It’s the birthday of Susan B. Anthony, a pioneer in the women’s suffrage movement. It’s because of her actions, along with other women in the suffragist movement, that women have the right to speak in public, serve on committees, keep their wages and guardianship of their children, and vote. She was also an ardent advocate for equal pay for equal work. She said: “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.” She was the longtime president of the National Women’s Suffrage Association and campaigned throughout her life for a woman’s right to vote.
Susan Brownell Anthony was born in Adams, Massachusetts (1820). Her father was a liberal Quaker and cotton manufacturer. The Anthony farm often served as a meeting place for the abolitionist movement, and later in her life, Anthony became great friends with abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Anthony taught at a Quaker boarding school in Philadelphia for a time, where she earned $1.52 per week and began thinking about the great wrongs women were suffering in life because they were not afforded the same treatment as men. She began speaking in public about equal rights for women. And when she was denied the right to speak at a temperance conference because she was female, she and her good friend Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed the New York Women’s State Temperance Society (1852).
Anthony and Stanton were inseparable until the day Stanton died. Wherever Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her husband lived, they always set aside a room for Susan B. Anthony. Anthony never married, and while Stanton worked on Anthony’s speeches, Anthony watched her children.
Stanton’s husband once said, “Susan stirred the pudding, Elizabeth stirred up Susan, and then Susan stirs up the world.” Anthony, Stanton, Parker Pillsbury, and George Francis Train started a women’s newspaper in New York City called The Revolutionist. The paper’s motto was, “Men, their rights and nothing more; Women, their rights and nothing less.”
Susan B. Anthony gave hundreds of lectures every year. Many times, her speeches were shut down by mobs throwing rotten eggs. Benches were broken, knives and pistols displayed. She once gave a speech from the top of a billiard table. And when her train was snowbound, she survived on crackers and dried fish for several days. She was arrested for attempting to vote In Rochester, New York, and during her trial, the New York Times noted dryly, “It was conceded that the defendant was, on the 5th of November, 1872, a woman.” The jury, which held no women because women weren’t allowed to serve on juries, was instructed by the judge to find Anthony guilty without discussion, which they did. The judge set a fine, but Anthony vowed to never pay it, and she never did.
The Nineteenth Amendment (Amendment XIX) to the United States Constitution was ratified on August 18, 1920, 14 years after Susan B. Anthony’s death. It prohibits any United States citizen from being denied the right to vote on the basis of sex. Susan B. Anthony once lamented, “To think I have had more than 60 years of hard struggle for a little liberty, and then to die without it seems so cruel.”
On November 2, of that same year, more than 8 million women across the U.S. voted in elections for the first time. It took more than 60 years for the remaining 12 states to ratify the 19th Amendment; Mississippi dragged its feet until 1984.
Thanks to the Writer’s Almanac for this article.