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Susan B. Anthony: a Life of Activism

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Throughout our country’s history, women have never achieved truly equal rights. Not too long ago, women didn’t even have the right to vote. Women even had to fight for equal education and the right to own property. From 1848 to 1920, when they finally earned full suffrage, which is the right to vote, women formed groups to go around protesting, mostly for suffrage. One of these women was Susan B. Anthony. At first, she focused more on the abolition of slavery and temperance, but she started to realize the hardships women faced in their everyday lives. Growing up in a politically and socially active family, receiving a lot of support from her friends and family, and a growing belief that with the right to vote, women would be taken seriously, Susan B. Anthony was inspired to spend more effort on women’s suffrage.

Susan B. Anthony grew up in a Quaker household of eight. She had five siblings, There were three other girls and two boys. Susan B. Anthony was the second oldest. Her dad, Daniel Reed, owned a cotton farm. The family were abolitionists, so Daniel tried not to buy cotton from slave owners. He made a deal with Judge John McLean to open a store, but the Judge backed out last minute because Daniel decided to make the store a temperance store (a store that doesn’t sell alcohol) and McLean thought that the store would not get any customers. Daniel Anthony was against alcohol because he believed it was important to the women’s rights movement. It would prevent many women from being abused by their drunken husbands. Daniel was not willing to sacrifice his values to make money. Perhaps because of this, he was not the most successful businessman. He stood strongly for what he believed in. For example, when Susan B. Anthony’s teacher wouldn’t teach her and her sister Guelma long division because of their gender, Daniel got so mad that he set up a homeschool in his house, giving up some of the residence of their home. After an economical depression, the family went bankrupt, forcing the family to sell everything. Daniel Anthony’s brother in law, Uncle Reed bought some of the family’s most valuable possessions and bought them a house in Hardscrabble, New York, now known as Center Falls, NY.

Susan B. Anthony was influenced a lot by her abolitionist/temperance family. She decided to join the American Anti-Slavery Society. She devoted a lot of time and effort into arranging meetings and making speeches. She supported and petitioned for the 13th amendment. The 13th amendment was made to abolish slavery.

Since Susan B. Anthony grew up in a Quaker family, she grew up thinking that liquor was sinful. She joined Daughters of Temperance. Daughters of Temperance was a group of women who drew attention to the effect of drunkenness and alcohol. She made her first public speech in 1848 at a Daughters of Temperance supper. In 1849, she was elected president of the Rochester branch. She went around trying to raise money for the cause. Once, at a Sons of Temperance meeting, she was denied a chance to speak. She was told Sisters were there to “listen and learn.” Later, Anthony with the help of a friend, started a petition to limit the sale of liquor in a state. The petition got over 28,000 signatures. However, it was denied by the State Legislature because most of the signatures were either signed by women or children. Anthony decided that women needed the right to vote to be taken seriously by Congress and Politicians.

Susan B. Anthony had a lot of encouragement and support to protest what she believed in. Her parents gave her the confidence to keep going, even if people didn’t agree or even if they fought back, and in fact a lot of the times when she was protesting, people didn’t agree with her or protested. In response to her efforts, angry mobs would meet with her in the streets, she received threats, and rotten eggs were thrown at her. People would even drag a dummy made to look like her and drag it down the street and burn it. Despite all that, she kept fighting for what she believed in. She first became interested in social activism as a teenager. She collected anti-slavery petitions at age 17. She also went to a lot of anti-slavery conventions and meetings. In fact, it was at an anti-slavery convention where Anthony met Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Elizabeth would one day become one of Anthony’s best friends and work partners. Stanton, was actually the one who inspired Anthony to fight for women’s rights. Stanton was one of the people who helped organize the Seneca Falls Convention, the first ever convention for women’s rights. Stanton, however, had a husband and seven kids. She had to balance out her time between her family life and giving speeches. Anthony, however, never married. A lot of people called her an “old maid,” which is what people called a woman who wanted to stay single and not have a family and children. Anthony knew that traditionally when you’re married, you don’t have any control over anything. From her perspective, all control goes to the husband. Even if you are able to earn money, you have to give the money to the husband. To Anthony, this didn’t sound much better than slavery.

“I never felt I could give up my life of freedom to become a man’s housekeeper. When I was young, if a girl married poverty, she became a drudge; if she married wealth, she became a doll. Had I married at twenty-one, I would have been either a drudge or a doll for fifty-five years.”

Anthony had made some rivals, but she had a lot of support from her friends and family. Lucy Anthony, Anthony’s mother, was said to be a very shy but supporting mother. Anthony and her sisters worried that their mother overworked, so the four of them were always eager to help with the cooking, baking, sewing, cleaning, and laundry. Anthony described her to be a loving, caring mother. She also said that Lucy communicated very little. She gave birth to eight children. However, one of her children was stillborn and another one died at age two of scarlet fever. Lucy had always supported her husband Daniel’s socialism work. She had also supported her Anthony’s work, though it was unusual for a mother at that time to accept her daughter’s decision of not marrying. Lucy was definitely a major voice of support. She helped, not by helping to give speeches or by providing ideas and suggestions, but she was a confident and supporting voice when Anthony was facing opposition.

