Letter to Elizabeth Cady Stanton on Her (Susan B. Anthony's) Illegal Vote

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Letter to Elizabeth Cady Stanton on Her (Susan B. Anthony's) Illegal Vote


By: Susan B. Anthony

Date: November 5, 1872

Source: Anthony, Susan B. "Letter to Elizabeth Cady Stanton on Her (Susan B. Anthony's Illegal Vote." Image of letter from Ida Harper Collection, November 5, 1872.

About the Author: Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906) was one of the foremost women's rights activists of the late nineteenth century. She focused on women's suffrage as the key to other social and political advances. Born in Adams, Massachusetts in 1820, the future organizer took up schoolteaching in Canajoharie, New York. Dissatisfied with the limits of teaching and frustrated that she only received a quarter of a man's salary for the exact same work, Anthony dedicated herself to reform in 1848. She met Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1851 and the two would become lifelong friends as well as the leading lights of the woman suffrage movement.


In the first half of the nineteenth century, the abolition and temperance movements consumed the attention of reform-minded Americans. Women played a role in both movements, but custom dictated that women remain in seclusion. Proper women did not speak in public, permit their names to appear in print, or engage in any other kind of activity in the male sphere of politics.

Women chafed at the restraints placed upon them. Elizabeth Cady Stanton began her activism as an abolitionist. She deeply resented that male abolitionists would not allow women to speak at an abolitionist convention, instead forcing them to sit in a curtained balcony as the men debated. Stanton dedicated herself to women's rights. Along with other women, she saw a parallel between the lives of women and the lives of slaves.

Anthony was active in the temperance movement (a public effort to moderate alcohol consumption). She was frustrated by the refusal of male temperance advocates to welcome women as equals. In 1852, Anthony and Stanton founded the Women's New York State Temperance Society, which addressed temperance but also ventured into the controversial realm of women's rights by advocating the right to vote and to divorce drunken husbands. Beginning as an agent for this society, Anthony became a full-time reformer. Witty, down-to-earth, and seemingly tireless, Anthony traveled throughout New York in the 1850s to speak on behalf of coeducation, equal pay, mothers' custody rights, and liberalized divorce laws.

After the Civil War, Anthony still promoted the same causes but increasingly she came to see women's suffrage as the only way to establish economic equality, abolish racism, remove the ills caused by industrialization, and rid government of corruption. Other concerns fell by the wayside as Anthony and Stanton founded the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869 to promote a federal suffrage amendment.

Anthony believed that her primary responsibility was to educate society of the importance of the ballot and she did this through cross-country lecture tours, the lobbying of state legislatures and members of Congress, petition drives, and state suffrage campaigns. She emphasized the humiliation of disfranchisement, noting that the laws also prohibited the mentally challenged, the insane, and convicted criminals from casting ballots.

In 1872, Anthony attempted to vote in the hope that, as a citizen, she could not be deprived of rights protected by the U.S. Constitution. Indicted by New York authorities for "knowingly, wrongfully, and unlawfully" casting a ballot in Rochester for a representative to the U.S. Congress, Anthony was not permitted by the judge to speak at her trial or to request a poll of the jurors. Found guilty and fined $100, she refused to pay. The fine remained uncollected. Since she had not been ordered to jail, a frustrated Anthony could not take her case to the Supreme Court on a writ of habeas corpus.



See primary source image.


It took a very long time for women's rights to win any popular support, even among women. Most people, male and female, approved of separate spheres for men and women. Anthony and Stanton believed that women failed to support the vote for women because they did not realize what its absence cost them.

Since the founding of the country, American women had complained about their lot in life. Women were excluded from public office, denied an education equivalent to that provided to males, oppressed by religious rules, given a subordinate role in society, and forced to be dependent on men who were not always dependable providers and husbands. Such protests, however, were likely to be infrequent, private, and voiced only when some particular humiliation compelled a woman to violate the command that she remain silent and subservient.

Anthony and Stanton helped change this situation. Despite harassment, Anthony's arrest, and public ridicule, they spearheaded the feminist movement. While Stanton remained at home with her large family, the single Anthony traveled to virtually every state and territory in the Midwest and West to organize women in support of women's suffrage. The Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1920 and granting women the right to vote, was often called the "Anthony Amendment" in honor of the woman who insisted that "Failure is Impossible." Anthony and Stanton left a legacy of social, political, legal, and educational reforms that improved the status of all the women who came after them.



Barry, Kathleen. Susan B. Anthony: Biography of a Singular Feminist. New York: New York University Press, 1988.

DuBois, Ellen Carol. Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women's Movement in America, 1848–1869. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1978.

The Elizabeth Cady Stanton—Susan B. Anthony Reader: Correspondence, Writings, Speeches, edited by Ellen Carol DuBois. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1981.

One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement, edited by Marjorie Spruill Wheeler. Trout-dale, Ore.: New Sage Press, 1995.

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Letter to Elizabeth Cady Stanton on Her (Susan B. Anthony's) Illegal Vote

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