Two weekends ago, as you’re reading this, my super amazing girlfriend and I went to the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum. I have a pretty strong affinity with Susan B., because when I was really young my mom had saved for me a Susan B. Anthony dollar, which I could look at if I asked really nice, with mom retrieving it from a box she kept in her room. I had three teddy bears, and they cycled through several sets of names because I kept forgetting them, until I named them “Susan,” “B,” and “Anthony” (Susan looked kinda like a “girl” bear I guess, and then B was dressed in a small t-shirt that had a picture of a pig on it diving into a pool, so B was “cool,” and got the “cool” name of “B,” and Anthony wore a little sweater so he was a nerd and Anthony was a nerd name).
So of all the places in the Berkshires, my aforementioned super amazing girlfriend had never been here because it was only opened about 10 years ago and she had never gotten around to it. That made it a convenient place for the two of us to go to, together. And plus, the centennial of women’s suffrage is coming up on August 26th, so that’s neat. Anyways, what with the pandemic and all, the place had timed tickets, and we arrived at 11:28 am, with the website having sternly warned us to wait in our car until the previous tour group had cleared out and there was sufficient social distance between us and them to be able to enter, at which point staff would come retrieve us. Except when we arrived, we were the only car in the four-car parking lot, and the place looked deserted, so we wandered up. We had the place to ourselves the whole time, which was nice, because it is not a large museum.
The whole place is about four rooms. It’s pretty well done for what it is, and with the pandemic they (well, the one nice woman working there) handed us a tablet for a self-guided audio tour. You enter in the kitchen, divert into a pantry that holds the history of the house’s restoration and journey towards museum-dom, and then enter into the intensely named “birthing room,” where Susan B. herself and three of her siblings were born. In the kitchen and birthing room, they have some information on her early life and Quaker upbringing, and some excellent examples of needlework, so that is cool. The next room has a store display, and the story about how her dad was selling alcohol for a while, but then after a man died of exposure due to being drunk (someone else sold it to him, not Susan B.’s dad), he forswore it. There is also a cutout of Susan B. Anthony, with which you can take a selfie.
It is in the fourth and actually final room that you get to the jam-packed story of Susan B. Anthony’s journey in advocacy and the suffrage movement. I had not realized that she was active in both the temperance and anti-slavery movements, and a friend of Frederick Douglass. Good thing I went to the museum!
Besides the displays, this is the room that really assembled a small but significant number of artifacts from the suffrage movement. I was drawn to some of the obvious, hit-you-over-the-head parallels to the current Black Lives Matter movement. Race and racism played a part even in the suffragette movement, as the figurine (on the left in the below, hastily assembled collage) clearly demonstrates. They seem to have had a hand-held laminated sheet to give some insight into the statue, but that was missing due to COVID, so I don’t know exactly what the statue means but I can make some guesses. And when it comes to Black Lives Matter, people are aghast that protests can turn violent, and property damage can ensue. I don’t want to delve into whether it is BLM protesters or right-wing agitators actually breaking windows, but the museum told us that the suffragettes would carry around toffee hammers like the ones below specifically to break windows as a form of protest. The toffee hammers were convenient, because the suffragettes could hide them in their purses, and breaking windows was convenient, because how else do the powerless assert power? For all the vapors people get over broken windows, I gotta say, it worked at least once, you know? The pin is only included because I found it witty.
One thing I had to keep reminding myself of was that there were actually huge swaths of people out there that were very much against women’s suffrage. That was tough to remember because so many of the anti-suffrage pamphlets focused on the terrible world that awaited if women were given the vote. From the perspective of 2020, I think they read as awesome and amazing. Women hanging out on street corners chatting! Women wearing pants! Women achieving financial independence and having interests outside the home! And below is a terrible vision of a “future inauguration,” with a badass looking woman laying down, I assume, some truths, while other women listen and a sad-looking man in the corner carries around a ribbon on a pillow. I thought to myself “heck yeah” before I realized this was supposed to be bad:
And with that the Susan B. Anthony birthplace museum was done. I actually managed to buy some lapel pins here, so that was cool. They also had a lovely garden full of Black-Eyes Susans outside, which I always like because heck yeah, Maryland, though it wasn’t until I wrote this blog post that I realized why they wanted Black Eyed Susans, and it wasn’t until I googled it and scrolled way down on this webpage that I figured out it wasn’t a pun on her name and the flowers were from the Anthony family homestead on West Road, apparently. Anyways. A lovely little museum, and remember, wear a mask:
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