Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) is best known for her key role in the campaign for women’s suffrage. Anthony’s activism began with her work in the anti-slavery and temperance movements. In the 1850s she made speeches and helped publicize events for the American Anti-Slavery Society, with her activities often being met with threats and hostility. She also worked with the Underground Railroad and campaigned for the passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, although she was disillusioned when the rights of women were excluded from the Fifteenth Amendment.

Raised as a Quaker, Anthony believed that consuming alcohol was sinful and in 1853 she and Elizabeth Cady Stanton founded the Women's State Temperance Society. The Society petitioned the New York State legislature to pass a law limiting the sale of liquor, but the petition was rejected on the grounds that it had been signed primarily by women and children. This, and similar experiences in the temperance movement, convinced her that women could not participate in social movements in any meaningful way until they had equal rights with men, in particular the right to vote.

In 1869, as a result of a schism in the suffrage movement over the Fifteenth Amendment, she and Stanton founded the National Woman Suffrage Association. This organization advocated securing women’s enfranchisement through an amendment to the federal constitution, while the American Woman Suffrage Association (also established in 1869) advocated a state-by-state approach. The two groups ultimately merged in 1890, forming the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and Anthony served as the new group’s second president from 1891 to 1900.

In November 1872, Anthony and a group of other women were arrested for voting in a federal election. Anthony was put on trial and before the case began, she gave speeches throughout the New York State county in which the trial was to be held, claiming that the Fourteenth Amendment gave her the right to vote. The case drew national attention and was closely followed by the press. A rule of common law prevented criminal defendants in federal cases from testifying, and the judge did not allow Anthony to speak until after he had directed the jury to deliver a guilty verdict. Once she had the chance to speak, she delivered a lengthy and famous speech in which she castigated the judge for his handling of the case. The judge sentenced her to pay a fine of $100, which she refused to pay.

Susan B. Anthony died in March 1906, shortly after attending the National American Woman Suffrage Association annual convention in Baltimore, Maryland, and fourteen years before the Nineteenth Amendment gave American women the legal right to vote.

The Schlesinger Library’s eight Susan B. Anthony collections include diaries, correspondence (with family members and with fellow suffragists, abolitionists, and temperance workers), genealogies, and speeches, as well as photographs and memorabilia, documenting Anthony’s life and work as well as the lives of other suffragists including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Anna Howard Shaw, and Carrie Chapman Catt.

Susan Earle, Archivist