Friday, March 12, 2010

Women’s History Month Profile: A Republican of Selfless Devotion Susan B. Anthony

“Well, I have been gone and done it-positively voted the straight Republican ticket.” Susan B. Anthony in “Not For Ourselves Alone”

By Cleo E. Brown

While she was not the first proponent of Women’s Rights, Susan B. Anthony was amongst the earliest of The Women’s Rights Advocates. Born on February 15th, 1820 in West Grove, Massachusetts she was the second oldest of seven brothers and sisters. Susan B. Anthony had two brothers named Daniel Read Anthony and Jacob Merritt Anthony who were the fourth and seventh in the birth order respectively. Her sisters were named Guelma, Hannah, Mary, and Eliza. Susan Brownell Anthony’s parents had been named Daniel Anthony and Lucy Read. Daniel Sr. was an open-minded Quaker who was both a cotton manufacturer and an abolitionist. This dichotomy was not usual for his day since the popular belief had been that the institution of Slavery was needed to cultivate, pick, and to spin cotton into fabric. Abolitionist, on the other hand, supported the abolishment of slavery. Not only, however, did Daniel Anthony prove himself to be a free-thinker on the subject of slavery but he also proved himself to be an early women’s rights advocate. For when seven year old Susan entered a local elementary school in Battenfield, New York where the teaching staff refused to teach the child long division because of her gender, Daniel took her out of the school preferring to teach her himself at home.

Susan was a very bright child learning how to read and to write by the time that she was three years old. One of Susan Anthony’s early role-models had been a teacher in the group home school where her father taught her named Mary Perkins. Mary Perkins projected a progressive and independent image of women to Susan which instilled within Susan a belief in woman’s equality. Susan’s mother, Lucy, had also been a student in Daniel’s school before the pair fell-in-love and married by 1817. Lucy was a progressive minded woman who attended women’s rights conventions in the 1850’s although she shunned association with her husband Daniel’s Quaker friends throughout their married lives.

Eventually, Susan was sent to a friend’s Quaker Boarding School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to complete her education. The name of the school was The Deborah Moulson’s Female Seminary. She continued to attend this school as a student until she became a member of the teaching staff at the age of fifteen. By the age of seventeen she had secured employment as a Governess with a private family which paid her one dollar per week and gave to her room and board. Susan B. Anthony, eventually, secured employment with a Pennsylvania District School, named The Canajoharie Academy in 1846, which paid her $1.50 a week plus room and board. She taught professionally for fifteen years retiring in 1852 because the wages paid to female teachers were much less than those paid to her male counterparts.

Susan B. Anthony’s family had moved to Rochester, New York by 1845 where they joined the anti-slavery movement. Her brother, Daniel, who became a publisher; and her brother named Jacob, were both active in the anti-slavery movement in Kansas while her sister Mary became a teacher and a woman’s rights activist. On their family farm in Rochester, however, people such as Frederick Douglas and William Lloyd Garrison visited frequently. Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglas were to become very good friends to each other until the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment made it clear that women, alongside Black Men, were not going to get the vote.

Susan B. Anthony was an attractive woman. According to The New York Times she was of medium stature and size. She had clear hazel eyes, dark brown hair, and a firm yet pleasing face. She always wore her hair combed smoothly over her ears and gathered at the back of her neck in a coil. She paid much attention to her own dress and advised her contemporaries to do the same thing. Unfortunatley, she created an uproar when she began to wear bloomers along with men’s pants in the early fifties. The uproar she created was so loud that she only wore this outfit for one year after which she retreated back to the more conservative women’s dress of the day.

After fifteen years of teaching, Susan B. Anthony who earned one-fourth the salary of her male counterparts in the teaching profession, had saved only three hundred dollars. This forced Susan B. Anthony to become a member of the lecture circuit to help her family pay off debts incurred during the panic of 1837. Among the many issues which Susan B. Anthony lectured on were Temperance, The Abolitionist or Anti-Slavery Movement, Women’s Rights including The Suffragette Movement, Labor and Education. It is estimated that Susan B. Anthony gave between seventy-five and one-hundred speeches per year in The United States and in Europe on these topics but particularly on Women’s Issues for over forty-five years.

