Susan Brownell Anthony was born on February 15, 1820, to Daniel Anthony and Lucy Read in Adams, Massachusetts, the second oldest of seven children. Her family shared a passion for social reform. Her brothers Daniel and Merritt moved to Kansas to support the anti-slavery movement there. Merritt fought with John Brown against pro-slavery forces during the Bleeding Kansas crisis. Daniel eventually owned a newspaper and became mayor of Leavenworth. Anthony’s sister Mary, with whom she shared a home in later years, became a public school principal in Rochester, and a woman’s rights activist.
Anthony’s father was an abolitionist and a temperance advocate. A Quaker, he had a difficult relationship with his traditionalist congregation, which rebuked him for marrying a non-Quaker and then disowned him for allowing a dance school to operate in his home. He continued to attend Quaker meetings anyway but became even more radical in his beliefs. Anthony’s mother was not a Quaker but helped raise their children in a more tolerant version of her husband’s religious tradition. Their father encouraged them all, girls as well as boys, to be self-supporting, teaching them business principles and giving them responsibilities at an early age.
When Anthony was six years old, her family moved to Battenville, New York, where her father managed a large cotton mill. Previously he had operated his own small cotton factory. During the time period of 1830 to 1836, Miss Anthony attended The Friends’ Boarding School in the Black Hill section of Plainfield, Connecticut. The boarding school was run by The Reverend Doctor Rowland Greene, his wife, Susanna & Master Doctor Benjamin Greene. Her fellow students included, Miss Pheobe Jackson, Master Samuel B. Tobey, Master Elisha Dyer. Between 1833 & 1834, the students, including Miss Anthony would walk to visit Miss Prudence Crandall & her school of Young Ladies & Little Misses of Color, who lived approximately 2 miles over the Quinnebaug River in Canterbury, Connecticut. When she was seventeen, Anthony was sent to a Quaker boarding school in Philadelphia, where she unhappily endured its severe atmosphere. She was forced to end her studies after one term because her family was financially ruined during an economic downturn known as the Panic of 1837. They were forced to sell everything they had at an auction but were rescued by her maternal uncle, who bought most of their belongings and restored them to the family. To assist her family financially, Anthony left home to teach at a Quaker boarding school.
In 1845, the family moved to a farm on the outskirts of Rochester, New York, purchased partly with the inheritance of Anthony’s mother. There they associated with a group of Quaker social reformers who had left their congregation because of the restrictions it placed on reform activities, and who in 1848 formed a new organization called the Congregational Friends. The Anthony farmstead soon became the Sunday afternoon gathering place for local activists, including Frederick Douglass, a former slave and a prominent abolitionist who became Anthony’s lifelong friend.
As several others in that group were already doing, the Anthony family began to attend services at the First Unitarian Church of Rochester, which was associated with social reform. A women’s rights convention was held at that church in 1848, inspired by the Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights convention, which was held two weeks earlier in a nearby town. Anthony’s parents and her sister Mary attended the Rochester convention and signed the Declaration of Sentiments that had been first adopted by the Seneca Falls Convention.
Anthony did not take part in either of these conventions because she had moved to Canajoharie in 1846 to be headmistress of the female department of the Canajoharie Academy. Away from Quaker influences for the first time in her life, at the age of 26 she began to replace her plain clothing with more stylish dresses, and she quit using “thee” and other forms of speech traditionally used by Quakers. She was interested in social reform, and she was distressed at being paid much less than men with similar jobs, but she was amused at her father’s enthusiasm over the Rochester women’s rights convention. She later explained, “I wasn’t ready to vote, didn’t want to vote, but I did want equal pay for equal work.”
When the Canajoharie Academy closed in 1849, Anthony took over the operation of the family farm in Rochester so her father could devote more time to his insurance business. She worked at this task for a couple of years but found herself increasingly drawn to reform activity. With her parents’ support, she was soon fully engaged in reform work. For the rest of her life, she lived almost entirely on fees she earned as a speaker.
Anthony embarked on her career of social reform with energy and determination. Schooling herself in reform issues, she found herself drawn to the more radical ideas of people like William Lloyd Garrison, George Thompson and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Soon she was wearing the controversial Bloomer dress, consisting of pantaloons worn under a knee-length dress. Although it was more sensible than the traditional heavy dresses that dragged the ground, she reluctantly quit wearing it after a year because it gave her opponents the opportunity to focus on her apparel rather than her ideas.
