 230 W. 135th St (center) Harlem, New York City

230 and 232 W. 135th St, Harlem, New York City

230 and 232 W. 135th St, Harlem, New York City

So north I press on, again by subway, all the way to Harlem. I really like this neighborhood. I head to 230 West 135th St, between Frederick Douglass Blvd (appropriately enough; it was formerly 8th Ave) and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd (formerly 7th). I’m in luck: according to an old city atlas from the late 1800’s I’m so glad to find digitized and offered online, the street numbers don’t appear to have changed: the placement of number 230 matches the distance between 7th and 8th Avenues as it’s marked on my map. So exciting: it’s very rare for me to find that address numbers have not changed. Number 230 is now a small suite of law offices, one in a row of red-colored brownstone and brick fronts, with an updated pale pea-soup green facade complete with modern square windows and an awning. The one to the right of it, though, is clearly unchanged, and would certainly have looked identical.

The New York Age, for Saturday, Sep 26, 1925

The New York Age, for Saturday, Sep 26, 1925, page four showing address of their offices

In late 1892, Douglass came here to New York City to visit the marvelous Ida B.Wells, whose investigative journalism into lynching of black people inspired and informed his later speeches and activism. He almost certainly came to visit her in these offices. She moved to New York City in late 1892 for a short time before settling in Chicago, and in that time became a writer for and part owner of the New York Age, a very influential black newspaper which thrived for decades. Again, I’m in luck: there’s an earlier edition digitized and published online which gives the address of its offices. The New York Age and Wells’ powerful pamphlet Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases were printed here.

A Man Was Lynched Yesterday 1930's NAACP flag, Thomas Jefferson Building, Library of Congress

A Man Was Lynched Yesterday 1930’s NAACP flag, Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.

Lynching was not, for a long time, a central issue for Douglass nor for many fellow abolitionists. It seemed that many took it for granted that it really was crimes committed by those lynched that sparked vigilante justice. And besides, the fight for political rights was central and took enormous energy and dedication, with seeming little to spare for extralegal extremist activity. However, when Wells’ own friends were lynched because of hysteria whipped up by a rival business owner who didn’t like the competition, Wells was galvanized. She saw, firsthand, how lynching was a terroristic weapon to keep black people subjugated through fear. All you had to do was cry ‘rape’, especially by a black man against a white woman, and you could torture and kill whoever you thought was out of line or too insistent on having their rights or dignity respected. It worked all too well, and the achievements of the civil rights movement were surely significantly delayed by these tactics. After all, it’s hard to fight for and exercise your political rights when you have to keep your head down, avoiding the flame and the rope wielded by members of a touchy populace that hates you and thinks you’re less than fully human. Douglass came to realize that and took on this fight too.

So ends my New York City adventures, and I look forward to so many more as I keep on pressing north. My next story follows soon!

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Sources and Inspiration:

Anna Murray-Douglass‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

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

Douglass, Frederick, ed.  John R. McKivigan. The Frederick Douglass Papers: Series Two: Autobiographical Writings, Volume 3: The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, p. 504.

Douglass, Frederick. The Heroic Slave: A Cultural and Critical Edition. Eds Robert S. Levine, John Stauffer, and John McKivigan. Hew Haven: Yale University Press, 2015.

Douglass, Frederick. The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. Re-published 1993, Avenal, New York: Gramercy Books, Library of Freedom series.

Douglass, Frederick. My Bondage and My Freedom: 1855 Edition with a new introduction. Re-published 1969, New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

Fifth Avenue Theatre‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

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

Frederick Douglass Chronology‘. From Frederick Douglass National Historic Site District of Columbia, National Park Service website

Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library. (1884- – 1893). Manhattan, V. 11, Double Page Plate No. 248 [Map bounded by W. 140th St., Lenox Ave., W.. 135th St., 8th Ave.]

McFeely, William. Frederick Douglass. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1991.

The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. (Feb 14, 2007). ‘New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission Unveils Plaque at Site of One of the Nation’s Most Important Stations Along the Underground Railroad‘ [Press Release]

The New York Age: The National Negro Weekly. 26th September 1925, Page Four.

