Copyright © 1998 Henrietta W. Hay
About Susan B. Anthony
February 13, 1998
"The true republic: men, their rights and nothing more; women, their
rights and nothing less." So wrote Susan B. Anthony over a hundred
For the first six years of my life a women could be arrested for trying
to vote. By the time I turned 21 and cast my first vote, women were
starting the long, hard road to political power.
A big part of the credit for woman suffrage -- this major 20th century
phenomenon -- goes to a hell raiser named Susan B. Anthony, whose
birthday is next week. She would be 178, and if she were still alive
she would probably still be raising hell.
We love to stereotype people. One of the ones we cherish is that of
those proper 19th century women, our grandmothers and
great-grandmothers. In her book "Wild Women," April Stephens describes
our prim progenitor. "Burdened by pounds of petticoats and corseted
within an inch of her life, the exertion of cracking a smile might
easily have cracked her spine. Proscribed by convention (and in many
cases by law) from pursuit of professional endeavors, she was shunned by
society for even the slightest breach of domestic decorum."
But with major events of the century, the Civil War , westward
migration, the bitter 50 year struggle for suffrage, large numbers of
women began to wake up and demand a voice in their own destiny. Quoting
Stephens again, "During those decorous decades American women leapt from
their pedestals left and right, defying their passive sisters in the
parlor to play a role in the great dramas of the day."
And one of the women who leapt the highest was Susan B. Anthony. Susan
was no glamour girl, but on the other hand, she did not run around
swinging an ax like Carrie Nation.
She became a leader in the long battle for women's right to vote in the
United States. Born in 1820, Quaker, teacher, temperance and
abolition organizer, she spent her entire adult life campaigning, and
she became the internationally respected symbol of the women's
She carried suffrage petitions from door to door. She wrote "The
Revolution," and compiled and edited the first four volumes of "The
History of Woman Suffrage." She was the driving force behind the
formation of the National Women Suffrage Association.
She was called, among other less flattering names, "The Invincible"
and the "Napoleon of the women's rights movement." For thirty years
she crossed and re-crossed the country speaking for women suffrage.
Along with other strong minded campaigners like Mother Jones, Emily
Griffith, Molly Brown, Carrie Nation with her ax and Mattie Silk with
her girls she campaigned in Colorado. On November 7, 1893, Colorado
became the first state to grant women suffrage by popular vote.
Susan B. Anthony never married, which freed her to travel extensively,
but which made her more than any other suffrage leader the victim of
masculine ridicule. She did not lack for masculine company, however.
When asked why she did not marry a wealthy suitor from Maine, she
replied that she has no desire to degrade the gentleman she loved by
marrying him. He was, after all, eligible to vote, own property and run
for public office; In good conscience she couldn't allow him to marry a
political outcast. She did succumb to domesticity now and then. She
cared for her soul-sister Elizabeth Cady Stanton's seven children while
their mother wrote, "The History of Women Suffrage." It is even rumored
that Susan baked cookies. Dreadful thought!
She appeared at the polls in Rochester, New York in November, 1872 to
test the law and vote in an election. She was turned away, and two
weeks later was arrested by a U. S. deputy marshal and hustled aboard a
street car. When asked for her fare she
replied, "This gentleman is escorting me to jail. Ask him for my
fare." She was
tried and fined $100 which she refused to pay.
Susan B. Anthony's last public utterance, at her 86th birthday party
celebration a month before she died, became the rallying cry for the
suffrage movement: "Failure is impossible."
She died on March 13, 1906, fourteen years before women could
Failure is impossible. Happy Birthday, Susan.