Both future Suffrage Activist Susan B. Anthony and popular abolitionist Frederick Douglasss attended the 1848 Seneca Falls, NY convention. The event was the first convention dedicated to addressing women’s right. Douglass was the only African American in attendance. He had already established himself as a leader with the publication of his autobiography in 1845. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave is was a best seller in his lifetime and is still in print today.
Shortly after the Seneca Falls convention, in 1850, our future Suffrage leader started working with the Underground Railroad in Rochester. She attended an antislavery meeting Syracuse where the new Fugitive Slave Law was debated. The law stipulated that a slave owner had the right to recapture a slave, even if the slave made it to a free state, such as New York.
The Power of Networking
Anthony’s friend Amelia Bloomer, edited an abolitionist newspaper, The Lily. Bloomer invited Anthony to Seneca Falls after the convention and introduced her to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the organizers of the 1848 convention. Ironically, women cannot seem to overcome curiosity about their chosen wardrobes. Anthony and Stanton both liked the new fashion of skirts that ended just below their knees, rather than the more traditional full long skirts. The preserve their modesty, they wore pants, nicknamed bloomers after Amelia Bloomer who initiated this shocking fashion trend.
Setting fashion issues aside, Anthony accompanied her new friend Stanton to a meeting of the Daughters of the Temperance. The daughters sat and listened to the men talk. Suffrage leader Anthony stood to say something. She was promptly chastised and told “sisters were not invited to speak, but to listen and learn.” She left the meeting. With Stanton’s encouragement, Anthony formed the Women’s New York Temperance Society and named Stanton president.
The Power of Speaking
In 1854 Anthony went on a statewide speaking tour, hoping to visit all fifty-four New York counties. Along the four-month long trip she visited her two married sisters. The visits convinced her the life of a wife and mother was not for her. She began garnering support from others. Her sisters supported her choice not to marry. An uncle she’d once lived with defended her when others wanted her to return to teaching. “No! Anyone can teach, but Susan’s real calling is to go around and set people thinking about the laws.”
She attended a teacher’s convention in 1857 and demanded that black and white children attend the same schools. She further scandalized those attending by saying the schools should be co-ed. Her persistent efforts began to get results. In 1860, due largely to the efforts of Suffrage Activist Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton, the New York State granted married women the right to own property and handle business in their own names.
Disrupted by the Civil War
Due to the start of the Civil War in 1861 Anthony and Stanton decided to set aside advocating for women’s rights, a decision they would later regret. In 1862, lacking the constant pressure of Anthony, Stanton, and others who supported their cause, the New York State legislature reversed parts of the law that gave married women the right to own property and handle their own business affairs. It was a bitter setback, but it motived her to fight harder.
She continued speaking out against slavery. Her father died shortly after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Frederick Douglass attended his funeral. After the Civil War, the Constitution was amended to give all citizens the right to vote – white and black – but only male citizens. Anthony was furious. After all her hard work on behalf of abolition, she and all other women, were left out of the amended Constitution. In 1866 Wendell Phillips said at an Anti-Slavery meeting that this was the Negro’s hour and it was selfish for women to interfere with black suffrage by seeking it for themselves.
The Power of Protests
Anthony and Stanton collected 10,000 signatures for women’s suffrage on the petition they took to the New York State Congress. The congressmen removed the ‘white’ requirement to vote, but left it for men only. Sojourner Truth responded, “There is a great stir about colored men getting their rights but not a word about the colored women theirs. You see, the colored men will be the masters over the women.”
Horace Greeley, editor of one of the country’s most influential papers, the Tribune, initially supported women’s suffrage. He later changed positions and argued against women’s right to vote, claiming, “The best women I know do not want to vote.”
Anthony, Stanton, and countless others continued their uphill battles to secure the vote for women. November 5, 1872 Susan B. Anthony, accompanied by her three sisters, showed up to vote in Rochester, New York. Susan decided to cast her vote for the next president of the United States. She carried with her the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, guaranteeing the right to vote to all citizens.
The Power of Persistence
Though they disagreed with her position, they backed down and let her, and her sisters, vote. Three weeks later, as she sat in her parlor in her Rochester home, a US Marshall deputy showed up to arrest her. The judge ended her trial without collecting the fine or keeping her in jail. She was free, but also blocked from taking her case to a higher court. She continued fighting into her eighties.
Her last public words were, “Failure is impossible.” She died March 13, 1906. The nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote, was passed August 18, 1920.
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