Susan B. Anthony life and biography

Susan B. Anthony picture, image, poster

Susan B. Anthony biography

Date of birth : 1820-02-05
Date of death : 1906-03-13
Birthplace : Adams, Massachusetts, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Famous Figures
Last modified : 2010-10-01
Credited as : Civil rights activist, "Napoleon of feminism",

27 votes so far

Susan B. Anthony

"Wherever, on the face of the globe or on the page of history, you show me a disfranchised class, I will show you a degraded class...."

Born February 5, 1820, in Adams, Massachusetts, Susan B. Anthony was known as the "Napoleon of feminism" in recognition of her tireless efforts on behalf of women's rights. She died March 13, 1906, in Rochester, New York.

One of the most extraordinary Americans of the nineteenth century was social reformer Susan B. Anthony, who crusaded against slavery, was active in the temperance movement, and helped launch and then sustain the struggle to gain the vote for women. Fiercely independent and zealously moral, she endured years of public abuse and sarcasm from those who made light of her work or who saw in her a dangerous threat to the status quo. Yet she persevered, and while she did not live to see her dream of national women's suffrage come true, Anthony nevertheless managed to earn worldwide respect and admiration for her efforts on behalf of achieving equal rights for women.

The daughter of Daniel Anthony, a schoolteacher turned cotton-mill owner, and his wife, Lucy (Read) Anthony, Susan Brownell Anthony was born into a liberal Quaker household of eight children in Adams, Massachusetts, on February 5, 1820. The family farmhouse, dignified but austere in the Quaker tradition, sat on a knoll in the Berkshire hills. It was devoid of decorations, musical instruments, and anything else that might distract from the absolute focus on one's inner communion with God.

Yet the spirit of reform was alive and well in the Anthony home. Both parents were passionate supporters of abolition, temperance, and women's rights; they were, in fact among the signers of the first Declaration of Women's Rights drafted at the famous 1848 convention in Seneca Falls, New York. Anthony's father in particular instilled in his daughters a strong sense of self-worth, self-reliance, and self-discipline and also encouraged strict adherence to one's principles and convictions.

When Anthony was four years old, she was sent to her grandparents' home with her two sisters, Guelma and Hannah, while their mother awaited the birth of another baby. The girls' grandfather took them under his wing during their six-week visit and spent long days teaching them to read. When Susan returned home, her eyes were crossed, apparently due to the strain of the lessons. A few weeks of rest resulted in some improvement, but her left eye remained crossed and gave her considerable trouble for the rest of her life.

As soon as the Anthony girls were old enough, they were expected to help their mother with domestic chores. It was not an easy life. Daniel Anthony ran a mill with twenty looms and a staff of twenty-three farm women to work those looms, and he regularly turned to his wife and his family to help out with the cooking, cleaning, and laundry associated with his business. Susan's own duties included the baking of twenty-one loaves of bread every day. Once their chores and homework were completed, however, the children were free to roam the nearby hills and revel in the wonders of nature.

After she completed her education at a Quaker boarding school in Philadelphia, Anthony began working in one of the few professions then open to women--teaching. Her first job was with the New York state school system, which she joined in 1839. Her weekly salary amounted to only one-fifth that of a male counterpart, but when she protested the inequity, members of the school board were less than pleased. That issue, combined with the fact that she regularly visited African Americans in their homes, eventually caused her to lose her job. In 1846 she secured a better position, however, as principal of the girls' department at Canajoharie Academy in Rochester, New York. There she earned a reputation as a very capable teacher. Anthony ended up making Rochester her home for the rest of her life.

Anthony's decision to pursue a career was as much a reflection of the changing times as it was a result of her father's encouragement. By the late 1840s, more and more women were breaking away from their traditional household duties to attend the new female seminaries or work in the flourishing mill industry. Teaching also allowed women to establish their own identities and gain economic independence. As a result, many teachers never married. Anthony herself proclaimed that she would give some consideration to the institution of marriage once she was awarded all of the "rights, privileges, and immunities of a citizen." Until then, however, she vowed to concentrate her efforts on the "enfranchisement of my own sex."

After teaching for ten years, Anthony found her spirit sapped and the prospects for her professional future bleak. So she began to focus her efforts on the temperance movement instead. Banning the consumption of alcohol was thought to be the only strategy for ending the abuse women and children suffered at the hands of husbands and fathers who drank too much. Anthony herself recalled working side-by-side with the local farm women at her father's mill, listening to their grim tales of drunken husbands who beat their wives and demanded their meager earnings to buy more liquor.

Anthony first addressed the temperance issue in an 1849 speech in which she described Canajoharie as a "hotbed of vice and drunkenness." In 1851, as president of the local Daughters of Temperance, she traveled to a temperance convention in Seneca Falls, New York. There she met Amelia Bloomer, editor of the temperance paper The Lily, and suffragist leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Anthony and Stanton subsequently developed a deep, personal friendship and a powerful, lifelong collaboration. Their writings, including the four-volume History of Woman Suffrage, were truly a team effort. "While she is slow and analytical in composition," Stanton once explained, "I am rapid and synthetic. I am the better writer, she the better critic. She supplied the facts and statistics, I the philosophy and rhetoric, and together we have made arguments that have stood unshaken by storms of thirty long years; arguments that no man has answered."

Before meeting Stanton, Anthony had devoted herself almost exclusively to the temperance movement, giving little thought to women's suffrage. But that changed in 1852 when she attended a meeting of the Sons of Temperance in Albany. As she rose from her seat to join in the discussion, she was told that the women who were there had been invited to "listen and learn," not to speak. Furious, Anthony stormed out of the meeting and soon after founded her own organization, the Woman's New York State Temperance Society. It now became clear to her that women would never be able to secure their rights or promote reforms without first winning the right to participate in the political process.

