In December, Laurie Lounsberry Meehan ’91, Alfred University librarian and archivist, learned that a letter significant to our institution’s heritage was being offered for sale by an on-line dealer of rare autographs. Thanks to the efforts of seven members of our Board of Trustees, the 117-year-old letter written by noted women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony was soon on its way back home to our campus.
The letter was written in 1903 from Anthony to then University librarian Edward Mulford Tomlinson. Tomlinson, who received an honorary degree from our University in 1904, had asked for books to add to the library’s collection and Anthony wrote a letter in response, telling Tomlinson she would donate a copy of the fourth volume of the six-volume History of Woman Suffrage.
The significance of the communication between Anthony and Tomlinson, and the relationship Anthony had with Alfred University, cannot be overstated. Anthony was well aware of the role Alfred University had played in advancing equal rights for women, as the first co-educational institution of higher education both to admit women and allow them to pursue the same full course of studies offered to male students. In 1888, Anthony had presented the first three volumes of History of Woman Suffrage to Abigail Allen, 1844, wife of Jonathan Allen, 1844, 1886 HD, Alfred University’s second president, who herself was a staunch women’s rights advocate. Today, our library has the full six-volume set.
Trustee Mike Carey ’99 read about the 1903 letter’s existence and came up with the idea of acquiring it. He then reached out to six of his colleagues on the Board: Carolyn Clark ’90, vice chair; Greg Connors ’92, chair; Steve Heine ’81; Kristen Klabin ’92; Kevin Livingston ’93; and Eric Zuckerman ’03. Together they underwrote the cost of acquiring the letter, which was presented to me during last week’s Board of Trustees meeting in New York City. Mike transported the letter from Utah (where he lives and works) to New York, keeping it safe in a hand-made carry-on suitcase.
The creativity that Mike displayed in creating the protective suitcase evidences the soundness of the engineering training that he received in our University while manifesting our Maker Culture. (As I was checking in at LaGuardia Airport for my return flight, the airline ticket counter staff were so in awe of the creativity behind the protective suitcase fashioned by Mike that they nearly gave me a complimentary upgrade!)
The Susan B. Anthony letter, framed and protected with UV-resistant glass used by museums, will be on display in Carnegie Hall as part of Alfred University’s permanent collection.
We don’t know how or when the 1903 letter from Anthony to Tomlinson left our campus, but it eventually came into the possession of Schulson Autographs. And, thanks to the efforts of our trustees, the letter is now back where it belongs: on our campus. A special thank you goes out to Laurie Meehan, ever diligent in chronicling the history of Alfred University, for identifying the letter’s existence. Please also join me in thanking Mike Carey and the other trustees who made the homecoming of the Susan B. Anthony letter possible.