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Susan B. Anthony: (February 15, 1820 – March 13, 1906) — Suffragist, Reformer, Labor Activist, Abolitionist, and Advocate for a Woman’s Right to Her Own Property and Earnings
Early Years: Susan Brownell Anthony was born in Adams, Massachusetts to Daniel and Lucy Read Anthony in 1820. Susan was the second of eight children. Susan’s mother was raised in a Baptist family. Her father, Daniel Anthony, a cotton manufacturer, was a Quaker and active abolitionist. The parents raised their children in a strict Quaker household. For example, the Anthony children were not allowed to experience toys, games and music which were seen as distractions from the “inner light.” Because Susan was brought up in a Quaker family with long activist traditions, early in her life she developed a sense of justice and moral zeal.
Susan Anthony was a precocious child and she learned to read and write at the age of three. In 1826, the family moved from Massachusetts to Battensville, N.Y. where Susan attended a district school. When the teacher refused to teach Susan long division, Susan was taken out of school and taught in a “home school” set up by her father. Ultimately, Susan was sent to a boarding school near Philadelphia.
Anthony herself taught school from age 17 until she was 29, including three years at the all-female Eunice Kenyon’s Quaker Boarding School in upstate New York. Her work experience as a teacher inspired Anthony to fight to help women teachers obtain wages equivalent to those of male teachers. At the time, men earned roughly four times more than women for the same duties. In 1849 Anthony quit teaching and settled in Rochester, New York to run her father’s farm while he developed his insurance business. During this period, Anthony became alienated from the Quakers after witnessing alcohol abuse and what she perceived as other moral failings among some Quaker preachers.
Career as a Reformer: Anthony’s involvement in reform movements began with her attendance at conventions and gatherings related to the temperance movement in New York State. In 1849, at the age of 29, she became secretary for the Daughters of Temperance, giving her a forum to speak out against alcohol abuse. At a temperance meeting in 1851, Anthony met Elizabeth Cady Stanton and their remarkable collaboration on behalf of womens suffrage began at once. Their personal characteristics and societal circumstances helped shape their different roles in their collaboration: Stanton was married and the mother of seven children who chose to stay close to home; Anthony was a single woman and free to travel and earn her living from her reform work. Anthony, it turned out, was also more skillful than Stanton at organizing people to carry out the ideas they agreed for what needed to be accomplished.
The Power of Their Friendship: Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton by Harriot Stanton Blatch, the daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
In May 1851, on a street corner in Seneca Falls, NY, Susan B. Anthony first met Elizabeth Cady Stanton. A few years later, Stanton wrote in a journal:
“How well I remember the day! George Thompson and William Lloyd Garrison having announced an anti-slavery meeting in Seneca Falls, Miss Anthony came to attend it. These gentlemen were my guests. Walking home after the adjournment, we met Mrs. Bloomer and Miss Anthony, on the corner of the street, waiting to greet us.
There she stood, with her good earnest face and genial smile, dressed in gray delaine, hat and all the same color, relieved with pale blue ribbons, the perfection of neatness and sobriety. I liked her thoroughly, and why I did not at once invite her home with me to dinner I do not know . . .”
So began the famous friendship of the women who changed our lives.
When Stanton and Anthony met, no woman could be a licensed doctor or lawyer—she couldn’t even go to college. If a woman earned money, she had to pay taxes but she couldn’t vote. Slavery was still legal. A husband could hit his wife with abandon and put her away in an institution.
Anthony and Stanton inspired each other to fight for change. They were abolitionists, temperance activists, and, of course, tireless champions for women’s rights and suffrage. Unmarried and without children of her own, Anthony became “Aunt Susan” to Stanton’s seven boys and girls. She stirred soup pots and cleaned banged knees to give Stanton time to write speeches, petitions and leaflets. When Stanton couldn’t leave home to help rally the troops, Anthony went, thinking of her friend and finding extra power in her words. (Source: Susan B. Anthony Center for Women’s Leadership)
During the 1850s, the women’s rights movement gathered steam, but lost momentum when the Civil War began. Almost immediately after the war ended, the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution raised familiar questions of suffrage and citizenship. (The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, extends the Constitution’s protection to all citizens–and defines “citizens” as “male”; the 15th, ratified in 1870, guarantees black men the right to vote.)
For decades, abolitionists and suffragists had worked together for freedom and justice–for African Americans and women. Then, in February 1869, Congress passed the Fifteenth Amendment (ratified by the states in 1870), guaranteeing that African American men could not be denied the right to vote simply because of their race–but it refused to expand the wording to grant voting rights to women. “One thing at a time,” some politicians said.
Some woman suffrage advocates, among them Susan B. Anthony and Stanton believed that this was their chance to push lawmakers for truly universal suffrage. As a result, they refused to support the 15th Amendment and even allied with Southerners who argued that a white woman’s vote could be used to neutralize those cast by African-Americans. In 1869, Anthony, Stanton and other suffragists angry at the collapse of an equal rights convention formed a group called the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and began to fight for a universal-suffrage amendment to the Constitution. The organization condemned the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments as blatant injustices to women. The NWSA also advocated easier divorce and an end to discrimination in employment and pay.
The other association of suffragists was a more conservative group, the American Woman Suffrage Association, which was centered in Boston and supported the idea that attaining the vote for black men was more important than demanding the vote for women. There were several differences in the positions of the two organizations, and a good deal of personal hostility developed between them. By 1890, however, these problems were overcome, and the two organizations merged into the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Stanton became the group’s president. Anthony served as president from 1892 to 1900.
In the early years of the NWSA, Anthony made attempts to unite women in the labor movement with the suffragist cause, but with little success. She and Stanton were delegates at the 1868 convention of the National Labor Union. However, Anthony inadvertently alienated the labor movement, not only because suffrage was seen as a concern for middle-class rather than working-class women, but also because she openly encouraged women to achieve economic independence by entering the printing trades when male workers were on strike. Anthony was later expelled from the National Labor Union over this controversy.
Anthony’s pursuit of alliances with moderate and conservative suffragists created tension between herself and more radical suffragists such as Stanton. Anthony felt strongly that the moderate approach to women’s rights was more realistic and would serve to gain more for women in the end. Anthony’s strategy was to unite the suffrage movement wherever possible and focus strictly on gaining the vote, temporarily leaving other women’s rights issues aside.
Anthony, along with Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage published the History of Woman Suffrage 4 volumes (1881-1902) In 1888 she organized the International Council of Women and in 1904 the International Woman Suffrage Alliance. Although Anthony did not live to see the consummation of her efforts to win the right to vote for women, the establishment of the 19th amendment is deeply owed to her efforts. Susan B. Anthony died of heart disease and pneumonia on March 13, 1906.
(Note: In 1979, Susan B. Anthony’s image was chosen for the new dollar coin, making her the first woman to be depicted on U.S. currency. The size of the dollar was, however, close to that of the quarter, and the Susan B. Anthony dollar never became very popular. In 1999 the U.S. government announced the replacement of the Susan B. Anthony dollar with the Shoshone Indian Sacagawea.)
How to Cite This Article (APA Format): Anthony Center for Women’s Leadership. (2006). Susan B. Anthony (Excerpt). Retrieved [date accessed] from http://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/people/anthony-susan-b/