Anthony, Susan B. (1820–1906)

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Anthony, Susan B. (1820–1906)

American women's rights activist, educator, and reformer whose lifelong effort on behalf of women culminated in passage of the 19th "Anthony" Amendment, which enfranchised women in the United States. Name variations: "Aunt Susan." Born Susan Brownell Anthony on February 15, 1820, at Adams, Massachusetts, a small village in the Berkshire Mountains; died on March 13, 1906, at her home in Rochester, New York; daughter of Daniel Anthony (a prosperous Quaker mill owner and merchant) and Lucy Read Anthony (a Baptist homemaker and mother of seven children, one of whom died in infancy); attended Deborah Moulson's Female Seminary in Hamilton, Pennsylvania, in 1837–38; never married; no children.

Taught school (1838–52); organized New York State Woman's Temperance Association (1852); meeting with Elizabeth Cady Stanton began lifelong collaboration (1852); attended first women's rights convention (1852), beginning of lifelong commitment to

woman suffrage; spearheaded petition drive for abolition of slavery during Civil War, resulting in 400,000 signatures; co-founded and edited The Revolution, a weekly paper devoted to women's rights (1868–70); founded the Working Woman's Association (1868); co-founded and led National Woman Suffrage Association (1869–90); president National American Woman Suffrage Association (1892–1900); arrested and tried for voting in presidential election (1872); organized International Council of Women (1888).

Alternately exhorting, pleading, planning, begging, and borrowing on behalf of women's suffrage, the cause that consumed her life, Susan B. Anthony met repeated disappointments with the resilience that led her to say, "Failure is impossible." Progress in the 72-year battle for voting rights for women was measured not in feet, but in inches. No one appreciated the military analogy better than Anthony, who stood at the head of the shock troops of women's suffrage from its 19th-century inception until her death in 1906. Anthony was indefatigable in her efforts; her dedication to women's suffrage was her raison d'etre, and the amendment to the Constitution that at last enfranchised women came to be known as "the Anthony Amendment."

Anthony was born into a family of reformers in Adams, Massachusetts. Her father Daniel, a Quaker, and her mother Lucy, a Baptist, were both champions of temperance, women's rights, and the abolition of slavery. They insisted on providing equal educations for their two sons and four daughters. In 1826, Daniel Anthony relocated the family to Battenville, New York, where he became a partner in a large-scale cotton manufactory.

Despite severe financial difficulties caused by the Panic of 1837, Daniel and Lucy Anthony sent Susan, the second oldest, to board at Deborah Moulson 's Female Seminary in Hamilton, Pennsylvania, in order to continue her education beyond the district public school in Battenville. At Miss Moulson's, along with algebra, literature, chemistry, and philosophy, Anthony was taught "the principles of Humility, Morality, and a love of Virtue." Following the bankruptcy auction of Daniel Anthony's assets, Susan and her older sister Guelma went to work as schoolteachers.

In 1846, Susan was offered a position as headmistress of the female department of the Canojoharie Academy, a prestigious private school in upstate New York. There she remained until 1849, enjoying a full and demanding professional and social life. By 1849, Anthony had grown restless, and she returned to the family, now relocated to a farm near Rochester, New York. Here she began to devote herself to the cause of reform.

Although Anthony had been at Canojoharie when the historic 1848 gathering of women at Seneca Falls, New York, took place, her parents and her younger sister Mary had heard of it and had made the trip to the follow-up meeting that took place two weeks later in Rochester. Though Daniel, Lucy, and Mary Anthony all signed the petition demanding the right of suffrage for women, Susan B., while committed to anti-slavery and temperance causes, was slower to embrace the call for women's suffrage. The events of 1852 would change her mind and alter the course of her life. In January of that year, Anthony attended a convention of the Sons of Temperance in Albany, New York. Her attempt to speak at the meeting was rebuffed with the warning that the women "were not invited there to speak but to listen and learn." Incensed, Anthony—showing the genius for publicity that would mark her career—met with the editor of the powerful Albany Evening Journal, Thurlow Weed, and persuaded him to write a story on the silencing of the women at the convention.

