I m a g i n e
fighting for a
cause night and
day for sixty years,
and dying before
your goal was
achieved. Susan B.
Anthony did just
that. The most
amazing aspect of
women achieving the right to vote in the United States is
that it took so long. Women in many other countries
achieved the right to vote before the "Land of the Free."
The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. It
was not until 144 years later - on November 2, 1920, that
American women could cast their ballots on the issues of
their government. Women in Canada, New Zealand,
Australia, Great Britain, Finland, Germany, Austria,
Poland, The Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and Norway
had already achieved the vote. Ironically 1920 was exactly
100 years from the birth of Susan B. Anthony - 1820. In
her youth a woman could not own property. If their
husband died, the home and money went to their sons or
another male relative. Women, if they did work could not
keep their own wages. If they decided to leave a marriage
they could not have the children, no matter how horrible
the circumstances under which they were forced
to live. The government was all white and
male. The Liquor industry also wanted to
keep the vote from women. They feared
if women could vote they would outlaw
liquor. Women could not testify in
Court or go to a University. They were
as disenfranchised as the slaves.
The family, into which Susan B. Anthony was born, was one of her strengths. Her Quaker father believed in educating all of his eight children. When Susan was told that she could not learn Long Division Math with the boys, he took her out of school and educated her at home. Both of her parents were liberal thinkers and Abolitionists, fighting for the freedom of slaves and for Temperance against liquor. Susan was so bright that she could read and write by the age of three. By 15 she was teaching in schools and earning her own living, rising to be head mistress. One of her first goals was to achieve equal pay for female teachers, who earned only ¼ of a male's salary for the same work. But she possessed an intense inner drive that couldn't remain quietly teaching. She quit to be a full- time temperance and antislavery campaigner. A few years later when she rose to speak at a Temperance meeting, she was told women were welcome to listen but could not speak. This rebuke was fresh in her mind when she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was to become her best friend and fellow campaigner for over fifty years. Susan, thinking that other issues were more pressing, had not attended the first Women's Rights Convention of 1848. This first convention in Seneca Falls was spearheaded by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. After meeting Stanton in 1851, women's rights became the driving issue for the remainder of Anthony's life. Their friendship has been noted as the most important friendship of the 19th Century.
The two women could hardly have been more different and that was one of their strengths. Together they were a force to be reckoned with. Elizabeth was short, pretty, matronly, and a wife and mother. She was also a wizard with words and a wonderful public speaker. Susan was more straight-backed, severe, and proper looking, but possessed irrepressible energy. It was said that Anthony was the legs and mouth for Stanton's words. Susan traveled thousands of miles and gave up to 75- 100 speeches a year on women's rights throughout the U.S. and Europe for 45 years. Both women had been part of The Equal Rights Association, fighting for both the blacks and women. After the Civil War, voting rights were extended to black men with the adoption of the 15th Amendment. The women were disappointed when the black men failed to support them, and in the ensuing years Anthony devoted her self exclusively to women's rights.
Elizabeth Cady was from a wealthy family. When all her older brothers had died, her father often said to the, high achieving girl, "I wish you were a son." She married, the Abolitionist, Stanton against her father's will. Together they had seven children, which sometimes irritated the single Anthony, who thought the children slowed down Elizabeth. Stanton said of Susan, "She has kept me on the warpath with a spear at my back." Although they remained friends until the end, as they aged the two women's paths diverged. Elizabeth focused more on the bigger picture and existentialist issues. She wrote and published, "The Women's Bible". She believed that the Bible was used as a tool to wield influence over women and keep them subordinate. She pointed out passages that concurred that women were equal. In 1895 this was heresy. The book however, was a best seller and had seven printings in six months. But because she was not as single-minded, few today are aware of the tremendous contribution that Stanton made to Women's Suffrage. Although it was she that launched the Women's Movement in Seneca Falls, it was Anthony that was more focused and relentless. Anthony had one goal - and one goal only. And it was she that carried it forward. When Elizabeth died, Susan was devastated. They had been close friends from the moment of their first meeting - two minds with a common goal.
Anthony became ill following The National Suffrage Convention in Baltimore of 1906, part of which was to celebrate her eighty-sixth birthday. When she rose to give what she knew was her last speech, she pronounced that, "failure is impossible." She was ill and was taken home, where she passed away peacefully a month later on March 13th. One of Susan's friends stated, "On Sunday, about two hours before she became unconscious, I talked with Miss Anthony, and she said: 'To think I have had more than sixty years of hard struggle for a little liberty, and then to die without it seems so cruel." Fourteen years after her death, the 19th Amendment passed (word for word ) as she and Stanton had presented it 45 years before.
19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
"The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."
Ken Burns produced a program for PBS that is wonderful - "The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony - Not for Ourselves Alone." (www.PBS.org) I believe it should be required viewing for every American student. The three- hour documentary illustrates the difficult struggles and prejudices these women endured to achieve for themselves and for future generations - the basic right of participating and having a voice in the government of the country in which they are citizens. When the bill passed through both houses in 1919, it needed to be ratified by 36 of the 48 states. It came down to one state - Tennessee - a single vote. Harry Burns, the youngest man in the legislature had come into the chamber with a red rose in his lapel, indicating a NO vote. But he also carried a letter in his pocket from his mother. It said, "Dear Son, …Vote for Suffrage and don't keep them in doubt……Don't forget to be a good boy." His YES vote ended 72 years of struggle for the vote for women. A wise man realizes the wisdom of his mother. She is a woman after all.