A Change of Pace- Utilizing Special Collections and Visiting Historic Sites in Auburn, NY
by: Victoria Elliot
Last week I was very much “on-the-go.” I traveled from Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls to the University of Rochester, the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park, NYS Equal Rights Heritage Center, and the Seward House Museum in Auburn. These trips were a welcome change of pace from my typical work schedule, which otherwise consists of mostly sedentary activities.
I had the opportunity to browse the University of Rochester’s Rare Books and Special Collections library. I was looking to learn more about the Rochester Women’s Rights Convention, held two weeks following the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention. I read through Box 3 of the Isaac and Amy Post Family Papers, and came across some great resources. One of the most interesting letters I read was from John Willis, addressed to his “Esteemed Sister” Amy Post, regarding the Rochester convention.
The letter opens with the following: “I thought when I received that Rochester paper [the North Star] giving an account of the woman’s [sic] convention and of their rights and what they wanted… that I would write to Isaac and and request him to peruade [sic] his wife to try to have a little more stability, and to act more like a sensable [sic] woman.”
Esteemed sister, indeed!
This letter is a great example of the paternalistic attitudes held toward women. This section of the letter doubly admonishes Amy Post- she is attacked for her “inappropriate” behavior, but by stating his plan to address his concerns to Isaac, Amy Post’s husband, John Willis reflects the belief in the husband’s authority and superiority over his wife. The rest of the letter is likewise hostile to the idea of women’s rights, and this sentiment extends to women’s involvement in abolition, temperance, and free soil activities.
The Posts were Spiritualists, abolitionists, and supporters of women’s rights and other social reform movements. Their home was a station on the Underground Railroad in Rochester, NY, and they were close friends of important figures like William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, William C. Nell, Abby Kelley, and Harriet Jacobs. I’ll close this blog post with one of my favorite finds from the University of Rochester’s Isaac and Amy Post Family Papers- in a letter from Frederick Douglass to Amy Post, Mr. Douglass assures her in the fashion of a true agitator:
“The coming Women’s Rights Convention is looked forward to with much interest… I will be on hand if nothing happens.”
(For the full letter: Douglass, Frederick, “Douglass, Frederick. Letter to Amy Kirby Post.,” RBSCP Exhibits, accessed August 12, 2019, https://rbscpexhibits.lib.rochester.edu/items/show/3153 )