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Reflections from History and Faith: Susan B. Anthony

By Jeff Olson

One-hundred years ago this week, February 15, 1820, Susan B. Anthony was born in Adams, Massachusetts. She was one of the first pioneering leaders in championing women’s rights. She came from a Quaker family, and a part of their belief was the equality of men and women. Quakers also strongly supported other major reforms such as the abolition of slavery and alcoholic beverages (temperance).

In Anthony’s day, women in America were considered inferior to men. Most colleges weren’t open to women and even many restaurants posted signs indicating that no females were allowed. By law, husbands controlled their wive’s property, including any money they might earn. And, women could not legally hold most jobs and public offices nor could they vote.

Anthony taught school for ten years (1839-1849). Soon after, she joined the temperance movement, but discovered that most of the groups would not allow women to be a part of this, as in one instance in 1852 where they wouldn’t even allow her to speak at one of the rallies. Soon after, she formed the Women’s State Temperance Society of New York. From this point forward, Anthony devoted herself completely to women’s rights and became a leader of the movement. She even supported dress reform and for a time wore bloomers which became a symbol of the women’s rights movement. She also worked in support of equal educational opportunities and property rights for women. Over the years, she wrote books, pamphlets and articles and tirelessly campaigned for women’s equality.

In 1869, Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed the National Woman Suffrage Association and worked for a woman suffrage amendment to the Constitution. In 1872, Anthony voted in the presidential election only to be arrested and fined $100 for voting illegally. She responded, “I will never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty,” and she didn’t. She also co-edited (with Stanton) 3 volumes of a book, “History of Woman Suffrage” from 1881 to 1886 and published the 4th volume in 1902. From 1892 to 1900 Anthony served as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and in 1904 she co-founded the International Woman Suffrage Alliance.

Susan B. Anthony died in 1906, just fourteen years before the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, giving women the right to vote, was ratified. There is no doubt that this milestone of women’s rights in America owes to its success a tremendous debt of gratitude to Susan B. Anthony’s lifetime of dedication, sacrifice and service. It is also worth noting that the passage of the 19th Amendment occurred in the centennial year of her birth. In her honor, the U.S. government minted one dollar coins bearing her picture in 1979 through 1981 and then again in 1999.

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