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Benchmarks: Journal of the New York State Unified Court System


Ontario County Courthouse and the Susan B. Anthony Trial

Location: Main Street, Canandaigua, New York

Houses: Supreme, County and Surrogate’s Courts and Commissioner of Jurors

Judicial District: Seventh

Built: 1858, expanded and renovated 1908

ONTARIO COUNTY COURTHOUSE ...you have trampled underfoot every vital principle of our government. My natural rights, my civil rights, my political rights are all alike ignored. Robbed of the fundamental privileges of citizenship, I am degraded from the status of a citizen to that of a subject...

Architects: Henry Searl (also known as Searle) was the first architect of the present Ontario County Courthouse. Searl went on to be the supervising architect of the U.S. Treasury and designed the master campus plan for Howard University in Washington, D.C.

John Foster Warner, a Rochester-based architect and the son of the prominent architect A.J. Warner, designed the expansion.

Architecture: The Ontario County Courthouse is a two-story Greek Revival building. Its external walls were constructed of brick above stone foundation walls and a limestone water table. The brick walls were surfaced with mastic. Officials believe the courthouse as originally built was covered by a low-pitched cross-gabled roof, probably sheathed with tin pans. A large hemispherical dome with an octagonal base rose above the intersection of these roofs. The base of the dome, which appears to have housed a bell, was pierced by louvered openings that would have allowed for the transmission of sound. The dome was also sheathed with metal pans and surmounted by an octagonal cupola, covered by a small dome. Atop the dome stood a 12-foot statue of “Justice,” carved from doweled wooden planks.

Historic Status: On the National Registry of Historic Places, as well as the state and local registry. Ontario County Courthouse was just 15 years old when it was selected as the site of the Susan B. Anthony trial.

The Susan B. Anthony Trial

On June 17, 1873, suffragette Susan B. Anthony walked through the doors of the Ontario County Courthouse and under its large, gold-colored dome to stand trial for “illegal voting” in a federal election because she was a woman.

Anthony had campaigned for the re-election of Ulysses S. Grant and his Republican Party platform that stated it was “mindful of its obligations to the women of America.” In 1872 women did not have the right to vote, but Anthony and 50 suffragettes attempted to register in Rochester anyway. Everyone was turned away except for the 15 women who went to the 8th Ward registration office with Anthony. The women were permitted to register in Rochester after arguing their case by reading the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution and provisions of the New York State election law, despite the strong objections of election officials, according to the book “Ontario County Courthouse: Its History and Restoration.” On Election Day, Nov. 5, the 16 women voted. Anthony is said to have voted a straight Republican ticket. Arrest warrants were issued on Thanksgiving Day for all of the women, and in January 1873 a federal grand jury indicted Anthony. Officials declined to prosecute the other women.

Anthony initiated a speaking tour in the Midwest and Rochester, bringing publicity to her upcoming trial. The pre-trial publicity forced the United States attorney to ask that the venue be changed from Rochester. The Circuit Court granted the request, and Ontario County Courthouse was selected as the new venue for the trial.

The trial was greeted with a packed courtroom that included former President Millard Fillmore. Anthony’s defense counselors were Henry R. Seldon, a former judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, and John Van Voorhis. The prosecutor was Richard Crowley. Anthony pleaded innocent to the charges. During her trial, Anthony was barred from testifying, and Judge Ward Hunt instructed the jury to find her guilty. She was found guilty the next day. Judge Hunt surprisingly asked Anthony if she had anything to say before her punishment was imposed. She did.

“Yes, your Honor, I have many things to say; for in your ordered verdict of guilty, you have trampled underfoot every vital principle of our government. My natural rights, my civil rights, my political rights are all alike ignored. Robbed of the fundamental privileges of citizenship, I am degraded from the status of a citizen to that of a subject; not only myself individually, but all of my sex are, by your Honor’s verdict, doomed to political subjection under this so-called Republican government. … [H]ad your Honor submitted my case to the jury, as clearly your duty, even then I should have had just cause to protest, for not one of those men was my peer, but each and every man of them was a political superior, hence in no way my peer.”

Anthony refused to pay her $100 fine—her only sentence—and officials never pursued the case. However, the election inspectors who allowed her and the other women to vote were similarly tried, convicted, fined and imprisoned. Gifts of money poured in for Anthony, and she used the funds to pay her attorney and the fines of the election inspectors who had been prosecuted, as well as to print a pamphlet of the proceedings of her trial, which was sent to newspapers across the country.

President Ulysses S. Grant later pardoned the election inspectors. While the trial lasted for just two days, its effect would be long-lasting and far-reaching. Anthony would spend the rest of her life fighting for the right of American women to vote. On Aug. 26, 1920 — 14 years after her death — the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was adopted and women won the right to vote.

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Web page updated: September 1, 2006 - www.NYCOURTS.gov