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Profile: Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony

Profession: Suffragette

Nationality:  American

Born: February 15, 1820

Died: March 13, 1906 (aged 86)

Cause of Death: Pneumonia

Susan B. Anthony was born on February 15, 1820 in Adams, Massachusetts. Her father, Daniel, was a farmer and later a cotton mill owner and manager and was raised as a Quaker. Her mother, Lucy, came from a family that fought in the American Revolution. From an early age, Anthony was inspired by the Quaker belief that everyone was equal under God. That idea guided her throughout her life.

In her youth, she and her sisters responded to a “great craze for middle initials” by adding middle initials to their own names. Anthony adopted “B.” as her middle initial because her namesake aunt Susan had married a man named Brownell

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 they 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.

After many years of teaching, Anthony returned to her family who had moved to New York State. 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. There she met William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass. Listening to them moved Susan to want to do more to help end slavery. She became an abolition activist, even though most people thought it was improper for women to give speeches in public. Anthony made many passionate speeches against slavery.

In 1848, a group of women held a convention at Seneca Falls, New York. It was the first Women’s Rights Convention in the United States and began the Suffrage movement. Her mother and sister attended the convention but Anthony did not. 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. She was soon fully engaged in reform work and for the rest of her life; she lived almost entirely on fees she earned as a speaker.

In 1851, Anthony met Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The two women became good friends and worked together for over 50 years fighting for women’s rights.  After the Stanton’s 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.

They traveled the country and Anthony gave speeches demanding that women be given the right to vote. At times, she risked being arrested for sharing her ideas in public.

Anthony was good at strategy. Her discipline, energy, and ability to organize made her a strong and successful leader. Anthony and Stanton co-founded the American Equal Rights Association. In 1868 they became editors of the Association’s newspaper, The Revolution, which helped to spread the ideas of equality and rights for women. Anthony began to lecture to raise money for publishing the newspaper and to support the suffrage movement. She became famous throughout the county. Many people admired her, yet others hated her ideas.

When Congress passed the 14th and 15th amendments which give voting rights to African American men, Anthony and Stanton were angry and opposed the legislation because it did not include the right to vote for women. Their belief led them to split from other suffragists. They thought the amendments should also have given women the right to vote. They formed the National Woman Suffrage Association, to push for a constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote.

In 1872, Anthony was arrested for voting, tried, and fined $100 for her crime. This brought national attention to the suffrage movement. She led a protest at the 1876 Centennial of our nation’s independence. She gave a speech “Declaration of Rights” written by Stanton and another suffragist, Matilda Joslyn Gage.

“Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less.”

Anthony spent her life working for women’s rights. In 1888, she helped to merge the two largest suffrage associations into one, the National American Women’s Suffrage Association. She led the group until 1900. She traveled around the country giving speeches, gathering thousands of signatures on petitions, and lobbying Congress every year for women. Anthony died in 1906, 14 years before women were given the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

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