Through Anthony's determined work, many professional fields became open to women by the end of the nineteenth century.
Susan B. Anthony's Quaker upbringing greatly influenced the role she played in nineteenth-century America. Quakers, properly known as the Religious Society of Friends, arose as a religious group in the mid-seventeenth century in England. They founded their religion on the belief that priests and places of organized worship are not necessary for a person to experience God. They feel there is an "inner light" inside everyone that can guide them to divine truth. Quakers do not believe in armed conflict or slavery, and they were among the first groups to practice full equality between men and women. Other American women did not experience the freedom and respect Anthony did while growing up. She worked to change that disparity, by becoming a leader in the crusade for women's rights.
Born in 1820 in a New England farmhouse, Anthony was the daughter of Lucy Read Anthony and Daniel Anthony, a cotton-mill owner. Her father instilled in his children the ideas of self-reliance, self-discipline, and self-worth. Since Quakers stressed a moral life, both her parents were strong supporters of the abolitionist (antislavery) and the temperance (avoidance of alcohol) movements. They also believed in the importance of work, and Anthony performed many tasks in her father's factory while attending school.
After having completed her schooling at the age of 17, Anthony began teaching in schools in rural New York state. Because it was regarded as similar to motherhood, teaching was one of the few professions open to women at the time. It allowed them to establish their own identities by gaining economic independence. However, teaching wages for men and women differed greatly. Anthony's weekly salary was equal to one-fifth of that received by her male colleagues. When she protested this inequality, she lost her job. She then secured a better position as principal of the Girls' Department of the Canajoharie Academy in Canajoharie, New York.
In 1849, after having taught for more than ten years, Anthony found her spirit drained and her professional future bleak. She focused her energies on social improvements and joined the local temperance society, only to be faced with inequality once again. After she was denied the chance to speak at a Sons of Temperance meeting because she was a woman, she founded the Daughters of Temperance, the first women's temperance organization. She began writing temperance articles for the Lily, the first woman-owned newspaper in the United States. Through the paper's editor, Amelia Bloomer, Anthony met women involved in the abolitionist movement and in the recently formed woman suffrage (right to vote) movement.
At a temperance meeting in 1851, Anthony met women's rights leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton. They formed a deep personal friendship and a political bond that would last for the rest of their lives. From this point on, Anthony worked tirelessly for the woman suffrage movement. She lectured on women's rights and organized a series of state and national conventions on the issue. She collected signatures for a petition to grant women the right to vote and to own property. Her hard work helped. In 1860 the New York state legislature passed the Married Women's Property Act. It allowed women to enter into contracts and to control their own earnings and property.
During the Civil War, Anthony and most other members of the women's movement worked toward the emancipation of the slaves. In 1863 she helped form the Women's Loyal League, which supported U.S. president Abraham Lincoln's policies. After the war, Anthony and others tried to link women's suffrage with that of the freed slaves. They were unsuccessful. The Fifteenth Amendment, finally adopted in 1870, extended voting rights only to black men. Now without abolitionist support, Anthony and Stanton formed their own organization, the National Woman Suffrage Association.
The Fourteenth Amendment, adopted in 1868, had declared that all people born in the United States were citizens and that no legal privileges could be denied to any citizen. Anthony decided to challenge this amendment. Saying that women were citizens and the amendment did not restrict the privilege of voting to men, she registered to vote in Rochester, New York, on November 1, 1872. Four days later, she and fifteen other women voted in the presidential election. All sixteen women were arrested three weeks later, but only Anthony was brought before a court. Her trial, United States v. Susan B. Anthony, began on June 17, 1873. The presiding judge opposed women's suffrage and wrote his decision before the trial even had started. Refusing to let Anthony testify, he ordered the jury to find her guilty, then sentenced her to pay a $100 fine. She refused, and no further action was taken against her.
Anthony continued to campaign for women's rights after this. Between 1881 and 1886, she and Stanton published three volumes of the History of Woman Suffrage, a collection of writings about the movement's struggle. In 1890 they strengthened the suffrage cause by forming the larger National American Woman Suffrage Association. Through Anthony's determined work, many professional fields became open to women by the end of the nineteenth century. At the time of her death in 1906, however, only four states Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, and Utah had granted suffrage to women. But her crusade carried on, and in 1920 Congress adopted the Nineteenth Amendment, finally giving women throughout America the right to vote.
Anthony, Susan B., History of Woman Suffrage,
Fowler & Wells Publishers, 1881.
Barry, Kathleen, Susan B. Anthony: A Biography, New York University Press, 1988.
Harper, Ida Husted, Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony, Ayer Company Publishers, Inc., 1898.
Klingel, Cynthia Fitterer, Susan B. Anthony: Crusader for Women's Rights (1820-1906), Creative Education, 1987.
Read, Phyllis, The Book of Women's Firsts, Random House, 1992.
Weisberg, Barbara, Susan B. Anthony, Chelsea House, 1988.