After this incident, Anthony undertook the organization of the Woman's State Temperance Society. This too would prove a turning point, for it was as an organizer that Anthony found her life's work. For the temperance society's first convention, Anthony wrote hundreds of letters, raised money, held a series of meetings throughout the state, secured speakers, and arranged for publicity. The convention, held in Rochester in April of 1852, was a huge success. When the women's organization was again rebuffed at the Men's Temperance Society convention held later that spring, Anthony surrendered the last of her reservations about women's rights reform. Thus, in a single year, Anthony tapped into what would prove a genius for organization and found the cause that would consume her life.

It was also in 1852 that Anthony met Elizabeth Cady Stanton —the woman who would provide a "partnership of head and heart" that enriched both women's lives. Both later agreed that from the first there was an "intense attraction" between them. For more than half a century, they would be "Mrs. Stanton and Susan" to each other—intellectual partners, reform collaborators, and fast friends.

Stanton agreed to accept the presidency of the Woman's State Temperance Society, and in their subsequent meetings convinced Anthony of the need for women's organized activity on behalf of political, social, and legal rights. Anthony agreed to attend the 1852 Syracuse, New York, National Woman's Rights Convention (NWRC). There, Anthony displayed the plain-spoken honesty that would characterize her throughout her life. The report of the Syracuse convention furnishes an early example of Anthony's style. First, she spoke out boldly against electing the fashionably dressed Elizabeth Oakes Smith to the presidency of the convention, saying that no one who dressed so elegantly could possibly represent the hard-working women of the country. Oakes was defeated, and the conservatively clad Quaker, Lucretia Mott , was elected instead. Anthony also interrupted the speech of a softvoiced woman orator, saying, "Mrs. President, I move that hereafter the papers shall be given to some one to read who can be heard. It is an imposition on an audience to have to sit quietly through a long speech of which they can not hear a word." Audiences came to expect such plain truths from Anthony, who could be blunt and cantankerous even as she earned the respect and affection of her fellow reform workers.

Smith, Elizabeth Oakes (1806–1893)

American author. Born Elizabeth Prince in the vicinity of Portland, Maine, in 1806; died in 1893; descended from distinguished Puritan ancestry; married Seba Smith (an American satirist who founded and edited the Portland [Maine] Courier).

Elizabeth Oakes Smith was married at an early age to Seba Smith, who was then editing a newspaper in Portland, Maine; he would go on to enjoy a national reputation writing under the pseudonym Jack Downing. Though Elizabeth Smith's earliest poems were contributed anonymously to various periodicals, she took to writing openly as a means of support for her family in order to offset her husband's business disasters. An early collection of poems published in New York was followed by The Sinless Child and Other Poems in 1843, which had originally appeared in the Southern Literary Messenger. Smith also wrote The Western Captive (1842), Bald Eagle: Or, The Last of the Ramapaughs (1867), The Newsboy, Sagamore of Saco, The Two Wives, Kitty Howard's Journal, Destiny: A Tragedy, Jacob Leisler, The Salamander: A Legend for Christmas, and a tragedy in five acts entitled The Roman Tribute. A prominent advocate of women's rights, Smith occasionally lectured on the issue; her book Woman and Her Needs was published in 1851.

Following the Syracuse convention, though still committed to temperance, Anthony found herself drawn ever more strongly to women's rights. That autumn, Anthony, Stanton, and the third of the great suffrage pioneers, Lucy Stone , met at Stanton's home to plan for the organization of a co-educational university. Though the institution would fall short of the women's dreams, merging before its inception with Cornell University, the partnership formed around Stanton's dinner table would prove a formidable force for change in the half-century to come. They were a powerful trio of women—Stone, the charismatic orator and canny politician; Stanton, the brilliant philosopher; and Anthony, the woman who more than any other would come to be identified with the movement for women's suffrage.

