The Shaw Sisters
Nicolas Shaw Fraser and Eleanor Shaw Smith were two sisters who lived at 22 Main Street, Geneseo, in the first half of the 20th century. Nicolas and Eleanor’s involvement and direct connections to the highest levels of the state, national, and international suffrage and temperance organizations were intertwined.
Their enthusiasm for the suffrage and temperance cause was inspired by their trailblazing aunt, Reverend Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, who took her nieces under her wing after their mother died.
Nicolas Shaw Fraser was born in Paris, Michigan about 1867, the daughter of John and Eudora Shaw. She worked for ten years as secretary to suffragist Mrs. Rachel Foster Avery and was a graduate of Briarcliff Agricultural School. It was here that she met her future husband, Samuel Fraser, who worked there as an agriculturalist. She and Samuel married in 1903 in Philadelphia with Rev. Anna Howard Shaw officiating at the wedding.
The Frasers lived in Ithaca for a short time where Samuel established the research farm at Cornell University and Nicolas was elected recording secretary of the New York State Suffrage Association. They moved to Geneseo about 1906 where Samuel began large-scale cultivation of vegetables and fruit orchards, authoring books on the same, and building his reputation as an expert horticulturalist.
Nicolas pursued her passion for suffrage with involvement in club work and as an officer of the state suffrage association. She also found time to work as a bookkeeper for Miss Ellen North’s Geneseo Jam Kitchen. The suffrage work occupied the bulk of Nicolas's time and energy as she crisscrossed Livingston County and New York State. In addition, she traveled coast to coast representing New York State and chairing committees at the National Women’s Suffrage conventions.
Eleanor Shaw Smith was only a year or so younger than her sister, and like Nicolas, Eleanor gravitated toward Philadelphia to be close to her aunt. She met Raymond Walton Smith, a civil engineer, and the two married in 1894. They had four children together before Raymond died tragically in 1905 as a result of being thrown from a horse. Eleanor’s public involvement in reform movements seemed to begin after becoming widowed and was centered more specifically on temperance, although she was also an active player in the suffrage movement, taking on multiple roles.
In 1913, Eleanor embarked on a trans-Atlantic adventure that made headlines as U.S. suffrage leaders, along with delegates from 26 countries, traveled to Budapest for the International Woman Suffrage Alliance conference. Anna Howard Shaw gave the opening speech on the world stage and the ladies made several stops to address feminist groups in London, Amsterdam, Vienna, and Italy before sailing home.
Eleanor left her young children with her sister in Geneseo during her absence abroad, and upon returning home, made the decision to move to Geneseo and live with Nicolas and Samuel. The large, stately brick home accommodated both families for the rest of the sisters’ lives.
Eleanor led the Livingston County Woman’s Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.) as president and represented the state by working to pass yet another federal amendment to prohibit the manufacture, sale or distribution of intoxicating liquors, commonly known as Prohibition. Both the 18th and 19th amendments passed and both sisters rejoiced in victory.
Nicolas passed away at 22 Main Street in November of 1943 after a long illness. Eleanor stayed with her brother-in-law Samuel Fraser and continued serving as the Livingston County W.C.T.U. president into the early 1940s. She also died at 22 Main Street in May of 1948.