The Arthur-Albany Connection

The things you run across when you’re looking for something else … it’s a wonder Hoxsie ever completes a thought. In this case, it started with a simple question on Facebook – the question of why Chester A. Arthur, the President who is probably the most famous burial in Albany Rural Cemetery, is buried there. He wasn’t from Albany, he didn’t live in Albany … so why was he buried in Albany?

Born in Vermont (though there were some pioneering birthers who challenged that, showing that ridiculous political charges are, tragically, nothing new), Arthur spent parts of his childhood in Greenwich, Lansingburgh, and Schenectady, among others. His father William Arthur, a Free Will Baptist minister and teacher, was, for 10 years, the pastor of the State Street Baptist Church, at State and High streets, until 1864; he died in 1875. Chester enrolled at Union College, and taught in Schaghticoke. In 1852, he was a school principal in Cohoes. He studied law in Ballston Spa, of all places, and then went off to New York City to seek his fortune as a lawyer. Somewhere along the line he not only became a Brigadier General in the State Militia, he was named State Engineer-in-Chief. Meanwhile, his sisters married and settled in Albany (Mrs. McElroy, a graduate of Emma Willard) and Cohoes (Mrs. Masten, wife of the postmaster).

His wife, Ellen Herndon, was a southerner to whom he proposed in Saratoga Springs. She died in 1880 at their home in New York City, while Chester was in Albany, and she was buried in the Arthur family plot in Albany Rural Cemetery, where Chester’s parents were buried. When Arthur took the presidency in 1881, as a widower he asked his sister, Mary Arthur McElroy of Albany, to fulfill some of the duties of the first lady, although she never formally held the title, if indeed there is such a title. She presided over social events at the White House during the winter social season, and returned to her life as wife of an insurance salesman and mother of four in Albany the rest of the year.

So here’s the interesting thing we ran across: other than her limited duties as a first lady, Mrs. Mary Arthur McElroy is mostly noted for her membership in the Albany Association Opposed to Women’s Suffrage, a group dedicated to preventing women from being granted the vote. It wasn’t the only such organization – there were similarly named organizations in other cities and a national version as well. The national association, and the Albany association as well, put out things like pamphlets of household hints, with “Vote NO on Woman Suffrage” on the back, and hints on spot removal on the inside. The cover said, “Votes of Women can accomplish no more than votes of Men. Why waste time, energy and money, without result?” The hints read like this:

  • “You do not need a ballot to clean out your sink spout. A handful of potash and some boiling water is quicker and cheaper.”
  • “Control of the temper makes a happier home than control of elections.”
  • “Common sense and common salt applications stop hemorrhage quicker than ballots.”
  • “Why vote for pure food law, when your husband does that, while you can purify your ice-box with saleratus water?”

The organization continued even after New York had ratified the suffrage amendment.

By the way, the family’s Albany connection continued. After Chester Arthur died, he was, of course, buried in Albany Rural. When his daughter, Ellen Herndon Arthur, married in 1903, the ceremony was in Albany’s St. Peter’s Church.

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