Susan B Anthony, the woman who dared

Susan B Anthony was a prominent civil right activist who fought against slavery and for the right to vote of women in the United States. She played a significant role in raising the awareness on unequal rights for women and was instrumental in in the passing of the nineteenth amendment (1920) giving women the right to vote. As a co-founder of the Women’s Temperance movement, she adopted the slogan: “Men their rights and nothing more, women their rights and nothing less”.  Many things may have not completely changed in the new millennium while recently we observed the USA women soccer team players voicing their opinions on equal pay for professional feminine athletes.

Susan B Morgan was born on the 15th of February 1828 in Adams, Massachusetts. of parents Quakers and activists for the antislavery movement, demonstrating a self-disciplined life. She did not stay long in the organized religion and later described herself as an agnostic. She did live with the Quaker’s principles her father taught her at home. She became well educated, a rare phenomenon at that time. Following the great depression of 1837, she worked as a teacher, helped her father paying his debts and moved to Rochester NY in 1846 where she started her movement in tackling political issues like local temperance about alcohol effects.

Soon, she became so active in the anti-slavery movements that she started collecting petitions against slavery to present them to congress until she was told that she was not able to collect women and children signatures only. She participated in the Women’s right Convention, at the women’s suffrage movement meeting and met other women who accepted her ideas like Lucy Stone, Amelia Bloomer and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Earlier when living with her parents, she has supported the ending of Slavery and equal right to people of color. She worked in the anti-Slavery Society and made speeches despite of a widespread hostility to her movement. Her effigy was hung in Syracuse NY (1856). She believed that under the declaration of independence, only the men gained power to deprive all women, included Negroes women of theirs rights. In 1869, black men were given the right to vote but not the women. She was disappointed.

In founding the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) in 1869 with Cady Stanton, Susan B Anthony expressed her dedication to help women vote. She did join later Lucy Stone creating the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) for American Woman. She began publishing a weekly journal: “The Revolution” advocating equal rights for all women. She also tackled unpopular problems such as equal pay and divorce. She continued to bring discussions on alcohol and drugs like Morphine, but did not get too much support. The journal closed its doors in 1872.

Meanwhile, the US Congress passed the 14th amendment guaranteeing equal rights to all citizens, stating that all persons born or naturalized in the USA, are citizens and should not be denied of equal protection under the law. She decided to go and vote in the next presidential election, stating that this amendment provided her the right to do so. The authorities did not envision it in the same way and she was arrested two weeks later. Justice Ward Hunt denied her the rights to testify at her own trial while encouraging a guilty plea verdict from the jury. She was found guilty and was given a 100 $ in fine which Susan B Anthony refused to pay. Her treatment was definitely unfair and the government felt embarrassed. Nerveless, she was never forced to pay. She walked free and preached to all women:” Resistance to tyranny is Obedience to God”. She has, since, given hundreds of speeches through the United States.

Susan B Anthony retired in 1900 and died six years later, in 1906 of heart disease and complication of pneumonia, in New York., It is only years after her death, in 1920, that the women’s rights to vote were secured by the “Nineteen Amendment”. A coin issued by the United States Mint, honors this pioneer for her involvement in the woman’s rights movement, after the legislation was passed on October, 10, 1978. For the first time, the portrait of a real woman appeared on a circulating coin although in the past, an allegoric figure of the Lady Liberty was used. Unfortunately, this new Morgan dollar was easily confused with a quarter and the public was reluctant to use it, forcing the Mint to stop its production in 1981. The Treasury Department by using this dollar coin, wanted to replace the “one dollar” paper currency. Later, a new golden Susan B Morgan was introduced in 1999 at the request of the Postal Service.

One should overview the 1973 criminal trial of the United States vs Susan B Anthony, in a federal court to understand well her fight in a society dominated by men. Following the declaration of the 14th amendment by Congress, Susan Anthony and 14 women decided to enjoy their right to vote. They interpreted the amendment as a guarantee of equal rights to all citizen, with equal protection, rights for which Susan B Anthony have been fighting for years. A judge, Justice Ward Hunt, recently appointed to the supreme court, did not allow the jurors to plead her case but instead directed them to render a guilty verdict. On the last day of the trial, Susan B Anthony was asked if she had anything to say in her defense. She described what was an outrage to her citizen rights. She protested the injustice and on her refusal to pay a 100 dollars fine, she replied that she would never do so but gave the indication that she will bring the case to the supreme court. On her menace to do so, judge Hunt back out from sending her to jail, a way to prevent her from pursuing the case in a higher court. The other 14 women arrested with Susan Anthony were never brought to trial. They were pardoned by President Ulysses S Grant after being jailed for a short period.

The National Press covered all the trial and this helped make suffrage become a national issue. In 1895, the Supreme Court ruled that a federal judge could not direct a jury to return a guilty verdict in a criminal trial. Meanwhile, in 1848, a resolution in the first women’s rights convention was adopted and supported by Frederick Douglas, an abolitionist leader, and former slave himself who helped popularize the idea of women suffrage. Once more, in the spring of 1871, 64 women unsuccessfully tried to register to vote in Washington DC with Douglas. Again, the supreme court of the District of Columbia ruled against lawsuits brought by these women, stating that they should not confuse citizenship and rights to vote. 

