Eulogy Delivered by the Reverend Anna Howard Shaw at Susan B. Anthony's Funeral
Rochester, New York, 15 March 1906.
Your flags at half-mast tell of a nation's loss, but there are no symbols and no words which can tell the love and sorrow which fill our hearts. And yet out of the depths of our grief arise feelings of truest gratitude for the beauty, the tenderness, the nobility of example, of our peerless leader's life. There is no death for such as she. There are no last words of love. The ages to come will revere her name. Unnumbered generations of the children of men shall rise up to call her blessed. Her words, her work, and her character will go on to brighten the pathway and bless the lives of all peoples. That which seems death to our unseeing eyes is to her translation. Her work will not be finished, nor will her last word be spoken while there remains a wrong to be righted, or a fettered life to be freed in all the earth.
You do well to strew her bier with palms of victory, and crown her with unfading laurel, for never did more victorious hero enter into rest.
Her character was well poised; she did not emphasize one characteristic to the exclusion of others; she taught us that the real beauty of a true life is found in the harmonious blending of diverse elements, and her life was the epitome of her teaching. She merged a keen sense of justice with the deepest love; her masterful intellect never for one moment checked the tenderness of her emotions; her splendid self-assertion found its highest realization in perfect self-surrender; she demonstrated the divine principle that the truest self-development must go hand in hand with the greatest and most arduous service for others.
Here was the most harmoniously developed character I have ever known—a living soul whose individuality was blended into oneness with all humanity. She lived, yet not she; humanity lived in her. Fighting the battle for individual freedom, she was so lost to the consciousness of her own personality that she was unconscious of existence apart from all mankind.
Her quenchless passion for her cause was that it was yours and mine, the cause of the whole world. She knew that where freedom is there is the center of power. In it she saw potentially all that humanity might attain when possessed by its spirit. Hence her cause, perfect equality of rights, of opportunity, of privilege for all, civil and political, was to her the bed-rock upon which all true progress must rest. Therefore she was nothing, her cause was everything; she knew no existence apart from it; in it she lived and moved and had her being. It was the first and last thought of each day; it was the last word upon her faultering lips; to it her flitting soul responded when the silenced voice could no longer obey the will, and she could only answer our heart-broken questions with the clasp of her trembling hand.
She was in the truest sense a reformer, unhindered in her service by the narrowness and negative destructiveness which often so sadly hampers the work of true reform. Possessed by an unfaltering conviction of the primary importance of her own cause, she nevertheless recognized that every effort by either one or many earnest souls toward what they believed to be a better or saner life should be met in a spirit of encouragement and helpfulness. She recognized that it was immeasurably more desirable to be honestly and earnestly seeking that which in its attainment might not prove good than to be hypocritically subservient to the truth through a spirit of selfish fear or fawning at the beck of power. She instinctively grasped the truth underlying all great movements which have helped the progress of the ages, and did not wait for an individual nor a cause to win popularity before freely extending to its struggling life a hand of helpful comradeship. She was never found in the cheering crowd that follows an already victorious standard. She left that to the time-servers who divide the spoil after they have crucified their Savior. She was truly great; great in her humility and utter lack of pretension.
On her eightieth birthday this noble soul could truthfully say in response to the words of loving appreciation from those who showered garlands all about her: "I am not accustomed to demonstrations of gratitude or of praise. I have ever been a hewer of wood and a drawer of water to this movement. I know nothing, I have known nothing of oratory or rhetoric. Whatever I have done has been done because I wanted to see better conditions, better surroundings, better circumstances for women."
Speaking of her Lady Henry Somerset said: "She has the true sign of greatness in that she is absolutely without pretension. No woman of fame has ever so thoroughly made this impression of modesty and unselfishness upon my mind." This was the impression which she made upon all who knew her, and leaving her presence one would say, "How humble she is!" Viewing her life achievements, one exclaims, "How transcendently great she is!" No wonder she has won a name and fame worldwide and that she has turned the entire current of human conviction. One indeed wrote truly who said of her: "She has lived a thousand years if achievements can measure the length of life."
