Trove of Susan B. Anthony letters found in man's barn

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — A trove of letters — including 26 from Susan B. Anthony — and other historical documents, almost all from 1869 to 1880, have been acquired by the University of Rochester.

The documents, not previously made public, belonged to Isabella Beecher Hooker, a leader in the suffragist movement based in Connecticut. They were discovered among a clutter of boxes by George Merrow when he was cleaning out his barn in Mansfield, Conn.

"I was aware of the Hooker name because my grandfather purchased a house from them," said Merrow.

Merrow and his wife, Libbie, of Bloomfield, Conn., recognized the importance of nearly 100 letters and organizing documents for women's rights, and consulted with two rare book dealers, who in turn contacted the University of Rochester. The university purchased the trove for an undisclosed amount.

A sense of urgency and commitment runs through this suffrage correspondence, with Anthony trying to solicit a "spicy" article from Hooker for the newspaper, The Revolution, that she published with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and rallied support for women's suffrage.

Anthony, who was based in Rochester, N.Y., referred to herself in another letter as a "mother bird," who had trained other suffrage activists.

In another letter, Anthony praised Hooker for "all you have done and are doing," and hoped that God would bring "many helpers" to Hooker, who was involved in organizing, both in Connecticut and elsewhere.

Sometimes Anthony and Stanton teamed up on letters to Hooker, who was from a prominent family and was the half-sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

In one such letter, Stanton wrote: "I can speak and work with all the children of men."

The collection also has a printed copy of a speech, "Man, Mannon, Monopoly," delivered before a Chicago labor union by activist Lucinda B. Chandler.

And there is a copy of the National Equal Rights newspaper promoting the 1884 presidential campaign of Belva Lockwood.

"We oppose monopoly, the tendency of which is to make the rich, richer, and the poor, poorer," says the front-page story spelling out her platform.

Jessica Lacher-Feldman, assistant dean for Rare Books, Special Collection and Preservation, was among the University of Rochester officials who met with the rare book dealers representing Merrow in December.

"It gives you blow by blow the work being done. You really have a ground account of trying to manage this newspaper, trying to solicit articles and making sure voices were heard," said Lacher-Feldman.

The collection is being digitized and will be put online in the months ahead.

Part of the collection also will be on display — for public view — in June in the Department of Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation at the university's Rush Rhees Library.

Ann D. Gordon, a research professor emerita from Rutgers University and director of the Stanton and Anthony Papers Project, also reviewed the collection.

"It intersects with stories we know, but adds stories," said Gordon.

Anthony wanted the 15th Amendment, which granted African-American men the right to vote, to extend to women.

She and other suffragists believed that by trying to cast ballots, they would win court cases affirming the right of women to vote.

But when Anthony exercised her right to vote in the 1872 election, she was arrested in Rochester for voting for a member of the House of Representatives "without having a lawful right to vote."

In 1872, Anthony was found guilty and ordered to a pay a $100 fine, which she refused to pay.

"The allegation of criminality was based solely on the fact of her sex," Gordon wrote in her analysis, The Trial of Susan B. Anthony.

The struggle for constitutional protection to guarantee a woman's right to vote continued until the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

Follow James Goodman on Twitter: @Goodman_DandC

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