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Professor Stephanie Craig to share story of Keuka College pioneer Frankie Merson

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Professor of Social Work Stephanie E. Craig. (Photo: Giorgio Varlaro) 

As a social reformer, suffragette, educational innovator, and advocate for women’s rights in the first half of the 20th century, Keuka College alumna and longtime Professor Frankie Merson is a historical figure with a story to tell.

Keuka College Professor Stephanie E. Craig – who shares Merson’s dedication to teaching future social workers, passion for social justice, and commitment to gender equality – is just the person to tell it.

Ms. Craig, who discovered Merson while researching the College’s Social Work history, will deliver a presentation on her life and career next month as part of the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House’s 2019-2020 Monday Lecture Series. Titled “Frankie Merson: A Force for Change,” the lecture will take place on Oct. 21 at the House & Museum, 17 Madison St. in Rochester.

‘An influential person’

Ms. Craig became interested in Merson not on the College’s campus but about as far as one could get from it: Portland, Ore. She and College President Amy Storey made a trip to visit College alumna Betty Roren ’45, then in her 90s.

“We met Betty and she shared stories of Keuka College,” says Ms. Craig. “The discussion turned to what an influential person Frankie Merson was to so many alumnae.”

That’s putting it mildly. As an educator and department chair, Merson, who was with the College from 1924-48, developed pioneering social work curricula before social work was a formal course of study. And she brought students into the field for experiential learning before the College’s much-lauded Field Period® program existed.

Chairing what was then known as the Department of Political Science and Sociology for 20 years beginning in 1927, Merson “was instrumental in developing the department of sociology to one of the outstanding departments of the college with a widespread reputation for excellence,” reported the Rochester Times-Union in a story upon her retirement.

“What drew me in was her social justice perspectives and her being a strong female role model to other women, especially here on campus,” says Ms. Craig. “She also created the first marriage and family course in the United States. Her commitment to mothers and children, and to women really resonates with me.”

‘A strong fighter’

That’s one reason why Ms. Craig’s focus on Merson was chosen as part of the annual lecture series, which spotlights “topics inspired by the life, work, and legacy of Susan B. Anthony.” Another: Like Anthony, Merson was committed to securing the vote for women.

She was an organizer, demonstration leader, and much sought-after speaker for the state Women’s Suffrage Party. From 1915-17, she stumped tirelessly for the cause throughout Yates County and beyond, often alongside her parents, Keuka College Trustee and Treasurer Zebina Flavius “Z.F.” Griffin and his wife, Elizabeth “Libby” Cilley Griffin.

“Frankie got her strength from her parents,” says Ms. Craig. “They encouraged her independence, as well as her self-determination. She was a strong woman.”

Ms. Craig says she’ll be providing an overview of Merson’s entire career, from her graduation from Keuka College in 1904 to her death at age 91 in 1973.

“What a strong fighter she was for women and children, not to mention her role in women’s rights,” says Ms. Craig. “I believe that the social justice she was just ingrained with is part of her legacy.”

The Oct. 21 lecture will be presented twice: During a catered noon luncheon and as part of informal 2 p.m. tea. The cost is $35 for the luncheon and $20 for the tea. For additional information or to register for the event, visit susanb.org.

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