New-York Tribune. (New York [N.Y.]), 26 Jan. 1896. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

Rutherford, Karen. ‘Ida B. Wells-Barnett‘. Jan 2004. From The Mississippi Writers Page,

Wells-Barnett, Ida B. ‘Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases.’ Originally published in The New York Age, June 25, 1892. From Project Gutenberg

Ernestine Rose and Elizabeth Cady Stanton Sites, NYC, Part 3

Jerome Ave Gate of Woodlawn Cemetery, NYC

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

This is my last day in NYC on my Ernestine and Elizabeth pilgrimage.

First, I head north on the number 4 train, to the last stop at Woodlawn. It takes me right across the street from the gate to Woodlawn Cemetery, at 517 E 233rd St, The Bronx, New York City, NY 10470, where Elizabeth Cady Stanton is buried.

It’s a cold, windy day, and I’m so glad I piled on all the wool clothes I brought with me; Californian that I am, I was overly optimistic about the weather when I packed for the trip, as I am wont to do. But the sky is a beautiful azure blue, and Woodlawn is a beautiful place, the fall leaves adding vibrancy to a scene of serene green lawns and gray marble. Elizabeth is buried here with her husband and other family.

From the Jerome Avenue gate, I walk down Central, with one beautiful view before me after another, after another…

A View at Woodlawn Cemetery, NYC

A View at Woodlawn Cemetery, NYC

Observatory and Central Sign at Woodlawn Cemetery, NYC

A friendly man who works here had given me directions, and after I walk for a little while, he’s about to pass me in his little work car. He’s driving around the park grounds, clearing the drives and paths of the large branches that the strong winds were knocking off the trees. He pulls up and offers me a ride to a spot nearer Elizabeth’s grave, since he sees me apparently looking around and wondering if I’m going the right way. I accept his offer so I can hear any stories he might have to tell about the cemetery and those resting there. Instead, we chat a little about sports and the weather, between stops now and again to clear another branch, and about California, about which he has a lot of questions.

He drops me off near her final resting place between Observatory and Lake, a few plots east of Observatory, on the north side of the road.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Family Gravestones at Woodlawn Cemetery, New York City, Photo 2014 by Amy Cools

Stanton Family Monument, Woodlawn Cemetery, NYC

As you can see in the photo above, the simple stone between Henry Brewster Stanton’s on the left (her husband) and Daniel Cady Stanton’s on the right (her son) is Elizabeth’s, with her initials and years of life etched on the top. Some of her story, of her seven children, and other descendants, is etched into the large monument:

As you can see, many of her female descendants felt free and inspired to pursue careers and interests that were closed to women on Elizabeth’s time, and were unusual even in theirs, decades later. Harriet Stanton Blatch, as told in my previous piece, carried on her mother’s work as a suffragette, as did her granddaughter, Nora Stanton Blatch, who became a civil engineer as well.

As I stand at Elizabeth’s grave, and call to mind all that she did to make my life and all the lives of my fellow women free and independent, I feel deeply moved.

Stanton Family Monument, Woodlawn Cemetery, NYC

I am so, so grateful, and humbled by her boldness and bravery when she took such a stand against centuries of oppression of women, when few stood with her on that side of the struggle. Every woman, be she single, coupled, or married, professional or full-time homemaker, a mother or without children, have her to thank, because she did so much to make it possible for her to choose her own way, and to prevent men from forcing her to live according

to their whims and desires.

She did it all: she was a stay-at-home mother of a large brood of seven children for many years before she became a professional public speaker and author; she was a wife who pursued her own interests independently of her husband when her children were sufficiently grown, and had a vibrant and active single life after his death; she was an intellectual outside of academia; she was a fierce critic of religion who was a close ally of religious leaders so long as their beliefs supported the cause for women’s liberty.

Stanton Family Monument, Woodlawn Cemetery, NYC

Elizabeth, in short, was a powerhouse.

Then onto the last visit of my trip: the site of the original Church of the Puritans, where the ‘old Tiffany store’ stood, which I had missed on my second day of site-hunting. of 15th St and Broadway (download the PDF to see the 1911 New York Times article showing the original church and its location at the southeast corner).

