On this day in history, November 5, 1872, Susan B. Anthony and 14 women in Rochester, N.Y., defied the law by attempting to vote in a presidential election. She was later arrested, tried, found guilty and fined.
Born into a strict Quaker family in Massachusetts in 1820, Susan was a precocious child and learned to read and write at age three. After her education, she taught at a female Quaker boarding school in upstate New York.
Anthony then settled in her family home in Rochester, New York, where she began her work on behalf of temperance. The women’s suffrage movement evolved from both the abolitionist and temperance crusades.
“The Revolution” Published
In July 1848, 300 suffragists met at the women’s rights conference in Seneca Falls, New York. Quaker women presented the Declaration of Sentiments, which included a suffrage resolution. Exactly 100 of the attendees signed the document.
In 1854, Anthony devoted herself to the anti-slavery movement and became an agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society. Then, she began to publish the New York liberal weekly, The Revolution.
The journal’s motto was: “The true republic — men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less.” Anthony was the publisher and business manager, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the editor. They had met at the Seneca Falls convention.
The Revolution promoted women’s and African-Americans’ right to suffrage, but also discussed issues like equal pay for equal work, more liberal divorce laws, and the church’s position on women’s issues.
After the Civil War, Anthony and Stanton formed the National Woman Suffrage Association, and Lucy Stone organized the American Woman Suffrage Association, later combined into the National American Woman Suffrage Association, with Anthony serving as president in the early 1890s.
Anthony Defies the Law
When Congress aimed to pass an amendment giving black men the vote, Anthony urged that it be granted to women as well. When this failed, she adopted a new strategy that interpreted the 14th Amendment as granting all Americans citizenship and voting rights.
Anthony led a group of women, including her three sisters, to a voter registration office in Rochester on November 1, 1872, and demanded they be permitted to register. She expected to be denied this request, but she convinced the authorities to register her and the others after threatening to go to court.
Four days later, Anthony arrived at the West End News Depot in the city to vote. She voted for every Republican on the ballot, including President Ulysses Grant. Two of the three inspectors made her vote official.
However, on November 14, the U.S. commissioner issued a warrant for the arrest of Anthony and the other women for voting “without having a lawful right to vote,” a violation of the Enforcement Act of 1870.
Anthony Arrested for Voting
Four days later, a deputy marshal arrived at Anthony’s house and asked that she turn herself in. She demanded that she be “arrested properly,” forcing him to handcuff her. A grand jury indicted her in January 1873. After she was released on bail, Anthony toured the area around Rochester delivering speeches.
“It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union,” she declared. “And it is a downright mockery to talk to women of their enjoyment of the blessings of liberty while they are denied the use of the only means of securing them provided by this democratic-republican government — the ballot.”
Anthony’s lawyer argued at her trial in June that she did not violate the Enforcement Act, which states that a person cannot knowingly vote illegally because she believed she had the right to vote. Supported by recent Supreme Court cases, the judge found that the 14th Amendment did not guarantee women the right to vote.
He also ruled that Anthony was aware that she could not legally vote, and fined her $100 plus court costs. She refused to pay the fine, and the authorities did not try very hard to collect it. A year later, the Supreme Court ruled that states were not required to allow women the right to vote.
The Suffragette Movement
Soon, the suffragettes changed their strategy to a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote, which was introduced in Congress in 1878. Wyoming became the first state to allow women to vote in 1890, and nine other states did so by 1912.
Anthony organized the International Council of Women in 1888 and the International Woman Suffrage Alliance in 1904. Then, she remained in Rochester, where she died of heart disease and pneumonia in 1906.
Although Anthony did not live to see the victory of suffrage for women, the establishment of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was largely due to her efforts, as well as those of millions of other American women.
In 1914, the National Federation of Women’s Clubs, with more than two million members, endorsed suffrage and, in 1916-17, members of the new National Women’s Party held hunger strikes and picketed the White House to publicize the cause.
Both the Democratic and Republican parties endorsed women’s suffrage by 1916. And a turning point was reached when New York adopted it in 1917 and President Woodrow Wilson supported the amendment in 1918.
The 19th Amendment
The 19th Amendment — which states that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex” — was finally ratified on August 18, 1920.
“In fighting for the vote, women have shown a passion of earnestness, persistence, and above all a command of both tactics and strategy, which have amazed our master politicians,” wrote The New York Times in an editorial. “A new force has invaded public life.”
Anthony’s image was chosen for a commemorative stamp in 1936, and she was honored with the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin in 1979, making her the first woman to be depicted on American currency.
And her words live on, too. “I shall earnestly and persistently continue to urge all women to the practical recognition of the old revolutionary maxim,” she said. “Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.”