Today we celebrate and honor the work of Susan B. Anthony, a women’s suffrage champion who dedicated her life to social change. Born February 15, 1820, Susan spent her initial years in Massachusetts until her family moved to Battenville, New York, when she was six years old.
Raised in the Quaker tradition, Susan’s moral compass developed young under the belief that all are equal under God. After attending boarding school near Philadelphia, she lived in New Rochelle, New York, working in a Quaker seminary in 1839. After 10 years and a teaching position in upstate New York at an all-girls’ academy, she returned home to her family, now living in Rochester.
While living there, her family became acquainted with Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, prominent abolitionists. The Anthony family activism didn’t stop with anti-slavery – they also participated in the temperance movement, a group trying to end both the making and selling of alcohol in America. This involvement set Susan on her path for women’s rights.
In 1852, Susan attended a temperance meeting in Albany and intended to speak. Instead of voicing her thoughts, she was told to “listen and learn,” which goes against what she had been taught about her role as a Quaker. As a result, she narrowed her focus and fight on getting the right to vote for women, believing that was the key to being heard and taken seriously.
The rest of her life was spent in partnership with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other suffragists, speaking around the country and lobbying to give women the right to vote. While many supported and admired her courage and ideas, others hated what she had to say and often she was at risk of being arrested for sharing her beliefs in public.
In fact, in 1872, Susan was arrested for voting with a verdict that was decided before she even went to court. Her sentence was a $100 fine, which she never paid. In her mind, she was a citizen and not doing anything wrong in voting.
Her activism continued for her entire life, and she lead suffrage groups until 1900. She continued to lobby congress every single year on behalf of equal rights for women. After a lifetime of service, Susan died in 1906, 14 years before the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote was passed.
Note: While we can respect Susan B. Anthony for the work she did and the ideas she fostered, it’s important to remember that her advocacy for women’s rights did not always represent equality for all people.
While the ratification of the law that granted women suffrage was intended to be for all women, unfortunately, people of color still had a long road ahead. Black people in particular, as well as other people of color, experienced voter suppression on a massive scale through discriminatory tactics employed to keep them disenfranchised. It wasn’t until 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was passed, that these tactics were formally outlawed. Thanks to this pivotal civil rights legislation, the tide began to turn. Yet for many Latinx and immigrant voters, it wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act was extended in 1975 to, among other things, require voting materials be translated into languages other than English, that they too could comfortably exercise their right to vote.
Although there have been strides across the country to ensure the right to vote is secured for all citizens, many Americans still do not enjoy full voting rights in our country. Despite the Voting Rights Act, voter suppression efforts persist and disproportionately target voters of color, immigrant voters, LGBTQ+ voters, and disabled voters. As a result, many women living at the intersection of these identities still struggle to safely vote in this country.
It is important that we honor those who came before us and fought to end voter suppression for all women and all people throughout the United States, as well as vow to support the enfranchisement of all citizens, so that their right to have their voices heard and counted is unencumbered.
References & Further Reading:
- Susan B. Anthony Patch
Free download of Democracy/civics badge requirements through February 15.
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Categories: Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion