The Ceremonial Courtroom of the James T. Foley U.S. Courthouse was perhaps never so crowded as it was on the evening of November 16, 2017, when more than 200 people attended the reenactment of the 1873 trial of Susan B. Anthony.
The FCBA organized and presented the event, which was directed by United States District Judge Mae A. D’Agostino. The event drew such a large crowd that organizers established overflow rooms, where people could watch the reenactment on a live video feed. A catered reception, on the Courthouse’s first floor, followed the reenactment.
In 1873, the United States Attorney for the NDNY prosecuted Anthony for voting illegally (as a woman) in the 1872 presidential election. United States Attorney Richard Crowley prosecuted Anthony in Canandaigua, New York, then part of the NDNY. United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Ward Hunt, who presided over the trial, directed the jury to enter a verdict of guilty rather than permitting it to deliberate on the evidence presented at trial. He fined Anthony $100. (The Federal Judicial Center published a history of the trial, available here.)
For the reenactment, judges, lawyers, Albany Law School professors and students, and grade school students were the cast members, dressed in the style of the time.
Albany Law School Professor Mary A. Lynch played Susan B. Anthony, attorney E. Stewart Jones played her lawyer Henry Selden, and United States Attorney Grant C. Jaquith played his predecessor United States Attorney Crowley.
United States Magistrate Judge Thérèse Wiley Dancks served as the narrator, United States Magistrate Judge Christian F. Hummel played election register Beverly Jones, and NDNY Deputy Clerk John M. Domurad played Justice Hunt (the full cast list is available here).
Judge D’Agostino opened the event by addressing the packed audience. “This is your federal courthouse,” she told the crowd. “And we hope this is not the last time you will visit. We really want the public to understand what we do here.”
The reenactment, a two-act play, was based on the 1873 trial transcript. It showed how Anthony, a civil rights activist, voted in order to challenge laws that permitted only men to vote. She asserted that the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing equal protection under the law, gave women the right to vote. Justice Hunt rejected her argument. Nearly 50 years passed before the Nineteenth Amendment, ratified in 1920, explicitly gave women the right to vote, though some states afforded this right to women before the Amendment’s passage, with New York giving the franchise to women in 1917.
In an interview following the event, Judge D’Agostino said that the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New York made 2017 the perfect year in which to hold the reenactment. The show will also go on, with a Susan B. Anthony trial reenactment planned for the federal courthouse in Syracuse on April 19, 2018. “The reenactment is a great way to educate the public about local history and bring them into our Courthouse,” Judge D’Agostino said.
Judge D’Agostino is also planning a different trial reenactment for the federal courthouse in Albany, for November 2018. Stay tuned.