The Life of Susan B. Anthony
Susan Brownell Anthony was an American woman--a reformer, a feminist, a champion.
- Birth--She was born in Adams, Massachusetts on February 15, 1820. Adams is in the Berkshire Hills of northwestern Massachusetts, in the shadow of Mt. Greylock, the highest point in the state at 3,491 feet in elevation. This is beautiful country with farms and towns along green valleys.
- The Quaker influence--Hers was a Quaker family. The Quakers believed in education and Susan received excellent training. They believed in hard work, and Susan learned a strong work ethic from an early age. They believed in generosity and charity. They believed in peace, temperance and justice, and this was to affect her adult concerns about injustices toward women, as well as social problems that come from alcohol. The Quakers also believed that men and women were equal partners before God, and this must have had an important influence on her belief in women's rights.
- The family influence--Susan B. Anthony was raised with Quaker discipline and austerity, but there was an independent spirit that came from both her father and mother. Her father, Daniel, was devout, but he went outside the church to marry the woman he loved. Her mother, Lucy, had loved music and dancing as a girl, but she gave this up to accept the rules of her huband's Quaker faith. In her spirit, however, her mother never forgot her light-hearted youth. Daniel Anthony was concerned about social justice. When he ran his own cotton mill, he avoided buying slave-raised cotton. This lesson was not lost on Susan.
- The move to New York--In Massachusetts, her father's cotton mill was very successful, and he was soon asked to manage mills at Battenville, New York. The family moved there in 1826 when Susan was 6 years old. Soon the family was in a large brick home.
- Education--Susan's education began in the small district schools in New York. These were often in rooms built onto homes. At 15 she began to teach in one of these schools near her home. In 1837, at the age of 17, Susan was sent by her father to "Deborah Moulson's Friends Seminary," a respected private school in Philadelphia. Deborah Moulson was the director and she was a strong disciplinarian. The word "Friends" in the school title was another name for the Quakers, and "Seminary" was another name for a school.
- Family hardship--The same year that Susan left for school in Philadelphia, however, there was a nationwide financial crisis (the panic of 1837). Her father's cotton mills in New York failed and the family suffered financial reverses. School was no longer a luxury the family could afford, and in April, 1838, her father picked her up from the seminary and brought her home. To help her family, Susan began work as a teacher. Her family moved to Hardscrabble, New York (later named Center Falls), a short distance from Battenville, where Daniel Anthony owned a factory and grist mill. He planned to use his profits to pay his creditors, but this proved difficult.
- Rochester--In 1845, her family moved to Rochester, New York, where her father leased a farm. Rochester is in western New York along the Genesee River, the Erie Canal, and Lake Ontario, and was as beautiful a city in Anthony's day as it is today.
- It began with Temperance--At this time, Susan took a teaching job in Canajoharie, New York, west of Albany. It was there she became interested in the temperance movement, which sought to end the consumption and trade of alcoholic beverages. In 1849, she joined her family in Rochester where she began full-time work in the temperance movement. Rochester was to be her home city for the remainder of her life.
We do not assume that females possess unbounded power in abolishing the evil customs of the day; but we do believe that were they
en masse to discontinue the use of wine and brandy as beverages at both their public and private parties, not one of the opposite sex, who has any claim to the title of gentleman, would so insult them as to come into their presence after having quaffed of that foul destroyer of delicacy and refinement....
[from Susan B. Anthony's first speech on temperance at Canajoharie]
- The fight for property rights--Beginning in 1848, Anthony began to develop an interest in a battle for women's property rights in New York state. At that time all property belonged to the husband in a marriage. There was a petition drive by both educated women and fathers who had seen fortunes abused by ne'er-do-well son-in-laws. In 1860, women in New York gained control over their wages and guardianship of thier children.
- The bloomer revolution--For a short time, Susan B. Anthony joined a revolution in women's dress--the wearing of "bloomers." These were long, loose-fitting pants beneath a short dress. They were considered comfortable and gave freedom from tight lacing and the cumbersome clothing of women of the time. However, the dress style attracted so much attention, not all of it positive, it was believed by Anthony and her friends to detract from the cause, and was soon abandoned.
- The formative years--The 1850s were a watershed time for Susan B. Anthony. She met the influential and creative people, both women and men, who were to shape her future. She was in her thirties. The abolition of slavery was an issue. Temperance was an issue. Property rights for women was an issue. The idea of women's suffrage was growing in Anthony's mind.
- Abolitionist--From 1856 to the Civil War, Susan was an agent of the "American Antislavery Society." During the war she worked for emancipation of slaves, organizing the "Womens National Loyal League" for this purpose. During the war years, the cause of emancipation of slaves and support of the war effort dominated all political activities. With the war finished, Susan began to focus on women's suffrage.
