by Gerald Boerner
Today we focus on a woman who dedicated her life, during the bulk of the 19th century into the early 20th century, to the betterment of women. Susan B. Anthony was a woman who would not be denied. It took her almost 100 years to see her dream of a vote for women to be incorporated into the U.S. Constitution, but it did happen as a result of her life’s quest.
It is fitting to honor her birthday on this day when we are also observing “President’s Day”, formerly called “Washington’s Birthday”. Both Washington and Anthony provided leadership that helped guide our country into a more equitable place for all. It would take the leadership of men like Martin Luther King, Jr., whom we featured last month, to extend this equality to the African-Americans who worked so hard to make this nation so great. GLB
“No Females Allowed”
— Sign in many restaurants in the mid-1800s
“Failure is impossible.”
— Susan B. Anthony
“I will never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty.”
— Susan B. Anthony, to the judge’s fine for illegally voting in 1872
“Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputations… can never effect a reform.”
— Susan B. Anthony
“I always distrust people who know so much about what God wants them to do to their fellows.”
— Susan B. Anthony
“I beg you to speak of Woman as you do of the Negro, speak of her as a human being, as a citizen of the United States, as a half of the people in whose hands lies the destiny of this Nation.”
— Susan B. Anthony
“I declare to you that woman must not depend upon the protection of man, but must be taught to protect herself, and there I take my stand.”
— Susan B. Anthony
“I shall earnestly and persistently continue to urge all women to the practical recognition of the old Revolutionary maxim. Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.”
— Susan B. Anthony
Susan B. Anthony: Suffragist
Susan Brownell Anthony (1820 – 1906) was a prominent American civil rights leader who played a pivotal role in the 19th century women’s rights movement to introduce women’s suffrage into the United States. She traveled the United States and Europe, and gave 75 to 100 speeches every year on women’s rights for 45 years.
Susan B. Anthony was born and raised in West Grove, near Adams, Massachusetts. She was the second oldest of seven children, Guelma Penn (1818), Susan Brownell (1820), Hannah E. (1821), Daniel Read (1824), Mary Stafford (1827), Eliza Tefft (1832), and Jacob Merritt (1834), born to Daniel Anthony and Lucy Read. One brother, publisher Daniel Read Anthony, would become active in the anti-slavery movement in Kansas, while a sister, Mary Stafford Anthony, became a teacher and a woman’s rights activist. Anthony remained close to her sisters throughout her life.
Anthony’s father Daniel was a cotton manufacturer and abolitionist, a stern but open-minded man who was born into the Quaker religion. He did not allow toys or amusements into the household, claiming that they would distract the soul from the “inner light.” Her mother Lucy was a student in Daniel’s school; the two fell in love and agreed to marry in 1817, but Lucy was less sure about marrying into the Society of Friends (Quakers). She was not a convinced Quaker and claimed that she was “not good enough” for them. Lucy Anthony was a progressive-minded woman. She attended the Rochester women’s rights convention held in August 1848, two weeks after the historic Seneca Falls Convention, and signed the Rochester convention’s Declaration of Sentiments. Lucy and Daniel Anthony enforced self-discipline, principled convictions, and belief in one’s own self-worth.
Susan was a precocious child, having learned to read and write at age three. In 1826, when she was six years old, the Anthony family moved from Massachusetts to Battenville, New York. Susan was sent to attend a local district school, where a teacher refused to teach her long division because of her gender. Upon learning of the weak education she was receiving, her father promptly had her placed in a group home school, where he taught Susan himself. Mary Perkins, another teacher there, conveyed a progressive image of womanhood to Anthony, further fostering her growing belief in women’s equality.
In 1837, Anthony was sent to Deborah Moulson’s Female Seminary, a Quaker boarding school in Philadelphia. She was not happy at Moulson’s, but she did not have to stay there long. She was forced to end her formal studies because her family, like many others, was financially ruined during the Panic of 1837. Their losses were so great that they attempted to sell everything in an auction, even their most personal belongings, which were saved at the last minute when Susan’s uncle, Joshua Read, stepped up and bid for them in order to restore them to the family.
