As the Cranaleith Spiritual Center in Philadelphia awaits its placement on the National Register of Historic Places, consider the story of its original owner, suffragist Rachel Foster Avery.
Born in 1858 to Quaker parents, Avery's introduction to political activism came early. Her abolitionist father fought for equal pay for equal work while serving as the editor of the Pittsburgh Dispatch, and Avery's mother - a childhood friend of Elizabeth Cady Stanton - hosted in their family home the first meeting of Pittsburgh suffragists.
"Thus the young girl grew up in an atmosphere of radicalism and advanced talk, and she became a suffragist from conviction, as well as by birthright," observed historian Mary S. Logan.
After her father's death when Avery was a young girl, the family moved to Philadelphia and soon fell in with Lucretia Mott's Citizens' Suffrage Association. With a stint abroad studying at the University of Zurich and a stream of weekly articles to Pennsylvania newspapers, however, it seemed Avery might follow her father into the scribbler's trade.
An 1879 trip to the National Woman Suffrage Association convention changed her trajectory. Meeting and impressing Susan B. Anthony, Avery was made the group's corresponding secretary the following year.
Avery's position made her the point person for dealing with the myriad logistical challenges of organizing a political movement in a pre-Twitter world.
The young suffragist immediately set to work organizing a series of conventions in New England and the Midwest. At a time when many groups were fighting to add suffrage amendments to state constitutions, Avery invited Wyoming Gov. John Hoyt to deliver a lecture in Philadelphia. Wyoming passed the first state suffrage law for women in 1869, and Avery raised money to print 20,000 copies of "The Good Results of Thirteen Years' Experience of Women's Voting in Wyoming," for distribution across the commonwealth.
Avery took the fight for women's suffrage onto the world stage with the founding of the International Council of Women. One of her final campaigns involved heading the Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association, pressing the state legislature in Harrisburg to become the first east of the Mississippi to grant women full voting rights.
Avery continued in her "retirement" to fight "in favor of that equality between man and woman which shall give to man the high privilege of living, not with his social and political inferiors, but with his social and political equals."
Much like her own mother, Avery offered her 10-acre Somerton home, Mill Rae - now the Cranaleith Spiritual Center - as a meeting place-cum-retreat for suffragists.
Avery died in Philadelphia in 1919, 10 months prior to the ratification of the 19th Amendment.