Central Stairway of the Metropolitan Opera House
I commence my second day in New York City from mid-Manhattan, and work my way up.
I begin with the Metropolitan Opera House, where a grand celebration of the life and work of Elizabeth Cady Stanton was held on her eightieth birthday, November 12th, 1895, arranged by the National Council of Women and Susan B. Anthony, her fifty-year partner in the cause of women’s rights.
The Met is currently located at the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts, several blocks west of the south end of Central Park, between 62nd and 65th Streets and Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues.
As you can no doubt recognize from its decidedly mid-20th century style, this is not the original building, and as I later discover, not the site of the original one. With this series, as with my first on David Hume, I research sites to visit only briefly before I set out since I want these journeys to lead me to new and unexpected discoveries.
New York City’s Metropolitan Opera House today
As I mention in the previous piece in this series, I learn about New York City’s penchant for tearing down and building anew in the course of this travel series. My sister Therese described it best, after reading my account of the first day: ‘Sounds like you went on the most fun scavenger hunt ever!’ That’s really what this series is intended to be, a hunt for the sense of the places and times of these heroes of thought that I admire, so I hope you don’t mind the twists and turns in the story as I occasionally discover myself at the wrong location the first time around.
Here’s the original Met where Elizabeth’s birthday celebration was held, at 39th and Broadway Streets:
Old Metropolitan Opera House, New York City, image public domain via Library of Congress
On the first day of my trip, I pass by this spot, since I walk to the Lower East Side from Chelsea via Broadway, but I take no pictures of it since I only learn later that the Met had been relocated from its original site.
Elizabeth was deeply moved to be honored in such spectacular fashion during this event. In the early years of her activism, when she was obliged to stay home with her seven children, she was often frustrated that she was unable to be present in person as the women’s rights movements progressed and grew. She had worked closely with Susan B. Anthony through several decades, writing speeches, letters, and articles, and devising campaign tactics to introduce and pass legislation to expand the rights of women. While she was widely published and she wrote prodigiously on its behalf, she had often felt removed from the movement, a ‘caged lion’, as Susan would say. At this birthday celebration, however, Elizabeth could have no doubts any longer at the instrumental role she played, and the gratitude of countless women for the freedoms she had helped them win.
St. Anthony’s, once the Church of the Puritans, Harlem, NYC
Next, I go to Harlem, the northernmost of my destinations planned for the day, to work my way south since I want to end up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (for a lovely art-filled evening; though I inquire, I find no images or artifacts associated with Ernestine or Elizabeth at the Met).
This time, I’m seeking the Church of the Puritans, site of the first Women’s Rights convention after the Civil War in 1866, where both Elizabeth and Ernestine Rose were featured speakers, Elizabeth’s campaign as the first woman to run for Congress in 1866 was discussed (she received 24 votes!) , and the American Equal Rights Association was formed. The AERA would hold its first annual meeting the next year there in 1867. The AERA was formed in order to focus on a broader agenda: to seek expansion not only of women’s rights, but to equal rights ‘irrespective of race, color, or sex’.
The Church of the Puritans I visit is at 15 W. 130th St near 5th Ave, Harlem, a neo-Gothic style church that looks very like it originally did when it was built in the 1870’s…. what!?! I exclaim to myself, when I’m at the New York City Public Library the next morning, doing more research for this piece. The meeting was held in 1866, so it couldn’t be the same building! Sigghhh. That’s the second site in a row that I visit that day, it turns out, that wasn’t the original one.
Though I’m disappointed for a moment, I get over it pretty quickly. To begin with, I enjoyed my bus ride to Harlem, I’ve never been there before and I’m really enjoying learning more about New York City.
Secondly, I meet this really nice lady in front of the church (it’s now called St. Ambrose) who I approach out front, to see if I can take a look inside. She’s evidently waiting for a man to return who was doing some work there. I ask her if the church is open to the public, and she said yes, but only during services. She asks me if I live around there and I tell her, briefly, about the women’s rights movement history associated with the Church of the Puritans, its former name. She’s friendly, and we chat a bit; she invites me to come to church on Sunday and meet the minister. The church is pretty, is on a lovely street, and has an interesting history of its own.
Museum of the City of New York
Main stairway and light installation at the Museum of the City of New York
Then I head for the Museum of the City of New York, a small and lovely museum, with lovely natural light (even in its windowless areas, it’s beautifully lit) and nicely curated, well-proportioned galleries. It’s at 1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd St, nearer the north end of Central Park on the east side.
In 2009 the Museum of the City of New York recognized Ernestine Rose on its NYC400 list of those who have had the greatest impact and influence on the world’s greatest city.’ The MCNY also hosted a celebration of Ernestine’s life on April 27th, 2010, the most significant event I could find in recent years in New York City, for this woman who did so much in the cause of human rights, but has been so long mostly forgotten.
