An anonymous email from a Rochester historian led to the solution of a 143-year-old mystery: Where had an important 1878 woman's rights convention been held?
Thanks to the tipster, the story of this 1878 gathering can finally be told accurately.
The mystery begins thirty years earlier. In 1848, mere weeks after the important woman's rights convention in Seneca Falls, many of the same activists held a follow-on convention in Rochester. It was held at the Rochester Unitarian Church, which burned in 1859; eventually an annex of the adjacent Presbyterian church was erected there. Today the Downtown United Presbyterian Church bears a large historical marker commemorating the 1848 gathering. But the record indicates that a thirtieth-anniversary event was held in late July 1878. The Unitarian church building was long gone. So where had the 1878 meeting taken place?
For a couple of years, the Freethought Trail assumed that the 1878 event had been held at the Presbyterian church. Meanwhile, we had a single piece of data indicating that on July 19, 1878, Rochester suffragist leader Amy Post had organized a national-level suffrage convention at Corinthian Hall, the city's premier venue for lectures and meetings.
Informative emails from the anonymous historian enabled all these questions to be elegantly solved. It turned out that the "late July" convention had been held at the Rochester Unitarian Church after all—not the original church that burned in 1859, but its replacement, which was dedicated in 1866 on a site a few hundred feet down Fitzhugh Street. (Most histories of this congregation do not mention this second church location.) The anonymous historian provided a rare old photo and a city plat map showing where the replacement church once stood—and also why it isn't there anymore. Its lot was one of several acquired by the federal government in 1883 to build a new post office, which serves today as Rochester's City Hall.
After that, it took an examination of a primary source—The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. III, edited by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Matilda Joslyn Gage—to settle the mystery of the nearly overlapping July 1878 conventions. There was only one event: the one-day meeting at Rochester Unitarian that marked the thirtieth anniversary of Seneca Falls and was also a national convention of the National Woman Suffrage Association. It was followed by an evening meeting at Corinthian Hall, which was open to the general public. Now that it was clear that these two incidents were parts of the same event, we knew exactly when that "late July" convention had occurred: on July 19, 1878.
The Freethought Trail's coverage of this event is now complete. And this most welcome ending all began with an anonymous tip!