SCHENECTADY — Kim Mabee wants locals to stop at Harriet Leonard Colburn’s former home and realize the impact she had on the city.
Colburn was a suffragist, musician and leader of civic organizations in Schenectady throughout her 75-year lifetime. And now, a blue sign with the label “HOME OF HARRIET LEONARD COLBURN” sits in front of 1418 Union St. in her honor after a ceremony on Friday morning.
Mabee, historian for the Schenectada Chapter of the Daughters of American Revolution, first understood the importance of recognizing her involvement in Schenectady’s rich history three years ago. That’s when author Darlene Lee came to the DAR three years ago with a powerpoint on Colburn, the chapter’s founder. Mabee knew Colburn was the organization’s founder but was unaware of her history and activism.
“We didn’t know anything about her at all,” Mabee said.
But once Mabee and others found out, they knew they had to let everyone else know. The new historical marker recognizes Colburn’s role in the DAR, as a suffragist, as a musician and as a civic leader. Mabee also said the decision to honor Colburn came in part due to the upcoming 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in 2020.
Colbun was born into a diverse family of strong women in 1856. Her mother, Cynthia Leonard, was the first woman to run for mayor of New York City and her sister, Lillian Russell, was a famed actress and singer. Susan B. Anthony visited Colburn and her family often.
Colburn, inspired by the work of those before her, went on to play important roles in the Schenectady Historical Society, the Music Teachers Association and the Republican Women’s Club, as well as the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She was a piano teacher as well as an activist.
“She did lots of volunteer work,” Mabee said. “She got organizations started that are still around. … [She] helped make Schenectady what it is today.”