Susan Brownell Anthony, Women’s Rights Activist and Abolitionist
Wisdom of Life: Susan Brownell Anthony was very outspoken and said what was on her mind, which made her an excellent reformer. While working as a teacher, she discovered that male teachers earned $10 a week while their female counterparts earned a measly $2.50. Anthony raised her objections and subsequently was fired. That did not dampen her spirits, though. Over the years, Anthony voiced her objections about many issues such as slavery, women’s inability to manage their own money, and right to vote. It was the tireless work of Anthony and her colleagues that allowed women, many rights that they now take for granted.
Name: Susan Brownell Anthony
Susan Brownell Anthony was the second of eight children of a Quaker father and Baptist mother. She attended the Friends’ Seminary near Philadelphia for four months to learn Quaker tenets. Anthony’s Quaker education influenced her belief in equality between men and women as well as her interest in other social issues. To help her family financially, she began her professional life in 1939 as a school teacher at New Rochelle’s Friends’ Seminary.
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While working there, she discovered that she was earning only 20 percent of what her male counterparts with equal qualification were earning – Anthony discovered firsthand the effects of disproportionate wages. Anthony had always been outspoken, so she voiced her objections to her superiors. She also had the habit of visiting the homes of African Americans students because she wanted to see how they lived, and how she could better serve them at school. These visits were frowned upon, and coupled with her protests over her wages, Anthony was eventually fired. This seemed hypocritical since the tenets of the Quakers espouse equality among men and women and all races.
In 1846, Anthony was hired as the principal of the Girl’s Department at Canajoharie Academy in Rochester, which was close to her father’s new farm. In 1849, she quit teaching and returned to run the family’s farm at her father’s request.
Anthony was exposed to social issues like anti-slavery, temperance (anti-alcohol) and women’s rights because her father often hosted reformers and abolitionists like Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips and William Lloyd Garrison in their home. Anthony’s parents and her younger sister attended the Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848 where they signed the first Declaration of Women’s Rights.
In 1851, Anthony became president of the local chapter of the Daughters of Temperance. In the spring of that year, she attended an anti-slavery meeting in Seneca Falls, where she stayed with Amelia Bloomer, the editor of The Lily, a temperance magazine. Anthony and Bloomer met Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who had also come to the convention. Anthony and Stanton became fast friends, and they formed a collaborative partnership which lasted the rest of their lives – Anthony was great at organizing, speaking and traveling while Stanton was great at generating ideas and writing.
Anthony had been drawn to reform movements such as temperance and anti-slavery because of meetings hosted by her father However, she was somewhat slower to fully embrace women’s rights until January 1852 when she attended a Sons of Temperance meeting in Albany, New York and was prevented from speaking because of her gender. Women “were not invited there to speak, but to listen and learn.” This incensed her so much that she left the meeting.
After this historic meeting where she was snubbed, Anthony soon formed the Women’s State Temperance Society. She concluded that the right to vote would give women respect and equality. For the Society’s first convention, which was held in April 1852, Anthony wrote hundreds of letters, fundraised, held a series of meetings throughout the state, secured speakers, and organized publicity. Her convention was a huge success. Elizabeth Cady Stanton accepted the presidency of Women’s State Temperance Society.
Stanton convinced Anthony of the need for organized activity around women’s political, social and legal rights. Anthony attended National Women’s Right Convention in Syracuse, New York in 1852. From that time until the end of the American Civil War (1861 – 1865), Anthony campaigned door-to-door, in legislatures, and in meetings for women’s rights and the abolition of slavery. In 1856, she became the chief agent in New York State for the American Anti-Slavery Society run by reformer, and abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, a friend of her father.
Anthony’s petition in New York State started to pay off. In 1860, the state passed the New York State Married Woman’s Guardianship Law, which allowed married women to own property, keep their own wages, and have custody of their children should they separate from or divorce their spouses.
During the Civil War, Anthony organized the Women’s National Loyal League in 1863 which supported 13th Amendment to the Constitution to abolish slavery. By August 1864, the League gathered 400,000 signatures on a petition, and presented it to Congress. In February 1865, Congress passed the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. In 1866, Anthony and Stanton founded the American Equal Rights Association, and supported the Republican Party, which had been formed 10 years earlier to oppose slavery.
Over the next few years, while the 14th and 15th Amendments were being drafted, Anthony lobbied for the inclusion of women’s suffrage, but the male political establishment wanted to focus solely on ensuring the rights of freed men.
