The year 2020 will be remembered in American History for an array of reasons: a global health crisis, the election of Joseph R. Biden, and the surge of Civil Rights protests and awareness in mainstream media and culture. One importance the year 2020 saw was the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment. The amendment itself was a battle fought for nearly a century before ratification. While the 19th amendment did not give all women the right to vote in America, it was the steppingstone that American women needed to finally have autonomy and authority over their own lives.
This movement was pioneered by two remarkable women – Susan B Anthony and Carrie Chapman Catt. These women began a movement in America that would change the entire culture and fabric of American society.
Susan B Anthony was born on February 15, 1820, in Massachusetts. Her family came from the Quaker faith, which believed strongly in the values of education and that everyone is equal in the eyes of God. These tenets held true to her – as Anthony devoted her life to fighting for the equal treatment of women.
Anthony’s determination for change began with her involvement in abolitionist circles. Her father was a friend to Frederick Douglass, and both her and several of her siblings felt deeply on the issue of slavery. Anthony personally crossed many of the barriers for women during this time.
She refused to marry and have children and gave public speeches on the issues she felt to be important to her, both involving slavery and women’s suffrage. She met another progressive leader, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, in 1850 and the two became good friends. Stanton famously would help pen the speeches Anthony delivered; Stanton’s talent being writing, and Anthony’s being the passion with which she spoke. Her public speeches put herself, and the movement, in the public light. It was taboo for her to give them, and arrest for these speeches was threatened repeatedly. Anthony refused to yield though and continued to fight for women in America.
She and Elizabeth Cady Stanton worked tirelessly to help push for women’s right to suffrage. After the passing of the 14th and 15th amendments, Anthony and Stanton split from other suffragists – believing that the amendments should have covered women along with African Americans. They spoke out against the amendments due to this and called out hypocrisy against prominent abolitionist leaders for what they deemed to be an act of betrayal – hurting their relationships with prior allies.
Anthony was famously arrested for illegally voting in 1872. She and 14 other women placed their ballots, yet Anthony took the fall, charged with a $100 fine that she refused to pay – as paying it would admit guilt. Anthony believed that women deserved the right to vote, and there was nothing illegal about her demanding it. “I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty.”
Unfortunately, Anthony herself would not live long enough to see the fruits of her work. National suffrage was not ratified until 1920, which was 14 years after Anthony’s death. Neither she nor her friend Elizabeth Cady Stanton were ever able to cast a vote, even though they devoted their lives to securing this right for other women.
Many women every year embark on a pilgrimage to Anthony’s grave in Rochester, N.Y. There is a long-standing tradition of placing “I voted” stickers on the stone. For many, this, and engaging in their right to vote every year, is a symbol of their gratitude to her life-long effort, and acknowledgement of her role in shaping the lives of women across America.
While full suffrage to all women in America did not find its way into American society until the second half of the 20th century, the work done by Anthony is the driving force behind these changes in society.
So, this February 15, remember Susan B Anthony. A teacher, an activist and an inspiration to progressives and women.