I put the plates of crustless tea sandwiches and tea cakes on the wicker table between the lawn chairs. The breeze off the lake cooled the August heat.
Susan remarked. “These remind me of the times we spent touring and spreading the news of our suffrage amendment in New York’s Finger Lake resorts in 1859.”
So you sought to bring woman’s rights and suffrage to the entire nation from New York?
Well, that's a bit of an exaggeration. But we did take advantage of people we could influence where we found them. We had hopes for the states to sign on to woman’s suffrage as the rewrote their state constitutions. Several were engaging in such efforts and so we provided language for them to use. We contacted legislative leaders throughout the country. Antoinette Perry and I happened to meet one such person by happenstance when we spoke at a New York resort in 1861. There we met Judge John Ormond from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. A father with three daughters, and well placed in Alabama political circles, he welcomed and voiced support to our ideas. His later correspondence rejected our plans.She laughed. “Shall I tell you of the adventure my fellow suffrage activist Antoinette Perry and I had?
Yes, please. I would love to hear the story.
Yes, please. I would love to hear the story.
After the Woman’s Rights Convention in New York City Nettie Perry and I set out on a speaking tour. One memorable stop was the main parlor of the newly built Fort William Henry resort at the head of Lake George in central New York state. It had rooms for nine hundred guests who could take boat rides on Lake George, walk the beautiful ornamental grounds, have afternoon tea on the 235-foot veranda facing the lake, and enjoy band concerts. We were part of the regular fare of evening informational speeches.
|View of the Fort William Henry resort on Lake George, New York
Were you able to meet the guests as well as speaking to them as an audience?
Yes, We were treated as regular guests. And at breakfast I acted, as I often was wont to do with determination as a liberated woman. I'm afraid I may have embarrassed my companions. Nettie described the events and she said it better than I can report. Nettie, woman’s right's activist William Powell, and I were seated for in the hotel dining room for our meal.
Here’s what Nettie wrote: “Miss Anthony glanced at her menu and began to give her order not to Powell in ladylike modesty, but promptly and energetically to the waiter. He turned a grandiloquent, deaf ear; Powell fidgeted and studied his newspaper; she persisted, determined that no man should come between her and her own order for coffee, cornbread and beefsteak. ‘What do I understand is the full order, sir, for your party?’ demanded the waiter, doggedly and suggestively. Powell tried to repeat her wishes but stumbled and stammered and grew red in the face. I put in a working oar to cover the undercurrent of laughter, while she, coolly unconscious of everything except that there was not occasion for a ‘middleman,’ since she was entirely competent to look after her own breakfast, repeated her order, and the waiter, looking intensely disgusted, concluded to bring something, right or wrong.”
Oh my. Can you tell me who came to your presentations at resorts such as this one?
Our audience for the evening presentation was composed of people of means and some political influence from New York, who could afford to spend a week, or a month away from the city. There were also guests who traveled from the southern slave-holding states to escape the summer’s suffocating heat. I was fascinated to meet Judge John Ormond from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and two of his daughters.
Did you have a particular action you were promoting? Certainly this was well before voting rights amendments were brought before congress.
Yes. The nation had been continually growing and changing during the 70 years since the federal Constitution was written in the summer of 1787. Some state legislatures were considering revising their constitutions. We woman’s right’s activists saw an opportunity. We wrote a Memorandum for Amendment to those state constitutions.
What was your goal?
We wanted changes enacted in every state of the union and we had dramatic language to make our point. I was rather pleased to exclaim: “The mothers of the Revolution bravely shared all dangers, persecutions, and death; and their daughters now claim an equal share in al the glories and triumphs of your success. Shall they stand before a body of American legislators and ask in vain for their right of suffrage—their right of property—their right to the wages they earn—their right to their children and their homes—their sacred right to personal liberty—to a trial by a jury of their peers?”
How did you seek to have these changes made?
We had specific calls to action for amendments or revisions to state constitutions for both woman and others. These included that “the word ‘male” shall be expurgated, and that henceforth you shall legislate for all citizens. There can be no privileged classes in a truly democratic government. There can be no privileged classes in a truly democratic government.” And finally I stated firmly: “Where, under our Declaration of Independence, does the white Saxon man get his power to deprive all women and negroes of their inalienable rights?” We were concerned with voting, but also issues necessary to providing the rights of full and equal citizenship to woman: the right to own property, to divorce, to control her own money, and the rights to her children in the case of marital separation.
Did you have any following conversations with any members of the audience?
We were most fortunate the next day. When we took our leave by stage we joined the party of Judge John Ormond from Alabama.
Who was he?