As I mention in a previous post in this series, it appears clear from my reading and research thus far that Ernestine was largely forgotten as a major figure in any of the various human’s rights causes she championed because she was such a controversial figure: not only were her campaigns and public speaking for women’s rights and abolition radical for the time, but her uncompromising egalitarianism and unapologetic atheism were practically unheard of. Though such giants in the feminist movement as Elizabeth Cady Stanton (who carried through the campaign Ernestine had begun to obtain property rights for women) to Susan B. Anthony (who traveled with Ernestine on speaking tours and kept a portrait of her on her wall) considered her work a primary inspiration for theirs, later feminists downplayed her legacy due to her controversial, very publicly aired beliefs. Elizabeth was among the few who admired and emulated Ernestine’s outspoken freethought and arguments for complete religious freedom, and was no doubt inspired by her when she herself, in her later years, offered a scathing critique of the Bible’s despicable passages about women.
Nothing of the Ernestine Rose exhibit remains, but there’s another wonderful one dedicated to New York City’s radical movements, from activism for immigrants’ and religious minorities’ rights (Quakers and Catholics were two religious groups especially persecuted in NYC’s early history) to women’s, ethnic minorities’, workers’, and cyclists’ rights. The women’s rights movement is also covered in this exhibit, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and especially her daughter, Harriet Stanton Blatch, are prominently featured.
Here are some photos of plaques and pictures from the exhibit telling the story of Elizabeth, her daughter Harriet, and the great feminists who carried on their work:
In the museum’s other New York City history exhibits and in my research the next day, I learn more about the city leaders and planners’ rebuilding projects, to make the city’s layout more orderly, its architecture more modern and state-of-the-art, but in the process, much of the city’s historical character was lost. One of the movements that the Activist New York exhibit covered was the efforts of people who fought to keep more of the city’s oldest, most beautiful, and most historically significant structures from being torn down.
The Stanton Building, New York City
From the MCNY, I head across Central Park (so beautiful in the fall!) in a south-westerly direction, to visit the last site of the day.
The building where Elizabeth Cady Stanton lived the last years of her life, and where she died, is also no longer standing. The Stanton is located at 250 W 94th St, New York, NY 10025, between West End Ave and Broadway, several blocks west of Central Park. The original building is gone, torn down and another built in its place shortly after she died, and the new building was named for her.
Her granddaughter, Nora Stanton Blatch, also lived here as a high school student and graduated as the first female civil engineer from Cornell University. No doubt, her grandmother would have been extra proud; both her daughter and her granddaughter carried on her legacy of breaking down barriers for women.
In addition to the building name itself, there’s an exhibit in the main lobby in tribute to Elizabeth, with photographs and some information about her life and work:
To be continued…
Sources and Inspiration:
‘About Ernestine Rose‘. Ernestine Rose Society, Brandeis University (website)
Activist New York. Exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York, Fall 2014.
‘American Equal Rights Association (AERA)‘. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014.
‘An Introduction to the Metropolitan Opera.’ (2012, July) The Metropolitan Opera (website).
Belden, E. Porter. New York, Past, Present, and Future: Comprising a History of the City of New York. New York, 1849.
Burns, Ken. Not For Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Documentary film (1999, November 7). Also listed on IMDB
The Church of the Puritans, Presbyterian: 130th Street, near 5th Ave, New York, by Church of the Puritans (New York, N.Y.) Published 1889. Retrived from the New York Public Library digital collections
Dorress-Worters, Paula. Mistress of Herself: Speeches and Letters of Ernestine Rose, Early Women’s Rights Leader. The Feminist Press at CUNY, 2008
‘EC’s 80th Birthday Celebration, 1895‘.(Updated 2010, August). The Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Papers Project. (website).
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
‘The First Metropolitan Opera House‘ (2013, March 25) Topics in Chronicling America. Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room, Library of Congress (website).
Freedman, Janet. ‘Ernestine Rose.’ Jewish Women’s Archive.
Kolmerten, Carol. The American Life of Ernestine L. Rose. Syracuse, N.Y., 1999
Gaylor, Annie Laurie. ‘Ernestine L. Rose Lives!‘ Freedom From Religion Foundation website, 2010, April 9th.
Gordon, Ann. The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: An Awful Hush, 1895 – 1906, Volume 6. Rutgers University Press, 2013.
‘New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission‘. (2014, October 8). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady.Eighty Years And More: Reminiscences 1815-1897. New York: T. Fisher Unwin, 1898.
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Josyn Gage. History of Woman Suffrage, Volume 1 and Volume 2. Rochester, N.Y., 1881 and 1887
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. The Woman’s Bible. New York, 1895