From the early 1850s through the outbreak of the Civil War, Stanton, Stone, and Anthony led the suffrage movement through a period of explosive growth. Each national women's suffrage convention met with huge crowds, and a series of small conventions took place throughout the country and into Canada. Anthony took on the thankless and necessary task of raising funds to keep the movement alive and of arranging publicity for the meetings, while Lucy Stone, as chair of the executive committee, made the convention arrangements and published the various tracts. Both Stone and Stanton wrote and delivered a series of major addresses on women's rights at large and small gatherings throughout the country. Anthony, at first reluctant to lecture, grew more at home on the platform in later years; in the early years of her public life, she was more comfortable traveling from town to town, holding women's suffrage meetings.

The work of traveling and organizing was often hazardous in the 1850s. Letters quoted in Ida Husted Harper 's biography of Anthony detail some of the difficulties: "Mercury 12 degrees below zero, but we took a sleigh…. Trains all blocked by snow … yet we had a full house and good meeting"; in another letter, "we floundered through the deepest snowbanks I ever saw." Such determination paid off; interest in women's suffrage grew steadily.

By the middle of the 1850s, women's suffrage had become Anthony's passion, although her opposition to slavery remained strong. She made abolitionist speeches, and she and her family sheltered fugitive slaves. For a while, she considered becoming a paid lecture agent for an antislavery society, but her devotion to women's rights won out. As the ranks of suffragists swelled, and as attendance at the local and national conventions grew year by year, Anthony began to believe that victory was not far off. However, with the outbreak of the Civil War, organized women's suffrage activity came to a halt.

In the early years of the war, Anthony continued to make abolitionist speeches, decrying the gradualism of Abraham Lincoln and calling for immediate emancipation of all slaves. Following Lincoln's issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, Anthony determined to work toward the complete abolition of slavery through a Constitutional amendment. Along with Stanton and Stone, Anthony convened the Women's Loyal National League in 1863. At its first convention, those present agreed to labor to establish the "civil and political rights of all citizens of African descent and all women."

With Anthony as its driving force, the League began a massive petition campaign for a Constitutional amendment prohibiting slavery. The work devolved largely on Anthony, who raised more than $5,000 for the effort. Under her direction, thousands of letters went out, and more than 25,000 petitions were circulated and collected. By August of 1864, Anthony's efforts had resulted in more than 400,000 signatures on the petitions that then were carried by the armload and presented in the Senate. When in February of 1865, Congress passed the 13th Amendment, thereby abolishing slavery, an exhausted Anthony could be satisfied that her efforts had contributed to its passage.

After the war, the women's effort to be included in a postwar push for civil and political rights was thwarted when the 14th Amendment introduced the word "male" as a qualification for voting. Abolitionist allies were unwilling to risk adding women to the call for Constitutional protections and guarantees for former slaves. Though freed by the Constitution, African-Americans found themselves increasingly imperiled by harsh and punitive Black Codes throughout the South. Fearful that adding women to the call for enfranchisement would doom their cause, reformers voted to labor for freedmen's rights, not women's rights.

Within the next four years, the decision to work only for freedmen's rights would split the women's rights movement. Tensions were exacerbated in 1867 by the alliance of Anthony and Stanton with an eccentric, racist demagogue, George Francis Train. Train offered them financial support in return for a share of the speakers' platform; he and Anthony first toured Kansas together in the fall of 1867, and then went on a joint speaking tour of the Midwest and East in late 1867 and early 1868.