In 1851 Anthony was introduced to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who had been one of the organizers of the Seneca Falls Convention and had introduced the controversial resolution in support of women’s suffrage. Anthony and Stanton soon became close friends and co-workers, forming a relationship that was pivotal for them and for the women’s movement as a whole. After the Stantons moved from Seneca Falls to New York City in 1861, a room was set aside for Anthony in every house they lived in. One of Stanton’s biographers estimated that over her lifetime Stanton spent more time with Anthony than with any other adult, including her own husband.
The two women had complementary skills. Anthony excelled at organizing while Stanton had an aptitude for intellectual matters and writing. Anthony was dissatisfied with her own writing ability and wrote relatively little for publication. When historians illustrate her thoughts with direct quotes, they usually take them from her speeches, letters and diary entries.
Because Stanton was homebound with seven children while Anthony was unmarried and free to travel, Anthony assisted Stanton by supervising her children while Stanton wrote. One of Anthony’s biographers said, “Susan became one of the family and was almost another mother to Mrs. Stanton’s children.” A biography of Stanton says that during the early years of their relationship, “Stanton provided the ideas, rhetoric, and strategy; Anthony delivered the speeches, circulated petitions, and rented the halls. Anthony prodded and Stanton produced.” Stanton’s husband said, “Susan stirred the puddings, Elizabeth stirred up Susan, and then Susan stirs up the world!” Stanton herself said, “I forged the thunderbolts, she fired them.” By 1854, Anthony and Stanton “had perfected a collaboration that made the New York State movement the most sophisticated in the country”, according to Ann D. Gordon, a professor of women’s history.
Temperance was very much a women’s rights issue at that time because of laws that gave husbands complete control of the family and its finances. A woman with a drunken husband had little legal recourse even if his alcoholism left the family destitute and he was abusive to her and their children. If she obtained a divorce, which was difficult to do, he could easily end up with guardianship of the children.
While teaching in Canajoharie, Anthony joined the Daughters of Temperance and in 1849 gave her first public speech at one of its meetings. In 1852 she was elected as a delegate to the state temperance convention, but the chairman stopped her when she tried to speak, saying that women delegates were there only to listen and learn. Anthony and some other women immediately walked out and announced a meeting of their own, which created a committee to organize a women’s state convention. Largely organized by Anthony, the convention of 500 women met in Rochester in April and created the Women’s State Temperance Society, with Stanton as president and Anthony as state agent.
Anthony and her co-workers collected 28,000 signatures on a petition for a law to prohibit the sale of alcohol in New York State. She organized a hearing on that law before the New York legislature, the first that had been initiated in that state by a group of women. At the organization’s convention the following year, however, conservative members attacked Stanton’s advocacy of the right of a wife of an alcoholic to obtain a divorce. Stanton was voted out as president, whereupon she and Anthony resigned from the organization.
In 1853 Anthony attended the World’s Temperance Convention in New York City, which bogged down for three chaotic days in a dispute about whether women would be allowed to speak there. Years later, Anthony observed, “No advanced step taken by women has been so bitterly contested as that of speaking in public. For nothing which they have attempted, not even to secure the suffrage, have they been so abused, condemned and antagonized.” After this period, Anthony focused her energy on abolitionist and women’s rights activities.
When Anthony tried to speak at the New York State Teachers’ Association meeting in 1853, her attempt sparked a half-hour debate among the men about whether it was proper for women to speak in public. Finally allowed to continue, Anthony said, “Do you not see that so long as society says a woman is incompetent to be a lawyer, minister, or doctor, but has ample ability to be a teacher, that every man of you who chooses this profession tacitly acknowledges that he has no more brains than a woman.” At the 1857 teacher’s convention, she introduced a resolution calling for the admission of black people to public schools and colleges, but it was rejected as “not a proper subject for discussion.” When she introduced another resolution calling for males and females to be educated together at all levels, including colleges, it was fiercely opposed and decisively rejected. One opponent called the idea “a vast social evil… the first step in the school which seeks to abolish marriage, and behind this picture I see a monster of social deformity.” Anthony continued to speak at state teachers’ conventions for several years, insisting that women teachers should receive equal pay with men and serve as officers and committee members within the organization.