After the Civil War, suffrage for different skin tones and races became an idea. Anthony was shocked when the idea of a new amendment was proposed to congress. The amendment was to give the right to suffrage to every American Citizen. The problem was that for the first time they defined “citizen” as male. For the first time, the constitution had been made to intentionally exclude women. This angered Anthony because they had connected a really good idea, with a bad idea. The amendment would include suffrage for all citizens regardless of race and skin tone, but no suffrage for women. Some abolitionists said it was the “Negro’s Hour” and that women were selfish for trying to get suffrage for themselves. “The entire African race is not composed entirely of males!” Elizabeth Cady Stanton said. Stanton and Anthony both decided to oppose the amendment until a change happened where they allowed both women and men to have full suffrage.

Susan B. Anthony never stopped protesting. She even voted once. One chilly day in the beginning of November, 1872, in Rochester, New York, Anthony stormed into a barber shop, which was also the booth where you could vote. She surprised the voter officials when she and fifteen other women demanded to be registered and they all voted. A few days later, the police showed up at her door to arrest her. She was charged with voting illegally. Of the sixteen women, only their leader, Susan B. Anthony, was put on trial. The judge, Ward Hunt, was known for being against women’s right to suffrage. He surprised Anthony and her lawyer by not allowing Anthony to let her take the witness stand to defend her case. The judge took out a prepared statement that he had in possession from the beginning of the trial. “The 14th Amendment, gives no right to a woman to vote, and the voting of Miss Anthony was in violation of the law,” he said. The lawyer protested, saying that in a criminal case, the jury must decide if the defendant is guilty or innocent. The Judge didn’t listen. He ordered the court clerk to record a verdict of guilty, even though the jury hadn’t voted. There was an uproar in the court. Not all of the people there supported women’s rights, but all of them agreed that Anthony had been denied a fair trial. The next day, the judge was about to sentence Anthony when he asked her an unusual question:

“Judge Hunt — (Ordering the defendant to stand up), “Has the prisoner anything to say why sentence shall not be pronounced?”

Miss Anthony — “Yes, your honor, I have many things to say; for in your ordered verdict of guilty, you have trampled underfoot every vital principle of our government. My natural rights, my civil rights, my political rights, my judicial rights, are all alike ignored. Robbed of the fundamental privilege of citizenship, I am degraded from the status of a citizen to that of a subject; and not only myself individually, but all of my sex, are, by your honor’s verdict, doomed to political subjection under this, so-called, form of government.”

‘The court orders the prisoner to sit down, It will not allow another word!’ Then Judge Hunt said, ‘The sentence of the court is that you pay a fine of $100 and the costs of prosecution.’

‘May it please your honor,’ Anthony replied. ‘I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty. And I shall earnestly and persistently continue to urge all women… that resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.”

The Judge could have arrested her until she paid the fine, but he knew that she would be moved to a higher court where there might a fair trial, and in a fair trial, Anthony might win. He promptly closed the case. She might have lost because she was denied a fair trial, but it was still a win for the movement. More people who had seen her as an “old maid” started to respect her for her courage to stand up to the judge. Even some men were beginning to admire her. It was a win, but unfortunately it wasn’t the win Anthony had been aiming for.

In the beginning, she was met with angry mobs, heckled, and gangs would even go to her speeches and throw rotten eggs at her. It was strange for women to speak out about women’s rights. After her famous trial, she gained more and more support. Young women started to follow her and some even called her “Aunt Susan.” Inspired by her, more women went out and gave out speeches, too. They too, handed out petitions.

At the age of 80, Anthony sent a letter to Elizabeth summarizing the accomplishments that they had accomplished together:

“The one purpose of my life has been the establishment of perfect equality of rights for women – civil and political – industrial and educational. We have attained equal chances in nearly all of the colleges and universities – equal chances to work – but not equal pay. We have school suffrage in half the states, taxpayers’ suffrage in a half-dozen states – Municipal suffrage in one state – Kansas – and full suffrage in four – Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho – and hope and work in faith till the end.”

Despite a whole lifetime of combined efforts from the both of them, they still had not gained full suffrage for every state. Anthony addressed this in her last speech to the public, saying that the fight must never cease.

‘I am here for a little time only, and then my place will be filled… The fight must not cease. You must see that it does not stop. Failure is impossible.”

The next month, she became ill and had to stay in bed. She told a friend, ‘I have been striving for over 60 years for a little bit of justice… and yet I must die without obtaining it. Oh, it seems so cruel.’ Two days later, she died of pneumonia. It would take over fourteen more years until Congress passed a law that allowed every American Citizen suffrage, no matter of gender or race.

Susan B. Anthony spent a lot of time and effort fighting and protesting for women’s rights. She ignored it when people didn’t agree with her. Those people would even resort to conflict against her. Despite all that, she kept fighting for what she thought was right. She never would have been able to keep fighting without her support from her family and friends, the influence of her family and her belief that without the right to vote, women would never be taken seriously.

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