Susan B. Anthony A Historic Feminist Reformer
Susan B. Anthony is known as one of the most dramatic and charismatic of feminist rebels, but she wasn’t always such an outgoing advocate (Barry 4). She was largely influenced by her upbringing, which shaped her feminist side at a young age.
Anthony was born to Lucy and Daniel Anthony on February 15, 1820 and grew up in a traditional Quaker household with a father who ultimately molded her into the reformer she became (Barry 10-11). Anthony’s father was a Quaker at heart who cut out any toys or distractions from religion from his children’s lives, but filled their place with self-discipline, principled convictions, and belief in their own self-worth (Barry 11). While her father’s parenting methods mainly influenced Anthony’s pathway towards reform, she was also impacted by her teacher Mary Perkins. Mary Perkins was a young school teacher who held a position in society that was normally designated for men, offering an invigorating sense of feminism to young Anthony through her position as well as her actions by teaching the children music, which was considered a waste of time in society at that time (Barry 21). When Anthony came to the time in her life to choose a direction, she was offered the family farm by her father to independently run, but went towards reform to avoid being subordinate to men in her position, even as an independent entrepreneur (Barry 58). While Anthony’s childhood was not carefree, it helped set her on the path to become a reformer.
Even though other women such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton started the women’s rights movement, they held traditional female roles that prevented them from fully carrying the feminist message, which is how Anthony became almost the sole proprietor of this movement. Based on the influence of Anthony’s father, she began her reform work in the area of temperance, which she found to be a common-ground for women, sparking her interest in the women’s rights movement. Anthony soon realized her true calling as an independent woman was to the feminist charge, joining those that had come before her speaking up for their own unalienable rights, such as the Grimké sisters (Gurko 35). She made her first speech for the Daughters of Temperance in 1849 (Barry 51), fueling the start of Anthony’s Woman’s State Temperance Society, helping her become a political reformist for the women’s suffrage movement (Barry 66). Taking legal charge, Anthony set out not only to act on behalf of women, but to mobilize women to act for themselves (Barry 70). She helped women not just in New York, but all over America realize how corrupt the laws were and how they must stand up for their beliefs since “cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about reform (Sherr, Failure is Impossible 48).
During this historic time period, the meaning of childhood itself shifted dramatically in society, even being defined by many as the age of the child (Barry 11). Family sizes decreased and an emphasis was placed on raising children, which fell to the already-suppressed women in society, not helping to resolve the existing problems with women’s rights (Barry 17). Young girls were taught their place in society as below that of men or boys, who ultimately made the decisions that the determined their future. It was acknowledged that women’s place in society was due to their invaluable skills as housewives, which shouldn’t be corrupted with knowledge or politics that men in society solely controlled such as voting (Gurko 22). This created a sphere system that separated women from the rest of society by the degrading label of marriage, which caused many women to seek refuge in female seminaries (Barry 132). Female seminaries and other entities allowed women for the first time to experiment – even in limited ways – with creating their own identity (Barry 29). Just as reformer for the women’s rights movement Lucretia Mott once commented, we deny that the present position of women is her true sphere of usefulness; nor will she attain to this sphere, until the disabilities and disadvantages, religious, civil, and social, which impede her progress, are removed out of her way (Gurko 47). Due to the feminine sphere, Anthony chose to never marry and remained true to her cause for equal rights for women throughout her lifetime.
Despite the fact that the women’s suffrage movement was Anthony’s primary focus, she realized many key similarities between the abolitionist and suffrage manifestos and how, just as women had been confined to their private sphere by marital feudalism, blacks were confined to their master’s property by slavery (Barry 132). Through Anthony’s engagement with the anti-slavery movement, she found many common allies that supported the women’s rights movement, such as Fredrick Douglass. He was a former slave that helped promote abolition and black rights through his black newspaper North Star, as well as a dear friend to Anthony (Sherr, Failure is Impossible 29). Anthony publicly acknowledged this invaluable relationship between oppressed African Americans and women in society, claiming that the Anti-Slavery Society was the only organization on God’s footstool where the humanity of woman is recognized and these are the only men who have ever echoed back her cries for justice and equality (DuBois 81). While the suffrage and abolition movements worked together for many years to collectively advocate for their causes, the movements eventually realized some major conflicting differences, with black women going on to form their own women’s rights movement (Burns 185). Although the abolition was a different movement entirely from women’s rights, Anthony found common ground between the two and used this to advance the women’s rights movement.