From then on, Anthony allied herself with the women's suffrage movement and worked tirelessly for women's rights. She set out to organize a series of state and national conventions on the issue, and she mounted a door-to-door campaign to collect signatures for a petition to give women the right to vote and own property. Anthony's exhaustive canvass of New York State's sixty voting districts has become a model for grassroots organizers for feminist causes. Her strategy was to take an issue, analyze the problem, formulate a specific demand, and then urge women to create a confrontation built on that analysis. Using this approach, the movement finally posted its first victory in 1860 with the passage of a bill permitting women to control their own earnings and contracts and to serve as the guardians of their children. Obtaining the right to vote, however, proved to be a far more difficult undertaking.

The women who crusaded relentlessly for this unpopular cause found themselves victimized by the press. No one was more cruelly attacked than Anthony. She and others like her who refused to be dependent on men and who committed themselves wholeheartedly to a cause were labeled as fanatically driven, unfulfilled, incomplete, sexually repressed, cold, hard, rigidly authoritarian--an endless list of negative images. The unmarried and childless Anthony was particularly vulnerable to having her rhetoric dismissed as "the rantings of an embittered old maid."

Even the feminists' defiant rejection of traditional standards of dress made them targets of ridicule and criticism. The so-called "Bloomer dress" became a political statement of the "ultras," the most radical of the women's rights advocates. Anthony was among those who hemmed her skirt to just below the knee and replaced her layers of petticoats with a pair of Bloomer trousers in a protest against the restrictiveness of women's clothing. She also uncoiled her long hair and clipped it into a bob.

During the Civil War, the women's rights movement took a back seat to the other important matters facing the country. Suffragists threw their energies into the movement to emancipate the slaves. (Anthony had also been active in the abolitionist cause in the years preceding the war, serving as the chief New York agent for William Lloyd Garrison's American Anti-Slavery Society.) As a result, in 1862, the New York State legislature faced no significant political pressures when it repealed most of the Married Women's Property Acts. After the war, Anthony and Stanton formulated a plan that proposed linking freedom for African Americans with freedom for women. This was not to be, however; as journalist Horace Greeley told them, "This is the Negro's hour." Consequently, in 1869, Anthony and Stanton formed the National Woman Suffrage Association to work for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote.

While the nation as a whole grappled with the challenge of restoring and rebuilding the union, Anthony continued to devote herself to women's rights. From 1868 to 1870, she edited the feminist weekly Revolution. In its pages she raised for the first time issues such as divorce, prostitution, and the exploitation of female workers. To help pay off the paper's mounting debts, Anthony undertook extensive speaking tours throughout the Midwest and to the West Coast during the early 1870s.

In 1872, Anthony launched an especially personal and dramatic bid for women's suffrage. Ever since the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted in 1868, she had been looking for an opportunity to test it as a means of gaining the right for women to vote. The amendment stated that "all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, or deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

The moment Anthony had been waiting for came on November 1, 1872, when she read an editorial in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle urging citizens to register to vote so that they could participate in an upcoming election. Accompanied by three of her sisters, she marched into a local barbershop to register. Anthony read the amendment aloud, pointing out that it failed in any way to mention that the privilege of voting was restricted to men. The registrars buckled under her arguments and allowed the women to sign their names in the voter registration book. The next day, about fifty other women converged on registration centers and demanded that they, too, be allowed to register.

On November 5, Anthony stepped into the voting booth and marked her ballot. On November 28, a U.S. deputy marshal appeared on her doorstep with a warrant for her arrest. Sixteen women had voted in Rochester on election day, and all sixteen of them were arrested. But only Anthony was brought to trial for civil disobedience.

The case of the United States v. Susan B. Anthony got under way on June 17, 1873. The presiding judge, Ward Hunt, owed his position to a powerful adversary of women's suffrage. Not wishing to offend his sponsor, Hunt had taken the precaution of writing his decision before the trial even began. During the farcical spectacle that followed, he refused to allow Anthony to testify in her own behalf because she was deemed "incompetent." At the end of the proceedings, he ordered the jury to find Anthony guilty. Before members of the stunned jury could respond, the judge dismissed them and declared the trial over.

Anthony's attorney, who had mounted a credible defense, lost no time in calling for a new trial on the grounds that his client had been denied the right to a verdict by the jury. The motion was denied, however, and the defendant was sentenced to pay a $100 fine. Anthony refused to do so, and the court took no further action on the case.

Anthony remained active in the struggle for women's rights for the rest of her life. She traveled constantly during the 1870s, visiting a number of states where efforts were under way to win the vote for women. She even took the fight to Europe and helped form the International Council of Women and later the International Woman Suffrage Alliance. And from 1892 until 1900, she served as the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, formed in 1889 by the merger of the National Woman Suffrage Association and the more conservative American Woman Suffrage Association.

As the new century began, Anthony--by this time regarded as a national heroine--was gratified by the number of dramatic changes that had taken place as a result of her unwavering commitment to women's rights. For example, she could point with pride to the fact that almost all professional and vocational fields were open to women; that women were no longer compelled to marry for financial support; that most of the institutions of higher learning opened their doors to female students; that working women had their own unions; and that there had been substantial progress made in improving legal status of women.

But to her great dismay and regret, Anthony was never able to cast a legal ballot. At the time of her death on March 13, 1906, only four states--Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, and Utah--had granted women the right to vote. It was not until 1920 that national universal suffrage would become a reality. Anthony's pivotal role in that struggle was acknowledged by the United States Mint in 1979 when she became the first woman to be depicted on U.S. currency.

Read more

Please read our privacy policy. Page generated in 0.104s