Birth & Family
Susan Brownell Anthony was born February 15, 1820 in a valley at the foot of Mount Greylock near Adams, Massachusetts, a Berkshire Hills Village. Her father, Daniel Anthony was a Quaker with an independent spirit and an excellent education. He eventually built a cotton mill and became a successful businessman. Her mother, Lucy Read was not affiliated with a religion when she met Susan B. Anthony’s father, however she was raised in a Baptist community and her father, a veteran of the American Revolution, was a converted Universalist; which was quite radical for his time. At 23, Lucy Read was a pupil of Daniel Anthony (the same age), and the two eventually fell in love and married July 13, 1817.
Her family was a member of a community called The Society of Friends, also known as “Quakers”. Quakers, less religious in ritual than other religious communities, stressed strict religious obedience through action. Quakers stressed religious obedience through proper speech, behavior, and even clothing; congregational approval had to be made for matters of marriage, business, public speaking, and other matters that affected their community. This secular style of worship served as their dominant form of worship. It was worship through action.
In gender, the Friends deeply believed in the Christ principle of “no sex in souls” and rejected the Apostle Paul’s principle of “Let your women keep silence in the churches (1Corinthians 14:34).” Quaker women enjoyed equality and partnership in their churches, homes, and even their vote. For Susan B. Anthony, her formative experiences within the Friends community greatly impacted her beliefs about women universally. What women said and did mattered alongside the men. As a young child, she took this equality as universally granted everywhere. Mothers and fathers had equal authority over their children; sisters were not subjected to their brothers based on gender. These community practices were by-products of their religious beliefs in gender equality. In their church congregations women sat on one side and men on the other. Women preached and shared the high seat as elders along with men. For example, Susan B. Anthony’s paternal grandmother Hannah Latham Anthony rose to the position as elder where she sat in what was called the “high seat”; her father’s sister, her aunt, Hannah Anthony Hoxie was such a well-respected minister herself that she had acclaim from Adams, Massachusetts to New York; and eventually became chief ornament of the East Hoosac congregation. These experiences in religion and gender equality served as her formative experiences. At age 13, she became a member of The Society of Friends.
Women’s Rights – Pre-conditions
When the United States of America became a free nation, the old laws established under the English Common Law were abolished. The United States Constitution brought about change and new civil rights for men. However, women having yet to be incorporated into the new code of laws, were governed under the same codes as the English Common Law which denied them civil and human rights.
Unmarried women were controlled and remained under the tutelage of their father or a male guardian until the age of 21; and if any unmarried woman owned property, she was required to enlist a male trustee over her estate. Married women were under the control of their husbands until death. Without rights to own property all a married woman’s possessions were owned by her husband. Women had no legal rights and therefore could not enter into contract, witness a legal document, sue or claim wages earned, or collect damages for injuries. In family, a woman’s children belonged to their father alone; in the rare event of divorce, the children were given to the husband or the husband’s family. Furthermore, in education and career, institutions of higher learning did not admit women students, and due to this exclusion from professional training, women were not allowed to practice skilled trades (i.e., doctor, lawyer, banker, university professor).
The English Common Law deemed women mentally inferior; Canon Law believed women to a sub-species of God’s creation, unclean, and responsible for the fall of man; the church would at random select Biblical quotes by the Apostle Paul as valid reasons for subjecting women (“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.” Ephesians 5:22; “As the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing,” Ephesians 5:24).
Susan B. Anthony on Religion & Women’s Rights
Much like her Quaker upbringing, Susan B. Anthony did not practice a ritual form of religion, but believed that her work was her religion and therefore religion was less served quoted, but better served in action. Her religious nature was organized reform toward justice for women. Her guiding principle was “Prayer by Action” (“I’ll show you my faith by my works,” James 2:18). Therefore, her religion was exercised in practicality for women’s rights. She saw heaven as a place teeming with the work of social reform; a space of “unconditional emancipation”. Furthermore, in her insistence in all women being granted opportunity in every affair of the state, her own movement demanded an inclusion of every woman’s religion “as broad as the universe”. For Susan B. Anthony, the promise land was a place of “perfect and genuine equality”, “absolute freedom and truth”, and “real freedom”.
Susan B. Anthony – Quotes
“Friends, the time has fully come for us to cease to waste all our precious hours in discussing questions of mystical theology and speculative faith, and adopt the plain practical principles taught by Jesus of Nazareth (Pellaur, 214).”
“I was born and reared a Quaker, and am one still… but today all sectarian creeds and all political policies sink into utter insignificance compared with the essence of religion and the fundamental principle of government – equal rights (Pellaur, 200).”
