Skip to content

Profiles in Greatness – Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony did not play with toys or dolls
as a child. Her strict Quaker upbringing and the
influence of her abolitionist father inspired her
to become a disciplined, reflective young woman
with a deep belief in the civil rights of all men and
women. She spoke out against what she saw as the
ills of society, against the institution of slavery and
in favor of a woman’s voice in government through
the right to vote.

“I do not demand equal pay for any women,
save those who do equal work in value. Scorn
to be coddled by your employers; make them
understand that you are in their service as
workers, not as women.”

Born Susan Brownell Anthony in 1820 in Adams, Mass., the
future civil-rights leader was one of eight children. Her father
removed her from the district school when she was denied
mathematical education because of her gender, and set up a
home school for her and her sisters.

In
spite of social opposition to a woman with strong
political opinions, Anthony was an early activist,
collecting anti-slavery ballots at the age of 16
and participating in abolitionist meetings at her
home. She learned early on that making the right
choice was more important than making the
popular choice.

In 1846, Anthony accepted a teaching post at
Canajoharie Academy, which was near her family’s
home in Rochester, N.Y. She taught for an annual salary of
$110 and was headmistress of the girls’ department when she
left in 1849. Her experience in the workforce inspired her later
fight for equal pay for female teachers, who were earning fourtimes
less than male teachers for the same duties.
“I am a full and firm believer in the revelation
that it is through women that the human
race is to be redeemed. And it is because of
this faith that I ask for her immediate and
unconditional emancipation from all political,
industrial,
social and
religious
subjection.”

Anthony became
secretary, and later
president, of the
Rochester branch
of the Daughters
of Temperance,
which called attention
to the effects of drunkenness on families and petitioned for
stronger liquor laws. At 29, she felt herself a poor public speaker,
but the passion of her beliefs inspired her to be persistent.

The self-conscious Anthony became a regular presence at
conventions and gatherings, soon speaking on topics of temperance,
prostitution and women’s suffrage. In 1853, when the Sons
of Temperance refused to let her speak at their state convention
in Albany, she left the meeting and called her own, where she
spoke with eloquence and determination.
“I want you to understand that I never could
have done the work I have, if I had not had
this woman at my right hand.”

Anthony was introduced to feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton
in 1851, and the two formed a lifelong bond. The pair traveled
the country together giving speeches on women’s equality. “If
there is one part of my life which gives me more intense satisfaction
than another, it is my friendship of more than 40 years
standing with Susan B. Anthony,” Stanton said. Their friendship
was a constant source of encouragement and comfort during
often tumultuous times, and they were both eager to give credit
to the other when praised for their accomplishments.

In 1868, Anthony and Stanton published the first weekly
edition of The Revolution, a journal dedicated to women’s and
African-American suffrage, equal pay for equal work, equality
in marriage and divorce, and other women’s issues. Years later,
Anthony, Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage and Ida Husted Harper
collaborated to write the four-volume The History of Woman
Suffrage
, published from 1884 to 1887.
“The men and women of the North are slaveholders, those of
the South slave owners. The guilt rests on the North equally
with the South.”

Anthony’s father was an abolitionist, and one of her brothers became
active in the Kansas anti-slavery movement. In 1856, she became an
agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society of New York. She spoke
frequently for African-American rights and was a longtime friend of
civil-rights leader Frederick Douglass.

However, in 1869 when the American Equal Rights Association, founded
by Anthony, Douglass and Stanton, voted to support the 15th Amendment
to the Constitution granting suffrage to black men only, Anthony realized
she must narrow her focus to the establishment of women’s rights.
“We assert the province of government to be to secure
the people in the enjoyment of their unalienable rights.
We throw to the winds the old dogma that government
can give rights.”

With the help of Stanton, Anthony formed the National Woman Suffrage
Association (NWSA) and served as vice president of the organization until
she was elected president in 1892. In 1890, the NWSA merged with the more conservative
American Woman Suffrage Association, creating the National American Woman
Suffrage Association (NAWSA).

Anthony had stepped fully into the limelight as a public spokesperson for women’s
rights. Unlike Stanton, she felt a moderate stance was the most likely to accomplish
her fundamental goal. “We number over 10,000 women and each one has opinions…
we can only hold them together to work for the ballot by letting alone
their whims and prejudices on other subjects,” Anthony said. She believed
a united front of moderate demands had a greater chance for success than
some of the more radical causes pushed by Stanton and others, which
Anthony felt should be postponed until the first big step had been taken
toward a voice for women.

“Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their
reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform.
Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything
or nothing in the world’s estimation.”

In 1872, Anthony was arrested by the U.S. deputy marshal for
voting in the presidential election. She was tried and convicted in
1873, despite her eloquent citation of the 14th Amendment to the
Constitution, which guarantees privileges of citizenship to “all
persons born or naturalized in the United States.” She was fined
but refused to pay the penalty. She used the arrest and subsequent
conviction as a platform to reach a wider audience, sacrificing her
reputation and potentially her freedom for the cause of justice.
“Failure is impossible.”

Anthony spoke these words at her 86th birthday celebration
in 1906. Throughout her lifetime, she had traveled
throughout the United States and Europe, delivering
up to 100 speeches a year advocating women’s rights.
She passed away one month after giving her final
speech. Adult American women were granted the
right to vote by the 19th Amendment 14 years later.

Susan B. Anthony’s persistence, passion and unwavering
dedication to her beliefs effected a change in
American society that she did not live to see, but her
legacy survives in the daily lives of countless women
who, today, have a voice.

Leave a Comment