In 1839, the family moved to Hardscrabble, New York, in the wake of the panic and economic depression that followed. That same year, Anthony left home to teach and to help pay off her father’s debts. She taught first at Eunice Kenyon’s Friends’ Seminary, and then at the Canajoharie Academy in 1846, where she rose to become headmistress of the Female Department. Anthony’s first occupation inspired her to fight for wages equivalent to those of male teachers, since men earned roughly four times more than women for the same duties.
In 1849, at age 29, Anthony quit teaching and moved to the family farm in Rochester, New York. She began to take part in conventions and gatherings related to the temperance movement. In Rochester, she attended the local Unitarian Church and began to distance herself from the Quakers, in part because she had frequently witnessed instances of hypocritical behavior such as the use of alcohol amongst Quaker preachers. As she got older, Anthony continued to move further away from organized religion in general, and she was later chastised by various Christian religious groups for displaying irreligious tendencies.
Early social activism
Universal manhood suffrage, by establishing an aristocracy of sex, imposes upon the women of this nation a more absolute and cruel despotism than monarchy; in that, woman finds a political master in her father, husband, brother, son. The aristocracies of the old world are based upon birth, wealth, refinement, education, nobility, brave deeds of chivalry; in this nation, on sex alone; exalting brute force above moral power, vice above virtue, ignorance above education, and the son above the mother who bore him.
—National Woman Suffrage Association.
In the era before the American Civil War, Anthony took a prominent role in the New York anti-slavery and temperance movements. In 1836, at age 16, Susan collected two boxes of petitions opposing slavery, in response to the gag rule prohibiting such petitions in the House of Representatives. In 1849, at age 29, she became secretary for the Daughters of Temperance, which gave her a forum to speak out against alcohol abuse, and served as the beginning of Anthony’s movement towards the public limelight.
In late 1850, Anthony read a detailed account in the New York Tribune of the first National Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts. In the article, Horace Greeley wrote an especially admiring description of the final speech, one given by Lucy Stone. Stone’s words catalyzed Anthony to devote her life to women’s rights. In the summer of 1852, Anthony met both Greeley and Stone in Seneca Falls.
In 1851, on a street in Seneca Falls, Anthony was introduced to Elizabeth Cady Stanton by a mutual acquaintance, as well as fellow feminist Amelia Bloomer. Anthony joined with Stanton in organizing the first women’s state temperance society in America after being refused admission to a previous convention on account of her sex, in 1851. Stanton remained a close friend and colleague of Anthony’s for the remainder of their lives, but Stanton longed for a broader, more radical women’s rights platform. Together, the two women traversed the United States giving speeches and attempting to persuade the government that society should treat men and women equally.
Anthony was invited to speak at the third annual National Women’s Rights Convention held in Syracuse, New York in September 1852. She and Matilda Joslyn Gage both made their first public speeches for women’s rights at the convention. Anthony began to gain notice as a powerful public advocate of women’s rights and as a new and stirring voice for change. Anthony participated in every subsequent annual National Women’s Rights Convention, and served as convention president in 1858.
In 1856, Anthony further attempted to unify the African-American and women’s rights movements when, recruited by abolitionist Abby Kelley Foster, she became an agent for William Lloyd Garrison’s American Anti-Slavery Society of New York. Speaking at the Ninth National Women’s Rights Convention on May 12, 1859, Anthony asked “Where, under our Declaration of Independence, does the Saxon man get his power to deprive all women and Negroes of their inalienable rights?”
On January 1, 1868, Anthony first published a weekly journal entitled The Revolution. Printed in New York City, its motto was: “The true republic — men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less.” Anthony worked as the publisher and business manager, while Elizabeth Cady Stanton acted as editor. The main thrust of The Revolution was to promote women’s and African-Americans’ right to suffrage, but it also discussed issues of equal pay for equal work, more liberal divorce laws and the church’s position on women’s issues. The journal was backed by independently wealthy George Francis Train, who provided $600 in starting funds.