There’s a series of bronze plaques embedded into the sidewalk around the perimeter of the park, with scenes of the park in its various phases. This one shows the southeast corner of Union Square, and if you compare the image of the central building portrayed in the plaque, the tallest one with the pointy tower on the left and the flat-top tower on the right, you can see it’s the same Church of the Puritans that would have stood there in 1866 convention, at the time of the convention.

Union Square Park, Showing View From 1850, New York

The southeast section of Union Square Park, near the George Washington Equestrian Statue and to the left if you’re heading southward, was built where the church stood; as you can see from the 1911 New York Times article and the plaques, Union Square Park changed in size and shape many times over its history.

As you may recall, the Church of the Puritans (it’s also referred to as Dr. Cheever’s church in many of the old sources) was the site of the eleventh Women’s Rights National Convention, where the American Equal Rights Association was formed, where Elizabeth discussed her plans to run as the first female candidate for Congress, and both Ernestine and Elizabeth were featured speakers. (See my previous piece for more of the story.)

In Union Park, NYC, facing south, photo 2014 Amy Cools

Union Square Park, NYC, facing south

Thus ends my voyage of discovery in New York City, and again, I’ve had the most marvelous time, and learned so much, following in the footsteps of some of my favorite thinkers. There really is something about visiting actual locations where these important things happened and these wonderful people went about their lives; it centers you, focuses you, in much the same way religious idols or artifacts inspire the believer and the archaeologist. But I’ll soon be returning to Ernestine and Elizabeth’s most important legacy: their ideas, and the story of their work on behalf of the liberation of all women and of all dispossessed and disenfranchised people. Until then….


Sources and Inspiration:

“American Equal Rights Association (AERA)”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014.

Belden, E. Porter. New York, Past, Present, and Future: Comprising a History of the City of New York. New York, 1849.

The Church of the Puritans, Presbyterian: 130th Street, near 5th Ave, New York. Anonymous. 1889.

‘Contrasts in New York City Development Strikingly Seen Around Union Square’. New York Times, May 21st 1911. (Download PDF to see full article)

Dorress-Worters, Paula. Mistress of Herself: Speeches and Letters of Ernestine Rose, Early Women’s Rights Leader. The Feminist Press at CUNY, 2008” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Elizabeth Cady Stanton. (2014, November 4). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

Ernestine Rose. (2014, July 7). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

Find A Grave (website)

Freedman, Janet. ‘Ernestine Rose.’ Jewish Women’s Archive.“Harriot Stanton Blatch,” (website) 2014

‘Nora Stanton Blatch’. IEEE Global History Network (website)

Burns, Ken. Not For Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Documentary film (1999, November 7). ” href=””>
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Josyn Gage. History of Woman Suffrage, volumes 1 and 2. Rochester, N.Y., 1881 and 1887 Woodlawn Cemetery (website)” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>”>

Ernestine Rose and Elizabeth Cady Stanton Sites, NYC, Part 1

To start my journey, I set out from where I’m staying, in Manhattan near where Chelsea and Flatiron neighborhoods meet, bound for the Lower East Side. That’s where newly married Ernestine and William Rose made their first home in New York City, at 484 Grand St near Willett, near the Williamsburg Bridge. The house is no longer standing, nor are any other nearby buildings from their time, except for the synagogue behind where it probably stood.

In fact, as I visited places associated with their lives over the course of four days, I found not a single building still standing that I could be sure Ernestine or Elizabeth set foot in. As I was to learn more throughout the course of my trip, New York has systematically pulled down and rebuilt itself over and over again through the centuries, with its restless culture of self-reinvention, innovation, and progress, until a movement in the 1960’s arose and reminded New York that its history was important too. But that’s another (fascinating) story, which I’ll return to later.