In the fight for equal rights for women, the First National Woman’s Rights Convention at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York was a major turning point (Gurko 96). Organized by Lucretia Mott, Martha Wright, Jane Hunt, Mary Ann McClintock, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the Seneca Falls Convention formally introduced and discussed the social, civil, and religious rights of woman, formally introducing Anthony to the women’s rights movement (Gurko 3). These five organizing women directly went off of the commonly-known Declaration of Independence as the basis for the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, which was a modified Declaration of Independence that adopted the idea of equal rights for both men and women (Gurko 96). The convention addressed many resolutions and discussed how men didn’t have the right to assign for women a sphere of action (Gurko 97). While many felt that the resolutions proposed were justified, almost everyone opposed the proposition of women’s suffrage, citing that women didn’t possess the mental capability or responsibility to accept such a high role in society (Gurko 101). Although Anthony was not present at the convention, it marked a major turning point in the women’s rights movement, sparking Anthony to become the powerful feminist reformer she did.
After the Seneca Falls Convention, in 1850, Stanton and Anthony were introduced and instantly became friends (Colman 59). At first, Anthony had been much more interested in the abolition and temperance reform movements, but was intrigued by Stanton’s speech at the Seneca Falls Convention (Colman 56). The two became close friends quickly and, after the birth of Stanton’s eighth child, Harriet Eaton Stanton, Anthony took over most of Stanton’s responsibilities in the fight for women’s rights (Colman 83). Stanton and Anthony were very close friends from the time they met in 1851, with Anthony becoming the face and the brains of the movement and Stanton becoming the political advocate who voiced her ideas and speeches through Anthony’s societal presence (Colman 86). Despite the fact that Anthony and Stanton fought tirelessly for their cause until their deaths both at the age of 86, it would take another fourteen years of unremitting effort under a new generation of leadersbefore the Nineteenth Amendment granting votes to women was ratified in 1920 (Gurko 303). If not for the tireless efforts of Stanton and Anthony, the dynamic duo of the women’s rights movement, women may still lack the unalienable rights and suffrage awarded to men.
A largely opposed as well as a largely advocated part of the women’s rights movement was the fight for women’s suffrage, many claiming that women couldn’t vote because they were not well-educated, which was a direct result of the sexist laws by men that banned women from receiving a higher education (Barry 132). However, the women that fought for their suffrage thought otherwise, with Anthony claiming that women will never have equality of rights anywhere, she will never hold those she has now by an absolute tenure, until she possesses the fundamental right of self-representation (Sherr, The Trial of Susan B. Anthony x). Even at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1850, the topic of suffrage for women was discussed, but highly opposed due to its radical nature, with many women even dismissing the idea as absurd. So, Anthony protested the restrictions on women’s suffrage by voting in the 1872 presidential election, finding a major loophole in the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. Under the Fourteenth Amendment, citizens had the right to vote and Anthony questioned election official Mr. Beverly Jones at the voting booth, claiming that she wanted to know if she was a citizen and had a right to vote (Confrontations for Justice 1). Anthony was arrested and stood trial for her act of protest against the laws preventing suffrage for women, ultimately being arrested under the Enforcement Act that was a series of laws designed to put teeth into the Reconstruction amendments and insure the voting rights of freedmen (Sherr, The Trial of Susan B. Anthony xv). However, Anthony’s valiant efforts helped to win the battle for suffrage for women, eventually granted by the Supreme Court fourteen years after Anthony’s death.
After Anthony was arrested for voting illegally in the presidential election of 1872, she stood trial, marking a salient event in the woman’s suffrage movement. At her trial, Anthony claimed that the Declaration of Independence was supposed to protect people’s rights rather than grant them (DuBois 153). Even the trial proved that Anthony didn’t do anything to deceive officials, with election official Beverly W. Jones testifying that she was dressed as a woman (Confrontations for Justice 5). This trial didn’t just serve as a trial for strong-willed reformers, but was a call to action for many women, showing the obscene aristocracy men had created towards women in society. This call to action was only carried out by fifteen women that day, but was heard by women nationwide. Rather than women viewing suffrage as a radical subject, they now thought of it as a societal injustice and a local newspaper even confirming their beliefs by publishing that the nine ladies at Rochester showed their capacity for an intelligent exercise of the franchise by voting for Grant and Dix, proving once and for all that men’s assumption of women’s intellect was a sexist hoax (Minor Topics 1).
Even though Anthony was an unlikely reformer in the women’s rights movement, through her and Stanton’s lifetime efforts, they eventually gained the independence essential for all women (Barry 39). Anthony felt that reform was vital, but more than anything, Anthony believed in women’s ability to assume their moral imperative and bring about a greater good in society (Barry 51). She compelled people to rally around her for the overall success of womankind, going down in history as one of the greatest reformers. Even when standing trial for voting illegally because she was a woman, she voiced to her followers the importance of standing up for one’s beliefs and values no matter what, and that resistance to tyranny is obedience to God (Sherr The Trial of Susan B. Anthony 85). Anthony left the movement with her death, leaving women everywhere with these historic words, failure is impossible! (Sherr Failure is Impossible 324).
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Susan B. Anthony is known as one of the most dramatic and charismatic of feminist rebels, but she wasn’t always such an outgoing advocate (Barry 4). She was largely influenced […]