Susan Brownell Anthony was born on February 15th, 1820 in Adams, Massachusetts to Daniel Anthony and Lucy Read Anthony. As a little girl, she witnessed the hard work and skill exemplified by her mother and father. Daniel Anthony manufactured cotton in his self-built factory and gave the opportunity of employment to many young women, all of whom had been inhibited from the job industry. Lucy boarded nearly a dozen millworkers on her own while simultaneously caring for her own three daughters: Guelma, Susan, and Hannah. Susan’s family adhered to the beliefs and practices of the Quaker church.
The Anthony family, who unwaveringly supported the Quaker philosophy of fairness, equality and peace, advocated for justice in an ever so corrupt society. Naturally, Susan became one of the most actively instrumental figures in the fight for gender and racial equality. Human equality was the burning force that drove Susan toward her revolutionary success. While most notably known for her involvement in the Women’s Suffrage Movement, Susan B. Anthony also played a historic role in the abolition of slavery, the reformation of education, and the push for temperance.
Women’s Suffrage Movement
The Women’s Suffrage Movement began in the year 1948 at a women’s rights convention held in Seneca Falls, New York. Although not the very first meeting, many suffragists considered this specific gathering as the official commencement of the legendary movement. Susan B. Anthony joined the Women’s Suffrage Movement in 1869 when she began actively attending women’s suffrage conventions and other progressive events. During this time, she developed the National Woman’s Suffrage Association as a group of fearless, driven females who desired the right to vote.
Prior to this year, Anthony involved herself in a number of activist positions such as leading temperance groups, speaking at national women’s conventions, fighting for equal pay rights as part of the Teachers’ Union, and participating in the American Anti-Slavery Society. She became a fierce, influential leader thanks to her undaunted and valiant attitude. In the 1972 presidential election, Anthony took an audacious step by illegally voting. This action shocked many, some admired her boldness, while others were strongly opposed. She was then arrested, put on trial for breaking the law, and charge for federal crime with a fine of $100, which she never actually ended up paying. Her actions became even more persistent in the following years as she promulgated the suffrage movement through posters, riots, writing in her newspaper headline (The Revolution), bombarding developing associations, and publicly acting against inequality.
In 1877, she gathered approximately 10,000 signed petitions from 26 states which had been signed in support of women’s voting rights. These signatures were then formally presented to Congress as a request for creation of a constitutional amendment, granting enfranchisement. Congress did not take the proposal seriously and instantly rejected the idea. Rejection and opposition never intimidated Anthony in the slightest. She continued appearing in front of each Congress, lobbying tirelessly, from 1869 until her death on March 13, 1906, and tenaciously presented the concept of a women’s voting amendment.
As quoted by Susan B. Anthony herself, “It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our prosperity, but to the whole people ― women as well as men.” Women were granted enfranchisement through the 19th constitutional amendment in 1920, fourteen years after Susan B. Anthony’s passing.
Abolition of Slavery
Susan Brownell Anthony was raised among a family of Quaker activists. In the mid 1800s, the Anthony family moved to Rochester, New York, and then became actively involved in the anti-slavery movement (also known as Abolitionism). This impassioned movement advocated against enslavement of African American and Indian individuals and all slave trade. Once a week, her family would hold meetings focused around anti-slavery discussions and plans for action.
Susan’s brothers, Daniel and Merritt, were very determined anti-slavery activists who mostly worked in Kansas. Anthony also used her newspaper The Revolution as a platform to shed light on the racial prejudices in society. In the year 1856, she became a representative member of the American Anti-Slavery Society which was a group of abolitionists in favor of immediately ending slavery. These members, including Anthony, arranged meetings, rallies, speeches, and more to shine a light on the abominable issue. Certain groups within society were not a fan of her abolition efforts, reacting in a hostile manner by threatening her and dragging her name through the mud.
In 1863, Anthony and her close friend Elizabeth Cady Stanton organized petitions and promoted the concept of a thirteenth amendment, which would outlaw slavery. The two activists formed a group called the Women’s National Loyal League that helped with the campaigning for this potential amendment. This legislation was passed shortly after, in the year 1865. Additionally, the group worked towards an amendment which would provide complete citizenship to everyone, regardless of race, gender, or religion; these enactments became encompassed in the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments, and were ratified within a few years.
Reformation of Education
In her mid 20s, Susan B. Anthony occupied the head position of the girls’ department, working as a teacher, at the Canajoharie Academy in mideastern New York. This is when her passion for equality in education and the workplace finally took action. In 1853 at a state teachers convention, she stood up and demanded that equal opportunity be present for females in educational occupations as well as better pay for female teachers. Furthermore, Anthony requested that classrooms be co-educational, meaning that both boys and girls would learn in the same environment.
Classrooms had been divided based on gender because of a long-established practice maintained by the belief that male and female minds contained two very different levels of reasoning. The race and religion of an individual played a role in the discrimination displayed in educational settings… Anthony fought against this too. Like most of the conflicts Anthony had faced, educational reform was not a simple task. She continuously attended meeting after meeting and sought that her voice be heard. Thanks to her enduring dedication to this issue, women were permitted attendance to the University of Rochester in the 1890’s. Female opportunity has broadened immensely since Anthony’s commitment to educational reformation in the late nineteenth century.
Susan B. Anthony’s family held strong beliefs which aligned to that of the Quaker religion. Among these values was their disapprobation of liquor. The Anthony family viewed drunkenness as sinful and immoral. They also believed that it caused trouble within family households such as abusiveness and improper modeling for children. Susan’s first ever speech was delivered in 1848 at a Daughters of Temperance supper, a group of which she had joined while working as head of the girls’ department at Canajoharie Academy. The women of this assembly shared the effort of campaigning for stricter liquor laws. When Anthony finished teaching, she moved back to Rochester, New York, continuing her involvement with the Daughters of Temperance.
She was then elected president of the Rochester branch in 1849. By traveling and campaigning, money was raised through promotion of temperance. At an 1853 state temperance convention, including both male and female organizations, Anthony was denied the right to speak. This occurrence triggered her to relocate and develop her own orchestrated convention. Accordingly, the Women’s State Temperance Society emerged, with the help of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The primary goal of this group was to introduce legislation which would pass tougher laws on alcohol sales. The New York state legislature denied the group’s proposal since the opinions of women were not considered credible at the time. This is when Anthony decided to push harder for women’s suffrage in order to heighten the female status and, therefore, increase likelihood of their legislative suggestions being taken seriously.
Feminist, activist, and influential speaker Susan Brownell Anthony was the fearless, indefatigable leader who involved herself in a multitude of humanitarian movements. Raised in a large Quaker family with well-built morals, Anthony strove for fairness and peace among all living beings from the moment she was a little girl. Little did young Susan know that she would progress to becoming one of the most actively instrumental figures in the fight for gender and racial equality. Her revolutionary success from her participation in the Women’s Suffrage Movement, the Anti-Slavery Society, educational reform, and the Temperance Movement. If it were not for Susan Brownell Anthony, women may still not have voting rights, or many of the other liberties women have been granted due to Anthony’s life of advocating for change. Anthony’s bold mindset and resilience enabled her to transform civil rights forever.
- Lutz, Alma. “SUSAN B. ANTHONY: Rebel, Crusader, Humanitarian.” Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, Project Gutenberg, 25 Jan. 2007.
- Miraglia, Ann, ‘Susan B. Anthony: e Rhetorical Strategy of Her Constitutional Argument (1872)’ (1989). Communication Theses, State University of New York. Paper 4.
- Hull, N. E. H. The Woman Who Dared to Vote: the Trial of Susan B. Anthony. University Press of Kansas, 2012.