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What You Didn't Know About Susan B. Anthony

1800s | November 18, 2019

Photograph of Susan B. Anthony. Source: (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty images)

The name Susan B. Anthony is nearly synonymous with women's suffrage, but surprisingly few people know the details of her life and the important work that she did to advance the cause of women's rights. Did you know, for example, that she was arrested for casting a vote? Or that she didn't live to see the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution that granted women the right to vote? Or that her likeness was very nearly added to Mount Rushmore? Here are some of the things you didn't know about Susan B. Anthony, champion of the women's suffrage movement. 

Susan B. Anthony in her later years. Source: (thoughtco.com)

The "B" Stood for "Brownell"

Susan Anthony was born in Adams, Massachusetts on February 15, 1820. She was actually given no middle name or initial at birth, but later in her youth, such additions became fashionable. She and her sisters subsequently selected their own, with Susan adopting a "B" for "Brownell," the last name of the man her aunt Susan, after whom she was named, had married.

Anthony lived by the Quaker belief that all people were equal in God's eyes. Source: (epiccharterschools.org)

She was a Quaker

It's no wonder that Anthony became an activist: Her family boasted a long line of social reformers, including members who fought in the Revolutionary War and served in state politics. Anthony's father, Daniel, was also a devoted Quaker, committed to raising his children in the faith as well. Anthony took to it fervently, finding particular resonance in the Quaker belief that all were equal in the eyes of the Lord. She was educated and employed as a teacher before becoming a champion for women's suffrage and equal rights.

Anthony was friends with Frederick Douglass. Source: (constitutioncenter.org)

She was an Abolitionist Before She was a Suffragette

Through her father, Susan B. Anthony made the acquaintance of abolitionist activists William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass in her youth. Anthony often sat in when these men visited her father and listened to their accounts of slavery and oppression in the South. She was so moved by these stories that Anthony became an abolitionist herself, and it was her work as an abolitionist that led her to the issue of women's rights. Often, as she was delivering an abolitionist speech, she was told that it was not a woman’s place to get involved in abolitionist work or even to give speeches. If her critics had hoped to shame Anthony out of giving speeches, they certainly failed. Anthony began instead to give speeches demanding equal rights for women, including voting rights. 

Susan B. Anthony was arrested on this day back in 1872. Her crime? Casting a vote in a presidential election. Source: (emaze.com)

Arrested for Voting

Many prominent women of the era were outspoken advocates for women's suffrage, but Anthony took her beliefs one step further when she and 14 other women from her district marched to the polls on November 5, 1872. The doubtlessly terrifying mob was stopped and questioned but ultimately allowed to cast their votes in the presidential election that pitted incumbent Ulysses S. Grant against Horace Greeley. Roughly two weeks later, on November 18, a judge ordered the arrest of Anthony and her sisters, including three biological ones. Eventually, the charges were dropped against all of the women except Anthony, whose case went to trial at the federal level. 

The trial of Susan B. Anthony. Source: (americangraphicpress.com)

The Trial of Susan B. Anthony

The arrest and trial of Susan B. Anthony on charges of voter fraud caught national attention, which is just what Anthony had hoped would happen. She traveled around the region giving passionate speeches in the days leading up to her trial and even delivered a rousing speech during the trial itself, where she was nevertheless found guilty and charged a fine of $100. She responded by spitting "I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty," and she made good on her promise. A month later, when a federal marshal showed up at her door to collect the fine money, she was ready for him. After she reiterated her refusal to pay, he searched her residence for valuables to seize as payment but mysteriously found none. The court never again attempted to collect the fine money for fear that Anthony would take the case and her cause, in general, all the way to the Supreme Court, and she was free to retrieve her prized thimble or whatever Victorian people kept in their homes from wherever she'd stashed it.

There was a push to add Susan B. Anthony's face to Mt. Rushmore. Source: (doi.gov)

Susan B. Anthony on Mount Rushmore?

When sculptor Gutzon Borglum was commissioned to carve a patriotic monument on Mount Rushmore, he was given carte blanche on the design, so he selected busts of four prominent men from American history. In 1927, as carving was beginning in earnest, Rose Arnold Powell began to lobby for the inclusion of Susan B. Anthony on the mountain. She wrote letters to President Calvin Coolidge, and later, to Eleanor Roosevelt and even Borglum himself. Borglum responded that the addition of Anthony didn't fit his "artistic vision," and even a 1936 bill presented to Congress that recommended Anthony's inclusion was denied due to funding issues.

Fourteen years after Anthony's death, her goal was finally accomplished. Source: (history.com)

She Fought for 50 Years but Died Before Her Goal was Realized

Susan B. Anthony dedicated her life to the advancement of equal rights. Together with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Anthony founded the American Equal Rights Association and the National Woman Suffrage Association. She stood by and watched as Congress passed the 14th and 15th Amendments, allowing African-American men the right to vote but ignoring women's suffrage. Undeterred, Anthony kept working toward her goal, but sadly, she did not live to see her more than 50 years of work come to fruition. Susan B. Anthony died in 1906, and 14 years later, Congress finally ratified the 19th Amendment, granting voting rights to American women.

Tags: Susan B. Anthony, suffragettes, 1900s, 19th amendment to the Constitution, 1866, American Equal Righ

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.