Susan B. Anthony 1820 – 1906 Through her accomplishments and persistent dedication to “the cause”, the woman suffrage movement, Susan B. Anthony became one of the most historically significant figures in American history. Her life long fight for women’s rights led to the 1920 passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. Born in 1820, Susan was one of six children to Daniel and Lucy Anthony. Daniel, a 6th generation Quaker, believed in equal treatment for boys and girls.
Although in the 1800’s most girls did not receive a formal education, because of her father’s belief of equality, all four of the Anthony girls were given the same opportunity as their two brothers and was able to attend a private Quaker boarding school in Philadelphia (World Book Encyclopedia). The temperance movement, anti-slavery movement and women’s rights were some of the reform movements that the Anthony family was very active in. Her knowledge and involvement with these movements became the foundation on which she built her life. In 1852, Ms.
Anthony attended a Sons of Temperance state convention and because she is a woman she was not allowed to speak in the temperance rally, instead she was told to “listen and learn”. Due to her experience at this state convention as well as her meeting with Elizabeth C. Stanton, she attended her first women’s rights convention. It was at this convention that Anthony was quoted saying “that the right which woman needed above every other, the one indeed which would secure to her all the others, was the right of suffrage” (Linder 2011, pg 1).
She argued, wherever possible, that the Fourteenth Amendment said that “all persons born and naturalized in the United States… are citizens of the United States” and citizens were entitled to “privileges” and Susan proclaimed that those privileges included the right to vote. So in November o 1872, in her home town of Rochester, New York, Susan and a group of fifty women walked into a voter registration office and demanded to be registered as voters.
Election inspectors refused but Anthony did not give up and after much discussion between the elections officials and Anthony’s persistence, it was voted two to one to accept her vote. Susan had the satisfaction of casting her ballot into the ballot box on November 5, 1872 and wrote a letter to her close friend Elizabeth Stanton, telling her of the accomplishment. However, just days later, on November 14, 1872 a warrant for Anthony’s arrest was issued. The charge was that Anthony voted in a federal election “without having a lawful right to vote and in violation of section 19 of an act of Congress” (Linder 2001, pg 3).
On January 24, 1873, a grand jury of twenty men returned an indictment against Anthony and charged her with “knowingly, wrongfully, and unlawfully” voting for a member of Congress. On June 17, 1873, Anthony’s trial began. Though the lawyers for Anthony argued that she reasonably believed that she was entitled to vote and therefore could not be held guilty for the crime of knowingly casting an illegal vote. Her lawyer even called himself to the witness stand to testify on her behalf. He explained that she called upon him seeking legal advice as to whether she was or was not a legal voter.
Henry Selden, Anthony’s attorney, stated that he “unhesitatingly” informed her that the laws and Constitution of the United States authorize her to vote as well as they authorize any man to vote. As the trial moved forward, Selden continued to argue the Anthony cast a legal vote by the definitions of the Fourteenth Amendment and stressed that she was prosecuted purely on account of her gender. The Fourteenth Amendment explains what constitutes citizenship, securing the rights of citizens to “all person born of naturalized in the United States”.
Selden concluded his argument by insisting that even if the Fourteenth Amendment did not make her vote legal, that she could not be prosecuted because she acted in good faith and believe that her vote was in fact, legal. Though her legal fight was a sound one, Anthony was ultimately found guilty and ordered her to pay a fine of one hundred dollars and the fees of the prosecution. Anthony never paid a penny of her fine. In fact, she submitted a petition to the United States Congress in January of 1874, asking for the fine to be remitted on the grounds that her conviction was unjust.
Congress never acted on Anthony’s petition, but Congress also did not make an effort to ever collect the fine. Even after her arrest, Susan B. Anthony continued her fight for women’s rights. She began a speaking tour giving a lecture she called “Is it a Crime for a Citizen of the United States to Vote? ” She gave 75-100 speeches a year, over a span of forty-five years, traveling throughout the United States and continuing to fight the battle- when all United States citizens shall be recognized as equals before the law. Although Susan B.
Anthony passed away before getting to rejoice in the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, which gave women the right to vote, it goes without saying that Susan B. Anthony was and forever will be a significant woman in American History. The path that she laid down for women’s rights was a long one but one that she never refused to give up on. Because of her commitment to “the cause” and her persistent struggle and battle for women’s suffrage, she is known for her pivotal role in paving the way to have women’s rights instituted into the American government. ?