Anthony’s work for the women’s rights movement began at a time when that movement was already gathering momentum. Stanton had helped organize the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, a local event that was the first women’s rights convention. In 1850 the first in a series of National Women’s Rights Conventions was held in Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1852 Anthony attended her first National Women’s Rights Convention, which was held in Syracuse, New York, where she served as one of the convention’s secretaries.
A major hindrance to the women’s movement was a lack of money. Few women at that time had an independent source of income, and even those with employment generally were required by law to turn over their pay to their husbands. Partly through the efforts of the women’s movement, a law had been passed in New York in 1848 that recognized some rights for married women, but that law was limited. In 1853 Anthony worked with William Henry Channing, her activist Unitarian minister, to organize a convention in Rochester to launch a state campaign for improved property rights for married women, which Anthony would lead. She took her lecture and petition campaign into almost every county in New York during the winter of 1855 despite the difficulty of traveling in snowy terrain in horse and buggy days.
When she presented the petitions to the New York State Senate Judiciary Committee, its members told her that men were actually the oppressed sex because they did such things as giving women the best seats in carriages. Noting cases in which the petition had been signed by both husbands and wives (instead of the husband signing for both, which was the standard procedure), the committee’s official report sarcastically recommended that the petitioners seek a law authorizing the husbands in such marriages to wear petticoats and the wives trousers. The campaign finally achieved success in 1860 when the legislature passed an improved Married Women’s Property Act that gave married women the right to own separate property, enter into contracts and be joint guardian of their children. The legislature rolled back much of this law in 1862, however, during a period when the women’s movement was largely inactive because of the American Civil War.
The women’s movement was loosely structured at that time, with few state organizations and no national organization other than a coordinating committee that arranged annual conventions. Lucy Stone, who did much of the organizational work for the national conventions, encouraged Anthony to take over some of the responsibility for them. Anthony resisted at first, feeling that she was needed more in the field of anti-slavery activities. After organizing a series of anti-slavery meetings in the winter of 1857, Anthony told a friend that, “the experience of the last winter is worth more to me than all my temperance and woman’s rights work, though the latter were the school necessary to bring me into the antislavery work.” During a planning session for the 1858 women’s rights convention, Stone, who had recently given birth, told Anthony that her new family responsibilities would prevent her from organizing conventions until her children were older. Anthony presided at the 1858 convention, and when the planning committee for national conventions was reorganized, Stanton became its president and Anthony its secretary. Anthony continued to be heavily involved in anti-slavery work at the same time.
In 1837, at age 16, Anthony collected petitions against slavery as part of organized resistance to the newly established gag rule that prohibited anti-slavery petitions in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1851 she played a key role in organizing an anti-slavery convention in Rochester. She was also part of the Underground Railroad. An entry in her diary in 1861 read, “Fitted out a fugitive slave for Canada with the help of Harriet Tubman.”
In 1856 Anthony agreed to become the New York State agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society with the understanding that she would also continue her advocacy of women’s rights. Anthony organized anti-slavery meetings throughout the state under banners that read “No compromise with slaveholders. Immediate and Unconditional Emancipation.”
She developed a reputation for fearlessness in facing down attempts to disrupt her meetings, but opposition became overwhelming on the eve of the Civil War. Mob action shut down her meetings in every town from Buffalo to Albany in early 1861. In Rochester, the police had to escort Anthony and other speakers from the building for their own safety. In Syracuse, according to a local newspaper, “Rotten eggs were thrown, benches broken, and knives and pistols gleamed in every direction.”
Anthony expressed a vision of a racially integrated society that was radical for a time when abolitionists were debating the question of what was to become of the slaves after they were freed, and when people like Abraham Lincoln were calling for African Americans to be shipped to newly established colonies in Africa. In a speech in 1861 Anthony said, “Let us open to the colored man all our schools … Let us admit him into all our mechanic shops, stores, offices, and lucrative business avocations … let him rent such pew in the church, and occupy such seat in the theatre … Extend to him all the rights of Citizenship.”.
