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Weekend full of history brings tourists to significant spot in American politics

Several people traveled to Seneca Falls this weekend as news of the election of the first female vice president broke.
Scott Fybush/WXXI News
Several people traveled to Seneca Falls this weekend as news of the election of the first female vice president broke.

It's been 172 years since the first convention in the Finger Lakes kicked off the fight for women's rights. A new chapter in that story unfolded Saturday as news spread of the election of the first woman to a national office.

But when Ella Jordan and her family set out from Fairport for Seneca Falls on Saturday morning, the news of Kamala Harris' election as the first female vice president hadn't broken yet.

"It was just a little bit before we left the house, the notifications started coming in. We'd all been on the edge of our seats, we were pretty excited about the news," said Kelly Jordan, Ella's mother.

Seneca Falls didn't get its big party this summer for the centennial of the 19th Amendment. The pandemic postponed those festivities. There were no big celebrations on Saturday in the streets of Seneca Falls, either.

No chorus of honking horns. The park's visitor center wasn't even open. But the quiet pull of history -- not to mention an unusually warm autumn day -- was all the reason Hayley Seltzberg, Sammy True and their friends from Cornell University needed to make a drive north.

"We got the news and we took a little drive and we thought this would be a good place to come celebrate," said Seltzberg.

"And we thought today would be the perfect day to learn about women's rights and come to the place where it all started. we're really hopeful about the future," said True.

The Cornell students weren't quite alone in town. Jaylene Galarza was touring the Finger Lakes from Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, the state that found itself at the center of a long week of vote counting.

"I think it's pretty incredible to see we now have the first woman VP, so from the right to vote to the White House, it's pretty amazing," she said.

Meri Dinneen was already visiting the Finger Lakes for a long weekend getaway from New York City. But instead of heading home, she and her husband detoured here when they heard the news.

"We happened to be here on the day we had the first female elected to the vice president's office, 100 years after women achieved the right to vote, and I thought there's a lot of symbolism to today and we should come by and be at this place," she said as she read the historical markers on Fall Street.

The Jordan family were among those who were in Seneca Falls this weekend.
The Jordan family were among those who were in Seneca Falls this weekend.

They're just statues now, and words carved in stone on the walls of the park, but Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were alive in the minds of these visitors.

… From moms like Kelly Jordan:

"The women who were here in 1848, they were pretty revolutionary thinkers, they were brave and pushing and really thinking outside the box for everyone to come along with them, so I'm sure they would be thrilled," she said.

... To her daughter Ashley, a Fairport eighth-grader: "I think they'd be happy that a woman gets to be the vice president, and it's kind of a new step in America."

... To college students like Hayley Seltzberg: “Elizabeth Cady Stanton is smiling. She's happy. It's cool."

... To tourists like Meri Dinneen, who headed home thinking about the long road that led from the suffragists of 1848 to the vice president-elect.

"I hope they would have thought, ‘Why the heck did it take so long?’ But I hope they would think that finally at least some of the vision they were seeking had been achieved," she said.

There may not be any formal celebrations here, but the national park visitor center is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays until at least January.

The National Women's Hall of Fame is open Tuesdays through Saturdays by appointment. And in the spring, the organizers of the annual Seneca Falls Women's March are hoping to be in the streets to mark the 100th day in office for Harris and Joe Biden.

You'll hear Scott in various capacities on WXXI either as a reporter, or hosting Morning Edition or All Things Considered.