Susan B. Anthony was a women’s rights activist who played a prominent role in the campaign for women’s right to vote and is remembered for her significant contribution to the abolitionist movement.
Susan B. Anthony was born in 1820 into a Quaker family, and her social activism and commitment to the pursuit of justice was evident from a young age. The family’s activism drew much attention and interest from other activists at the time, including the abolitionist and former slave, Frederick Douglass, who would become a lifelong friend of Anthony. As a teenager, Anthony was already active in the abolitionist movement, collecting signatures for anti-slavery petitions. Her activism continued throughout her life, and she would later become the New York representative for the American Anti-Slavery Society, as well as founding numerous Women’s Rights Organizations and campaigning for women’s right to vote in the face of fierce criticism and ridicule.
During her early career, Anthony worked as a teacher, and later as a headmistress, and she found that men were being paid more than her for equal work – one of the many injustices she observed that inspired her to pursue a full-time career in social activism. As a teacher, she also campaigned for educational reforms, arguing for equal access to education regardless of gender or race. After briefly taking over the family farm, Anthony dedicated herself completely to activism and social justice and she was able to earn a living and support herself on the fees that she earned as a speaker.
She was introduced to the social reformer Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1851 and the pair became close, working on a number of projects together. Stanton became a lifelong friend and collaborator of Anthony and the pair founded and worked with a number of civil rights organizations, including the Women’s Loyal National League in 1863, and the American Equal Rights Association in 1866. As an anti-slavery advocate, Anthony was part of the ‘Underground Railroad’, a network that helped slaves escape. She became the state agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1856. The 400,000 signatures that she helped collect for an anti-slavery petition helped to build the momentum which ultimately led to the passage of the 13th Amendment, prohibiting slavery.
Influenced by her Quaker background, Anthony became involved in the Temperance movement, a social movement campaigning against the consumption of alcoholic drinks. She joined the Daughters of Temperance and organized the Woman’s State Temperance Society after being prevented from speaking at a State temperance conference, being told that female delegates were there merely to ‘listen and learn’. Anthony campaigned for prohibition in New York, but her experiences in being denied a platform within the movement on account of her being female propelled her further into the women’s rights movement.
Anthony is perhaps most famous for her role in securing the ‘Susan B. Anthony Amendment’, the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution which was ratified in 1920. Anthony was also known for her public speeches. She traveled extensively throughout her career as an activist, braving difficult conditions and hostile audiences, giving many speeches across different US states. In addition, Anthony campaigned internationally for women’s rights and she was one of the first women to be depicted on US coins.
Anthony endured ridicule and criticism throughout her career, even having her meetings disrupted and closed by mobs who were angered at the thought of women being given an equal footing in society to men. She even drew criticism from some of her anti-slavery colleagues who felt that her fight for women’s rights was diverting attention from the abolitionist movement. At one point in her career, her mission for equal rights even landed her in court. Anthony was arrested in 1872 for voting illegally, before the 19th Amendment was passed, and she stood trial in 1873. During her trial, she spoke passionately in favor of women’s voting rights, asking the court ‘is it a crime for a US citizen to vote?’. Although she was convicted and sentenced to a fine of $100, she refused to pay, and the courts took no further action against her.
Susan B. Anthony died in 1906. She had never married, telling one journalist ‘I never felt I could give up my life of freedom to become a man’s housekeeper’. By the time of her death, she had become one of the most important political figures in the United States.
“The day may be approaching when the whole world will recognize woman as the equal of man.”
“There never will be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect lawmakers.”
“Trust me that as I ignore all law to help the slave, so will I ignore it all to protect an enslaved woman.”
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