The relatively small women’s rights movement of that time was closely associated with the abolitionist movement, especially the American Anti-Slavery Society led by William Lloyd Garrison. The women’s movement depended heavily on abolitionist resources, with its articles published in their newspapers and some of its funding provided by abolitionists. There was tension, however, between leaders of the women’s movement and male abolitionists who, although supporters of increased women’s rights, believed that a vigorous campaign for women’s rights would interfere with the campaign against slavery. In 1860, when Anthony sheltered a woman who had fled an abusive husband, Garrison insisted that the woman give up the child she had brought with her, pointing out that the law gave husbands complete control of children. Anthony reminded Garrison that he helped slaves escape to Canada in violation of the law and said, “Well, the law which gives the father ownership of the children is just as wicked and I’ll break it just as quickly.”
When Stanton introduced a resolution at the National Woman’s Rights Convention in 1860 favoring more lenient divorce laws, leading abolitionist Wendell Phillips not only opposed it but attempted to have it removed from the record. When Stanton, Anthony and others supported a bill before the New York legislature that would permit divorce in cases of desertion or inhuman treatment, Horace Greeley an abolitionist newspaper publisher, campaigned against it in the pages of his newspaper. Garrison, Phillips and Greeley had all provided valuable help to the women’s movement. In a letter to Lucy Stone, Anthony said, “The Men, even the best of them, seem to think the Women’s Rights question should be waived for the present. So let us do our own work, and in our own way.”
Anthony and Stanton organized the Women’s Loyal National League in 1863 to campaign for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would abolish slavery. It was the first national women’s political organization in the United States. In the largest petition drive in the nation’s history up to that time, the League collected nearly 400,000 signatures on petitions to abolish slavery, representing approximately one out every twenty-four adults in the Northern states. The petition drive significantly assisted the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, which ended slavery. Anthony was the chief organizer of this effort, which involved recruiting and coordinating some 2000 petition collectors.
The League provided the women’s movement with a vehicle for combining the fight against slavery with the fight for women’s rights by reminding the public that petitioning was the only political tool available to women at a time when only men were allowed to vote. With a membership of 5000, it helped develop a new generation of women leaders, providing experience and recognition not only for Stanton and Anthony but also for newcomers like Anna Dickenson, a gifted teenaged orator. The League demonstrated the value of formal structure to a women’s movement that had resisted being anything other than loosely organized up to that point. The widespread network of women activists who assisted the League expanded the a pool of talent that was available to reform movements, including the women’s suffrage movement, after the war.
Anthony stayed with her brother Daniel in Kansas for eight months in 1865 to assist with his newspaper. She headed back east after she learned that an amendment to the U.S. Constitution had been proposed that would provide citizenship for African Americans but would also for the first time introduce the word “male” into the constitution. Anthony supported citizenship for blacks but opposed any attempt to link it with a reduction in the status of women. Her ally Stanton agreed, saying “if that word ‘male’ be inserted, it will take us a century at least to get it out.”
Anthony and Stanton worked to revive the women’s rights movement, which had become nearly dormant during the Civil War. In 1866 they organized the Eleventh National Women’s Rights Convention, the first since the Civil War began. Unanimously adopting a resolution introduced by Anthony, the convention voted to transform itself into the American Equal Rights Association (AERA), whose purpose was to campaign for the equal rights of all citizens, especially the right of suffrage.
The leadership of the new organization included such prominent activists as Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone and Frederick Douglass. Its drive for universal suffrage, however, was resisted by some abolitionist leaders and their allies in the Republican Party, who wanted women to postpone their campaign for suffrage until after it had been achieved for male African Americans. Horace Greeley, a prominent newspaper editor, told Anthony and Stanton, “This is a critical period for the Republican Party and the life of our Nation… I conjure you to remember that this is ‘the negro’s hour,’ and your first duty now is to go through the State and plead his claims.” Anthony and Stanton refused to postpone their demands and continued to push for universal suffrage.
In 1867 the AERA campaigned in Kansas for referenda that would enfranchise both African Americans and women. Wendell Phillips, an abolitionist leader who opposed mixing those two causes, blocked the funding that the AERA had expected for their campaign. After an internal struggle, Kansas Republicans decided to support suffrage for black men only and formed an “Anti Female Suffrage Committee” to oppose the AERA’s efforts. By the end of summer the AERA campaign had almost collapsed, and its finances were exhausted. Anthony and Stanton created a storm of controversy by accepting help during the last days of the campaign from George Francis Train, a wealthy businessman who supported women’s rights. Train antagonized many activists by attacking the Republican Party and openly disparaging the integrity and intelligence of African Americans. There is reason to believe, however, that Anthony and Stanton hoped to draw the volatile Train away from his cruder forms of racism, and that he had actually begun to do so.
