Philippo uses a local lens to look at large historical issues

Enterprise file photo — Sean Mulkerrin

Christopher Philippo


History is all around us although few of us delve in, as Christopher Philippo does, to find it.

Take women’s suffrage for instance.

In 2017, as New York was celebrating its centennial for women’s suffrage, the William G. Pomeroy Foundation notified historical societies across the state about a grant program for markers.

At a Lansingburgh Historical Society meeting, Philippo recalled, the secretary mentioned the Pomeroy letter and said, “We didn’t have any suffragists here, so we’ll just move on to the next item on the agenda.

“And I said, ‘Wait a minute … Let me just look first.’”

Philippo discovered Lansingburgh, which is now part of Troy, had a significant suffragist, Caroline Gilkey Rogers.

She spoke at local and national women’s rights conventions and her home was nicknamed the Equal Rights Hotel because, whenever there were out-of-town suffragists visiting for conventions in the area, they would stay with Rogers, Philippo learned.

Rogers attempted to vote in Lansingburgh in 1885 and recounted the experience in remarks before a State Assembly Committee on Grievances. Philippo unearthed this account of her comments in an 1885 report in the Daily Saratogian:

“A short time ago a call was issued for all taxpaying inhabitants to come out and vote upon the question of introducing the water works into the village. Being very anxious for this measure to be carried I went with a lady friend to the polls, but our ballots were refused, and when I pointed out to the inspector that ‘all taxpaying inhabitants’ were urged to come, he said: ‘oh that does not mean women.’”

Philippo applied to the grant program and got a marker for Rogers.

Now a trustee of the Bethlehem Historical Association, Philippo had a similar experience when in 2020 he urged a museum exhibit to commemorate the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote nationwide.

The association president “didn’t think we really had much in the way of items that we could put together for an exhibit,” he recalled.

Philippo did the same thing he had for Lansingburgh, checking databases to look for suffrage activity in Bethlehem and its hamlets.

“I quickly found that, here again, there certainly was suffrage activity in Bethlehem,” he says in this week’s Enterprise podcast.

The most important Bethlehem suffragist was Judge Elisha Powell Hurlbut who had written an essay that was influential at the 1848 Seneca Falls convention. Some of its tenets are reflected in the 1848 Declaration of Sentiments, which is modeled on the American Declaration of Independence.

Philippo encourages people who haven’t read the declaration to do so. “I think they’ll find that it kind of still may speak powerfully to them today,” he said.

“When, in the course of human events,” the declaration begins, “it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed ….”

Among the “repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman” listed in the declaration is this one: “He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead. He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns.”

That was a point Hurlbut “really hammered on” in his essay, Philippo noted.

In a book that Elizabeth Cady Stanton edited with Matilda Joslyn Gage, Ida Husted Harper, and Susan B. Anthony, “The History of Women Suffrage,” she notes “Judge Hurlbut, with a lawyer’s prejudice, first prepared a paper against the rights of women. Looking it over, he saw himself able to answer every argument, which he proceed to do — the result being his ‘Human Rights.’”

In that essay, Hurlbut wrote, “The laws touching the rights of woman are at variance with the law of the Creator. Rights are human rights, and pertain to human beings without distinction of sex. Laws should not be made for man or for woman, but for mankind. Man was not born to command, nor woman to obey.”

Soon after Hurlbut published his essay, Stanton met him at a dinner party in Albany where, she writes, she and Hurlbut were a target of ridicule on the woman’s rights question. “We stood quite alone,” Stanton said, adding, “Those ladies who did open their lips were with the opposition.”

After the dinner, when “the ladies withdrew from the table,” Stanton on her way to the parlor with the other women could not fathom spending “an hour with a bevy of ladies who evidently felt a repulsion to all my most cherished opinions.”

She would have gladly glided out the door but, as that was not possible, she wrote, “I made up my mind to stroll round as if self-absorbed and look at the books and paintings until the Judge appeared, as I took it for granted that after all I said at the table on political, religious, and social equality of woman, not a lady would have anything to say to me.”

Parts of Philippo’s voluminous research on local suffragists also records anti-suffrage meetings.

Philippo finds it ironic that “there were these women anti-suffragists who were kind of arguing women shouldn’t get the vote because, you know, politics is this corrupting influence … it’ll take away from their time in the home. And yet,” he says, “here they are being politically active and spending time away from the home … to argue that essentially they shouldn’t be doing that.”

Philippo in his research found equal-suffrage clubs and women’s suffrage meetings  “basically everywhere,” he says, naming Berne, Medusa, Potter Hollow, Preston Hollow, Westerlo, Guilderland, Guilderland Center, New Scotland, Voorheesville, New Salem, and Feura Bush, among others.

In 1913, there was a suffrage meeting in what was called the New Masonic Temple in Altamont, he reports, and for a number of years the Altamont Fair hosted tables for both suffragists and anti-suffragists.

Ultimately, Philippo was successful in getting a marker for Hurlbut as part of the Pomeroy Foundation’s National Votes for Women Trail. Unlike the traditional blue and gold New York State Education Department markers, this one features lavender, which Philippo said was one of the traditional women's suffrage colors.

Working with town historian Susan Leath and with the president of the Bethlehem Historical Association, Karen Beck, Philippo was able to identify the location of Hurlbut’s former mansion, Glenmont-on-the-Hudson, which had burned decades ago.

“The house that it’s in front of is a cottage that he owned,” said Philippo, noting that Hurlbut’s estate is what gave Glenmont its name.

Philippo’s research is encapsulated on the Pomeroy Foundation website, stating Hurlbut practiced law with a judge in New York City where he quickly rose to prominence following his arguments in several high profile cases at the time. He then served on the New York State Supreme Court and the state’s highest court, The Court of Appeals.

Philippo would like to do more research on Hurlbut and hopes to read the diaries he kept, which have been transcribed by his family.

Philippo encourages people to think about their local history.

“However small your community may be,” he says, “it nevertheless probably was engaged in some of the bigger issues of the day over the decades and centuries, even if that involvement may have been forgotten.”

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