Martha, Susan, and Election Day

November 6, 2018

business history

Empowering All

As our country awaits our election day results, my thoughts return to Rochester, NY, where an extraordinary assortment of brave souls have rallied for centuries to assure everyone had the right to vote and  fully participate in our society.

It took a radical group of Quakers, spearheaded by Amy Post, to entice Frederick Douglass to come to Rochester and publish his anti-slavery newspaper the North Star.  Post’s home was a key stop on the underground railroad.  Aware of the inequality of women, Post  went on to insist that the follow up Rochester meeting to the 1848 Seneca Falls Declaration of Equality  event be chaired by a woman, breaking new ground for women’s leadership.

Then Susan B. Anthony moved to Rochester and she linked up with Elizabeth Cady Stanton to launch a 72 year effort to give women the right to vote.

Besides women’s suffrage and her campaign against slavery, Anthony went on to embrace Martha Matilda Harper’s efforts to financially empower poor women.  Said Anthony, “Everyone needs her own pocketbook.”  Harper, born a poor servant girl in Ontario, Canada , immigrated to Rochester in search of a better life .  After nearly 25 years of servitude, she launched modern retail franchising around the world to accomplish that goal.  Understanding how stacked the system was against poor women, she only allowed poor women to own the first 100 of her 500 Harper franchised shops around the world. Rochester remained headquarters for the Harper empire.

Later, Rochester would be a beacon of religious equality, as women ministers, rabbis and priests were ordained there to lead congregations in new ways.

As we vote today, it is important to remember that our opportunities came because others fought against the status quo of inequality.   I am only sorry I can’t put my “I voted.” sticker on Anthony’s and Harper’s gravestones, but actions speak louder than words.  Let us carry on.


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