In 1872 Susan B Anthony succeeded in registering to vote with her sisters Guelma, Hannah, and Mary and menace the inspectors of suing them, if they did not provide her the right to vote in the presidential election while in Rochester NY, 14 warrants arrest were issued. A commissioner William Storrs for the US Circuit Court of the Rochester area, sent word to Anthony asking her to meet him at the office. Susan Anthony replied that she has” no special acquaintance with him and didn’t wish to call on him” On November 18, a US Marshall was sent for her arrest with a warrant. Anthony held out her wrist to be handcuffed but the officer declined to do so.

The other 14 women who voted were arrested aa well as the inspectors who allowed them to vote. Each of the women arrested paid 500 $ for bail but Susan B Anthony refused again. Storrs then ordered that she be placed in the Albany County jail, but this never happened. Her arrest generated national news bringing publicity for her movement. Her speech entitled: “It is a crime for a US citizen to vote” while the fourteen amendment gave her the right to vote.?” Are women persons?” Her speeches were printed in many daily newspapers spreading around the message. She also pointed out the way the New-York tax law refer to “he”, “him” and not “she”, “hers”.

On January 21, 1873 at a hearing before the US District in Albany, Selden defended her in presenting details arguments to support Susan B Anthony case stating that the right for women to vote has not been settled in the courts and therefore, the government has no basis for holding Anthony as a criminal defendant. Judge Nathan K Hall insisted for her to remain in custody. Crowley argued for the prosecution that the fourteen amendment guarantees rights for Life, Liberty and Property. He pointed that children were citizens as well with no right to vote and that the law was referring to male voters and male suffrage. Susan Anthony requested permission to testify but Judge Hunt refused and delivered his written opinion and directed the jury to deliver a guilty verdict. The judge was criticized for writing his opinion before hearing the case.

On the final day, Judge Hunt asked Susan Anthony if she had anything to say and she responded with the most famous speech for women suffrage. Repeatedly ignoring the judge ordering her to stop talking, and to sit down, she continued discussing how her civil rights, her political rights, were violated. She argued that even if she was given the opportunity to argue her case, she would have been denied of her right to a jury of her peers because women were not allowed to be jurors. As we already mentioned, she was sentenced to a 100 dollars fine and she refused to pay.

The trials for the inspectors who had allowed Susan Anthony to vote and the other 14 women were held shortly. They all were found guilty in violating the enforcement Act of 1870. The inspectors were jailed for refusing to pay their fines and the 14 women were released after paying their 500 dollars fine. Anthony appealed her friends in congress to release the inspectors which in turn appealed to President Ulysses Grant who pardoned and re-instated them to their positions, on March 3, 1874. The Associated Press provided daily reports of the trial and the New York Sun called to impeach Judge Hunt. A caricature of Susan Anthony in the New York Daily represented her like “the woman who dared”. The NWSA decided to pursue a more difficult strategy of campaigning for an amendment to the US Constitution that will ensure voting rights for women. That struggle lasted 45 years until the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified in 1920. The Supreme Court rulings did not establish the connections between “Citizenship” and “Voting Rights” until the mid-twentieth century, in 1964.

Meanwhile the controversy in the legal authority over Justice Hunt decision to direct a Jury in that sort, continued for years until the Supreme Court ruled that it was wrong for a sitting judge to do 1864. In April 1874, Susan B Anthony published “An Account of the Proceedings on the Trial of Susan B Anthony, on the charge of illegal voting, at the Presidential election of 1872 “which contain her famous speech at the trial, her attorney arguments and motions as well as the trial transcripts and the judge ruling. The other arrested women formed later the” Women Taxpayer’s Association”. Of Monroe County in 1873. A bronze sculpture representing a locked ballot box flanked by two pillars, commemorated the place where the women voted. This monument is called the 1872 Monument and was dedicated in August 2009, on the 89th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment. Leading away from the Monument is the Susan B Anthony Trail.

For any who would like to read more about this courageous woman, I recommend the reading of an article published in The New York University Law Review: “A Revolution Too Soon: Woman Suffragists and the Living Constitution” on Susan B Anthony trial.  and a famous book: “10 Trials that changed the world”. You may understand better this personage who was ahead of her time on women rights to vote.

Maxime Coles MD


1-    Anthony, Susan B (ed. 1874): An account of the proceedings on the trial of Susan B Anthony on charge of illegal voting at the Presidential election on Nov. 1872 and on the trial of Beverly W Jones, Edwin T Marsh and William B Hall, the inspectors of elections by whom her vote was received. Daily Democrat and Chronicle Book Print (1874) Rochester NY, (2005) p 34

2-    Dubois, Ellen Carol (1998) Woman Suffrage and Women Rights, New York University Press. pp 98-122.

3-    Barry, Kathleen (1988) Susan B Anthony, An Biography of a Singular Feminist. New York, Ballantine Books

4-     Gordon Ann D (2005) “The Trail of Susan B Anthony”. Federal Judicial Center. (2018)

5-    Hull, N (2012) “The Woman who dared to Vote: The Trial of Susan B Anthony

6-    Dubois, Ellen Carol” Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women’s Movement in America1848-1869. Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press

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