Susan B. Anthony
Susan Brownell Anthony (February 15, 1820 – March 13, 1906) was a prominent American women's leader and abolitionist. Anthony invested fifty years of her life advocating for the social and legal equality of women, specifically for the attainment of women's suffrage in the United States. Anthony co-founded with Elizabeth Cady Stanton the National Woman's Suffrage Association and served as its vice president and later president.
Anthony's lifelong efforts were rewarded posthumously with the ratification of the Nineteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920, guaranteeing women's right to vote. The first woman to be honored on circulating U.S. coinage, Susan B. Anthony remains an important symbol of equality before the law, whose efforts exemplify selfless dedication, and whose activism effected major social change in the United States.
Susan Anthony was born to Daniel and Lucy Read Anthony, in Adams, Massachusetts. Susan's mother was raised in a Baptist family. Her maternal grandfather, Daniel Read had fought in the American Revolution and served in the Massachusetts legislature. Anthony's father, a cotton manufacturer and abolitionist, was a strict, yet open-minded man.
Daniel and Lucy raised their children in a moderately strict Quaker household, not allowing "childish amusements" of toys, and games, which were seen as distractions from the “Inner Light.” In 1826, when the Quakers split into liberal and conservative camps, the Anthonys followed the liberals and became known as Hicksite Friends, after Elias Hicks. However, Daniel was shunned by other Quakers for permitting dancing and citing a firm belief in "complete personal, mental and spiritual freedom" in his home. He enforced self-discipline, principled convictions, and belief in one's own self-worth.
The second of eight children, Susan was a precocious child who learned to read and write at age three. In 1826, when Susan was six years old, the Anthony family moved to Battenville, New York. Susan attended a local district school, where a teacher refused to teach her long division due to her gender. When her father learned this, he took Susan and her sisters out of the district school and placed them in a group homeschool that he founded.
Mary Perkins, a teacher in the home school, offered a new and daring image of womanhood to Susan and her sisters, undoubtedly fostering Susan's strong beliefs towards female equality and women's rights. She was later sent to a boarding school near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Susan was very self-conscious of her appearance and speaking ability in her youth. She resisted public speaking, fearing she would not be eloquent enough. Despite these insecurities, she became a renowned and outspoken public presence.
Anthony taught school from age 17 until she was 29, including a period at the all-female Eunice Kenyon's Quaker Boarding School in upstate New York from 1846 to 1849. Her first occupation inspired her to fight for women teachers to obtain wages equivalent to those of male teachers. At the time, men earned roughly four times more than women for the same duties.
In 1849 she settled in Rochester, New York, to run her father's farm while he developed his insurance business. Anthony felt alienated from the Quakers after witnessing frequent contradictory behavior such as alcohol abuse among Quaker preachers, and she began attending the local Unitarian Church. Anthony moved further away from organized religion as she got older and was later chastised by various Christian religious groups for displaying what were perceived as atheistic attitudes.
Anthony's involvement in reform movements began with her attendance at conventions and gatherings related to the temperance movement in New York State. In 1849, at the age of 29, Anthony became secretary for the Daughters of Temperance, giving her a forum to speak out against alcohol abuse, and beginning her movement toward the public spotlight.
In the decade preceding the outbreak of the American Civil War, Anthony played a prominent role in the anti-slavery and temperance movements in New York. After the first American women's rights convention on July 19 and July 20, 1848, in Seneca Falls, New York, Anthony was introduced to Elizabeth Cady Stanton by mutual acquaintance and fellow feminist Amelia Bloomer on a street in Seneca Falls in 1851. Anthony and Stanton then organized the first women's state temperance society in America during 1852. The next year Anthony attended her first women's rights convention in Syracuse, New York and soon after began devoting herself to advancing women's rights.
Stanton was a close friend and colleague of Anthony's throughout their lives. The two women traveled the United States together, giving speeches and urging equal treatment of women in the law and in society. From 1853 to 1860, Anthony campaigned in New York State for the Married Women's Property Bill, which became law, allowing married women to own property, keep their wages and have custody of their children. Anthony gained recognition as one of the most capable and zealous advocates of complete legal equality, as well as renown as a public speaker and writer.
