Trial of the sexes
WARREN – It was a fun twist on an otherwise somber event in history as the 1873 trial of suffragist Susan B. Anthony was re-enacted Saturday at Packard Music Hall in Warren. Anthony was charged with voting illegally prior to the Constitutional amendment that gave women the right to vote.
The 28th annual event was held in honor of Women’s History Month by the Trumbull County Women’s History Committee and was sponsored by more than 35 area businesses and organizations, including Trumbull County Woman Magazine.
For some of those in attendance, it meant taking on the personality of not only another person in time but also another gender.
“I’m a man, right?” asked Madonna Pinkard, which was received by raucous laughter from the crowd as she was examined by actor Hank Fincken, who had assumed the role of prosecuting attorney Richard Crowley. Pinkard played the part of one of Anthony’s defense lawyers.
Pinkard was randomly selected from the audience along with four other women and Warren Mayor Doug Franklin. None of them had a script.
Fincken precluded the performance by giving the audience a little lesson on role-playing.
A perfect performance is not important, he said, “but rather it is the process. You understand your character and your character’s goal. Then, you make up the dialogue.”
If you’re true to the character, the more spontaneous, the more realistic you will be, he said.
Franklin assumed the esteemed role of former President Millard Fillmore and was interrogated by Fincken, who humorously questioned the legality of women to have a say in the election process.
“Women already have the vote – they vote through their husbands!” he joked, receiving lengthy boo’s alongside hearty chuckles.
“A wise woman can influence her husband. An unwise woman can be stopped by her husband!” he continued, waving his arms dramatically.
But Fincken got more than he bargained for in Elizabeth Cole Clark of Warren, who played the other half of Anthony’s defense team. Clark, a retired Howland teacher, is more than familiar with American history and knew a thing or two about the trial.
“I thought, I could destroy him,” she said with a laugh afterwards. “I do not act. I lecture,” she said. And a few times during the trial, she gave Fincken – as Crowley – a piece of her mind and then some.
“I would love to debate him in a court,” she said with a smile.
Kay W. Fisher of Warren had the honor of portraying Anthony herself, and she said she felt as though she were one with the woman who devoted most of her life to women’s rights.
“I think that they showed courage and defiance in that time because they were treated like property,” she said.
Although her role was mostly to remain silent during the trial (Anthony was not permitted to testify in her own defense), Fisher said she had a thing or two she’d liked to have said to Crowley.
“I was going to ask him, ‘Did your mama ever teach you any manners?'” she said.
That didn’t stop her from threatening to bop him with her cane.
“She had a fiery temperament. I just happened to have a cane,” she said.
Anthony was found guilty of voting illegally and sentenced to a fine of $100. Nearly a hundred years later in 1919, the 19th Amendment allowing women to vote was passed. Anthony died in 1906.
Fisher said she enjoyed the re-enactment because it told the story of the fight for women’s rights in a humorous way and educated people about what women used to go through.
“We can laugh about it now, but they couldn’t laugh about it then,” she said.
Other trial partcipants included Trumbull County Women’s History committee members Julie Vugrinovich, who portrayed justice Ward Hunt, and E. Carol Maxwell.
Two $1,000 scholarships were awarded to Trumbull county college students: Rebecca Ekidor, who is pursuing a nursing degree, and Teresa Payton, who is pursuing a degree in neuroscience.