Social Topics

Susan B. Anthony: Women’s Right to Vote

Susan B. Anthony is championed by feminists for her progressive ideals and outspoken words and actions. Feminist is “derived from the Latin word line ‘femina’, which means ‘woman’. As far as we know, the words ‘féminisme’ and ‘féminist’ in the Netherlands and France were first used in 1872 by a letter from the Dutch feminist pioneer Mina Kruseman to the French writer Alexandre Dumas.” The feminist movement has been classified into three different waves. The first wave initially was concerned about a woman’s right to an education and equal pay for equal work and also “promoted equal contract and property rights for women, opposing ownership of married women by their husbands. By the late 19th century, feminist activism was primarily focused on the right to vote.” This wave encompasses the time period from the 19th century to around the time World War II started, the specific dates are debated on. Some consider that this first wave ended when the 19th Amendment was passed and was ratified in the Us Constitution on August 18, 1920. Much of the first wave women’s rights are attributed to the efforts of Susan B. Anthony.


Susan Brownell Anthony was born on February 15, 1820 near Adams, Massachusetts. Her family believed and followed the moral tenets of the Quaker, also called the Religious Society of Friends. She was the second oldest of six children, four girls and two boys. At the age of six her family moved to Battenville, New York just north of Albany. Most of her education was taught to her while living here. By the age of sixteen she had been teaching and working odd jobs. However, she didn’t feel that she received enough of an education and went to a Quaker boarding school for females in Philadelphia. She was not there long before she had to leave as the country had an economic crisis and her family had to sell most of their belongings to cover debts. In 1839 the family moved to Hardscrabble, New York, later called Center Falls. Ms. Anthony went to work as a teacher to help pay off the family debts. The family moved again in 1845 to a small farm west of Rochester called Gates, New York. Teaching was something Ms. Anthony was not suited for and she moved, in 1849, to help with her father’s new insurance business. In 1951 she would meet and eventually become good friends with Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Over the course of sixty years, Ms. Anthony and Elizabeth would individually travel throughout the United States giving speeches, going to rallies, creating associations and societies, as well as writing books, all for the goal of giving women equal rights under the laws written in the constitution. One month before she passed away, she was still attending women’s suffrage conventions. She passed in March of 1906 while at home in Rochester, New York.

Reason For Protests

Her father, Daniel Anthony, was a quaker and her mother, Lucy Read, was a Baptist. “Quakers believe that there is something of God in everybody and that each human being is of unique worth. This is why Quakers value all people equally, and oppose anything that may harm or threaten them.” Because of her upbringing in the Quaker way of life, she was impressed at an early age that slavery was wrong, the importance of temperance, education for all and labour rights. The farm that the family moved to in Rochester became “a meeting-place for anti-slavery activists, including Frederick Douglass.” The first ‘Women’s Right Convention’, put together by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was held in Seneca Falls and adjourned in Rochester, and was attended by Mary, Ms. Anthony’s sister, and her mother in 1848. Ms. Anthony did not attend as she was more interested in temperance reform. Following her desire for equality, in 1851, she attended an anti-slavery convention in Seneca Falls, New York where she meets, among others, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Soon after, the Daughters of Temperance society did not allow her to speak at a rally just for being a woman. She left the society and formed the ‘Woman’s New York State Temperance Society’. The first ‘Woman’s Rights Convention’ she attended was in 1852 in Syracuse, New York. Inspired by the convention and her friendship with Elizabeth, Ms. Anthony organized reform movements promoting women’s rights in the areas of labor, education and temperance where women where not recognized or allowed to participate in discussions and aid in protesting. Throughout each county, she obtained signatures for the petitions for married women’s property rights and woman suffrage but was refused permission to speak at the Capitol in Washington.

Ms. Anthony did not get much time to focus on women’s rights because slavery was a big issue. She was the principal agent for the ‘American Anti-Slavery Society’ in New York, which meant that she would speak to the public, who were often violent and hostile, about the rights of those enslaved. Up until the time of its passing, she joined with Elizabeth in advocating for the 13th Amendment. After the war, efforts were made to have the 14th and 15th Amendments passed, which Ms. Anthony and Elizabeth were against. Both amendments only included the language for the male population further ignoring protests for women’s rights. Ms Anthony and Elizabeth became more determined from this slight and focused almost exclusively on women’s rights, specifically the right to vote. Later in her life, she recommited to other aspects of women’s rights, like education, and was able to persuade the University of Rochester, in 1900, to admit women.


Ms. Anthony and Elizabeth started a newspaper in 1868, called the Revolution, that was published to inform about women’s suffrage such as “equal pay for equal work, women’s education, the rights of working women and the opening of new occupations for women, as well as the liberalization of divorce laws”. They formed the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869 in order to secure an amendment for women. The first Woman Suffrage Convention was put together in Washington D.C. “In 1870, the passage of the 15th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution caused additional rifts because it eliminated voting restrictions due to race or color, but not gender”. Deciding “to test the constitutionality of the ban on women’s suffrage” Ms. Anthony registered to vote in Rochester, New York and voted. There were other women with her including her mother and her sister. She was put on trial in 1873 and found guilty by the judge, without the jury making a verdict, of committing the crime of illegal voting and being fined $100, which she never paid and was never jailed for. A “History of Women Suffrage” was written by Ms. Anthony and Elizabeth to document their efforts. The “International Council of Women” was founded to include women’s rights concerns for the world not just nationally.


Although Ms. Anthony spent a majority of her life fighting for the rights of women, her beliefs were geared more towards the equality and rights for everyone. She fought for these beliefs by giving speeches at rallies, holding conventions, writing books, establishing societies and petitioning. The push for Women’s suffrage is on a different level to any following feminist wave. It established that woman are citizens under the dictates of the constitution and should be afforded the same rights as any other citizen. The “second wave feminists made sex and personal relationships into political issues.” The third wave is considered to be an exaggeration of the previous one by “destabilizing the notions of ‘universal womanhood,’ body, gender, sexuality and heteronormativity.” Of the different feminist movements, it has been recognized that “there has never been one common idea or ideal of what constitutes “the” feminist movement. Today as always there is little unity or agreement on what feminism is.” In my opinion, Susan B. Anthony should not be used by feminists to promote their selfish and wholly disparate ideas from what she believed. As she said in a speech, “Is it a crime for a U.S. citizen to vote?“, “The Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the constitutions of the several states, and the organic laws of the territories all alike propose to protect the people in the exercise of their God-given rights. Not one of them pretends to bestow rights.”

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