In 1856 she became an agent for William Lloyd Garrison's American Anti-Slavery Society, but as Anthony gained a following as a advocate for women's rights, she soon devoted herself almost exclusively to activism for this cause. Over a period of 45 years, Anthony traveled thousands of miles by carriage, wagon, train, mule, bicycle, stagecoach, ship, ferry boat, and even sleigh throughout the United States and Europe, giving 75 to 100 speeches per year on suffrage and women's rights.
From 1868 to 1870, Anthony was the publisher of the weekly paper, The Revolution, published in New York City and edited by Stanton. The motto of the paper was: "The true republic — men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less." Anthony used The Revolution as a vehicle in her crusade for equality, writing passionately about a variety of subjects relating to women's rights.
Anthony also opposed abortion, which she saw as another instance of a societal "double standard" imposed upon women. Unlike today, in the nineteenth century the decision to undergo an abortion was very often decided by men. There were none of the standard contraceptive options available to women today. Antibiotics had yet to be invented, and abortion was a life threatening and unsanitary procedure for the woman. "When a woman destroys the life of her unborn child, it is a sign that, by education or circumstances, she has been greatly wronged," Anthony wrote in 1869.
In 1869 Anthony co-founded with Stanton the National Woman's Suffrage Association (NWSA) and served as vice-president-at-large from 1869 until 1892, when she became president. In the early years of the NWSA, Anthony made attempts to unite women in the labor movement with the suffragist cause, but with little success. She and Stanton were delegates at the 1868 convention of the National Labor Union. However, Anthony inadvertently alienated the labor movement, not only because suffrage was seen as a concern for middle-class rather than working-class women, but because she openly encouraged women to achieve economic independence by entering the printing trades when male workers were on strike. Anthony was later expelled from the National Labor Union over this controversy.
Susan founded the International Council of Women in 1888, bringing international attention to women's suffrage.
In 1890 Anthony orchestrated the merger of the NWSA with the more conservative American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), creating the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Prior to the controversial merger, Anthony had created a special NWSA executive committee to vote on the merger, despite the fact that using a committee instead of an all-member vote went against the NWSA constitution. Motions to make it possible for members to vote by mail were strenuously opposed by Anthony and her adherents. The committee was stacked with members who favored the merger, and two who decided against it were asked to resign.
Anthony's pursuit of alliances with moderate and conservative suffragists created tension between herself and more radical suffragists such as Stanton. Anthony felt strongly that the moderate approach to women's rights was more realistic and would serve to gain more for women in the end. Anthony's strategy was to unite the suffrage movement wherever possible and focus strictly on gaining the vote, temporarily leaving other women's rights issues aside.
Stanton openly criticized Anthony's stance, writing that Anthony and AWSA leader Lucy Stone "see suffrage only. They do not see woman's religious and social bondage." Anthony responded to Stanton: "We number over 10,000 women and each one has opinions...we can only hold them together to work for the ballot by letting alone their whims and prejudices on other subjects."
The creation of the NAWSA effectively marginalized the more radical elements within the women's movement, including Stanton. Anthony nevertheless pushed for Stanton to be voted in as the first NAWSA president and stood by her as the large conservative factions within the new organization belittled Stanton.
In collaboration with Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Ida Husted Harper, Anthony published The History of Woman Suffrage (4 vols., New York, 1884–1887). Anthony befriended Josephine Brawley Hughes, an advocate of women's rights and of alcohol abolition in Arizona, and Carrie Chapman Catt, whom Anthony endorsed for the presidency of the NAWSA when Anthony formally retired in 1900.
United States vs. Susan B. Anthony
It was difficult for an outspoken and intelligent woman like Anthony to live without many of the rights reserved for men in nineteenth-century society. Anthony was a constant target of abuse from political leaders, news media representatives, and many other less progressive individuals. Challenging the prohibition on women's suffrage, Anthony was arrested on November 18, 1872 in Rochester, New York for casting a vote in the 1872 presidential election. She pled not guilty, asserting that the Fourteenth Amendment entitled her to vote because it provides that all "persons" (which includes females) born in the U.S. are "citizens" who shall not be denied the "privileges" of citizenship (which includes voting).
Anthony was defended at trial by Matilda Joslyn Gage, who asserted that it was the United States that was truly on trial, not Anthony. At the trial, Anthony made her famous "On Women's Right to Vote" speech, asserting that casting her vote in the election was not a crime, simply a legal right of a United States citizen.