Reports of Train's anti-black rhetoric alienated most suffragists, but Anthony held firm to her belief in the rectitude of her course. Her diary entry for January 1, 1868, reads: "All the old friends, with scarce an exception, are sure we are wrong. Only time can tell, but I believe we are right and hence bound to succeed." Stanton, less sure of their course, nevertheless justified their actions by saying that she "would take money from the Devil himself" if it would further the cause of women's suffrage. At the close of their lecture tour, Train furnished the women funds to begin a weekly women's suffrage newspaper, The Revolution. Within a year, he had withdrawn his financial support and ceased to fill pages of the newspaper with his eccentric political views. The Revolution carried news of women's political, social, and economic gains. It also printed the text of Mary Wollstonecraft 's 1792 manifesto, The Vindication of the Rights of Woman. The paper ceased publication in 1870, leaving a debt of $10,000. Anthony vowed to repay every creditor; although it took years of hard work, she eventually settled every debt. Among its causes, The Revolution had championed the plight of working women,

whose attempts to integrate male-dominated trade unions often failed. Anthony founded the Working Woman's Association, hoping to combine woman's rights with increased power for employed women.

At the 1869 national convention of women suffragists, an impassioned Anthony, joined by Stanton, attempted to pass a series of resolutions committing the women's rights organization to opposing the 15th Amendment (freedmen's rights) unless it should include men and women in its guarantee of the right of suffrage. The majority of women's rights activists, aware of the amendment's already precarious chances for ratification, spurned this position, but Anthony held to her convictions with the same indomitable resolve that had marked each stage of her life.

And when we shall have our amendment to the Constitution of the United States, everybody will think it was always so…. They have no idea of how every single inch of ground … has been gained by the hard work of some little handful of women of the past.

—Susan B. Anthony, February 15, 1894

Certain of her course, Anthony joined Stanton in forming a separate organization, calling it the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA). Known for years afterward as "Miss Anthony's organization," the National pressed first for a Constitutional remedy—claiming that the 14th Amendment guaranteed women's rights as citizens, rights that included the right to vote. While a series of court cases based upon this strategy were being considered, Anthony took matters into her own hands. On November 5, 1871, she wrote triumphantly to Stanton, "Well, I have been and gone and done it, positively voted this morning at 7 o'clock, and swore my vote in at that."

Anthony's triumph was short-lived; on November 28th, she was arrested by federal marshals. At the trial, the judge directed the jury to bring in a verdict of guilty. Asked if she wished to speak before sentencing, the record of the trial reports Anthony as saying:

Yes, your honor, I have many things to say; for in your ordered verdict of guilty you have trampled under foot every vital principle of our government. My natural rights, my civil rights, my political rights, my judicial rights, are all alike ignored. Robbed of the fundamental privilege of citizenship, I am degraded from the status of a citizen to that of a subject.

When the judge fined Anthony $100, she announced that she would not pay, concluding with the revolutionary maxim, "Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God." Anthony's trial was widely reported, and her remarks appeared in newspapers throughout the nation.

Anthony's conviction and the subsequent failure in the courts of the other cases based upon the 14th Amendment led her to conclude that a women's suffrage amendment was the only available remedy for women's disfranchisement. The NWSA began a highly organized push for a federal amendment to the Constitution. Each January, Anthony arranged a convention in Washington, at which the women lobbied federal legislators on behalf of a women's suffrage amendment.

What gains Anthony and her organization made were balanced by a deluge of negative publicity in the 1870s. The 1871 alliance with the notorious Victoria Woodhull , whose Congressional testimony and subsequent pledge of $10,000 to the NWSA won her a place of honor on the speakers' platform, brought widespread association of women's suffrage with "Freeloveism." Though Anthony would sever the tie a year later, the accusations would cling stubbornly for more than a decade. When Woodhull's newspaper accused the renowned preacher Henry Ward Beecher of an adulterous liaison with Elizabeth Tilton , wife of a suffrage activist, the sensational court trial that followed played up the women's suffrage ties of all the participants, to the detriment of the cause. Faced with such adversity, Anthony redoubled her efforts.

By 1883, Anthony's unceasing work had earned her the affection and esteem of suffragists and the respect of those who opposed the reform. When she sailed for Europe, the nation's newspapers reported the lavish sendoff as befitting a head of state. Her fame had preceded her, and she was met warmly in England, Italy, France, Germany, and Ireland. On the Continent, an international congress on women's rights had been held in 1878. The subject of political rights had not been on the agenda, and upon her return to the United States, Anthony laid the groundwork for an International Council of Women, which met in Washington in 1888, the 40th anniversary of the Seneca Falls convention that had launched the movement.