Though she never married, Anthony published her views about sexuality in marriage, holding that a woman should be allowed to refuse sex with her husband; the American woman had no legal recourse at that time against rape by her husband. Anthony spoke very little on the subject of abortion. Of primary importance to Anthony was the granting to woman the right to her own body which she saw as an essential element for the prevention of unwanted pregnancies, using abstinence as the method. In The Revolution, Anthony wrote in 1869 about the subject, arguing that instead of merely attempting to pass a law against abortion, the root cause must also be addressed. Simply passing an anti-abortion law would, she wrote, “be only mowing off the top of the noxious weed, while the root remains.” Anthony continued: “Guilty? Yes, no matter what the motive, love of ease, or a desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed. It will burden her conscience in life, it will burden her soul in death; but oh! thrice guilty is he who, for selfish gratification, heedless of her prayers, indifferent to her fate, drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime.”
American Equal Rights Association
In 1869, long-time friends Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony found themselves, for the first time, on opposing sides of a debate. The American Equal Rights Association (AERA), which had originally fought for both blacks’ and women’s right to suffrage, voted to support the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, granting suffrage to black men, but not women. Anthony questioned why women should support this amendment when black men were not continuing to show support for women’s voting rights. Partially as a result of the decision by the AERA, Anthony soon thereafter devoted herself almost exclusively to the agitation for women’s rights.
On November 18, 1872, Anthony was arrested by a U.S. Deputy Marshal for voting illegally in the 1872 Presidential Election two weeks earlier. She had written to Stanton on the night of the election that she had “positively voted the Republican ticket – straight…”. She was tried and convicted seven months later, despite the stirring and eloquent presentation of her arguments that the recently adopted Fourteenth Amendment, which guaranteed to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” the privileges of citizenship, and which contained no gender qualification, gave women the constitutional right to vote in federal elections. The sentence was a fine, but not imprisonment; and true to her word in court, she never paid the penalty for the rest of her life. The trial gave Anthony the opportunity to spread her arguments to a wider audience than ever before.
Anthony toured Europe in 1883 and visited many charitable organizations. She wrote of a poor mother she saw in Killarney that had “six ragged, dirty children” to say that “the evidences were that “God” was about to add a No. 7 to her flock. What a dreadful creature their God must be to keep sending hungry mouths while he withholds the bread to fill them!”
In 1893, she joined with Helen Barrett Montgomery in forming a chapter of the Woman’s Educational and Industrial Union (WEIU) in Rochester. In 1898, she also worked with Montgomery to raise funds to open opportunities for women students to study at University of Rochester.
National suffrage organizations
In 1869, Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton founded the National Women’s Suffrage Association (NWSA), an organization dedicated to gaining women’s suffrage. Anthony was vice-president-at-large of the NWSA from the date of its organization until 1892, when she became president.
In the early years of the NWSA, Anthony made many 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, where male workers were on strike at the time. Anthony was later expelled from the National Labor Union over this controversy.
In 1890, Anthony orchestrated the merger of the NWSA with the more moderate American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), creating the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Prior to the controversial merge, Anthony had created a special NWSA executive committee to vote on whether they should merge with the AWSA, 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, and the committee was stacked with members who favored the merger. (Two members who voted against the merger were asked to resign).
Anthony’s pursuit of alliances with moderate suffragists created long-lasting tension between herself and more radical suffragists like Stanton. 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 ten thousand women and each one has opinions … and 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 pushed for Stanton to be voted in as the first NAWSA president, and stood by her as Stanton was belittled by the large factions of less-radical members within the new organization.
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 also befriended Josephine Brawley Hughes, an advocate of women’s rights and Prohibition in Arizona, and Carrie Chapman Catt, whom Anthony endorsed for the presidency of the NAWSA when Anthony formally retired in 1900.
Other Events on this Day
- In 1764…
St. Louis, Missouri, is founded as a French fur-trading post.
- In 1799…
Pennsylvania authorizes the first printed election ballots in the United States.
- In 1820…
Woman suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony is born in Adams, Massachusetts.
- In 1898…
The USS Maine blows up in Havana Harbor, touching off the Spanish-American War.
- In 1933…
President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt narrowly escapes an assassination attempt in Miami.
Dates and events based on:
William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)
Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: Susan B. Anthony…
Brainy Quote: Susan B. Anthony Quotes…