Friends and fellow citizens: I stand before you tonight under indictment for the alleged crime of having voted at the last presidential election, without having a lawful right to vote. It shall be my work this evening to prove to you that in thus voting, I not only committed no crime, but, instead, simply exercised my citizen's rights, guaranteed to me and all United States citizens by the National Constitution, beyond the power of any state to deny.
The preamble of the Federal Constitution says: "We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people, women as well as men. And it is a downright mockery to talk to women of their enjoyment of the blessings of liberty while they are denied the use of the only means of securing them provided by this democratic republican government, the ballot.
For any state to make sex a qualification that must ever result in the disfranchisement of one entire half of the people, is to pass a bill of attainder, or, an ex post facto law, and is therefore a violation of the supreme law of the land. By it the blessings of liberty are forever withheld from women and their female posterity. To them this government has no just powers derived from the consent of the governed. To them this government is not a democracy. It is not a republic. It is an odious aristocracy; a hateful oligarchy of sex; the most hateful aristocracy ever established on the face of the globe; an oligarchy of wealth, where the rich govern the poor. An oligarchy of learning, where the educated govern the ignorant, or even an oligarchy of race, where the Saxon rules the African, might be endured; but this oligarchy of sex, which makes father, brothers, husband, sons, the oligarchs over the mother and sisters, the wife and daughters, of every household - which ordains all men sovereigns, all women subjects, carries dissension, discord, and rebellion into every home of the nation.
Webster, Worcester, and Bouvier all define a citizen to be a person in the United States, entitled to vote and hold office. The only question left to be settled now is: Are women persons? And I hardly believe any of our opponents will have the hardihood to say they are not. Being persons, then, women are citizens; and no state has a right to make any law, or to enforce any old law, that shall abridge their privileges or immunities. Hence, every discrimination against women in the constitutions and laws of the several states is today null and void, precisely as is every one against Negroes.
Despite Anthony's eloquent words, Supreme Court Associate Justice Ward Hunt explicitly instructed the jury to deliver a guilty verdict. As the facts of the case were not is question, he declined to poll the jury and delivered an opinion he had written before trial had even begun. On June 18, 1873, Anthony was sentenced to pay a $100 fine. Anthony responded, "May it please your honor, I will never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty." She never did pay the fine, and the government never pursued her for non-payment.
Anthony never married, putting her heart and soul into her activism. She was both aggressive and compassionate by nature, with a keen mind and an ability to inspire others. Her organizational genius was legendary. The canvassing plan she created is still used by grassroots organizations. She remained active until the very end of her life. In 1900, she persuaded the University of Rochester to admit women as students. She founded the International Women's Suffrage Council, a second international suffrage organization in 1904.
Anthony fell ill of pneumonia and died in Rochester, New York, on March 13, 1906, and is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery. Her last words were said to be, "Failure is impossible." Even as she faced her mortality, she never gave up her determination for achieving equal rights for women and especially the right to vote.
Finally in 1920, fourteen years after Anthony's death, the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified and women achieved the right to vote. Anthony's lifetime of accomplishments had paved the way for this turning point for women.
Anthony was honored as the first American woman on circulating U.S. coinage with her appearance on the Anthony dollar, minted for only four years—1979, 1980, 1981, and 1999.
Anthony's National Historic Landmark home in Rochester, New York, is a museum open to the public, providing themed programs and educational opportunities. Her birthplace in Adams, Massachusetts, was purchased in 2006 by Carol Crossed for the purpose of opening it to the public, also.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
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- Bass, Jack. "CIVIL RIGHTS: Judges followed Parks' bold lead." November 27, 2005. Atlanta Journal-Constitution. LexisNexis. Access date: March 5, 2006. Subscription required.
- Boller, Paul F., Jr. Presidential Campaigns. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.
- "From Kansas." Proquest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune. September 7, 1876.
- Harper, Ida Husted. Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony 3 vols. Indianapolis, I.N., 1898-1908.
- Linder, Douglas. “Susan B. Anthony: A Biography." Law.umkc.edu. 2001. Access date: March 5, 2006.
- Linder, Douglas. "Famous American Trials: The Anthony Trial: An Account." Argument for the Defense Concerning Legal Issues in the Case of: United States vs. Susan B. Anthony. 2001. Access date: March 5, 2006.
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- World Book Encyclopedia. "Susan B. Anthony."
All links retrieved February 26, 2023.
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