What does the average person know about Susan B Anthony other than ‘Hmm, she’s that woman on the coin, right?’ Turns out Susan B lived a very long and productive life over a century ago as a leading Abolitionist and Suffragette. In fact, women would not have had the right to vote as early as they did (1920) if it were not for Susan B.
Born in 1820, she grew up in Rochester, NY, the child of Abolitionist Quakers. At 17, she went off to a boarding school to become a teacher, and at 26 was made Head Mistress of a Womens Academy, an impressive feat for someone so young. By 29 she was involved in the Temperance (Prohibition) movement giving speeches on women’s rights. What did Temperance have to do with women’s rights? Before the Civil War, if a woman divorced her alcoholic husband she forfeited everything – her home, her money AND her children.
In 1852, she met a woman who would change her life forever, Elizabeth Stanton, one of the original US suffragettes. Together they made an efficient team as Elizabeth was a talented writer and Susan a dynamic speaker. They formed the National Woman’s Suffrage Association, which by the way, is still around today as the League of Women Voters.
During the Civil War, she helped Harriet Tubman ferry escaped slaves through NY state to Canada on the famous Underground Railroad. She assisted Abraham Lincoln by canvasing the northern states, collecting over 400,000 signatures on a petition to pass the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery.
In 1868, her and Stanton started The Revolution, not A revolution, but a NY newspaper with that purposely provocative title. It was the first newspaper published by women, written by women, for women readers. Sadly, The Revolution only lasted 2 years due to a lack of funding from any male backers, but it was still revolutionary, and made Susan B Anthony famous.
In 1872, the 14th Amendment passed giving blacks the right to vote.
It was written stating all US citizens had the right, so Susan and her followers convinced pollsters in NY state to allow them to vote in the presidential election. Vote they did and were promptly arrested. As the instigator, Susan B was the only one put on trial. An all male jury found her found guilty and she not allowed to speak until after sentencing.
When the judge finally asked her if she had anything to say, she stood and let fly a now famous invective stating ‘her constitutional, civil, and judicial rights were tramped upon as she did not have a jury of her peers, for they were all men! The laws were made by men, under a government of men, and for the benefit of men! The only chance women had for justice was to violate the law, as she had done, and vowed to continue to do!’ The flustered judge fined her $100, which she never paid.
In 1893, when Susan B learned the Chicago World’s Fair would have no exhibit noting the contributions of women, she lobbied the wives of cabinet members, senators and supreme court justices and got a Women’s Pavilion added to the fair, at which women’s rights were freely discussed.
Sadly, Susan never saw women get the vote. She died of pneumonia in 1906 at the age of 86. In case you were wondering, she never married, deciding early on that having a husband could impede her work for women. Her last words were ‘Failure is impossible.” And she was right. Women of course did get the vote 14 years later and the 19th amendment is in fact officially known as the Susan B Anthony Amendment. In 1979, a dollar coin was produced with her stern face, the first woman ever to be on US currency.