JOHNSTOWN — The hometown of Elizabeth Cady Stanton welcomed another historic figure on Saturday when the likeness of Lucretia Mott, one of Stanton’s oldest friends and considered her mentor, made a visit via living historian Renee-Noelle Felice.
Wearing a gray Quaker dress, a linen cap, shawl and gloves, Felice spoke to a full room of attendees in the basement of the First Presbyterian Church in Johnstown.
“It was like we were back 100 years,” Ruth Levinton of Johnstown said. “She got so much into character, her tone of voice and her way of speaking. She was phenomenal.”
Felice was invited to appear by the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Women’s Consortium.
“We’ve had people come and play Elizabeth Cady Stanton and a couple people had given me names of people that did things [similarly],” ECSWC vice-president Sandy Maceyka said. “I called to see if it was a possibility and she said yes.”
Felice, a 77-year-old living historian from near Syracuse, has been portraying Mott for the past five years, previously taking on the roles of Matilda Josly Gage, another suffrage activist, and lighthouse keeper Katherine Walker during her earlier years living on Staten Island.
Asked to portray Gage for a friend’s 50th birthday party, it was Felice who offered up the idea of portraying Lucretia Mott instead.
Saturday, the group was locked in on Felice’s mannerisms and recollection of Mott engaging with a younger Stanton.
The two first met in London before working together to create the first women’s convention in the United States at Seneca Falls, Stanton’s second home.
“At Seneca Falls, Elizabeth Cady Stanton began to see herself not as a wife, not as a daughter, but as a leader,” Felice said while in character as Mott. “We provided her with the opportunity to begin her journey.”
Felice wove a recollection of Mott’s own life, marriage and life as a abolitionist, and joining the suffrage movement with Stanton. She reflected on life in the early 1800s, how racism existed during the area and was an undercurrent within the suffrage movement.
Felice impressed Laurie Kozakiewicz, a Caroga resident who teaches American History at UAlbany and attended Saturday’s free event.
“In the world of public history in which you try to bridge academics and bring it to the people so that it’s relevant to everybody, this is the perfect thing for doing that,” Kozakiewicz said. “We were all sitting at the table saying, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s like it’s really her.’ You could just go chat with her. She was great.”
The warm reception was heartening for Felice, who stayed in character until she stepped out of her Mott attire in a separate room, away from the attendees.
“The best performances I’ve ever done are always with either larger, or at least substantial groups and the whole group just was there, you know, and it just makes it much easier,” Felice said. “I’ve never actually performed in a play, I’m terrible at learning lines, but I’m good at storytelling.”
After sharing her recollections of life and friendship with Johnstown’s own Stanton, Felice, as Mott, opened the meeting up to questions from the audience.
Some were about looking back on her life, how she thinks she has been remembered and a final poignant question was asked about women’s rights in the 21st century.
“We have not progressed as much as I had hoped,” Felice said as Mott.