Overview of life
Susan Brownell Anthony
(February 15, 1820 – March 13, 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 was co-founder of the first Women’s Temperance Movement with Elizabeth Cady Stanton as President. She also co-founded the women’s rights journal,
. She traveled the United States and Europe, and averaged 75 to 100 speeches per year. She was one of the important advocates in leading the way for women’s rights to be acknowledged and instituted in the American government. Her birthday on February 15, is commemorated as Susan B. Anthony Day in the U.S. states of Florida and Wisconsin
Susan B. Anthony was born to Daniel Anthony (1794-1862) and Lucy Read (1793-1880) and raised in West Grove, Adams, Massachusetts. She was the second-oldest of seven children; her siblings were Guelma Penn (1818-1873), Hannah Lapham (1821-1877), Daniel Read (1824-1904), Mary Stafford (1827-1907), Eliza Tefft (1832-1834), and Jacob Merritt (1834-1900). She grew up as a Quaker who believed in hard work and a simple life. Her publisher brother Daniel would become active in the anti-slavery movement in Kansas and her sister Mary became a teacher and a women’s-rights activist. Anthony remained close to her sisters throughout her life.
Her earliest American ancestors were the immigrants John Anthony (1607-1675), who was from Hempstead, Essex, and his wife, Susanna Potter (c. 1623 – 1674), who was from London, Middlesex.
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). Lucy 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 on 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 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. By the 1880s, Anthony had become agnostic.
In her youth, Anthony was very self-conscious of her appearance and speaking abilities. She long resisted public speaking for fear she would not be sufficiently eloquent. Despite these insecurities, she became a renowned public presence, eventually helping to lead the women’s movement.
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 1837, at age 17, Susan collected petitions opposing slavery as part of an organized response to the gag rule prohibiting anti-slavery 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 8, 1868, Anthony first published the women’s rights weekly journal 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. His financial support ceased by May 1869, and the paper began to operate in debt. Anthony insisted on expensive, high-quality printing equipment, and she paid women workers the high wages she thought they deserved. She banned any advertisements for alcohol- and morphine-laden patent medicines; all such medicines were abhorrent to her. However, revenue from non-patent-medicine advertisements was too low to cover costs. In addition, Anthony got President Johnson to subscribe to the weekly journal before the first publication.
In June 1870, Laura Curtis Bullard, a Brooklyn-based writer whose parents became wealthy from selling a popular morphine-containing patent medicine called “Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup”, bought the rights to The Revolution for one dollar, with Anthony assuming its $10,000 debt, an amount equal to $184,000 in current value. Anthony used her lecture fees to repay the debt, completing the task in six years. Under Bullard, the journal adopted a literary orientation and accepted patent medicine ads, but it folded in February 1872.
American Equal Rights Association
Founded on May 10, 1866, during the Eleventh National Woman’s Rights Convention, the AERA met its first test in 1867. In that year Kansas, a Republican state, voted down two separate referenda granting suffrage to blacks and women, respectively. During the Kansas campaign, organization founders Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony had accepted the help of a known racist, alienating abolitionist members as well as AERA president Lucretia Mott.
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.
United States v. Susan B. Anthony
On November 18, 1872, Anthony was arrested by a U.S. Deputy Marshal for voting on November 5 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, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The privileges of citizenship, which contained no gender qualification, gave women the constitutional right to vote in federal elections. Her trial took place at the Ontario County courthouse in Canandaigua, New York, before Supreme Court Associate Justice Ward Hunt. Justice Hunt refused to allow Anthony to testify on her own behalf, allowed statements given by her at the time of her arrest to be allowed as “testimony,” explicitly ordered the jury to return a guilty verdict, refused to poll the jury afterwards, and read an opinion he had written before the trial even started. In response to the unfairness of the “trial”, Anthony repeatedly ignored the judge’s admonishments to stop talking at the delivery of the verdict, finally stating: “May it please your honour, I will never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty. All the stock in trade I possess is a debt of $10,000, incurred by publishing my paper – The Revolution – the sole object of which was to educate all women to do precisely as I have done, rebel against your man-made, unjust, unconstitutional forms of law, which tax, fine, imprison and hang women, while denying them the right of representation in the government; and I will work on with might and mine to pay every dollar of that honest debt, but not a penny shall go to this unjust claim. And 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.” The sentence was a $100 fine, but not imprisonment; true to her word in court (“I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty”), she never paid the fine for the rest of her life, and an embarrassed U.S. Government took no collection action against her. After her trial Anthony petitioned the US Congress to remove the fine in January 1874.
The trial gave Anthony the opportunity to spread her arguments to a wider audience than ever before, because after her arrest and prior to her trial Anthony undertook an exhaustive speaking tour of all 29 of the towns and villages of Monroe county where her trial was to be held. In her speeches she addressed the question “Is it a Crime for a Citizen of the United States to Vote?” and quoted the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the New York Constitution, James Madison, Thomas Paine, the Supreme Court, and several of the leading Radical Republican senators of the day to support her case that women as citizens have a right to vote. The district attorney obtained a change of venue because he determined that a fair trial could not take place in Monroe County. The trial was moved to Ontario County, and Anthony spoke to more than 20 Ontario audiences before the trial. Anthony argued that women, traditionally in servitude to man, should be included in the emancipation amendment granting voting privileges to former slaves. She asked her fellow citizens “how can the ‘consent of the governed’ be given if the right to vote be denied?”
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.
National suffrage organizations
In 1869, Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton founded the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), an organization dedicated to gaining women’s suffrage. Anthony insisted that Stanton become president as long as possible; Anthony served as vice-president-at-large 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 February 1890, Anthony orchestrated the merger of the NWSA with Lucy Stone’s more moderate American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), creating the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). This merger was partially done because Anthony admired Anna Howard Shaw, who worked with the AWSA and was a great speaker. 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.
Later personal life
Cover of the February 20, 1913, issue of Life, subtitled “Ancient History”, showing an Anthony-like figure in classical dress leading a protest for women’s rights
Before retiring, Anthony was asked if all women in the United States would ever be given the right to vote. She replied by stating, “it will come, but I shall not see it…It is inevitable. We can no more deny forever the right of self-government to one-half our people than we could keep the Negro forever in bondage. It will not be wrought by the same disrupting forces that freed the slave, but come it will, and I believe within a generation.” “Failure is impossible” were the words she left with her “girls” to encourage them on in the long discouraging struggle ahead. Fourteen years after Anthony’s death, following assiduous campaigning, women’s right to vote was affirmed on August 26, 1920, by passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
After retiring in 1900, Anthony remained in Rochester, where she died at the age of 86 of heart disease and pneumonia in her house at 17 Madison Street on March 13, 1906. She was buried at Mount Hope Cemetery. Following her death, the New York State Senate passed a resolution remembering her “unceasing labor, undaunted courage and unselfish devotion to many philanthropic purposes and to the cause of equal political rights for women.”