Rhoda Palmer

RPalmer2Born June 25, 1816
Birthplace Outside of Geneva, NY
Died August 9, 1919
Grave Site Quaker cemetery in Waterloo, NY
Contribution She signed the Declaration of Sentiments in 1848 and lived to vote in the 1918 New York elections.

Rhoda Palmer, suffragist, was born on June 25, 1816, to Asa and Abigail Wooden Palmer, a farming family. Her father was originally from Rhode Island; her mother was from Orange County, New York. She was born in the house her father had built in 1808, just north of Geneva, New York. She was one of nine children who survived to adulthood.

In 1818, when Palmer was just a toddler, her parents joined the Junius Monthly Meeting of the Society of Friends (Quakers). Although Palmer herself never officially joined the Society, she attended the Junius Meeting regularly and thought of herself as a Quaker.

Palmer lived in a progressive household. Her father was an anti-slavery activist. She remembered “slaves coming to our home and then they would be sent on to another abolitionist, and so on, until they reached Lake Ontario.” She also recalled hearing a speech by the famous abolitionist Sojourner Truth.

As a teenager, Palmer briefly attended a seminary for ladies in Geneva. Later, she was to travel widely in the northeast and the midwest, visiting New York City several times, as well as Chicago, Niagara Falls, Philadelphia, Vermont, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. Her traveling adventures were often quite rigorous. A newspaper account of her trip to Chicago in 1836 states:

The summer Miss Palmer was 21 she went to Chicago. She was three weeks going. She went by the Erie Canal and steamboat on the lakes. There were head winds most of the way. Once the boat ran aground and it took 24 hours to get it off. There were several hundred people on board and the passengers would run first to one side of the boat and then to the other until they worked it loose from the bottom. (Geneva Daily Times, June 24, 1916)

PalmerMillerPalmer was an early women’s rights advocate. She, along with her father, was in attendance at the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls in July of 1848. She was one of the signers of the Declaration of Sentiments.

In 1849, Palmer saw Elizabeth Blackwell become the first woman to graduate from a modern medical school, the Geneva Medical College. In 1853, she attended a convention held in New York City, and saw William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, and Rev. Henry Channing speak. Susan B. Anthony was also in attendance.

Palmer was a lifelong advocate of women’s suffrage. Her contributions to the cause were recognized by Geneva suffragists, who visited her on her birthday every year in the early years of the twentieth century. To commemorate her 100th birthday in June of 1916, Palmer held an open house and over twenty members of the Geneva Political Equality Club visited, bringing her a basket of roses and a bouquet of peonies.

New York State enacted a women’s suffrage law before passage of the Federal Amendment which granted women the vote. Because of the New York law, Rhoda Palmer realized a long-held dream and voted in November, 1918, at the age of 102.

Palmer lived in the same house she was born in until she was ninety-four years old, when ill health forced her to move a short distance away to live with a nephew. She remained there until her death on August 9, 1919. She was the only surviving member of her immediate family. She was buried in the Quaker cemetery in Waterloo, New York.

Bibliography of Suggested Books & Articles

  • “100th Birthday of Miss Rhoda Palmer Celebrated Today,” [Geneva Daily?] Times, Saturday, June 10, 1916.
  • Letter from niece R.J.C. to “Aunt Rhoda” Palmer, June 15, 1916. Typescript. Available at the Geneva Historical Society.
  • “Miss Rhoda Palmer Dies At Advanced Age of 103 Years,” Geneva Daily Times, Monday, August 11, 1919.
  • “Miss Rhoda Palmer Gives Reminscences,” Geneva Daily Times, Saturday, June 24, 1916.
  • Register of Deaths, “Medical Certificate of Death, Rhoda Palmer,” August 11, 1919, photocopy.
  • Wellman, Judith, “Past People: Rhoda Palmer,” Geneva Historical Society Newsletter, June, 1998.