Despite the lack of extant sites, seeking them out led to me to discover not only more about the lives and times of Ernestine Rose and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but more about how they influenced others, more about other people doing great work for the same or related causes, and more about New York City’s history. I also learned more about other movements, not only political and ideological but of people: migrations of those seeking better opportunities for themselves and their children when their homeland had less to offer. In visiting this first site, for example, I stumbled upon a treasure trove of fascinating parallels between the builders and inhabitants of the current structures, and the lives and philosophies of Ernestine and Elizabeth.

Henry Street Settlement and Playhouse, Lilian Wald Site, New York City, 2014 Amy Cools

The Abron Arts Center, adjacent to the Harry De Jur playhouse now stands near the probable original site of the Roses’ first New York home. The Center is one of the buildings that comprise the Henry Street Settlement, founded by Lillian Wald. She, like Ernestine Rose herself, was a human rights activist of Jewish descent. She was also a dedicated and tireless humanitarian: Henry Street Settlement provides health care and educational and recreational services for underserved communities.

In both Ernestine Rose and Lilian Wald’s days, the Lower East Side was crowded with immigrants who, lacking opportunities in their native countries, flocked to New York City’s factories to seek jobs and a chance at a better life. From the early 1800’s onwards, NYC was an industrial powerhouse, with many of its entrepreneurs and investors amassing great wealth, while the greater number suffered the worst effects of an industrial city before the age of  reform and regulation: overcrowding, disease, grinding poverty, and crime. Between the time Ernestine and Lilian arrived in the lower east side, conditions had become quite dire; Henry Street Settlement was founded as a solution to many of these social problems. No doubt, Ernestine, a radical egalitarian and human rights advocate, would have approved of the building that stood on the site of her old home, and of its founder’s mission.

(Note: in visiting another Ernestine Rose site the next day, coincidentally, I had the opportunity to learn more about H.S.S. and its founder, Lilian Wald. Stay tuned!)

Behind the Abron Arts Center and the probable site of the first Rose home, there’s also a synagogue and Jewish education center (the Daniel Potkorony Building). The Bialystoker Synagogue, built as a Christian church in 1826, predates the Rose’s moving there in 1837 by 11 years, so she would have been familiar with the building. Of course, I have no way of knowing one way or the other definitively, but since the Roses, especially Ernestine, were eempahically non-religious, it’s improbable that they would have visited the church much, unless it was the site of social events unrelated to worship.

Bialystoker Synagogue, coincidentally or not, was organized by Polish Jews in 1865, who purchased the former church as its new and permanent home. Ernestine was a Polish Jew by birth, and while she was quite open about the fact that she rejected the religion of her youth, she also very much identified with many aspects of her Jewish heritage. Her excellent education was, at least in large part, a result of her father’s being a rabbi and her consequent desire to learn ancient Hebrew, history, and the arts of theological and textual discussion. She also defended the Jewish community vigorously when they became the target of anti-Semitic attacks in the Boston Investigator newspaper (Dorress-Worters pp 42-44, 311-333). The synagogue also operated as a stop on the Underground Railroad; Ernestine was an ardent and committed abolitionist. Another coincidence, perhaps!

Right across the street, on the same side of Grand as the Rose house would have stood, and across Willett, stands the Cooperative Village. Built by trade unions, the Village and its sister establishments were designed to improve living conditions for its working class, lower income inhabitants by including gardens, sunlight in all apartments, attractive design, good views, and other amenities, as well as being reasonably priced and, best of all, democratically run, with each tenant getting an equal vote regardless of the property value of any given unit.

Rose was a dedicated Owenite, so I suspect she would have heartily approved of such an establishment. Robert Owen, her inspiration and mentor, was a social reformer who believed that shared goals in work, daily life and politics would ennoble the human mind and rid the human race of the hatred, violence and ignorance that results from the selfish pursuit of personal wealth. While Owen’s philosophy may appear, today, to be based on an overly optimistic unrealistic idealism (he believed that human nature was mostly or entirely good, and it was people’s surroundings which could support and inspire them in their good traits, or could cause them to fall into bad habits, become greedy or selfish, commit crimes, etc), he derived it from his personal experiences working in the horrific mill and factory conditions in mills in early Industrial England. (Observations of the miserable living and working conditions of industrial workers would later inspired Engels and Marx.) His New Lanark community was a resounding success for many years: its mill was profitable and its workers and their families comfortably housed and well fed, their children educated, and their surroundings, already in a lovely river valley, clean and beautified by gardens.

