CARS HOMES JOBS

Republican Women to present program on early suffragette

Friday, April 4, 2014
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Cynthia Van Name Hicks Leonard
Cynthia Van Name Hicks Leonard

As far as Darlene Lee can tell, no one has ever put together a full-fledged biography of Cynthia Van Name Hicks Leonard. But she feels as though somebody should, and that person just might be Lee herself.

“I have enough research to do it, and I really like that idea,” said Lee, who along with her husband, Fred, will present a lecture on Leonard at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Schenectady County Historical Society. “She is well worth it. I think she’s an inspiration to all women.”

The event, called “Spring Bonnets and Strong-Minded Women,” is part of a series of lectures sponsored by the Schenectady County Republican Women’s Club. Leonard was one of the leaders of the suffragette movement in the U.S., working alongside her more famous colleagues such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

It was her daughter, Harriet Leonard Colburn, who was the first president of the Schenectady County Republican Women’s Club back when it was formed in 1917. Another of Leonard’s eight children was Helen Louise Leonard, a famous singer and actress around the turn of the century who was known around the world by her stage name, Lillian Russell.

Inspirational mother

“As I was researching Harriet Leonard Colburn, I was wondering, ‘who was it that raised this dynamic, wonderful, well-educated daughter,’ and so I started trying to learn more about her mother,” said Lee.

“Harriet was so important to this area and did so much, along with organizing our group, I knew she had to come from a good place. When I learned more about Cynthia, it made sense why Harriet was so dynamic and so successful.”

‘Spring Bonnets and Strong-Minded Women,’ Presented by the Schenectady County Republican Women’s Club

WHAT: A presentation about Cynthia Van Name Hicks Leonard by Darlene and Fred Lee

WHEN: 1 p.m. Sunday

HOW MUCH: $15

MORE INFO: 374-8898, 384-0035

Cynthia was born in Buffalo in either 1828 or ’29. Her father, Daniel Hicks, was an interpreter and lawyer for Seneca chief Red Jacket. Cynthia married a newspaperman, Charles Egbert Leonard, in 1852, and the couple moved west to begin a family, first to Detroit in 1856, and then Clinton, Iowa in 1858.

“She organized schools during the week and preached at anti-slavery meetings on the weekend,” Lee said of Leonard. “She became a nurse during the Civil War, and along with that great tragedy she later survived the Chicago Fire [1871] and the loss of two children. I’ve never seen a paper documenting that she was divorced, but she did obviously separate from her husband and moved to New York City, where in 1884 she became the first woman to ever run for mayor.”

Schenectady connection

Cynthia Leonard died in New Jersey in May of 1908. By that time her daughter Harriet was living in Schenectady and married to a General Electric engineer. She died in 1935.

“Harriet lived near the corner of Union Street and McClellan Street, and taught piano lessons at her home,” said Lee, who recently retired after a long career with AT&T as an account executive in the marketing department.

“She was one of the first trustees at the county historical society, she helped start the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, I believe she started a local chapter of the Mayflower Society, and she started the Republican Women’s Club.”

While Lee’s part of the presentation will focus on Cynthia Leonard, her husband will discuss what was happening in America during the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th.

“I’m going to talk about Cynthia, and Fred, who was a history major, is going to talk about what was going on in New York and America at that time,” said Lee.

“He’ll put everything into context, and that includes the male perspective. All of those ladies didn’t win the vote by themselves. There were a lot of strong, open-minded men supporting them.”

While Lee enjoyed doing her research, mostly at the historical society, the city’s Efner History Center and the county library, not everything she discovered made her happy.

“There’s a cruel sadness that this great generation, women like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Cynthia Hicks Leonard, never witnessed what they had worked for all their life,” said Lee. “They all died before 1920. But women everywhere, across party lines, owe them a debt of gratitude.”

Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or bbuell@dailygazette.com

 
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