On this date in 1872 Susan B. Anthony voted in the U.S. presidential election in defiance of law and was later arrested and fined $100.
Susan Brownell Anthony (February 15, 1820 – March 13, 1906) was a U.S. social reformer and feminist who played a pivotal role in the women’s suffrage movement. Born into a Quaker family committed to social equality, she collected anti-slavery petitions at the age of 17. In 1856, she became the New York state agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society.
In 1851, she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who became her lifelong friend and co-worker in social reform activities, primarily in the field of women’s rights. In 1852, they founded the New York Women’s State Temperance Society after Anthony was prevented from speaking at a temperance conference because she was a woman. In 1863, they founded the Women’s Loyal National League, which conducted the largest petition drive in the nation’s history up to that time, collecting nearly 400,000 signatures in support of the abolition of slavery. In 1866, they initiated the American Equal Rights Association, which campaigned for equal rights for both women and African Americans. In 1868, they began publishing a women’s rights newspaper called The Revolution. In 1869, they founded the National Woman Suffrage Association as part of a split in the women’s movement. In 1890 the split was formally healed when their organization merged with the rival American Woman Suffrage Association to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association, with Anthony as its key force. In 1876, Anthony and Stanton began working with Matilda Joslyn Gage on what eventually grew into the six-volume History of Woman Suffrage. The interests of Anthony and Stanton diverged somewhat in later years, but the two remained close friends.
In May 1869, Anthony, Stanton and others formed the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA). After the formation of the NWSA, Anthony dedicated herself fully to the organization and to women’s suffrage. She did not draw a salary from either it or its successor, the NAWSA, but on the contrary used her lecture fees to fund those organizations. There was no national office, the mailing address being simply that of one of the officers.
That Anthony had remained unmarried gave her an important business advantage in this work. A married woman at that time had the legal status of feme covert, which, among other things, excluded her from signing contracts (her husband could do that for her, if he chose). As Anthony had no husband, she was a feme sole and could freely sign contracts for convention halls, printed materials, etc. With the press treating her as a celebrity, she proved to be a major draw as a speaker. Over her career she estimated that she averaged 75 to 100 speeches per year. Travel conditions in the earlier days were sometimes appalling. Once she gave a speech from the top of a billiard table. On another occasion her train was snowbound for days, and she survived on crackers and dried fish.
Both Anthony and Stanton joined the lecture circuit about 1870, usually traveling from mid-autumn to spring. The timing was right because the nation was beginning to discuss women’s suffrage as a serious matter. Occasionally they traveled together but most often not. Lecture bureaus scheduled their tours and handled the travel arrangements, which generally involved traveling during the day and speaking at night, sometimes for weeks at a time, including weekends. Their lectures brought new recruits into the movement who strengthened suffrage organizations at the local, state and national levels. Their journeys during that decade covered a distance that was unmatched by any other reformer or politician. Anthony’s other suffrage work included organizing national conventions, lobbying Congress and state legislatures, and participating in a seemingly endless series of state suffrage campaigns.
A special opportunity arose in 1876 when the U.S. celebrated its 100th birthday as an independent country. The NWSA asked permission to present a Declaration of Rights for Women at the official ceremony in Philadelphia, but was refused. Undaunted, five women, headed by Anthony, walked on to the platform during the ceremony and handed their Declaration to the startled official in charge. As they left, they handed out copies of it to the crowd. Spotting an unoccupied bandstand outside the hall, Anthony mounted it and read the Declaration to a large crowd. Afterwards she invited everyone to a NWSA convention at the nearby Unitarian church where speakers like Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton awaited them.
The work of all segments of the women’s suffrage movement began to show clear results. Women won the right to vote in Wyoming in 1869 and in Utah in 1870. Her lectures in Washington and four other states led directly to invitations for her to address the state legislatures there.
The Grange, a large advocacy group for farmers, officially supported women’s suffrage as early as 1885. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the largest women’s organization in the country, also supported suffrage.
Anthony’s commitment to the movement, her spartan lifestyle, and the fact that she did not seek personal financial gain, made her an effective fund-raiser and won her the admiration of many who did not agree with her goals. As her reputation grew, her working and travel conditions improved. She sometimes had the use of the private railroad car of Jane Stanford, a sympathizer whose husband owned a major railroad. While lobbying and preparing for the annual suffrage conventions in Washington, she was provided with a free suite of rooms in the Riggs Hotel, whose owners supported her work. To ensure continuity, Anthony trained a group of younger activists, who were known as her “nieces,” to assume leadership roles within the organization. Two of them, Carrie Chapman Catt and Anna Howard Shaw, served as presidents of the NAWSA after Anthony retired from that position.
