JOHNSTOWN — On a tour through the greater Capital Region on Thursday, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand visited the birthplace of Elizabeth Cady Stanton to deliver a message of persistence.
Specifically, she talked about the persistence needed to continue the work suffragists like Stanton began, and the persistence needed to educate people about the suffrage movement.
She was joined Thursday by Coline Jenkins, Stanton’s great-great-granddaughter. After touring the Johnstown Historical Society and Museum with Jenkins, Gillibrand waded through a crowd of about 50 to a podium decorated with the suffragist flag and a sash bearing the words, “Her Story.”
“She [Stanton] is one of our greatest leaders in American history,” Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said.
Stanton helped organize the very first women’s convention, in 1848. She also helped establish the National Woman Suffrage Association and was involved in the abolitionist movement.
This year marks the centennial of women’s right to vote in New York state; they didn’t win the right to vote on the national level until 1920. Though Stanton did not live to see it, her activism played a key role in securing the national voting right.
“She did it at a time when it was mostly unheard of, even unsafe, for women to speak truth to power,” Gillibrand said.
But many younger Americans don’t know very much about Stanton. According to Helen Martin, secretary for the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Women’s Consortium, schools don’t often don’t have the time to focus on the local history of the suffrage movement.
“In the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, Stanton is depicted on the statue right in the main rotunda. But students shouldn’t have to travel all the way to Washington to learn about these great leaders,” Gillibrand said. “That’s why museums like this are so important.”
Earlier this year, Congress passed the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission Act, which provides grants to organizations like the Johnstown Historical Society and the consortium to create educational programs focusing on the suffrage movement. According to Gillibrand, the commission has $2 million to distribute through grants, but it also has the ability to raise funds.
Meredith Russo, 10, was among those who visited the museum during Gillibrand’s visit. Jenkins gave Russo and others a tour of the museum and spoke about her great-great-grandmother: a surprising bonus, since Meredith and her mother, Deanna, only expected to hear Gillibrand speak.
“We want our kids to see how government works and to not be afraid to talk to government officials,” Deanna said.
The tour appeared to do the trick; as Gillibrand stopped to talk with the Russos before leaving for her next event, Meredith was far from shy.
“That was really cool,” she said.
There were also more than a few modern-day suffragettes in the crowd, some involved with the consortium and others just hoping to hear Gillibrand speak.
“This is a big year for us,” consortium member Barbara Reffitt said.
The visit by Gillibrand and Jenkins came one day before another big event for the consortium.
A few weeks ago, the consortium received a grant for a historical marker commemorating Stanton, and at 4 p.m. Friday, the plaque will be unveiled at the Fulton County Courthouse.