Susan B. Anthony Biography
From Susan B. Anthony scrapbook 8, Rare Books Division, Library of Congress
Susan Brownell Anthony (1820-1906) was the chief organizer and strategist of the nineteenth-century movement for woman suffrage. From the time she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1851, until her death, Anthony worked full time to mobilize a political movement dedicated to gaining women's equality. Her intensity and endurance made her the symbol of woman suffrage.
Born on 15 February 1820 in South Adams, Massachusetts, Anthony was the daughter of Lucy Read and Daniel Anthony. Her father's early success as the operator of small textile mills came to an end in the financial crash of 1837. She received a Quaker education and taught school for a decade, joining the many poorly paid young women who taught in district schools and academies, before she found her vocation as a reformer. She returned to Rochester, New York, where her family settled in the 1840s. When she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1851, she had discovered her talent for political organization in conducting agitational tours and petition campaigns to abolish slavery and outlaw liquor. In Stanton's vision of women's rights, Anthony found new motivation to pioneer as an organizer of women working in their own interest.
In the decade after they met, when Stanton's life was limited by her seven children, Anthony was the more visible and mobile partner. She visited the Stanton household often to consult and babysit while Stanton took the opportunity to write a speech or a position paper. Then Anthony would set off again for meetings of Quakers, teachers, abolitionists, women's rights advocates, or the state legislature. Anthony's extraordinary skill at recruiting new supporters for reform and goading audiences into action was recognized widely. The antislavery movement relied on her help, and other reformers called on her as needed. In short order Anthony set a standard of commitment to her cause that no one could match. Her personal life was dominated by political activities.
After the Civil War, Anthony and Stanton launched a national effort to mobilize women to win suffrage for themselves. They began publishing a weekly newspaper, the Revolution, in 1868. They founded the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869. Their style was confrontational. To demonstrate that no political party could take women for granted, they shocked their Republican allies by appealing for a woman suffrage plank to the Democratic National Convention in 1868. They explored alliances with labor unions, free-love advocates, Marxists, marriage reformers, and spiritualists. Their politics and their alliances contributed to the formation late in 1869 of the rival, respectable, and soundly Republican, American Woman Suffrage Association, led by Lucy Stone.
The National association focused on national suffrage, in the belief that states did not have the constitutional power to deprive American citizens of their right to vote. After 1876, the National pushed hard for passage of a sixteenth constitutional amendment that would prohibit disfranchisement on account of sex. With its eye on Congress, the National met annually in Washington, D.C. where Susan B. Anthony and her co-workers became proficient and familiar lobbyists.
Anthony's strength in the 1880s was to build bridges between suffragists and the burgeoning woman's movement. She courted the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, oversaw the founding of the International and National Councils of Women, and pursued the merger in 1890 of the National and American associations into the National American Woman Suffrage Association. The expanding movement called for strong leadership. Anthony mediated differences over cooperating with Mormon women, clashes between white southerners and northern blacks, and collisions between secularists and evangelical Christians. She also tried to keep the National focused on winning suffrage from the federal government rather than from each state.
Anthony was eighty years old when she retired from the presidency of the National. She nonetheless crossed the United States one more time by train to lend support to western suffragists, and she attended her last national suffrage meeting one month before her death. She died at home in Rochester in March 1906.