The NWSA convention of 1871 adopted a strategy of urging women to attempt to vote, and then, after being turned away, to file suits in federal courts demanding that their right to vote be recognized. The legal basis for the challenge would be the recently adopted Fourteenth Amendment. Section 1 of that amendment reads, “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; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Anthony and nearly fifty other women in Rochester attempted to vote in the presidential election of 1872. Fifteen of them convinced the election inspectors to allow them to cast ballots, but the others were turned back. There had been earlier cases of women attempting to vote, and even some cases of success, but the reaction of the authorities had been muted. When Anthony voted, however, the reaction was different, and her case became a national controversy. Anthony was arrested on November 18, 1872, by a U.S. Deputy Marshal and charged with illegally voting. The other fourteen women were also arrested but released pending the outcome of Anthony’s trial.
Anthony spoke in all 29 towns and villages of Monroe County, New York, where her trial was to be held, asking “Is it a Crime for a U.S. Citizen to Vote?” She said the Fourteenth Amendment gave her that right, proclaiming, “We no longer petition legislature or Congress to give us the right to vote, but appeal to women everywhere to exercise their too long neglected ‘citizen’s right'”. Her speech was printed in its entirety in one of the Rochester daily newspapers, which further spread her message to potential jurors.
Worried that Anthony’s speeches would influence the jury, the district attorney arranged for the trial to be moved to the federal circuit court, which would soon sit in neighboring Ontario County. Anthony responded by speaking in every village in that county also before the trial began. Responsibility for that federal circuit was in the hands of Justice Ward Hunt, who had recently been appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Hunt had never served as a trial judge; originally a politician, he had begun his judicial career by being elected to the New York Court of Appeals.
Anthony’s trial was a major step in the transition of the women’s rights movement into the women’s suffrage movement. The trial began on June 17, 1873, and was closely followed by the national press. The New York Times caught the tone of the proceedings by reporting that, “It was conceded that the defendant was, on the 5th November, 1872, a woman.”
Following a rule of common law at that time which prevented criminal defendants in federal courts from testifying, Hunt refused to allow Anthony to speak until the verdict had been delivered. On the second day of the trial, after both sides had presented their cases, Justice Hunt delivered his opinion, which he had put in writing. In the most controversial aspect of the trial, Hunt directed the jury to deliver a guilty verdict.
On the third day of the trial, Hunt asked Anthony whether she had anything to say. She responded with “the most famous speech in the history of the agitation for woman suffrage”, according to Ann D. Gordon, a historian of the women’s movement. Repeatedly ignoring the judge’s order to stop talking and sit down, she protested what she called “this high-handed outrage upon my citizen’s rights … you have trampled under foot every vital principle of our government. My natural rights, my civil rights, my political rights, my judicial rights, are all alike ignored.”
She castigated Justice Hunt for denying her a trial by jury, but stated that even if he had allowed the jury to discuss the case, she still would have been denied a trial by a jury of her peers because women were not allowed to be jurors. When Justice Hunt sentenced Anthony to pay a fine of $100, she responded, “I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty”, and she never did. If Hunt had ordered her to be imprisoned until she paid the fine, Anthony could have appealed her case to the Supreme Court. Hunt instead announced he would not order her taken into custody, closing off that legal avenue.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 1875 put an end to the strategy of trying to achieve women’s suffrage through the court system by ruling in Minor v. Happersett that “the Constitution of the United States does not confer the right of suffrage upon anyone”. The NWSA decided to pursue the far more difficult strategy of campaigning for a constitutional amendment to guarantee voting rights for women.
In 1878, Anthony and Stanton arranged for Congress to be presented with an amendment giving women the right to vote. Popularly known as the Anthony Amendment and introduced by Sen. Aaron A. Sargent (R-CA), it became the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920. Unfortunately Anthony died before it was enacted.
Anthony worked internationally for women’s rights, playing a key role in creating the International Council of Women, which is still active. She also helped to bring about the World’s Congress of Representative Women at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.
When she first began campaigning for women’s rights, Anthony was harshly ridiculed and accused of trying to destroy the institution of marriage. Public perception of her changed radically during her lifetime, however. Her 80th birthday was celebrated in the White House at the invitation of President William McKinley.
It is said in several places that Anthony’s favorite food was shrimp, but without specifics. However, we have this quote directly from her in reply to a query from a group of female college students about recipes for her favorite foods to include in their newspaper.
Dear Junior Girls: My favorite cake is the old-fashioned sponge, made of eggs, the whites lashed to a stiff froth, the yolks beaten thoroughly with cups of pulverized sugar, a pinch of salt, a slight flavor of almond. Into these stir __ cups of flour – first a little flour, then a little of the white froth – and pour and pour the foaming batter into a dish with a bit of white buttered paper in the bottom. Clap into a rightly tempered oven as quickly as possible and take out exactly at the proper minute, when it is baked just enough to hold itself up to its highest and best estate. Then don’t cut, but break it carefully, and the golden sponge is fit for the gods . . .
Well, the dickens is to pay – I can not find the old cook book – so just put in any good sponge cake recipe for me, and then add: “It matters not how good the recipe or the ingredients may be, the cake will not be good unless there is a lot of common sense mixed in with the stir of the spoon.
In consequence, I suggest the same. Find a good sponge cake recipe and prepare it with common sense !!