Judge Ormond was a well-regarded former member of the Alabama House of Representatives and he also served on the state’s Supreme Court. He was a trustee of the state university. Living in the state capitol of Tuscaloosa, Ormond continued to be influential in state politics and government. He was a widower. He had brought his two younger daughters Margaret Cornelia aged 17 and her sister Catherine Amanda, who would have been about 15, to the northern resort to escape the heat. We chatted amiably and exchanged addresses. I subsequently sent a copy of the Memorandum to the Judge for him to share with legislators in Alabama. He told Miss Anthony he had been instrumental in securing many laws favorable to women in that state and it would be a pleasure to him to see that their memorial [woman’s rights memorial statement] was presented to the Alabama legislature. When she reached home she sent it to him with the following letter:
This was in the late summer of 1859? So what happened next? Did the continuing agitation between slave and free states impact your efforts?
Yes, that’s a good question. The fight for woman’s rights and the efforts to end slavery were entwined.
In early October, I followed up on our conversation by sending Judge Ormond a copy of our woman’s right’s memorial. In my letter I asked him to give me a full report of the action taken upon it? And I sent along wishes for his family saying: ‘I hope you and your daughters arrived home safe. Say to the elder I shall be most happy to hear from her when she has fairly inaugurated some noble life work. I trust each will take to her soul a strong purpose and that on her tombstone shall be engraved her own name and hew own noble deeds instead of merely the daughter of Judge Ormond, or the relict of some Honorable or D.D. When true womanhood shall be attained it will be spoken of and remembered for itself alone. My kindest regards to them. Accompanied with the most earnest desire that they shall make truth and freedom the polar star of their lives.’
To this Judge Ormond made a cordial reply on October 17, 1859:
Dear Madam: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 2nd inst., with the papers enclosed. The petition to the Legislature will be presented by the senator from this county and I will apprise you of the action taken upon it. My daughters are obliged to you for the interest you take in them. To a certain extent I agree with you as to the duties of woman. I am greatly in favor of her elevation to her proper sphere as the equal of man as to her civil rights, the security of her person, the right to her property and, where there is a separation after marriage, her equal right with the father to the custody and education of the children. All this as a legislator I have endeavored to accomplish, making large innovations upon the ancient common law.
So did Judge Ormond follow through with this progressive action?
Sadly, no. In between our jovial August conversations and our October correspondence the world changed. On October 16, 1859, anarchist John Brown raided the arsenal in Harper’s Ferry as an act of insurrection against slavery.
In December I received another letter from Judge Ormond. The tone and content were dramatically different from our earlier exchanges. This letter made it clear that John Brown’s actions and the reaction of many Northerners had changed everything. The judge wrote, “The atrocity of this act, countenanced as it manifestly was by a great party at the North, as shown by the sympathy felt for him and the honors paid to his memory, has extinguished the last spark of fraternal feeling for the people of the North.”
His words foretold the tragedies of the next years and the cost to the progress of the woman’s movement for the next twenty years.
I wonder what happened to his daughters. Shall we look?
It didn’t take long to find the Ormond family in Tuscaloosa’s Greenwood Cemetery. There were the markers for Judge John Ormond. He died in 1866. Cornelia was there, too.
Her grave marker reads:
Cornelia Ormond Hays
Wife of Maj. Charles Hays CSA.
1 (7-ounce) package dried currants
1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup cold butter (1 stick)
1 more egg, separated
1 tablespoon brandy or water
Extra flour for rolling dough
Extra sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Lightly grease a baking sheet
Chop the currants at least in half, the more finely chopped, the better. In a medium mixing bowl combine the flour and sugar. Using a pastry cutter, or two knives, cut the butter into the flour and sugar mixture until it looks like coarse cornmeal. A few larger pieces, are fine. Stir in the currants. In a small bowl, lightly beat the whole egg and the egg yolk with the tablespoon of brandy or water. Set the other egg white aside to be brushed on top before baking.
Lightly flour your work surface. Gently pat the dough out into a rectangle about ¼-inch thick. Cut with a round cutter – the original recipe called for using a “wine glass” – mine makes a tea cake about 2 ½ inches in diameter. You can make them smaller and baking time will be less. Place the cakes on prepared sheet. Lightly eat the remaining egg white. Brush over the cookies, sprinkle with a small bit of granulated sugar and prick a couple of times with a fork. Bake until bottom is browned and top is beginning to turn brown. About 10 to 15 minutes. The center will still be soft.
Makes about 2 dozen 2 1/2-inch tea cakes.
Makes about 2 dozen 2 1/2-inch tea cakes.
Adapted from A New System of Domestic Cookery Maria Eliza Rundell 1859
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