Susan B. Anthony, reformer and women’s suffragist, was born in Adams, Massachusetts, to Daniel Anthony and Lucy Read, one of eight children. When Anthony was six, the family moved to Battenville, New York, where Daniel Anthony managed a large cotton mill. Due to Daniel Anthony’s Quaker heritage, the family believed in egalitarian education for their children, and Susan attended Deborah Moulson’s Female Seminary. The Anthonys prospered until the panic of 1837, when the mill closed, the children returned from boarding school, and they lost their home. Susan aided the family by teaching, but in 1845, the family moved to a farm in Rochester, New York.
After the move, Anthony taught for a decade, ending her teaching career as headmistress of the female section of Canajoharie Academy. As a teacher, Anthony enjoyed her independence but recognized the unequal pay scale between men and women. In 1849, Anthony gave her first public speech at a Daughters of Temperance meeting, starting her involvement in reform. The same year, Anthony returned to Rochester to manage the family farm and continued her involvement in temperance reform and became dedicated to the antislavery cause. Within a few years, Anthony met some of the most prominent abolitionists and women’s rights advocates—Frederick Douglass, Stephen and Abby Foster, Isaac and Amy Post, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Stanton called the 1848 Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention and, although a wife and mother, was dedicated to reforming laws to benefit women. Stanton and Anthony forged a friendship that would last more than fifty years.
When Anthony realized that women were welcome in the temperance movement only if they were taciturn and did not expect egalitarian treatment, she and Stanton founded the Women’s State Temperance Society in 1852, but left when men voted them out of their elected positions. The two wove the women’s rights and temperance movements together, going before the state legislature (the first time a women’s group in the United States did this) calling for temperance laws and, later, coeducation, women’s suffrage, liberal divorce laws, and married women’s property rights. The women donned bloomers, an outfit associated with women radicals, and called numerous women’s rights conventions. Anthony traveled extensively throughout New York, lecturing, petitioning, organizing, and fundraising. Anthony’s energy never ceased; she traveled most of her next forty years, campaigning for women’s rights. In 1855, she lectured at least once in each of New York’s sixty-two counties and was called the movement’s Napoleon.
In 1856, the American Anti-Slavery Society hired Anthony as New York’s chief agent. She served the society until the Civil War, but was disheartened with the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870, which enfranchised former male slaves but ignored women. Anthony realized that women’s suffrage might be won by the next generation.
Anthony worked for women’s rights in numerous ways: she gave lectures; petitioned the state legislature and Congress; organized state, national, and international conventions; and formed the National Woman Suffrage Association with Stanton, which later merged with its rival, the American Woman Suffrage Association. She also wrote and distributed pamphlets, published the Revolution newspaper, had her biography written, and penned History of Woman Suffrage with Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage.
One of the most notable women’s rights efforts consisted of women voting, in an attempt to amend laws judicially. The suffragists tested the Constitution through the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, which linked citizenship and enfranchisement. Since women were citizens, several dozen asserted their right to vote. When they were denied the right, they intended to take their case to the Supreme Court. Anthony tried the theory in 1872 and was, surprisingly, permitted to cast a ballot. Several weeks later she was arrested for violating a federal law. Anthony’s trial was a sham; it was rescheduled in another county because the judge believed she prejudiced any possible jury. Judge Ward Hunt wrote his decision before the trial began and ordered the jury to find Anthony guilty. Clearly, Anthony did not have a fair trial. At its conclusion, Hunt only fined her, refusing to put the suffragist in jail. Because of this, she could not carry her case to the Supreme Court based on applying for a writ of habeas corpus. When Hunt asked if she had any comments at the end of the trial, Anthony lambasted him and refused to pay the $100 fine.
Undaunted by her trial ordeal, Anthony remained dedicated to her cause. She presided over the National- American Woman Suffrage Association from 1892 until her eightieth birthday in 1900. Anthony remained active in the women’s rights movement, traveling until a month before her death in Rochester. Her legacy is documented in her speeches and books but most importantly in the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, in 1920. Anthony was the first nonallegorical woman to appear on U.S. currency, with the Susan B. Anthony dollar minted from 1979 to 1981 and in 1999.
HEIDI SCOTT GIUSTO
References and Further Reading
See also American Anti-Slavery Society; Douglass, Frederick; Habeas Corpus: Modern History; Stanton, Elizabeth Cady