Despite my best efforts, I could find no plaque or anything else marking the site of the original Rose home. Yet, I felt I had found something better: in searching for the site, I learned that within just a few city blocks from that site, many others had lived and worked to accomplish the same excellent goals that Ernestine had pursued in her time there: the freedom of enslaved people, the improvement of the lives of working people, community-building for Polish Jews and other immigrant people.

Next, I head over towards Park Row and City Hall Park.

Frankfort Street no longer exists either. It’s located somewhere underneath or alongside the place where the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge now rests, across from Pace University. Ernestine and William Rose owned a perfume and silversmith / jewelry shop there, called ‘Fancy and Perfumery’. Their rooms over the shop was their second home in New York City.

William was an accomplished jewelry maker and fine-metal worker, and while Ernestine had supported herself for many years up to that time and her perfume inventions contributed significantly to the family income, he was happy to help finance her public speaking and human rights work over the next few decades.

Here’s where the Brooklyn Bridge ends, where Frankfort ends and Park Row begins. 9 Frankfort would have been near the intersection of those two streets.

The last site I visit today is 37 Park Row, where, on January 8, 1868, in a room on the fourth floor of 37 Park Row in downtown Manhattan, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton published the first issue of Revolution, a newspaper dedicated to advancing the cause of women’s suffrage, among other social reform issues. Although the newspaper survived in its original form for just slightly over two years, it helped gain public exposure for the women’s suffrage movement and for Anthony and Stanton, two of the movement’s most influential leaders.

Elizabeth and Susan established their own feminist newspaper, The Revolution, after the split in the women’s rights movement over the 15th Amendment, which extended the right to vote to men of all races while, for the first time, specifically excluding women as it used the word ‘male’. Because they felt betrayed by the majority of the men, and many of the women, in the movement for giving up the fight for universal suffrage so easily (as they saw it), Elizabeth and Susan felt that the movement must now be run exclusively by women, for women, in order to retain the revolutionary spirit and singleness of purpose necessary to accomplish their key goal. Every contributor to the paper was a woman, as well as every single employee of the paper.

37 Park Row also no longer exists; I write my search notes in the Starbucks at 38 Park Row, across from City Hall Park. The street sign on the corner of the park dedicated to these ladies is directly across the street, and since it’s the corresponding even number across, the sign probably stands near or at the actual site where the newspaper was published. Here’s an illustration from 1868, which shows the original buildings comprising Printing House Square, where so many of New York’s major periodicals were produced:

Thus ends my first day following in Ernestine and Elizabeth’s footsteps in New York City.

To be continued…


Sources and Inspiration:

‘Bialystoker Synagogue: History’.

Brawarsky, Sandee. ‘Safe Havens on the Freedom Line.’ New York Times. January 19, 2001.

Burns, Ken. Not For Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Documentary film (1999, November 7).

Cooperative Village: History. (website)

Dorress-Worters, Paula. Mistress of Herself: Speeches and Letters of Ernestine Rose, Early Women’s Rights Leader. The Feminist Press at CUNY, 2008


Elizabeth Cady Stanton. (2014, November 4). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.


Elizabeth Cady Stanton Dies At Her Home.’ On This Day, New York Times. Oct 7th, 1902.


Ernestine Rose. (2014, July 7). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.


Freedman, Janet. ‘Ernestine Rose.’ Jewish Women’s Archive. 

Henry Street Settlement, website. 


Kolmerten, Carol. The American Life of Ernestine L. Rose. Syracuse, N.Y., 1999.

Lillian Wald. (2014, September 28). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. (2014, October 8). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia
‘Robert Owen’ and ‘New Lanark: An Introduction’. Undiscovered Scotland: The Ultimate Online Guide
Scanlon, Breanne. ‘Revolution, the Feminist Periodical’. Place Matters.


Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Josyn Gage. History of Woman Suffrage, volumes 1 and 2. Rochester, N.Y., 1881 and 1887