Research for the Freethought Trail

January 16, 2020

Lately, I have been doing a considerable amount of research for one of our projects, the Freethought Trail website (https://freethought-trail.org/). The current research has been for the development of further coverage for the centenary of the Nineteenth Amendment enacting woman’s suffrage in 2020.

The website will be adding informational pages about each New York State Woman Suffrage Association (NYSWSA) conventions between 1869 and 1920 that was held in the Freethought Trail’s area of coverage. The Ingersoll Museum will also be a beneficiary of this research; new displays are planned and will be added for the opening of the 2020 season.

Freethought had a huge impact on the suffrage movement. The three leaders of the suffrage movement were located geographically in the Central New York region and were involved in the liberal movements or the “liberal idea” of the abolition of slavery. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage all had homes located in this area during this timeframe.  Gage was essentially written out of the histories of the movement because she contended that religion was a cause of the subjugation of women.

Stanton was less radical than Gage initially and did not express her anti-religious sentiments until after she was on the national scene.  As this position became more widely known, Stanton was rejected by the mainstream suffragists and eventually wrote for freethought publications because the mainstream suffrage publications would no longer publish her. She, too, was written out of the movement until she was rediscovered after 1960.

Nationally, the suffrage movement came under the influence of more conservative suffragists who were part of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and not in support of “general reform.” Also, the national organizations were trying to get the support of southern women and therefore did little or nothing for black woman suffrage.

In addition to Stanton’s, Anthony’s, and Gage’s homes, the locations of the various NYSWSA conventions will be added, and the site will be adding “Events” to its broad categories. This will allow all locations for a particular event to be located together. This is important for those large conventions because a speech may have been made at a different location from the main convention location.

The changes to the website are forthcoming, and I, for one, can’t wait to see all the new descriptions and events added.