Today we are talking about a gal dedicated her life to women’s rights, sparked by not being allowed to speak because she was a woman, to speaking around the country about the importance of the right to vote, anti-slavery and the dangers of alcohol. Your Gal, Susan B Anthony.
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Would you like to visit Susan’s home and grave site in Rochester, NY? Check out our travel story.
Susan B. Anthony was born on February 15, 1820 in Adams Massachusetts. She was the second oldest of seven children. Susan’s father was an abolitionist and a temperance advocate. Susan’s mother helped raise their children in a more tolerant version of her husband’s Quaker tradition.
When Susan was seventeen, she was sent to a Quaker boarding school in Philadelphia. She was forced to stop after one term because her family was financially ruined during an economic downturn. They were forced to sell everything they had at an auction, but they were rescued by her maternal uncle, who bought most of their belongings and restored them to the family.
In 1845, the family moved to a farm on the outskirts of Rochester, New York. The farmstead soon became the Sunday afternoon gathering place for local activists, including Frederick Douglass, a former slave and a prominent abolitionist who became Susan’s lifelong friend.
Susan was the head mistress of the female department of the Canajoharie Academy. She was interested in social reform, and she was distressed at being paid much less than men with similar jobs. Thus starting her activism.
When Susan was 28, she gave her first speech at a Daughter of Temperance Supper. The Temperance Movement was against the consumption of alcoholic beverages and to influence government laws to bring awareness to their dangers.
Susan saw temperance as a women’s rights issue because, at that time, if a woman was in a marriage with a drunkard she had no rights to guardianship of her children, the ability to own property to leave, and divorces were extremely difficult.
A year after her first speech, Susan was elected president of the Rochester branch of the Daughter of Temperance. However she wasn’t allowed to speak at the NY State convention of Temperance so she founded the Women’s State Temperance Society with Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Their goal was to petition State legislature to pass a law limiting the sale of alcohol. The petition filled with 28,000 signatures was rejected because most of the signatures were from women and children. In other words, people who can’t vote. So Susan decided that women needed the vote so that politicians would listen to them.
Meeting Elizabeth Cady Stanton
In 1851 Susan was introduced to Elizabeth Stanton. One of the organizers of the Seneca Falls Convention, Elizabeth introduced the controversial resolution in support of women’s suffrage. Susan and Elizabeth soon became close friends and co-workers, forming a relationship that was pivotal for them and for the women’s movement as a whole. One of Elizabeth’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. Susan was good at organizing, while Elizabeth tackled the writing. Elizabeth stayed home with her 7 the children while Susan traveled for their cause. A biography of Elizabeth’s 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.”
Susan and Elizabeth founded/organized/lead many organizations:
- 1863 Women’s National Loyal League – to support the 13th amendment
- 1866 American Equal Rights Association – to secure equal rights to all American citizens regardless of color or gender
- 1869 National Women’s Suffrage Association – to get a constitutional amendment for women’s right to vote
- 1869 American Woman Suffrage Association – to support women’s right to vote state-by-state
- 1870 Workingwomen’s Central Association – to support and research on women’s work conditions and opportunities.
At an early age Susan was fighting against slavery. 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. 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. In Syracuse, according to a local newspaper, “Rotten eggs were thrown, benches broken, and knives and pistols gleamed in every direction.”
Susan expressed a vision of a racially integrated society that was radical for a time. 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 theater … Extend to him all the rights of Citizenship.”
Trial of Susan B. Anthony
It’s hard to pick one thing that is Susan’s claim to history fame but one instance got her world-wide attention. In 1872 she was arrested for voting. She knew exactly what she was doing she was going to push the 14th amendment to its limit and find out of women are or are not citizens represented in the constitution.
The 14th Amendment was ratified after the Civil War and it gave blacks the same rights as whites including the right to vote. It starts section 1 with “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.”
However in section 2 the word “male” was used three times and the word had never previously been written into the constitution and let’s just say it really bothered her.
