Lycoming County is proud to honor the local women who worked tirelessly in the 19th and early 20th centuries to win the right to vote. In March of this year, this effort was honored by the Pomeroy Foundation when a historic sign was placed in the front lawn of the YWCA in North Central PA commemorating the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920.
One such woman was Rebecca May Cooper Kaprun (1825-1864), who lived in Williamsport for only a few years in the mid-19th century. She was a feminist, women’s suffrage, abolitionist, and spiritualist. She attended the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, 72 years before women won the right to vote. She also attended the first National Women’s Rights Conventions in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1850 and 1851. She studied medicine at the Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia in 1854 and 1855. After only four years from this school, the first medical school open to women was established.
Originally from upstate New York, Rebecca lived in Williamsport with her husband, Elias W. Capron (1820-1892), a newspaper publisher and printer, and their daughter Evalyn May (1856-1943). Born into two Quaker families, Rebecca and Elias had progressive views and were both active. They were passionate about their beliefs, which sometimes made them talk openly and controversially.
He grew up on the subway
Rebecca was born on January 11, 1825 in Williamson, New York, on the southern shore of Lake Ontario. Her parents, Griffith Morgan Cooper (1791-1864) and Elizabeth Hodgson Cooper (1790-1873), were activists for the rights of both Native Americans and African Americans. Griffith Cooper oversaw a link on the New York-Canada Underground Railroad. He was a reformer, mediator with the states of Onondaga and Seneca, and in 1836, he was a missionary to a sheltered school outside Buffalo, New York.
Cooper’s house itself was a stop on the subway railroad. A secret room above the family kitchen could hide ten fugitives. Frederick Douglass often stayed in their house and would have known their daughter Rebecca. Elizabeth, better known as Elisa, taught Douglas to read and write. Today, a New York State Historic Sign commemorating their role stands in front of Cooper’s home.
In 1895, at the time of Douglas’ death, an article in the Rochester Journal of Democracy and History (February 22, 1895) referred to an occasion when three men fleeing slavery were taken to Coopers’ House, where they stayed until they could stay. They wear women’s clothing and are sent to Canada. Douglas referred to Griffith Cooper in the literature and called him “Veteran Indian as well as African friend” (North Star, March 3, 1848).
Living in a utopian society
Elias was born. .
Elias joined the short-lived Fourier Regiment at Sodos Bay on Lake Ontario. Fourier is a philosophy of social reform developed by the French social theorist Charles Fourier, who advocated the transformation of society into self-sufficient and independent. “battalions” (The battalions). It was one of several utopian societies that emerged in the second quarter of the nineteenth century in northern New York and New England.
He married Rebecca May Cooper in Souds Bay on June 12, 1844. According to Quaker tradition, we married “by themselves,” The exchange of vows without a clergyman or a justice of the peace. Charles Fourier despised what he claimed were the outdated and repressive restrictions imposed on women through what he called “The Barbarian Marriage Tradition”. (Under Pennsylvania law, spouses today can still legally marry in what is called a “Self Consolidation License”; They only need two witnesses to exchange vows.)
Sods Bay society was completely over by 1846. It is likely that the Caprons family left sometime in 1845, moving to Rochester and then Auburn, New York.
Travel to Seneca Falls and Beyond
In 1849, the couple went together to Seneca Falls to attend the first women’s rights convention. There, Kaprun was the 96th site of the Declaration of Sentiments, which contained the feeling that all men and women are created equal.
The Capron family moved across New England, New York, and Pennsylvania, staying for a few years while Capron found jobs publishing and printing newspapers. Both husband and wife were fascinated by phrenology (the study of the skull) and Fox Sisters’ method of communicating with the dead by ways. They were members of the Auburn Phrenological Society, of which Elias was the corresponding secretary and Rebecca was the registry secretary.
When they lived in Philadelphia, Rebecca attended lectures at the Female College of Medicine. She did not complete the cycle, probably because she gave birth to their daughter, Evaline, in October 1856.
The couple’s wide circle of friends, activists, and reformers included not only Frederick Douglass, but also Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Abby K. Foster, Lucy Stone, Lucretia Mott, and Amelia Bloomer, who struggled for clothing reform. So are women’s rights to vote.
Living in Williamsport
Rebecca and Elias Capron moved to Williamsport around 1862 and set up a printing and publishing company. Their home and business was at 134 West Third Street, in “old City.”
Rebecca’s life was cut short. She died in 1864 in Williamsport when she was thirty-nine and her daughter was seven; She is buried in Wildwood Cemetery.
In 1867, Frederick Douglass brought his civil rights campaign to Williamsport when he spoke at Doppler Hall, on the corner of West Fourth and Pine Streets. It would be interesting to see if he stayed with Elias.
“Picture of Lycoming County” (1939) describes the scene in Williamsport when black suffrage was achieved. “After 32 years of protest and campaigning, blacks finally won the right to vote in March 1870 when the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified. Blacks across the state organized celebrations.” In Williamsport, hundreds of people lined the streets “Watch a procession of 41 wagons and vans, people holding banners, and uniformed protesters.” The Baltimore Band led the show because Daniel Rebach refused to lead the band under any circumstances. However, Repasz historians were aware that the Repasz band members were present at the Appomattox at the time the surrender was signed.
Elias Capron was one of the speakers at the ceremony. Among the other speakers, both African American and white, were Abraham Abdegraf, president of the First National Bank and leader of the Underground Railroad, and Cornelius and Simon Gilchrist, black men (father and son) who were both conductive and active civil rights leaders.
Elias was at various times the owner or publisher of West Branch Bulletin, Lycoming Gazette, Gazette and Bulletin. Newspapers of the era were competitive, hands switched, and editors often had different political views. He has been criticized for his editorial views, including urging newly suffraged black voters to use their suffrage and promote women’s rights.
Elias retired in 1871 and founded his own newspaper, The Epitomist, which failed after only a few months. He died in New York City in 1892.
Evelyn became a teacher for deaf children in Philadelphia. After holding various teaching and other positions, she died in 1943 in New York City.