Toward the end of the late 1800s, the women’s suffrage movement was catching steam with well-known figures like Susan B. Anthony leading the charge. One of those suffragists who played a major role in the movement was actually from Warren.
“Everything we read about her, people loved her,” said Kenneth Conklin, president of the Upton Association.
Born in 1853 in Ravenna, Ohio, Harriet Taylor Upton was the daughter of lawyer-turned-congressman Ezra Taylor.
The family moved to Warren during her childhood.
Her mother was almost always ill, while her father worked in Washington, D.C.
“He would go to Washington often and would take Harriet, and she became friends and well known and highly respected in Washington,” Conklin said.
It’s there and through her connections she met Susan B. Anthony, whom many consider the mother of the women’s suffrage movement.
“Harriet was not in favor of the suffrage movement,” Conklin said.
But according to Conklin, Anthony quickly turned her and soon, Upton’s mission in life was to secure women the right to vote.
“She was president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), and through her movements there, she was very much able to get people on her side, to motivate people, to bring suffrage to really a human rights issue,” said Meghan Reed, director of the Trumbull County Historical Society.
Reed says that Upton was a natural, having learned to navigate the political world from traveling with her father.
“There were many people within the suffrage movement that were looking toward states’ rights specifically,” Reed said.
But that was not enough for Upton.
“Harriet Upton and her cohort was particularly pushing towards suffrage as a constitutional amendment, as a national right,” Reed said.
She was such an important figure in the suffrage movement in 1903, that her home, the Upton House, became the NAWSA headquarters for a few years.
“The headquarters were here for approximately 10 years in this actual room we’re sitting in,” Conklin said.
It moved to the Trumbull County Courthouse and then to New York City in 1909.
But, Upton accomplished a lot for women’s rights in her Warren home.
“Sojourner Truth has been here, Thomas Edison has been here, five presidents have been here, of course, Susan B. Anthony was here often,” Conklin said.
The proof is on the walls in photos and letters, some curled or worn after being found in basements, some perfectly preserved.
“Let me congratulate you on the progress suffrage is making. I have no doubt that the time is reasonably near at hand when your fondest dream will be realized … Yours very truly, it’s President Harding,” Conklin read.
President Warren G. Harding didn’t make it to the Upton House, but others did.
“We have President Garfield, President Cleveland, President Hayes, President Harrison and President McKinley,” Conklin said.
They visited, stayed and had dinner with Upton.
In 1920, the 19th Amendment was certified into law. It says the right to vote should not be denied based on gender.
But, Upton’s story takes a sharp downward turn after her victory. During the Great Depression, Upton lost everything, including the house.
“It was sold at a sheriff’s sale and all of her belongings, including her collection of books, were taken out on the front porch,” Conklin said.
Her father and husband dead, she moved to California.
“She died out there, 1945, was cremated. There was not a lot of money, so she was put in a pauper’s grave but there was a marker,” Conklin said.
There is a happy ending though.
A group of historians, Conklin included, bought the house in 1989 and turned it into a museum.
“You can rent this house for family dinners, showers, weddings. We’ve had numerous weddings here, graduation parties, whatever,” Conklin said.
School children tour it as well, but Upton wasn’t home.
“We as an organization decided that was not right. She was in California when she did not want to leave Warren. So we worked with California courts for about a year and a half,” Conklin said.
In 2011, her remains were shipped home and she was given a proper burial in her backyard, which was always her haven.
“Then we lowered her ashes into the vault and we put one of her books that she had written and a pamphlet from that night and the minutes from the last board meeting. That’s all in there,” Conklin said.
On Election Day, people are invited to lay their “I voted” stickers on her gravesite.
People do the same every Election Day at Susan B. Anthony’s grave in Rochester, New York too.
WKBN is Celebrating Women’s History Month. We are airing a special program throughout this weekend. It will highlight women who had made a difference here at home, and throughout the country. You can watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. and Sunday at 6:30 p.m. on FOX Youngstown.