What does the average person know about Susan B. Anthony other than: ‘Hmm, she’s that rather stern-looking woman on a U.S. coin, right?’ It turns out Susan B. lived a very long and very productive life over a century ago as a leading Abolitionist and Suffragette. In fact, women would not have had the right to vote as early as they did (1920) if it were not for the tireless work of Susan B. Anthony.
Born in 1820, she grew up in Rochester, NY, the child of Abolitionist Quakers. At 17, she went off to a boarding school to become a teacher, and at 26 was made Head Mistress of a Women’s Academy, an impressive feat for someone so young. By 29 she was involved in the early Temperance (Prohibition) movement, giving speeches on women’s rights. What did Temperance have to do with women’s rights, you might ask?
Before the Civil War, if a woman divorced her alcoholic husband, she forfeited everything – her home, her money AND her children to her spouse.
In 1852, she met a woman who would change her life forever, Elizabeth Stanton, one of the original US suffragettes. Stanton was already famous herself for organizing the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention 4 years earlier. Together the duo made an efficient team as Elizabeth was a talented writer and Susan a dynamic speaker. They formed the National Woman’s Suffrage Association, which by the way, is still around today. You might know it as the League of Women Voters.
During the Civil War, she helped none other than Harriet Tubman ferry escaped slaves through New York state to Canada on the famous Underground Railroad. She assisted Abraham Lincoln by canvasing the northern states, collecting over 400,000 signatures on a petition to pass the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery. The Amendment was narrowly passed by Congress in 1865.
After the Civil War, in 1868, she and Stanton started The Revolution, not A revolution, but rather a NY newspaper with that purposely provocative title. It was the first newspaper published by women, written by women, for women readers. Sadly, The Revolution only lasted 2 years due to a lack of funding from any male backers or advertisers, but it was still revolutionary, and made Susan B. Anthony famous as well.
In 1872, the 14th Amendment passed giving Blacks the right to vote.
It was written stating all US citizens had the right, so Susan and 50 of her followers convinced pollsters in New York state to allow them to vote in the presidential election that year since women were citizens too. Vote they did and were promptly arrested by a Marshal. As the instigator, Susan B. was the only one put on trial in The United States vs. Susan B. Anthony. An all male jury found her found guilty of illegally voting. She was not allowed to speak until after her sentencing.
When the judge finally asked her if she had anything to say, she stood and let fly a now famous invective stating:
My constitutional, civil, and judicial rights were tramped upon as I did not have a jury of my peers, for they were all men! The laws were made by men, under a government of men, and for the benefit of men! The only chance women had for justice was to violate the law, as I have done, and vow to continue to do!Susan B. Anthony at her 1873 trial
The flustered Judge Ward Hunt fined her $100, which, she refused paid. The judge wanted her out of his sight and did not order her to be taken in further custody.
She did not stop there. In 1893, Susan B. learned the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition would have no exhibit noting the contributions of women. She lobbied the wives of Washington cabinet members, senators AND Supreme Court justices. She eventually got a Women’s Pavilion, designed by a female architect, added to the Worlds Fair, at which women’s accomplishments and rights were proudly displayed and freely discussed. Susan B. spoke to large crowds at the exhibition about woman’s rights.
Sadly, Susan B Anthony never saw women get the right to vote.
She semi-retired at 71 to Rochester, NY though still remained an active suffragette. Her 80th birthday was celebrated at the White House with President William McKinley. She died of pneumonia in 1906 at the age of 86. In case you were wondering, she never married, deciding early on that having a husband and children could impede her tireless work for women.
Susan B. Anthony inspired and left thousands of women’s rights advocates in her wake. Her last words were ‘Failure is impossible.” And she was right. Women of course did finally get the right to vote the same as men, 14 years later in 1920. The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is in fact officially known today as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. The U.S. Post Office issued a stamp in her honor in 1931 and another in 1958. In 1979, a dollar coin was produced with a profile of her determined face, the first woman ever to be on U.S. currency.
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