Meet the Real Susan B. Anthony

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Susan B. Anthony was born on February 15, 1820. She spent her life fighting against slavery and petitioning for women’s rights. She is best known for her work on the latter. Along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Anthony was a loud voice in the fight for women’s suffrage. 

Anthony was born in Adams, Massachusetts to a Quaker family. Her family moved to Rochester, New York, in 1840, which is where she would live her adult life. Many famous events that would become part of her legacy would take place in this area.

Anthony was an early advocate for civil rights. According to an article on the website for the Susan B. Anthony National Museum, Anthony’s Quaker background helped shape her views on slavery and women’s rights. It also fueled her work as an abolitionist and a women’s rights activist.

“Quakers believed the inner light of God existed in every human,” the article says. “It did not matter if you were a man or woman, black or white, every soul was equal in the eyes of God. Not surprisingly, Quakers freed their slaves in the 1700s and many activists in the abolitionist and women’s rights movements were Quakers.” 

Anthony first crossed paths with Stanton in 1851 at an anti-slavery conference. The pair saw eye to eye on many social issues, and in 1852, established the Women's New York State Temperance Society — temperance being the quest to end the production or sale of alcohol in the United States. While at a temperance convention, Anthony was denied the right to speak to convention-goers because she was a woman. That denial inspired her and Stanton to establish the New York State Woman's Rights Committee, which fought for women to vote and own property.

In the years that followed, Anthony continued her anti-slavery work while also crusading for women’s rights. After the Civil War, women’s rights became her main focus. Anthony and Stanton established the American Equal Rights Association in 1866, which championed for the same rights “regardless of race or sex.” In 1868, the pair created a publication called The Revolution. Its motto was, “Men their rights, and nothing more; women their rights, and nothing less."

In 1869, Anthony and Stanton founded the National Woman Suffrage Association. It was three years later that one of the most notable events in Anthony’s quest occurred. Following the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment (which created equal protection under the law for all citizens), Anthony cast a vote in a presidential election in 1872.

“The law was passed to protect freed black people in the aftermath of the Civil War. As a citizen, Susan B. Anthony decided to test the Amendment and went with her sisters and several other women to vote,” explains an article from The Susan B. Anthony National Museum. “After casting her ballot Susan B. Anthony wrote, ‘I have been and gone and done it…positively voted…’” 

A federal marshal would soon show up at her door at her house in Rochester (now home to the Susan B. Anthony National Museum) to arrest her for “wrongfully and willfully voting.” She was arrested and eventually found guilty of the charge and fined $100 — a fine she refused to pay.

In 1875, the Supreme Court acquiesced that women were citizens, but that the Fourteenth Amendment didn’t grant citizens the unilateral right to vote. It was up to states to determine who was allowed to vote and how, opening the door for southern states to institute literacy tests and poll taxes that effectively kept Black people from voting. 

Although Anthony and Stanton were pioneers of civil rights, their legacies are not without controversy – particularly as it relates to race and racism. Though Stanton and Anthony were once aligned with Frederick Douglass at the American Equal Rights Association (AERA), the organization dissolved after three years amid heated debate on the Fifteenth Amendment. Stanton even gave a speech in which she blatantly disagreed with granting Black men the right to vote, and used racial stereotypes to illustrate her point — even after Douglass had championed for women’s suffrage at an earlier convention.

“The disagreements led not only to the dissolution of AERA, but a split in the women’s suffrage movement between those who supported the 15th Amendment and those who did not,” writes Becky Little on History.com. “Stanton and Anthony joined the faction that did not; and after the amendment passed, many of the suffragists on that side pandered to white southerners by arguing that if white women could vote, they could drown out the Black male vote.”

Anthony spent the remainder of her life fighting for women’s right to vote, something she would not see come to fruition in her lifetime. Women wouldn’t be granted the right to vote until 1920, 14 years after Anthony’s death. Although the fight for suffrage outlived Anthony herself, her work in the movement is widely regarded as having been foundational for that eventual victory.

Where to learn more about Susan B. Anthony 

Those who wish to learn more about Susan B. Anthony can do so by visiting, either online or in person, the Susan B. Anthony National Museum, which hosts a plethora of resources about the various aspects of Anthony’s life. 

Tags: Gender Equality, history, Women's History, right to vote, KNOWHERNAME

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Written By

Lauren Harkawik

Lauren Harkawik is an essayist, journalist, and fiction writer in Vermont, where she and her husband are raising their daughters. See Full Bio

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