After the Kansas campaign, the AERA increasingly divided into two wings, both advocating universal suffrage but with different approaches. One wing, whose leading figure was Lucy Stone, was willing for black men to achieve suffrage first and wanted to maintain close ties with the Republican Party and the abolitionist movement. The other, whose leading figures were Anthony and Stanton, insisted that women and black men should be enfranchised at the same time and worked toward a politically independent women’s movement that would no longer be dependent on abolitionists. The AERA effectively dissolved after an acrimonious meeting in May 1869, and two competing woman suffrage organizations were created in its aftermath.
Anthony and Stanton began publishing a weekly newspaper called The Revolution in New York City in 1868. It focused primarily on women’s rights, especially suffrage for women, but it also covered other topics, including politics, the labor movement and finance. One of its goals was to provide a forum in which women could exchange opinions on key issues from a variety of viewpoints. Anthony managed the business aspects of the paper while Stanton was co-editor along with Parker Pillsbury, an abolitionist and a supporter of women’s rights. Initial funding was provided by George Francis Train, the controversial businessman who supported women’s rights but who alienated many activists with his political and racial views.
In the aftermath of the Civil War, major periodicals associated with the radical social reform movements had either become more conservative or had quit publishing or soon would. Anthony intended for the The Revolution to partially fill that void, hoping to grow it eventually into a daily paper with its own printing press, all owned and operated by women. The funding Train had arranged for the newspaper, however, was less than Anthony had expected. Moreover Train sailed for England after The Revolution published its first issue and was soon jailed for supporting Irish independence.
Train’s financial support eventually disappeared entirely. After twenty-nine months, mounting debts forced Anthony to transfer the paper to Laura Curtis Bullard, a wealthy women’s rights activist who gave it a less radical tone. The paper published its last issue less than two years later. Despite its short life, The Revolution gave Anthony and Stanton a means for expressing their views during the developing split within the women’s movement. It also helped them promote their wing of the movement, which eventually became a separate organization.
The National Labor Union (NLU), which was formed in 1866, began reaching out to farmers, African Americans and women with the intention of forming a broad-based political party. The Revolution responded enthusiastically, declaring, “The principles of the National Labor Union are our principles.” It predicted that “The producers—the working-men, the women, the negroes—are destined to form a triple power that shall speedily wrest the sceptre of government from the non-producers—the land monopolists, the bond-holders, the politicians.” Anthony and Stanton were seated as delegates to the NLU Congress in 1868, with Anthony representing the Working Women’s Association (WWA), which had recently been formed in the offices of The Revolution.
The attempted alliance did not last long. During a printers’ strike in 1869, Anthony voiced approval of an employer-sponsored training program that would teach women skills that would enable them in effect to replace the strikers. Anthony viewed the program as an opportunity to increase employment of women in a trade from which women were often excluded by both employers and unions. At the next NLU Congress, Anthony was first seated as a delegate but then unseated because of strong opposition from those who accused her of supporting strikebreakers.
Anthony worked with the WWA to form all-female labor unions, but with little success. She accomplished more in her work with the joint campaign by the WWA and The Revolution to win a pardon for Hester Vaughn, a domestic worker who had been found guilty of infanticide and sentenced to death. Charging that the social and legal systems treated women unfairly, the WWA petitioned, organized a mass meeting at which Anthony was one of the speakers, and sent delegations to visit Vaughn in prison and to speak with the governor. Vaughn was eventually pardoned.
Originally with a membership that included over a hundred wage-earning women, the WWA evolved into an organization consisting almost entirely of journalists, doctors and other middle class working women. Its members formed the core of the New York City portion of the new national suffrage organization that Anthony and Stanton were in the process of forming.
“By the end of the Civil War,” according to historian Ann D. Gordon, “Susan B. Anthony occupied new social and political territory. She was emerging on the national scene as a female leader, something new in American history, and she did so as a single woman in a culture that perceived the spinster as anomalous and unguarded … By the 1880s, she was among the senior political figures in the United States.” After the formation of the NWSA, Anthony dedicated herself fully to the organization and to women’s suffrage. She did not draw a salary from either it or its successor, the NAWSA, but on the contrary used her lecture fees to fund those organizations. There was no national office, the mailing address being simply that of one of the officers.
