Why Rochester, NY Was So Progressive.

In the mid – late 1800s, Rochester supported Frederick Douglass and his publication of the North Star before it embraced Susan B, Anthony and helped 15 women vote,    Mary Anthony’s  (Susan’s sister) was ultimately  paid equally to men as a Rochester school principal,   The community embraced Martha Matilda Harper’s  innovative beauty salon,  which led to Harper’s launch of  modern retail franchising and social entrepreneurship, putting poor women in ownership positions.   In  addition, Lillian Wald , raised in Rochester, went on to start the Visiting Nurses in New York City and Kate Gleason, became the first female bank president in New York State, as well as a pioneer of affordable housing and the first woman executive in the tool and die industry.

Often in the 20th century fellow businesswomen  would joke about why Rochester women were so extraordinary and  some would say , “It’s in the water.”  In fact, while the water quality is pristine, the credit belongs to a unique community  climate created by a multitude of progressive influencers.   Surely the Iroquois Nation , which deeply valued and created separate by powerful roles for both the women and men in their tribes, provided a stark contrast to western values that denied women the right to their children, to own property, or even vote.    Iroquois property was passed down through the mother’s side of the family.  The Quakers, suffragists, and even our Founding Fathers knew about the power and dignity given to Iroquois women.  A particularly radical group of Hicksite Quakers, led by Amy Post,   came to Rochester and provided the impetus and funds  for Douglass to live and publish in Rochester, as well as for supporting the women’s equality efforts.

The impact of these bold influences helped Rochester become a hub of social, spiritual, and economic transformation for the community, the state and the nation. As we now celebrate Black History Month  and shortly  celebrate Women’s History Month , perhaps we should pause and thank Rochester for embracing such outliers .  May we all reflect on how a community’s values can lead to such positive change for all.

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