Through the funding of George Francis Train, Anthony helped to establish the weekly suffrage newspaper, Revolution, to promote what were at the time radical women’s causes such as equal pay for men and women, better education for girls, more professional options for women, prostitution, and easier access to divorce. Anthony’s partnership with Train was a surprising one because he was racist and alienated most suffragists, but she thought she could further her cause with the assistance of the “Devil.”
The first issue of Revolution was published in January 1868. Anthony was listed as publisher, with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Parker Pillsbury, serving as editors. In one issue, the Revolution printed the text of Mary Wollstonecraft’s 1792 manifesto, The Vindication of the Rights of Woman. The paper strongly opposed the 14th amendment because it did not include women. The paper quickly ran into financial difficulties after Train withdrew his support. By 1870, the paper had gone bankrupt, so Anthony went on a lecture tour for six years to pay off the $10,000 of debt. Anthony also founded the Working Woman’s Association, advocating for higher wages and shorter work hours.
In 1869 Anthony and Stanton had formed the National Woman Suffrage Association. Later that year, other suffragists who were not prepared to criticize the 15th Amendment or break with Republican ties and abolitionists formed the American Woman Suffrage Association. The two groups reunited two decades later to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association.
On February 3, 1870, the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, which gave all “citizens” the right to vote, regardless of race, but it did not specifically mention women. On November 1872, Anthony went to the polling station held in a barber shop in Rochester with a copy of the US Constitution. She read the 15th Amendment and registered to vote in the presidential election. Word quickly spread and 50 other women registered to vote over the next few days. On November 5, 1872, Anthony voted in the presidential election. On November 28th a US deputy marshal arrested her for voting illegally.
Other women were arrested, but only Anthony’s case went to trial. The trial was set for 1873 so Anthony went on a speaking tour to address the question, “Is it a crime for a US citizen to vote?” In the case, United States vs. Susan B. Anthony, which began in June 1873, Ward Hunt wrote his decisions before he heard arguments from the lawyers. Hunt also instructed the jury to find her guilty, then dismissed them. He denied a motion from Anthony’s lawyer for a new trial and fined her $100, which she refused to pay. The court didn’t pursue payment because that would allow Anthony to take her case to the Supreme Court which they didn’t want.
Anthony continued her suffragist work: She spoke before Congress, political conventions, labour meetings, and town meetings in every part of the country, wrote articles on women’s history, and lobbied for social change. In the mid 1870s, Anthony, Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage, co-authored the five-volume History of Woman Suffrage (1881-1902).
While on a trip conducting a suffrage campaign in California in 1896, Anthony met Ida Husted Harper, an Indiana reporter. Anthony took an instant liking to her and commissioned her to write her biography, the two-volume The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony, with incidents and comments drawn largely from scrapbooks, diaries, and letters Anthony kept.
In 1890, Wyoming became the first state to allow women the right to vote. In 1900, Anthony convinced the University of Rochester to admit women. By the time she died in 1906, three other states, Colorado, Idaho and Utah had granted women the right to vote. It was not until 1920, 14 years after Anthony’s death that the 19th Amendment of the US Constitution gave women the right to vote in national elections.
A Susan B. Anthony commemorative postage stamp was issued in 1936 in connection with the sixteenth anniversary of the ratification of the nineteenth amendment granting women the right to vote. She was also honoured in 1979 and 1980, when the United States Mint issued one dollar coins bearing her likeness. Susan B. Anthony was the first woman pictured on a US coin in general circulation.
Susan Brownell Anthony’s Steps to Success
- Firm belief that failure is impossible.
- Partnership with Elizabeth Cady Stanton made both women successful in their causes. They were well-matched and their skills complemented each other.
- Advocated for the rights of women, and against slavery.
- Did what was necessary to move her cause forward.
- Excellent fundraiser.
Why Susan Brownell Anthony’s Contribution Matters
Paved the way for women to gain the right to vote.
Lessons from Susan Brownell Anthony
- You will not necessarily benefit from your hard work, but others will.
- Stand for something in your life.
- She was a true leader who others imaged.
American Women Writers
Americans at War 1816 – 1900
UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography
Women in World History
American Social Reform Movement Biographies
The Cambridge Biographical Encyclopedia
Reconstruction Era Reference Library
West’s Encyclopedia of American Law
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