“…upon it may stand the representatives of all creeds and no creeds – Jew and Christian, Protestant or Catholic, Gentile or Mormon, pagan or atheist… We never inquired what anybody’s religion is (Pellaur, 193).”
“…God never answered his (Frederick Douglass) prayers until he prayed with his heels. And so, dear friends, He never will answer yours… until you are able to pray with your ballots (Pellaur, 198).”
“I pray every single second of my life; not on my knees, but with my work. My prayer is to lift woman to equality with man. Work and worship are one with me (199).”
“The women would bring the men around in time; they could accomplish much by their moral influence; in this they resembled ministers (198).”
“And I shall earnestly and persistently continue to urge all women to the practical recognition of the old revolutionary maxim, that ‘Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.’ (Anthony, S., 85).”
Heaven – “And, we, dear old friend, shall move on to the next sphere of existence – higher and larger, we cannot fail to believe, and one where women will not be placed in an inferior position but will be welcomed on a plane of perfect intellectual and spiritual equality (192).”
“When the mother of Christ shall be made the true model of womanhood, when the office of maternity shall be held sacred and the mother shall consecrate herself, as did Mary, to the one idea of bringing forth the Christ Child, then, and not till then, will this earth see a new order of men and women, prone to good rather than evil (189).”
“I think when we he have asked for equal rights and equal opportunities for women, it has been because we have always remembered that woman was the child of God just as much as man… (208).”
“She must feel herself accountable to God alone for every act, fearing and obeying no man, save where his will is in line with her own brightest idea of divine law (189).”
“It has been a holy week to those who are not wont to think that religion depends on times and season, but on consecration to right purposes and great philanthropic and human enterprises (208).”
“I am a full and firm believer in the revelation that it is through woman that the race is to be redeemed. And it is because of this faith that I ask for her immediate and unconditional emancipation from all political, industrial, social, and religious subjection (189).”
Women’s Rights – Post-Conditions
Eventually, Susan B. Anthony, saw the vote as a means by which all other rights could be gained, and on November 1, 1872 she registered to vote. She cast her ballot in the November 5, 1872 presidential election in Rochester, New York, sometime around 7:00a.m. She was later arrested, brought to trial, and found guilty of casting an illegal vote. The court fined her $100 and the costs of prosecution, which she refused to pay. Women post-1872:
1. 1873 – Ellen Swallow Richards becomes the first woman graduate of MIT.
2. 1879 – Belva Lockwood became the first woman admitted to the Supreme Court bar.
3. 1879 – Mary Baker Eddy founds the First Church of Christ Scientist.
4. 1881 – Sophia B. Packard and Harriet E.Giles founded Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary, the 1st college for African-American women, which was later renamed Spelman College.
5. 1887 – Susanna Salter was elected the nation’s 1st woman mayor of Argonia, Kansas.
6. 1889 – Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr founded Hull House; Jane Addams became the 1st American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
7. 1889 – Susan La Flesche Picotte becomes the 1st Native American woman medical doctor
8. 1910 – Madame C.J. Walker sets up a factory and beauty school in Indianapolis, Indiana.
9. 1914 – Women in the state of Montana gain the right to vote; 1916 – Jeanette Rankin was the 1st woman elected to the United States Congress.
10. 1920 – The 19th Amendment was passed by one vote, Harry Burns from the state of Tennessee, whose mother demanded he vote for women.
Anthony, Katherine Susan. Susan B. Anthony; her personal history and her era. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1964.
Anthony, Susan B.. An account of the proceedings on the trial of Susan B. Anthony, on the charge of illegal voting, at the presidential election in Nov., 1872, and on the trial of Beverly W. Jones, Edwin T. Marsh and William B. Hall, the inspectors of election by whom whom her vote was received.. Rochester, N.Y.: Daily Democrat and Chronicle Book Print, 1874.
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Clark, Elizabeth Ann. Religion, rights and difference : the origins of american feminism, 1848-1860. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin - Madison, 1987.
Dorr, Rheta Childe . Susan B. Anthony, the woman who changed the mind of a nation. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1928.
Linder, Douglas O. "The Trial of Susan B. Anthony". University of Missouri - Kansas City - School of Law. 3/1/2010 <http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/anthony/sbaaccount.html>.
Lutz, Alma. Susan B. Anthony: rebel, crusader, humanitarian. Boston: Beacon Press, 1959.
Middleton, Ken. "American Women Through Time". Middle Tennessee State University. 3/1/2010 <http://frank.mtsu.edu/~kmiddlet/history/women/wh-timeline.html>.
Pellauer, Mary. Toward a Tradition of Feminist Theology. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Carlson, 1991.