Mary Seymour Howell
Mary Seymour was born in Mt. Morris to Norman and Frances Metcalf Seymour, growing up at 22 State St. She was educated at the Genesee Wesleyan Seminary in Lima and taught at the Mt. Morris Academy as a young woman. In 1869, she married George Rogers Howell and upon their marriage the Howells moved to Albany where Mr. Howell held the position of State Librarian. Both became well known in literary and social circles and for their involvement in the cause of woman suffrage.
During the 1880s, Mary was extremely active on several fronts — the New York State Woman Suffrage Association, the state and national suffrage conventions, and as president of the Albany Woman Suffrage Society and the Albany Political Equality Club. She frequently visited Livingston County and addressed several groups along with Clara Barton and Susan B. Anthony.
In 1886, Mary Seymour Howell joined leaders of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association in publicly protesting the new Statue of Liberty as a symbol of freedom, calling it the “greatest sarcasm of the age, when no woman is free.” However, Howell was hopeful the statue would forecast the future, saying, “It represents woman not as she is, but as she is to be.” Mary Seymour Howell became a sought-after speaker, earning a reputation for her persuasive delivery and ability to connect to the men in the audience as well as the women.
She promoted women’s rights and women’s suffrage during her years in Albany and also when she and her husband moved back to Livingston County. Her connections led to an invitation to speak before the New York State Legislature and to her becoming the first woman to address the Connecticut House of Representatives.
In 1890, the National American Woman Suffrage Association sent Howell to accompany Susan B. Anthony to South Dakota during that state’s campaign for women’s suffrage. The women endured brutal weather conditions and long commutes to bring their message to audiences.
Susan B. Anthony continued to speak and travel widely as she grew older, but her efforts were increasingly supplemented by younger suffrage speakers like Mary Seymour Howell. In 1891, Elizabeth Cady Stanton appointed Mary to represent the National American Woman Suffrage Association at the National Council of Women in Washington, D.C.
In 1892, Howell authored a women’s suffrage bill that passed in the New York State Assembly (but never made it to the Senate floor) and during the 1894 suffrage campaign, she spoke at several mass meetings throughout the state. In 1896, Mary was a speaker at Susan B. Anthony’s 76th birthday celebration hosted by the Rochester Political Equality Club.
Howell continued to be at the forefront of the local, state, and national suffrage movement until her death in 1913, only four years shy of seeing passage of women’s suffrage in New York State. The inscription on her gravestone reads “Sympathetic and Fearless.” Her impact helped to lay the groundwork for the next generation of suffragists and the next stage of the movement.