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After Thoughts

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by Jim DeVinney, Corn Hill Historian

This article was first published in the May 2017 Corn Hill Gazette.

Atkinson St.

The third Mrs. Everard Peck spent her final days in this house on Atkinson Street that was then shared by her stepsons Edward and William. Photo by Jim DeVinney

In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed eliminating barriers to the right to vote based on gender. However, in New York State women had already been granted suffrage three years earlier. 2017 is the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in our state. There will be numerous celebrations continuing through the year 2020 when another Presidential election will take place. Perhaps a woman will be in the race with a chance that her election could provide a fitting centennial celebration.

Denied political power for so long time, Nineteenth Century Third Ward women were far from idle. Through participation in the Female Charitable Society (FCS) they created many social and charitable institutions in Rochester: a Home for the Friendless, an Orphan Asylum, and the first municipal hospital. The trouble is, they often don’t get recognized for their efforts; their husbands do.

When women marry, they frequently take their husbands’ last names. But society often strips women of their first names as well and, in many accounts, the former Jane Smith is known only as Mrs. John Brown. This is frustrating for historians and genealogists who are trying to learn more about those women from the past. Consider the case of Mrs. Everard Peck.

In February of 1822, The Female Charitable Society was created on South Fitzhugh Street at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Everard Peck. Mr. Peck, a very successful printer and bookseller, and his wife, the former Chloe Porter, were both from Berlin, Connecticut. They had married just 16 months before the founding of FCS and both were devoted to the welfare of Rochesterians in the small village of 2,700 souls. For almost sixty years, the name of Mrs. Everard Peck would be associated with noble causes but it takes a little digging to discover that there were three women known by that name.

This first Mrs. Peck died of consumption on December 5, 1830 at the age of 36. Her obituary reads like a plea for sainthood describing her as “a disciple of Jesus Christ,…a sincere, humble, active and prayerful Christian.” Then it adds this very curious comment: “Seldom does the death of a female occasion a more perceptible chasm in the circle of her acquaintances.” Apparently most females were dispensable and people paid little attention when they died!

After Mrs. Peck’s death, Mr. Peck was approaching his 40th birthday and struggling with health issues of his own. On occasion, he’d escape Rochester winters, spending time in Florida and Cuba. By 1834, he had retired from the book business and was moving into banking and insurance. He was living on St. Paul Street, a boarder in the home of Dr. John D. Henry, Rochester’s first physician. It is not clear why he moved out of his home on Fitzhugh.

On October 21, 1836 he married Martha Farley in Waldoboro, Maine. In 1838 the newlyweds were living at the southwest corner of Fitzhugh and Spring Streets. Was this the same house he had lived in before or a new one? Records do not provide an answer.

The second Mrs. Everard Peck gave birth to several children including William Farley Peck who would grow up to write the first comprehensive history of our city. Sadly, “after a short but painful illness, which was met with Christian fortitude and exemplary patience,” Mrs. Peck died on February 16, 1851 at the age of 46.

By now, Mr. Peck’s health was in serious decline. His marriage to a widow, Alice Bacon Walker, on April 21, 1852 occurred just fourteen months after the death of his second wife. The marriage was a brief one (twenty-two months), ending with Everard’s death on February 9, 1854 at the age of 62. His widow continued to perform charitable works in Rochester. But her greatest act of love may have been her continued care for two stepsons, William and Edward, only 13 and 8 when their father died. As adults, the men shared a house at the northwest corner of Atkinson and Greenwood Streets and there the third Mrs. Peck spent her final days before dying on December 2, 1881 at the age of 73. In city directories, nearly twenty-eight years after her husband’s death, she was still listed as Mrs. Everard Peck.