ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Days before the presidential election, someone stuck a note at the headstone of the most famous woman to cast a ballot even though she knew it was illegal.
“Thank you, Susan B. Anthony, for devoting your life to women’s voting rights,” the note said. “Because of your work, on Tuesday, November 8, 2016, I will cast my ballot for the first woman president of the United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton!
Voters will have extra hours on Election Day to pay their respects to Susan B. Anthony at Mt. Hope Cemetery in Rochester, N.Y. The north entrance will remain open until 9 p.m. Tuesday.
“The fact that there is a woman this year I think is a tremendous improvement in the thinking of many people,” said Lillian Gilbert, who first was eligible to vote in the 1930s. “It took males to put her there, too,” she said.
Anthony believed it would take 100 years after women were granted the vote in order to achieve the changes in society she worked for, said Deborah Hughes, president and chief executive officer of the Susan B. Anthony Museum & House on Madison Street.
Ninety-six years after passage of the 19th Amendment, history is just one topic on the ballot.
“You’re going to see a woman’s name on it,” Hughes said. “Even if you don’t vote for her, you’ve never had that opportunity in your lifetime, and a lot of people never thought they’d see it. For some people, it’s about their worst nightmare.”
In a nation where women have led missions to space, run major companies and finished Olympic Games with more medals than men, the country still awaits a female head of state.
“I think it’s overdue,” said Gilbert, who volunteered in World War II as a nurse and now lives at The Summit in Brighton. “If we’re to go back to Susan B. Anthony who was fighting to vote and imprisoned for it, I think this is tremendous.”
Gilbert said a woman’s victory would break another glass ceiling, but a defeat would be a setback for women in politics. “There are people who are absolutely against a woman being ahead.”
Margaret Ward, 97, said she has not missed an election since she turned 21. She was the youngest of nine children and watched her siblings, particularly her three brothers, go to the polls. “I really felt I was old enough to affect whatever was happening at the time.”
Finally seeing a woman’s name on the absentee ballot made her smile.
“I was very happy,” said Ward, who lives at St. John's Home. “This is really something. It means (a lot) to me because women have always been struggling.”
It's not only seniors who see the significance of a woman representing a major party on the ballot for the U.S. presidency.
Navayha Smith, 12, of Henrietta, sees Clinton as someone who could change the discussion on women's issues, including equal pay.
"She could do a lot of things differently," said Navayha, who sits on her middle school's student council and sometimes engages her classmates in political discussion. She wears a Hillary Clinton T-shirt whenever she can, and plans to go to the polls with one of her parents, though she can't vote herself yet.
Regardless of party lines, a woman on the ballot shows daughters around the country that they can rise to great heights, said Navayha's father Larry Smith, who encouraged Navayha to stay up on news and politics.
"We need more female officers, we need more female firefighters. ...I have a daughter, and I want her to see that she could do anything," said Smith.
The appearance of a woman’s name on the presidential ballot has automatically invoked Anthony’s legacy. Anthony and 14 other women voted Nov. 5, 1872, in the election that returned Ulysses S. Grant to the White House.
The Susan B. Anthony Museum & House has welcomed about 1,000 more visitors between the summer of 2015 through this past summer, Hughes said. The museum does not endorse a candidate or party. The perspective that Hughes provides to local and national media comes from biographies about Anthony and the suffragist’s own papers.
Hughes said Anthony lived through the Civil War and Reconstruction. The 2016 election has had its own tumult.
“I also think this election is about what kind of democracy we’re going to be,” Hughes said. “Susan B. Anthony had a vision for democracy that was way beyond gender equity. It was about having people elected to government and having citizens who were informed about what was going on and who they were electing, so that we could really become the society for freedom and justice that she believed in. This election every day seems to be more and more about those even bigger, grander issues that are represented by whether or not someone thinks it’s possible to elect a woman.”