The twenty-ninth annual convention of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association (NYSWSA) was held in Geneva on Wednesday through Saturday, November 3–6, 1897. (Nineteenth-century practice was to use the singular, woman's; later practice was to use the plural, women's.)
Not long before—in August of 1897—Syracuse suffrage activist Harriet May Mills visited Fossenvue, the lakeside cultural retreat created by Elizabeth Smith Miller and her daughter, Anne Fitzhugh Miller. Mills urged the mother-daughter duo to organize a convention in Geneva. Despite the short notice, they did so. Venues included the Smith Opera House, Collins Music Hall, and the Nester Hotel. Speakers included Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and other prominent suffragists. Other speakers included Harriot Stanton Blatch and Rose Schneiderman. Isabel Howland, of the prominent abolitionist Howland family of Sherwood and a college classmate of Elizabeth Smith Miller’s, served as treasurer of the convention.
Sessions open to the public were held at Collins Hall and the Smith Opera House, use of which was donated to the conference by its owner, the pro-suffrage Geneva entrepreneur and philanthropist William Smith. Business meetings were held in downtown Geneva at the Hotel Nester.
Among the approximately 150 attendees was Auburn suffrage campaigner and philanthropist Eliza Wright Osborne, whose home site is a Freethought Trail site.
Collins Hall was the site of the convention's opening session on the evening of Wednesday, November 3. An audience estimated at 100 filled the hall beyond capacity. Representing the business community of Geneva, M. F. Blaine, president of the Geneva Permanent Loan and Savings Association, welcomed the convention. Speaking in response was Mariana Willets Wright Chapman of Brooklyn, president of NYSWSA. Alice Stone Blackwell of Boston (daughter of pioneer suffragist Lucy Stone) praised New York State as being the single state best organized for suffrage activism. Nationally prominent suffrage activist Lillie Devereaux Blake spoke on women's work in municipal government as a path to the vote. Concluding the evening session was suffragist icon Susan B. Anthony, who praised lead convention organizer Elizabeth Smith Miller as an energetic activist whose work made up for the fact that Geneva did not yet have a local women's equality club. (Miller would correct this lack mere weeks after the convention, forming a Geneva Political Equality Club that in ten years would grow to be the state's largest such local organization.)
Plenary sessions were held at the Smith Opera House on Thursday and Friday, November 4–5. There were three sessions each day, lasting from 9:00 a.m. to noon, 2:00–4:30 p.m., and 7:45–9:45 p.m.
The Thursday morning session was given over to minutes of the past convention and committee reports. Thursday afternoon featured the report of Harriet May Mills, chair of the organization committee. There was an election of officers, highlighted by the re-relection of Mariana Chapman. Nationally prominent suffrage activist Anna Howard Shaw, vice president at large of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, performed the popular "Question Box" feature, in which she would draw delegates' questions from a box and answer them spontaneously.
The Thursday evening session featured addresses by Albany suffragist Mary Catherine Seymour Howell; Elmira attorney Julie R. Jenny, who spoke on the unequal treatment of men and women under property law; and cleric Annis Ford Eastman, also of Elmira, on the inalienable rights of woman.
Friday morning's session included further committee reports, the decision where the next year's convention would be held, and consideration of amendments to NYSWSA's constitution. The afternoon session was given over to county reports and the reports of the resolutions committee and the press committee.
Friday evening's session apparently involved a late adjustment to the schedule. Media accounts say a second address by Julie R. Jenny was extremely well received, though the convention program does not show her among the evening's speakers. The scheduled concluding address was delivered by Anna Howard Shaw.
Friday's evening session concluded the public portion of the 1897 convention, though NYSWSA's Executive Committee met on the morning of Saturday, November 6, at the Hotel Nester.
Thanks to John Marks for research assistance.