Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Susan Fiske (Mrs. Dexter) Rumsey, 1857-1941
By Deborah Gangloff, independent historian
There were three Mrs. Dexter Phelps Rumseys, and the one we are interested in is Susan Fiske Rumsey. She was Dexter's third wife, born in either 1857 or 1867 (2 different sources), and was 30 years younger than her husband. They married in 1889 and had two children, Ruth Rumsey, b. 1891, and Dexter Phelps Rumsey Jr., (childhood friend of F. Scott Fitzgerald) b 1893. Susan presided over the gracious home at 742 Delaware Ave, at the corner of Summer St., in Buffalo's "Millionaire Row". She was a leader in civic, cultural and social activities, serving as a member of the City Planning Association, President of the Twentieth Century Club, President of the Chamber Music Society, Trustee of the University of Buffalo, prominent supporter of the Albright Art Orchestra, Millard Fillmore Hospital and the League of Women Voters. She was a director of the Girls Scouts of America.
The Rumsey family lived in the house from 1857 to 1945, the home of Dexter P. Rumsey, his wives, children and grandchildren. When Dexter died in 1906 Susan donated land to the City that included what became Delaware Park. The Rumseys donated land for the Pan American Exposition of 1903. Susan enlarged the house and entertained illustrious guests including Juliet Lowe (founder of Girl Scouts of America), Margaret Sanger (some of Buffalo's first meetings concerning birth control were held at Susan's house), G.K.Chesterton, Katherine Cornell, Hugh Walpole, Alice Doerr Miller (poet), pianist Gabrilovich and wife Sarah (daughter of Samuel Clemens) and Mrs. Joyce Kilmer, as well as numerous politicians and dignitaries.
Susan Rumsey's close friend was women's suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt, who was a frequent guest at the house. Susan presided over many women's suffrage meetings at her house. In 1908 the National American Woman Suffrage Association held its annual convention in Buffalo, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the first Woman's Rights Convention at Seneca Falls. Rumsey was an active member of the local suffrage group that organized that meeting. In 1909 Rumsey spoke on behalf of the Western New York Federation of Women's Clubs at a hearing on woman suffrage before the New York state legislature in Albany. In 1913 Rumsey was elected a director of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association. In November 1915 she was elected an officer of the New York State Woman Suffrage Party, which organized the 1917 referendum campaign that eventually led to New York women gaining the vote.
For Susan Fiske Rumsey Phelps Rumsey I was helped by Cynthia M. Van Ness, MLS, Director of Library and Archives at The Buffalo History Museum. She shared information from the Rumsey Family Papers in their collection. She suggested that I might find more information in the New York State Woman Suffrage Party Records, 1915-1919 (bulk 1917) at the NY Public Library, Manuscript and Archives Division, Fifth Ave @ 42nd St, Brooke Russell Astor Reading Room, Third Floor, Room 328, Call # Mss Col 2223 (http://catalog.nypl.org/record=b11985375).
From the Rumsey Family Papers a useful article was from the speaker night series at the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site, "The Women's Suffrage Movement in Western New York" given by Dr. Shannon Risk on Sept 19, 2016. Dr. Risk is an Associate Professor of History at Niagara University, and she might be an excellent source for further information on WNY suffragettes.
For a history of the Rumsey house and family, see Edward T. Dunn, Buffalo's Delaware Avenue Mansions and Families (Buffalo, N.Y.: Canisius College Press, 2003), 155-57.
Rachel Pitkin, "Lunching on Millionaire's Row and Hobnobbing with Buffalo's Elite," in Birth Control, Historical Legacy, Places, as part of the Margaret Sanger Papers Project. Accessed online at https://sangerpapers.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/lunching-on-millionaires-row-and-hobnobbing-with-buffalos-elite/
"Susan Fiske Rumsey," entry on "Find a Grave," accessed online at https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/111572961/Susan-Rumsey.
Ida Husted Harper, et al., eds, The History of Woman Suffrage, volume 6 [LINK to NY state report].