Susan B. Anthony - Suffrage Movement Pioneer for Women's Right to Vote

Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley
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Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley

The 19th Amendment was also known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment during its passage – and for good reason.

One of the leaders of the original suffragettes, Anthony co-founded and presided over the National American Woman Suffrage Association along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The goal of the group was to coordinate and spearhead the movement.

“The group was made up of local and state groups throughout the United States,” states a page on the National Women’s History Museum Web site. “Member dues funded annual conventions where suffragists met to discuss campaigns. Women like Rachel Foster Avery circulated newsletters with the latest suffrage updates. NAWSA had local and national press committees that wrote pro-suffrage articles published in newspapers around the country.”

While history regards Anthony, whose likeness later would appear on the silver dollar, as a true legend, it also regards some policies that she and her organization carried out as unfortunate signs of the times.

“Not everyone was able to participate in NAWSA,” according to the Web site. “Although NAWSA did not exclude African American women from membership at the national level, state and local organizations could and did choose to exclude them. Conventions held in Southern cities like Atlanta (in 1895) and New Orleans (in 1903) were segregated. NAWSA also required black women to march separately during its 1913 parade in Washington, DC. Even within this socially progressive movement, racism persisted.”

The information linking Anthony to racism persists today – the 100th anniversary of a woman’s right to vote – but mostly for political purposes. For example, President Donald Trump’s official pardon of Anthony for her arrest in 1872 (the famed activist broke the law when she cast a ballot in the presidential election) was received with jeers and sneers from the opposition.

“President Trump’s posthumous pardon of Susan B. Anthony did not receive the warmest welcome from Democrats and members of the media,” reads a Fox News story titled “NY Times, NowThis accused of trying to ‘cancel’ Susan B. Anthony, Dems blast Trump pardon.” “The liberal outlet NowThis…shared a video explaining “why Susan B. Anthony doesn’t deserve your ‘I Voted’ stickers, highlighting the tradition of women voters who place such stickers on Anthony’s gravestone.”

The justification of such a flawed response concerns the fact that Anthony spoke out against the 15th Amendment enabling black men to vote. She did so not because of racism; rather, she was angry that it did not include women.

“In 1869, Anthony said, “The old anti-slavery school say women must stand back and wait until the negroes shall be recognized,” the Smithsonian writes in an article titled “200 Years after Susan B. Anthony’s Birth, Examining Her Role in the History of Women’s Voting Rights.” “But we say, if you will not give the whole loaf of suffrage to the entire people, give it to the most intelligent first. This narrow focus on voting rights for white women caused a rift among organizations working for women’s suffrage. Many suffragists disagreed with Anthony, including Lucy Stone and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.”

Political purposes aside, Anthony is to be revered for her determination and tenacity and for objecting to the word “race” being inked, through exclusion, into the verbiage of the 15th Amendment. Further, I cannot imagine a world in which women’s voices were silenced on Election Day, and for that, Americans have her to thank.

“Activists bitterly fought about whether to support or oppose the Fifteenth Amendment,” states another page on the National Women’s History Museum Web site. “…Susan B. Anthony objected to the new law. They wanted women to be included with black men. Others – like Lucy Stone – supported the amendment as it was. Stone believed that women would win the vote soon. The emphasis on voting during the 1860s led women’s rights activists to focus on woman suffrage.”

Anthony died in 1906 of heart disease and pneumonia – a sad ending to a life devoted to women’s equality at the voting booth. She was 86. She is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, N.Y. She once wrote, “There never will be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect lawmakers.” The sentiment resonates louder than ever in 2020.

“She once said she wished “to live another century and see the fruition of all the work for women,” according to History.com. “It wasn’t until 1920, 14 years after her death, that the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving all adult women the right to vote was passed, largely spearheaded by Anthony’s successor as president of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association, Carrie Chapman Catt.”

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