She used every moment of this arrest to shine a spotlight on women’s rights and get the government’s attention. She refused to pay for the fare for the streetcar to the police station because she said she was “traveling under protest at the government’s expense.” She also refused to pay bail and applied for Habeas Corpus – which is a report of unlawful detention and an official has to bring the prisoner to court and determine if it’s lawful to even detain them. However her lawyer paid the bail and kept the case from the Supreme Court.
Awaiting trial, she tour the country and spoke at all 29 villages talking about the arrest and convincing people that women should be able to vote. As a result, the District Attorney asked for a change of venue.
The trial was changed to a Federal court in Canandaigua and you better believe that Susan spoke up to villages there too.
The judge refused to let her testify on her own behalf he said because “Women were incompetent to do so.” You think that sounds bad? Add to that he instructed the jury to find her guilty without discussion. The judge ordered the court clerk to record a verdict of guilt even though the jury had not voted.
When it came to sentencing, the judge made a tactical error, he asked if she had anything to say before being sentenced.
She stated with:
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; and not only myself individually, but all of my sex, are, by your honor’s verdict, doomed to political subjection under this, so-called, form of government.
The judge then tried to shut her down but she persisted.
Yes, your honor, but by forms of law all made by men, interpreted by men, administered by men, in favor of men, and against women; and hence, your honor’s ordered verdict of guilty, against a United States citizen for the exercise of “that citizen’s right to vote,” simply because that citizen was a woman and not a man. But, yesterday, the same man-made forms of law, declared it a crime punishable with $1,000 fine and six months’ imprisonment, for you, or me, or any of us, to give a cup of cold water, a crust of bread, or a night’s shelter to a panting fugitive as he was tracking his way to Canada. And every man or woman in whose veins coursed a drop of human sympathy violated that wicked law, reckless of consequences, and was justified in so doing. As then, the slaves who got their freedom must take it over, or under, or through the unjust forms of law, precisely so, now, must women, to get their right to a voice in this government, take it; and I have taken mine, and mean to take it at every possible opportunity.
She was fined $100 and payment of courtroom fees. She refused to pay. The judge could have jailed her until she paid but then she could have appealed to a higher court and probably would have won because she was denied a trial by a jury.
The case was closed and it was huge turning point for women to be considered citizens in the US constitution. However it would still take an additional 47 years before the 19th amendment would make this the law of the land.
Susan died at the age of 86 of heart failure and pneumonia in 1906. She died 14 years before she could see the achievement of women’s suffrage at the national level.
At the time of her death, women had achieved suffrage in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and Idaho, and several larger states followed soon after. Legal rights for married women had been established in most states, and most professions had at least a few women members. 36,000 women were attending colleges and universities, up from zero a few decades earlier.
Two years before she died, Anthony said, “The world has never witnessed a greater revolution than in the sphere of woman during this fifty years”
The Nineteenth Amendment, which guaranteed the right of women to vote, was popularly known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment and it was ratified in 1920. After it was ratified, the National American Woman Suffrage Association, was transformed into the League of Women Voters, which is still an active force in U.S. politics.
Now-a-days every election different women visit Susan B. Anthony’s grave site and put their “I voted” sticker on her grave stone in tribute.
Kate & Phoebe talk more about Susan’s life and legacy in this week’s episode. Click here to listen.
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ABOUT YOUR GAL FRIDAY
Your Gal Friday is a weekly podcast with supplemental video and article profiling and amazing gal of our galaxy that we can all learn from. Each month your hosts Kate Chaplin & Phoebe Frear talk about the life and legacy about a gal in the subjects of art, history, science and culture.
Your Gal Friday also ties into Gal’s Guide school outreach. Gal’s Guide offers a K-University presentations of Women You Didn’t Learn About in School. Showcasing 14-26 amazing gals to classrooms and assemblies, the presentations spotlight these gals where the podcast goes more in depth of your new favorite gals every Friday.
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