Established in 1982 at LaGuardia Community College/ CUNY with a mission to collect, preserve, and make available primary materials documenting the social and political history of New York City. We hold nearly 5,000 cubic feet of archival records and 3,200 reels of microfilm with almost 100,000 photographs and 2,000,000 documents available on our website.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Women’s History Month: Steinway Hall and the Women’s Rights Movement

"There is no escaping the fact that the principle by which the male citizens of these United States assume to rule the female citizens is not that of self-government, but that of despotism; and so the fact is that poets have sung songs of freedom, and anthems of liberty have resounded for an empty shadow."

Victoria Woodhull spoke these words on November 20, 1871 at the original Steinway Hall on 14th Street in Manhattan.  The following year, again at Steinway Hall, Woodhull broke from the Woman Suffrage Association to advance a more radical women’s rights agenda.  The delegates from the convention who followed Woodhull from Steinway Hall to Apollo Hall the next day nominated her as the first woman candidate for President of the United States – in 1872!
Victoria Woodhull at Apollo Hall, 1872
Source: M.F. Darwin, One Moral Standard for All, New York: Caulon Press
Courtesy University of Michigan/Hathitrust

We hold in our Steinway Collection the letter that made the 1872 convention of the Woman Suffrage Association possible.  Women were, apparently, not to be trusted with business matters in the 19th century.  It was a legal issue – women, particularly married women, could not sign contracts.  So it took a man to secure rental of Steinway Hall for the convention.  On February 6, 1872, Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, one of the most famous and powerful men in America, wrote a letter to William Steinway, president of the Steinway and Sons piano company, which owned the hall in Manhattan that bore the family name.  Beecher promised to pay for the rental of the hall for the women, “should the Association fail to meet the expenses.”  Beecher was motivated by his sister Isabella Hooker, a supporter of Woodhull and active in the Woman Suffrage Association.  If you can’t read Rev. Beecher’s handwriting, we've transcribed it for you here.

Steinway Hall remained an important venue for the women’s rights movement through the late 19th and early 20th century.

As the repository of the Steinway Collection, we invite you to explore the papers, pictures and other materials of the Steinway family and their Steinway & Sons piano company.

To help you, we have prepared some wonderful webpages on The Women of Steinway and Sons, which offer a unique look into both women’s labor and craftsmanship at the Steinway factory, and the place of Steinway family women in the company’s business.

For more on the National Woman Suffrage Association, try here.

For more on Victoria Woodhull, try here and here.