Voices from the Past

A new tour showcases the influential women of the Seward House. BCF91B9 (1)

By Sarah Sadler  |  Photography courtesy of Seward House Museum

From Susan B. Anthony to Amelia Earhart, American women of various backgrounds have sparked action throughout history. “Speaking for Themselves: Women of the Seward House” tour features an inside look at the political and social advocacy of the Seward women during the Civil War era.

“You’re basically hearing about the women of the Seward family and how they were supportive of politician William Seward,” explained tour guide Allison Hinman. “You will learn about Seward’s wife, Frances, who was involved in the abolition movement and how she opened this home as a stop on the Underground Railroad. The Seward women were also involved in the women’s suffrage movement alongside Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott.”

The Seward House was built in 1816 and can be found nestled on two acres of land just outside of Auburn. On the inside, the house is chock-full of mementos that comprised William Seward’s nearly 40-year political career.

“You’re hearing these women’s opinions in their words, through excerpts from letters, diaries and scrapbooks. It gives people a real insight to their different views,” Hinman said. “We take them throughout the house where they see just about every room. A very unique part about this tour is the fact that we hardly have any reproductions; 99 percent of these artifacts are original and were all used by the family.”

Though surprisingly not a fan of her husband’s career track, Frances Miller Seward played a dominant role within the Seward family by advocating for education. Particularly, she believed women could teach and learn subjects commonly projected toward men. She passed this belief onto her daughter, Fanny, who later continued Frances’ work. Frances sought to further her fight through the power of an ambitious group of women. Frances, her sister Lazette Worden, Martha Wright, and sister of Lucretia Mott all worked together to continue the expansion of their views. Fanny Seward c 1866

“For the most part, women in the mid-19th century didn’t have much of a say,” Hinman said. “These women felt that their views and opinions were important and valuable. These were very strong, intelligent and very independent women. Because of Mr. Seward’s role in the government, these women were in a unique position and they could be influential. At a time when gender prohibited many, the Seward women were involved in many social movements. They felt that even though they couldn’t vote, they could be influential as wives and mothers in the country.”

Normally, the tours focus on the men of the Seward home. However, this tour provides insight into the lives of the Seward women and allows participants the chance to understand the women behind the words.

“At a time when women didn’t have a voice, theirs was heard. I think that should be encouraging to present-day women. Our voice is important,” Hinman said.

If you’re looking to attend, the tour will take place at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 31. Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors/AAA members and $5 for students with college ID. Reservations are required, so be sure to register as soon as possible.

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