In 1890, the two rival suffrage organizations merged to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Though Stanton was the titular head, Anthony continued to provide the energy and leadership. Beginning in 1892, when Stanton retired from active suffrage work, Anthony presided over the national organization for eight years. Following the death of Lucy Stone in 1893, Anthony alone remained to remind women of how far they had traveled.

In 1896, while conducting a suffrage campaign in California, Anthony met and felt an immediate liking for Ida Husted Harper, an Indiana reporter. She commissioned Harper to write her official biography, and the cooperation resulted in a three-volume biography that offers the most complete sourcebook of information on Anthony's life. She also persuaded Harper to write the last two volumes of the History of Woman Suffrage. Anthony herself continued to work on behalf of women's suffrage until the end of her life. She celebrated her 86th birthday at the NAWSA convention in Washington. Leaning heavily upon Anna Howard Shaw , a leader of the younger generation of suffragists, the visibly enfeebled Anthony responded to a lengthy birthday congratulatory message from President Theodore Roosevelt by saying, "When will men do something besides extend congratulations? I would rather President Roosevelt say one word to Congress in favor of amending the Constitution to give women suffrage than to praise me endlessly." When it was time for her closing remarks, she encouraged those present to carry on the struggle, concluding with: "Failure is impossible."

Within a month, Anthony succumbed to pneumonia. With her sister Mary at her side, and her good friend Anna Shaw holding her other hand, Anthony softly spoke the names of the women in her life—the long parade of helpers, colleagues, and reformers whose lives had touched, and been touched, by her own. To Anna Shaw, she said, "They are still passing before me—face after face, hundreds and hundreds of them…. I know how hard they have worked. I know the sacrifices they have made." These would be her last words; she died on March 13, 1906.

Ten thousand mourners filed past Anthony's casket in Central Presbyterian Church of Rochester, New York. Anthony's death marked the close of a heroic era, even as it came at the beginning of the final push to suffrage. Though the 19th Amendment that had come to be known as the "Anthony Amendment" would not be ratified for another 14 years, much of the groundwork had been laid by the indomitable efforts of the feisty former schoolteacher who had believed to the last that failure was impossible.


Anthony, Katharine Susan . Susan B. Anthony: Her Personal History and Her Era. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1954.

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

Dorr, Rheta Childe . Susan B. Anthony: The Woman Who Changed the Mind of a Nation. NY: Frederick A. Stokes, 1928.

DuBois, Ellen Carol, ed. The Elizabeth Cady Stanton-Susan B. Anthony Reader: Correspondence, Writings, Speeches. Rev. ed. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press, 1992.

Harper, Ida Husted. Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony. 3 vols. Indianapolis, IN: The Hollenbeck Press, 1898.

Sherr, Lynn. Failure Is Impossible: Susan B. Anthony in Her Own Words. NY: Random House, 1995.

suggested reading:

Anthony, Susan B., Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Ida Husted Harper. History of Woman Suffrage. vols. 1–3. Fowler and Wells, 1881 (reprint, NY: Arno and The New York Times, 1969).

Flexner, Eleanor. Century of Struggle: The Woman's Rights Movement in the United States. NY: Atheneum, 1970.

Wheeler, Marjorie Spruill, ed. One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement. Oregon: New Sage Press, 1995.


Susan B. Anthony papers, Library of Congress; NAWSA Collection, Library of Congress; Susan B. Anthony papers, Schlesinger Library of Radcliffe College; The Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, microfilm edition edited by Patricia G. Holland and Ann D. Gordon.

related media:

One Woman, One Vote. Annandale, Virginia: Educational Film Company, 1995.

Andrea Moore Kerr , women's historian and author of Lucy Stone: Speaking Out For Equality, Washington, D.C.

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Anthony, Susan B. (1820–1906)

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