- The Revolution--In the late 1860s, Anthony began publication of a newspaper entitled The Revolution. The paper had a short but tumultuous history. Debts mounted, and in 1870 she released the paper to another publisher. She personally accepted responsibility for the outstanding debt of $10,000. For many years she continued repayment from speaking fees until the debt had been fully discharged. This was considered a victory for personal integrity.
The true republic--men, their rights and nothing more; women their rights and nothing less.
[Motto of "The Revolution," a weekly published by Susan B. Anthony]
- The battle of the amendments--When the 14th and 15th Amendments to the US Constitution were debated, Susan B. Anthony worked unsuccessfully to have the provisions extended to include women. The amendments ensured the vote and certain civil rights to former male slaves, but she felt that it should also ensure the vote for women (see the section on "Constitutional Amendments" for more information).
- The court test--She pressed a test court case for women's suffrage based on the two amendments. On November 1, 1872 she went to register to vote in Rochester, New York, along with three other women. Two election inspectors named Edwin Marsh and Beverly W. Jones at first refused, but Anthony read them the pertinent lines of the Constitution and they eventually consented. By the end of the period of registration, 50 women had registered to vote in Rochester. On election day, November 5, 1872, Anthony voted for the first time. On November 18, she was served an arrest warrant.
- The trial--The trial began the following summer in Canandaiga, New York, which is southeast of Rochester. Her counsel was Henry R. Seldon, who was a close personal friend and was sympathetic to the cause of suffrage. The prosecuting attorney was Richard Crowley. On the bench was Judge Ward Hunt. After presentation of the opposing arguments in the case, the jury was abruptly directed by the judge to return a verdict of guilty. Henry Seldon protested and demanded that the jury be polled, but he was cut off. The next day, Anthony attempted to speak on her own behalf but was stopped by Judge Hunt. She was fined $100 but was not jailed. This was a calculated move, obviously planned in advance, that prevented Anthony from appealing the case to the United States Supreme Court. Susan B. Anthony never paid the $100, and eventually the matter was dropped. Three election inspectors who allowed the women to register were tried the day Anthony was sentenced. They were convicted of breaking election laws and fined $25 each. Two of these men, including Edwin Marsh, refused to pay their fines and were jailed. Anthony appealed to her senator and the men received a pardon from President Grant.
May it please your honor, I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty. All the stock in trade I possess is a $10,000 debt, 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, that tax, fine, imprision, and hang women, while they deny them the right of representation in the government....I shall earnestly and persistently continue to urge all women to the practical recognition of the old revolutionary maxim that 'Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.'
[from the final remarks of Susan B. Anthony at her trial in Canandiaga, New York.]
- Suffrage organizations--For the remainder of her life, Susan B. Anthony battled for women's suffrage. In 1869, she formed the National Woman Suffrage Association to work for a suffrage amendment to the United States Constitution. Later it was the National American Woman Suffrage Association of which she was the President from 1892 to1900, when she retired at the age of 80. She organized other movements on an international scale--in 1888 the International Council of Women and in 1904 the International Woman Suffrage Alliance in Berlin, Germany.
- Strategy--In all areas, her strategy was to continue to place petitions before legislatures and to continue to force votes and resolutions on suffrage, even if they lost. A vote was public exposure for the idea. Eventually, she belived, the concept of suffrage would gain momentum, because it was a correct moral issue.
- Western travels--In the late 1800s, Susan B. Anthony travelled widely, particularly in the western United States, lecturing on women's rights. The earliest victories for suffrage came in the west, and she had receptive audiences. In 1869, Wyoming was the first state (at that time the Wyoming Territory) to allow women to vote, hold office and serve on juries. Before the end of the century the vote was given to women in Colorado, Utah and Idaho.
- The next generation--As the 19th century waned, Susan prepared for her retirement. There were many young women around her to take up the cause, but there were at least 4 that she felt should be directed to future leadership--Rachel Foster Avery, Anna Howard Shaw, Harriet Taylor Upton, and Carrie Chapman Catt.
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.
[in her later years on the outlook for women's suffrage]
- Her death--She passed away in Rochester, New York on March 13, 1906. She was at her home, with her hand held by her close friend, Anna Shaw.
- The champion of lost causes--At the time of her death, women had the right to vote in only a few western states and in the nations of New Zealand and Australia. Her victory was incomplete. However, others continued the work, and in 1919 the United States passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution--the "Susan B. Anthony Amendment"--extending the vote to women.
I am here for a little time only and then my place will be filled. But the fight must not cease. You must see that it does not stop. Failure is impossible.