It was the action of not being permitted to speak at Temperance Rallies because of her gender, ironically, combined with her developing friendship with feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1851 which drove Anthony to involvement in The Women’s Rights Movement. To Susan B. Anthony, the Anti-Slavery or Abolitionist Movement fit hand-in-glove with Women’s Issues. As a Temperance Worker, she made her first public speech in 1848 at a Daughters of Temperance supper. After this speech, she was elected President of The Rochester Branch of the Daughters of Temperance in 1849. In 1853, responding to the fact that she could not speak before a gathering of The Sons of Temperance in Albany, she and Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed the Women’s Temperance Society. The Women’s Temperance Society, under Anthony’s leadership, collected 28,000 signatures from women and children which was not accepted by the state to enact laws which would limit the sale of alcohol. In the 1860’s, she and Cady Stanton were instrumental in publicizing the case of a woman whose drunken and abusive ex-husband had shot and killed a man she had divorced the ex-husband to marry. The man was acquitted after using an insanity plea and given custody of their son. Anthony and Stanton protested the court’s ruling.

Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were involved in other high profile court cases involving women and their rights throughout their careers. In 1869 Susan B. Anthony was involved in the case of Hester Vaughn who was an impoverished working girl who had been accused of murdering her illegitimate child. Vaughn was not acquitted but was pardoned. This was a clear indication, therefore, of the different values used when assessing men and women. Anthony herself was arrested in Rochester, New York in 1872 for voting although she never paid the fine she was sentenced to pay for her offense of voting.

On January 1, 1868, Susan B. Anthony began distributing a weekly newspaper entitled Revolution which addressed the issue of Women’s and African-American’s rights to vote. Other issues which Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton tackled as Publisher and Editor of Revolution were equal pay for equal work, changing the divorce laws, and the church’s opposition to accepting women as equal and as integral members of the society. In addition to being the publisher of Revolution, Susan B. Anthony also co-authored a four volume book entitled The History of Woman Suffrage along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Ida Husted Harper. This work was written from 1884-1887.

It is as a suffragette that Susan B. Anthony is best remembered and was most successful although Women in the United States were not granted voting rights until fourteen years after Anthony’s death. She attended her first women’s rights convention in Syracuse, New York in 1852 shortly after having met Stanton. Anthony and her associates believed that if they worked hard to secure passage of the Thirteenth Amendment (the end of Slavery) on behalf of African-Americans that The Republican Party would reward them with the vote for women. When women did not, however, immediately receive the vote Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed The American Equal Rights Association. By 1869, Anthony and Stanton had formed The National Women’s Suffrage Association (NWSA) which eventually splintered into the American Women’s Suffrage Association. The American Women’s Suffrage Association differed from NWSA in that it adopted a strategy of working toward voting rights for women on a state by state basis. Towards this end, AWSA was successful in that women were given the vote in the State of Wyoming in 1869. By 1887 NWSA and AWSA merged to form one organization called The National American Woman Suffrage Association with Anthony as Vice-President to Stanton’s President. By 1892, upon Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s retirement, Susan B. Anthony had become the President of the organization. She retired from the NAWSA in 1900 at the age of eighty.

Susan B. Anthony, unlike Stanton, never married and never gave birth to any children. Like a Catholic Nun who is propelled by her devotion to spread the word of God, Anthony felt that she was far more valuable as a human being working towards the advancement of women’s rights and in securing for women the right to vote than as a wife and mother. “If I had married,” she said, “I would have been nothing more than some man’s housekeeper.” Although she had a weak heart, Susan B. Anthony died of complications from pneumonia on March 13th, 1906 several weeks after she had gone out for a walk without her scarf and her jacket. Her lasting legacy is passage of The Nineteenth Amendment, which legally bestowed upon women the right to vote and was ratified in 1920; and The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) which is The Twenty-Eighth Amendment to The Constitution of The United States and which mandates that women receive equal pay for equal work. ERA has not yet been ratified.


1. PBS Documentary “Not For Ourselves Alone”

2. The New York Times, March 13th, 1906, “Miss Susan B. Anthony Died This Morning” Obituary

3. Susan B. Anthony House .Org “Biography of Susan B. Anthony”

4. Wikipedia “Susan B. Anthony Biography”

About The Author: Cleo E. Brown has a Master’s Degree in Contemporary African-American History from The University of California at Davis in Davis, California. She also has a B.A. Minor Degree in Political-Science and has completed course work towards a Ph.D. in Education from The University of San Francisco in San Francisco, California.She is a Free Lance Writer and a Senior Editor at HHR

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