She whose name we honor, whose friendship we reverence, whose love we prize as a deathless treasure, would say this is not an hour for grief or despair— "If my life has achieved anything, if I have lived to any purpose, carry on the work I have to lay down."
In our last conversation, when her prophetic soul saw what we dare not even think, she said: "I leave my work to you and to the others who have been so faithful—promise that you will never let it go down or lessen our demands. There is so much to be done. Think of it! I have struggled for sixty years for a little bit of justice and die without securing it."
Oh, the unutterable cruelty of it! The time will come when at these words every American heart will feel the unspeakable shame and wrong of such a martyrdom.
She did not gain the little bit of freedom for herself, but there is scarcely a civilized land, not even our own, in which she has not been instrumental in securing for some woman that to which our leader did not attain. She did not reach the goal, but all along the weary years what marvellous achievements, what countless victories! The whole progress has been a triumphal march, marked by sorrow and hardship, but never by despair. The heart sometimes longed for sympathy and the way was long, and oh! so lonely; but every step was marked by some evidence of progress, some wrong righted, some right established.
We have followed her leadership until we stand upon the mount of vision where she to-day leaves us. The promised land lies just before us. It is for us to go forward and take possession. Without faltering, without a desertion from our ranks, without delaying even to mourn the loss of our departed leader, the faithful host is marching on. Already the call to advance is heard along the line, and one devoted young follower writes: "There are hundreds of us now, her followers, who will try to keep up the work she so nobly began and brought so nearly to completion. We will work the harder to try to compensate the world for her loss." Another writes: "I believe as you go forth to your labors you will find less opposition and far more encouragement than heretofore. The world is profoundly stirred by the loss of our great leader, and in consequence the lukewarm are becoming zealous, the prejudiced are disarming, the suffragists are renewing their vows of fidelity to the cause for which Miss Anthony lived and died. Her talismanic words, the last she ever utttered before a public audience, 'Failure is impossible,' should be inscribed on our banners and engraved on our hearts."
She has not only blessed us in the legacy of her life and work, but she has left us the dearest legacy of her love. The world knew Miss Anthony as the courageous, earnest, unfaltering champion of a great principle, and the friend of all reforms. Those of us who knew her best knew that she was all this and more; that she was one of the most home-making and home-loving of women. To her home her heart always turned with tenderest longing, and for the one who made home possible she felt the most devoted love and gratitude. She inscribed upon the first volume of her life history, "To my youngest sister, Mary, without whose faithful and constant home-making there could have been no freedom for the out-going of her grateful and affectionate sister."
To this home-making sister the affection of every loyal heart will turn, and we, her coworkers, will love and honor her, not alone for this devotion to her sister, but for her loyal comradeship and faithful service in our great cause. She is our legacy of love, and it will be the joy of every younger sister to bestow upon her the homage of our affection.
On the heights alone such souls meet God. In silent communion they learn life's sublimest lessons. They are the world's real heroes. Hers was an heroic life. By it she teaches us that the philosophy of the ancients is wrong; that it is not true that men are made heroic by indifference to life and death, but by learning to love something more than life. Her heroism was the heroism of an all-absorbing love, a love which neither indifference, nor persecution , nor misrepresentation, nor betrayal, nor hatred, nor flattery could quench; a heroism which would suffer her to see and to know nothing but the power of injustice and hatred to destroy, and the power of justice and love to develop, all that is best and noblest in human character. To such ends the causes which such souls espouse "Failure is impossible." Truly did Dean Thomas say in her address at our National Convention: "Of such as you were the lines of the poet Keats written—
They shall be remembered forever,
They shall be alive forever,
They shall be speaking forever,
The people shall hear them forever.
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, 16 March 1906.
Transcript prepared by the staff of the Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Rutgers University.