That Anthony had remained unmarried gave her an important business advantage in this work. A married woman at that time had the legal status of feme covert, which, among other things, excluded her from signing contracts (her husband could do that for her, if he chose). As Anthony had no husband, she was a feme sole and could freely sign contracts for convention halls, printed materials, etc. Using fees she earned by lecturing, she paid off the debts she had accumulated while supporting The Revolution. With the press treating her as a celebrity, she proved to be a major draw. Over her career she estimated that she averaged 75 to 100 speeches per year. Travel conditions in the earlier days were sometimes appalling. Once she gave a speech from the top of a billiard table. On another occasion her train was snowbound for days, and she survived on crackers and dried fish.
Both Anthony and Stanton joined the lecture circuit about 1870, usually traveling from mid-autumn to spring. The timing was right because the nation was beginning to discuss women’s suffrage as a serious matter. Occasionally they traveled together but most often not. Lecture bureaus scheduled their tours and handled the travel arrangements, which generally involved traveling during the day and speaking at night, sometimes for weeks at a time, including weekends. Their lectures brought new recruits into the movement who strengthened suffrage organizations at the local, state and national levels. Their journeys during that decade covered a distance that was unmatched by any other reformer or politician. Anthony’s other suffrage work included organizing national conventions, lobbying Congress and state legislatures, and participating in a seemingly endless series of state suffrage campaigns.
A special opportunity arose in 1876 when the U.S. celebrated its 100th birthday as an independent country. The NWSA asked permission to present a Declaration of Rights for Women at the official ceremony in Philadelphia, but was refused. Undaunted, five women, headed by Anthony, walked onto the platform during the ceremony and handed their Declaration to the startled official in charge. As they left, they handed out copies of it to the crowd. Spotting an unoccupied bandstand outside the hall, Anthony mounted it and read the Declaration to a large crowd. Afterwards she invited everyone to a NWSA convention at the nearby Unitarian church where speakers like Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton awaited them.
The work of all segments of the women’s suffrage movement began to show clear results. Women won the right to vote in Wyoming in 1869 and in Utah in 1870. Her lectures in Washington and four other states led directly to invitations for her to address the state legislatures there. The Grange, a large advocacy group for farmers, officially supported women’s suffrage as early as 1885. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the largest women’s organization in the country, also supported suffrage.
Anthony’s commitment to the movement, her spartan lifestyle, and the fact that she did not seek personal financial gain, made her an effective fund-raiser and won her the admiration of many who did not agree with her goals. As her reputation grew, her working and travel conditions improved. She sometimes had the use of the private railroad car of Jane Stanford, a sympathizer whose husband owned a major railroad. While lobbying and preparing for the annual suffrage conventions in Washington, she was provided with a free suite of rooms in the Riggs Hotel, whose owners supported her work.
To ensure continuity, Anthony trained a group of younger activists, who were known as her “nieces,” to assume leadership roles within the organization. Two of them, Carrie Chapman Catt and Anna Howard Shaw, served as presidents of the NAWSA after Anthony retired from that position. The NWSA convention of 1871 adopted a strategy of urging women to attempt to vote, and then, after being turned away, to file suits in federal courts demanding that their right to vote be recognized. The legal basis for the challenge would be the recently adopted Fourteenth Amendment. Section 1 of that amendment reads, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Anthony and nearly fifty other women in Rochester attempted to vote in the presidential election of 1872. Fifteen of them convinced the election inspectors to allow them to cast ballots, but the others were turned back. There had been earlier cases of women attempting to vote, and even some cases of success, but the reaction of the authorities had been muted. When Anthony voted, however, the reaction was different, and her case became a national controversy. Anthony was arrested on November 18, 1872, by a U.S. Deputy Marshal and charged with illegally voting. The other fourteen women were also arrested but released pending the outcome of Anthony’s trial.
Anthony spoke in all 29 towns and villages of Monroe County, New York where her trial was to be held, asking “Is it a Crime for a U.S. Citizen to Vote?” She said the Fourteenth Amendment gave her that right, proclaiming, “We no longer petition legislature or Congress to give us the right to vote, but appeal to women everywhere to exercise their too long neglected ‘citizen’s right'”. Her speech was printed in its entirety in one of the Rochester daily newspapers, which further spread her message to potential jurors.
