“No man is good enough to govern any woman without her consent.” – Susan B. Anthony
Susan B. Anthony Biography
When people think of the rights of women, of the protection of those rights, and of those who fought most vigorously to secure them, few names come to mind swifter, in the United States at least, than that of the passionate women’s suffrage leader Susan B Anthony. Susan B Anthony holds a special place of honour in the history of equality for her unflinching devotion to the cause, her unwavering leadership, and her determination to see women receive the vote. So who was she and what led her down the path of this righteous crusade?
Susan Brownell Anthony was born on 15 February 1820 to a family of reformers. Some of her brothers would later fight against pro-slavery forces in Kansas in order to ensure that when Kansas joined the Union on 29 January 1861, it would do so as a free state. Although they were Quakers by religion, they did not hold with many traditional Quaker ideals. Their family was considered too liberal at the time and a rift grew between them and the rest of the congregation after Susan’s father Daniel Anthony allowed a dance to occur at his home.
In 1837, economic panic struck the country and the Anthonys lost most of their material wealth. Although an uncle bought their belongings at auction and returned them to the family, they were still desperately short of money and so Susan decided to go to work as a teacher at a Quaker school. The Anthonys continued to be at the fringes of society due to their passionate reforming nature and their farm became a place where other like-minded individuals who sought reformation came, including the great Frederick Douglass who was a well-known abolitionist in Rochester, New York.
As Susan B Anthony grew older, she taught herself a range of social reform concepts and worked tirelessly to improve both her knowledge of the subject and her eloquence when it came to delivering her message. For a brief time, she was even a strong proponent of wearing the highly controversial blooming dress, which did not go all the way down to the ankles. Although the dress was far more comfortable and easier for women to wear, she was eventually forced to stop wearing the improved garment so that opponents would be compelled to address her ideas instead of merely criticizing her clothing.
In 1851 at Seneca Falls, Susan B Anthony met another strong and motivated woman called Elizabeth Cady Stanton who had previously written the Declaration of Sentiments which being based upon the United States Declaration of Independence made the proclamation that men and women were created equal and that women should be allowed to vote. The meeting between the pair was fortuitous as Elizabeth and Susan had mutually beneficial skills with Elizabeth being an outstanding writer and Susan being a highly effective organizer and strategist. The pair worked well together and their friendship grew as they continued to work hard in the women’s suffrage movement.
The rights of women in the early and mid-19th century were few and limited. Women did not traditionally work in roles outside of the household and so had little say in society. Added to this, any woman who was successful and generated an income would be compelled by force of law to hand any money over to her spouse. This meant that even a financially capable and successful woman, if she were married, would not have any say in her own financial solvency. Additionally, women were not generally allowed to own any property, and as they could not vote, they could do nothing to alter the situation either.
Between the lack of economic options and the lack of voting power, the rights of women were severely curtailed. However, the women’s reform movement did not grow up in a vacuum and many of the movers and shakers of the women’s rights movement first got their feet wet in the greatest political social reform of the 19th century, the combat of slavery. Many of them did not even feel the issues were all that different from each other as both sought to ensure that certain classes of people received the rights that had been up until that point denied to them.
The women’s rights movement with Susan B Anthony leading the charge managed to have a brief success in 1860 when the New York legislature passed a bill allowing women greater rights for owning separate property. Throughout the 1850s and 60s, Susan B. Anthony lectured regularly and held meetings throughout the whole state of New York. However, as the 1860s progressed, the women’s rights movement slowed down significantly in no small part due to the start of the American Civil War. Although Susan was a capable rising star in the women’s movement as it sought to coalesce into a single national front instead of a series of smaller divided sub-efforts, she was hesitant at first to take on greater responsibility as she was also working long hours hosting anti-slavery meetings.
Susan and many others in the women’s rights movement were very active within a number of different reform campaigns, including the Underground Railroad which brought escaped slaves from the south to freedom in the north, anti-slavery work throughout the north, the temperance movement and the women’s rights movement. Although work on women’s rights legislation had stalled due to the Civil War, as the decade went on, Susan B Anthony’s political charisma, her fame, and the movement as a whole began to shift and throughout the late 1860s and through the 1870s, women’s suffrage became a topic of serious national political discussion. A country that had just fought to secure the rights of African Americans was now deciding morally about giving rights to other disenfranchised groups as well. Women first received the right to vote in the state of Wyoming in 1869 and Susan B Anthony was invited to address state legislators in other states who were considering similar moves.
Although the women’s rights movement faced several serious setbacks, which included women being denied the right to vote by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1875, the movement pressed on, deciding to go down the far more difficult route of seeking to secure rights through the ballot box with a constitutional amendment instead of through the judiciary. The fight went on for decades but slowly through the tireless work of Susan B Anthony and tens of thousands of others, the political mind-set of the country changed and on 18 August 1920 the United States Constitution received its 19th amendment and so women were finally given the constitutional right to vote.
Although that was to be her legacy, Susan B Anthony herself never lived to see it as she died at her house in Rochester, New York on 13 March 1906. Although she never would see the full vote be given to women, she was proud of the movements that she had been a part of and all that they had achieved to secure not only the rights for women, but the rights for all peoples. Susan B Anthony was an incredible reformer, an incredible proponent of freedom and rights, and an inspiration to generations of women to come.