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Social Activists and Politicians

Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906)

American activist and key figure in the fight for women’s suffrage and human rights.

An illustration of Susan B. Anthony
Illustrated by Michael Osadciw

Susan B. Anthony voted only once in her decades-long struggle for women’s suffrage, and she did so illegally.

On November 5, 1872, Anthony marched into the polls near her home in Rochester, New York, demanding to vote in the presidential election. She insisted her right to vote was inherent in the Fourteenth Amendment, which reads, “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges of citizens of the United States.”

The pollsters could not deny that Anthony was indeed a citizen and thus allowed her to vote. However, this resulted in the pollsters and Anthony getting arrested, charged, and indicted.

On the day of her sentencing, Anthony delivered her most fiery and famous speech. She denounced the court, the judicial system, and a government that not only failed to represent her but instead subjugated every woman in the United States. These words would come to exemplify Anthony’s lifelong fight for equality and human rights.

“In your verdict of guilty, you have trampled underfoot every vital principle of our government. My natural rights, my civil rights, my political rights, my judicial rights, are all alike ignored. Robbed of the fundamental privilege of citizenship, I am degraded from the status of a citizen to that of a subject; and not only myself individually, but all of my sex, are, by your honor’s verdict, doomed to political subjection under this so-called form of government.”

—Susan B. Anthony

Born to a Quaker family in Adams, Massachusetts, Susan Brownell Anthony inherited a keen sense of social justice from her parents and community.

Anthony began petitioning for the abolitionist movement at the age of 17. This would turn into a lifelong effort to secure citizenship and the fundamental right to vote for all people.

Anthony later started the Women’s National Loyal League with Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Their goal was to rally support for the Thirteenth Amendment and for an end to slavery. She also helped found the National Woman Suffrage Association, the American Equal Rights Association, and the International Council of Women.

When the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments failed to include women, Anthony lashed out in bitterness and disillusionment. Her racially charged statements at that time sadly tarnished her enduring legacy.

Nevertheless, Anthony continued to speak out against prejudice, racial violence, and intolerance in the pages of her newspaper, the Revolution. At this juncture, however, she made women’s suffrage her primary mission.

“Oh, if I could but live another century and see the fruition of all the work for women. There is so much yet to be done.”

—Susan B. Anthony

Anthony traveled often and delivered as many as 75 to 100 speeches a year to advocate for the cause. She also led the Working Women’s Association in advocating for labor rights and reforms, equal pay for women, access to male-dominated professions for women, and an eight-hour workday.

In addition to all of these efforts, Anthony had a profound impact on the University of Rochester by pushing for women to be admitted to the University. She pledged her life insurance savings to meet the University’s financial demands in allowing the admittance of women. This permanently altered the structure of the University and helped advance inclusivity.

Sadly, Anthony did not live to see the day that women finally achieved the vote on August 18, 1920. However, we certainly have her to thank for the privilege in our centennial celebration of the Nineteenth Amendment.

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