Worried that Anthony’s speeches would influence the jury, the district attorney arranged for the trial to be moved to the federal circuit court, which would soon sit in neighboring Ontario County. Anthony responded by speaking in every village in that county also before the trial began. Responsibility for that federal circuit was in the hands of Justice Ward Hunt, who had recently been appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Hunt had never served as a trial judge; originally a politician, he had begun his judicial career by being elected to the New York Court of Appeals.
Anthony’s trial was a major step in the transition of the women’s rights movement into the women’s suffrage movement. The trial began on July 17, 1873, and was closely followed by the national press. The New York Times caught the tone of the proceedings by reporting that, “It was conceded that the defendant was, on the 5th November, 1872, a woman.” Following a rule of common law at that time which prevented criminal defendants in federal courts from testifying, Hunt refused to allow Anthony to speak until the verdict had been delivered. On the second day of the trial, after both sides had presented their cases, Justice Hunt delivered his opinion, which he had put in writing. In the most controversial aspect of the trial, Hunt directed the jury to deliver a guilty verdict.
On the third day of the trial, Hunt asked Anthony whether she had anything to say. She responded with “the most famous speech in the history of the agitation for woman suffrage”, according to Ann D. Gordon, a historian of the women’s movement. Repeatedly ignoring the judge’s order to stop talking and sit down, she protested what she called “this high-handed outrage upon my citizen’s rights … 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.”
She castigated Justice Hunt for denying her a trial by jury, but stated that even if he had allowed the jury to discuss the case, she still would have been denied a trial by a jury of her peers because women were not allowed to be jurors. When Justice Hunt sentenced Anthony to pay a fine of $100, she responded, “I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty”, and she never did. If Hunt had ordered her to be imprisoned until she paid the fine, Anthony could have appealed her case to the Supreme Court. Hunt instead announced he would not order her taken into custody, closing off that legal avenue.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 1875 put an end to the strategy of trying to achieve women’s suffrage through the court system by ruling in Minor v. Happersett that “the Constitution of the United States does not confer the right of suffrage upon anyone”. The NWSA decided to pursue the far more difficult strategy of campaigning for a constitutional amendment to guarantee voting rights for women.
Having lived for years in hotels and with friends and relatives, Anthony agreed to settle into her sister (Mary Stafford Anthony)’s house in Rochester in 1891, at the age of 71. Her energy and stamina, which sometimes exhausted her co-workers, continued at a remarkable level. At age 75 she toured Yosemite National Park on the back of a mule.
She remained as leader of the NAWSA and continued to travel extensively on suffrage work. She also engaged in local projects. In 1893 she initiated the Rochester branch of the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union. In 1898 she called a meeting of 73 local women’s societies to form the Rochester Council of Women. She played a key role in raising the funds required by the University of Rochester before they would admit women students, pledging her life insurance policy to close the final funding gap.
In 1896 she spent eight months on the California suffrage campaign, speaking as many as three times per day in more than 30 localities. In 1900 she presided over her last NAWSA convention. During the six remaining years of her life, Anthony spoke at six more NAWSA conventions and four congressional hearings, completed the fourth volume of the History of Woman Suffrage, and traveled to eighteen states and to Europe. As Anthony’s fame grew, some politicians (certainly not all of them) were happy to be publicly associated with her. Her seventieth birthday was celebrated at a national event in Washington with prominent members of the House and Senate in attendance. Her eightieth birthday was celebrated at the White House at the invitation of President William McKinley.
Susan B. Anthony died at the age of 86 of heart failure and pneumonia in her home in Rochester, New York on March 13, 1906. She was buried at Mount Hope Cemetery, Rochester. At her birthday celebration in Washington a few days earlier, Anthony had spoken of those who had worked with her for women’s rights: “There have been others also just as true and devoted to the cause — I wish I could name every one — but with such women consecrating their lives, failure is impossible!” “Failure is impossible” quickly became a watchword for the women’s movement.
- February, 15, 1820
- Adams, Massachusetts
- March, 13, 1906
- Rochester, New York
- Mount Hope Cemetery
- Rochester, New York