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An Heroine for Our Times;
















Susan B. Anthony


Susan Brownell Anthony, born February 15,1820, was during her long life, a leading activist in many causes.  She founded the Woman's State Temperance Society of New York, later she served as an agent for the American Anti-slavery Society, but she is best remembered for her activity to demand equal rights for women.


Susan was the second born of eight children in a liberal Quaker family. Her father had been a Quaker Abolitionist and a cotton manufacturer.  In 1826, Susan was taken out of school and taught in a home school set up by her father, because the district school forbade girls from receiving 'higher instruction' in mathematics. In time she became a teacher herself, and thence began her life long ambition to triumph equality for women.

In 1872, Susan demanded that women be given the same civil and political rights that had been extended to black males under the 14th and 15th amendments. She led a group of women to the polls in Rochester to test the right of women to vote. She was arrested two weeks later and while awaiting trial, gave highly publicized lectures.


In 1873, she again tried to vote in city elections. After being tried in federal court she was convicted of violating the voting laws.  Susan was not allowed to speak during her trial in her own defense, because women were not considered competent witnesses.  On June 19, 1873, prior to being sentenced, Susan B. Anthony rose from her defendant's chair and had this to say:


JUDGE HUNT: (Ordering the Defendant to stand). "Has the defendant anything to say why sentence shall not be pronounced ?


Miss Anthony: "Yes, your honor, I have many things to say; for in your ordered verdict of guilty you have trampled under foot every vital principle of our government.  My natural rights, my civil rights, my political rights, my judicial rights, are all alike ignored.  Robbed of the fundamental privilege of citizenship, I am degraded from the status of a citizen to that of a subject; and not only myself individually but all of my sex are, by your honor's verdict, doomed to political subjection under this so-called republican form of government."


JUDGE HUNT: "The Court cannot listen to a rehearsal of argument which the prisoner's counsel has already consumed three hours in presenting."


Miss Anthony: "May it please your honor, I am not arguing the question, but simply stating the reasons why sentence cannot, in justice, be pronounced against me. Your denial of my citizen's right to vote, is the denial of my right of consent as one of the governed, the denial of my right of representation as one of the taxed, the denial of my right to a trial by a jury of my peers as an offender against law; therefore, the denial of my sacred right to life, liberty, property and-- "


JUDGE HUNT: "The Court cannot allow the prisoner to go on."


Miss Anthony: "But your honor will not deny me this one and only poor privilege of protest against this high-handed outrage upon my citizen's rights.  May it please the Court to remember that, since the day of my arrest last November, this is the first time that either myself or any person of my disfranchised class has been allowed a word of defense before judge or jury--"


JUDGE HUNT: "The prisoner must sit down--the Court cannot allow it."


Miss Anthony: "Of all my prosecutors, from the corner grocery politician who entered the complaint, to the United States marshal, commissioner, district attorney, district judge, your honor on the bench--not one is my peer, but each and all are my political sovereigns; and had your honor submitted my case to the jury, as was clearly your duty, even then I should have had just cause of protest, for not one of those men was my peer; but, native or foreign born, white or black, rich or poor, educated or ignorant, sober or drunk, each and every man of them was my political superior; hence, in no sense, my peer.  Under such circumstances a commoner of England, tried before a jury of lords, would have far less cause to complain than I, a woman, tried before a jury of men.  Even my counsel, Hon. Henry R. Selden, who has argued my cause so ably, so earnestly, so unanswerably before your honor, is my political sovereign. Precisely as no disfranchised person is entitled to sit upon a jury, and no woman is entitled to the franchise, so none but a regularly admitted lawyer is allowed to practice in the courts, and no woman can gain admission to the bar--hence, jury, judge, counsel, all must be of the superior class."


JUDGE HUNT: "The Court must insist--the prisoner has been tried according to the established forms of law."


Miss Anthony: "Yes, your honor, but by forms of law all made by men, interpreted by men, administered by men, in favor of men and against women; and hence your honor's ordered verdict of guilty, against a United States citizen for the exercise of 'the citizen's right to vote,' simply because that citizen was a woman and not a man. But yesterday, the same man-made forms of law declared it a crime punishable with $1,000 fine and six month's imprisonment to give a cup of cold water, a crust of bread or a night's shelter to a panting fugitive tracking his way to Canada; and every man or woman in whose veins coursed a drop of human sympathy violated that wicked law, reckless of consequences, and was justified in doing so.  As then the slaves who got their freedom had to take it over or under or through the unjust forms of law, precisely so now must women take it to get right to a voice in this government; and I have taken mine, and mean to take it at every opportunity."


JUDGE HUNT: "The Court orders the prisoner to sit down. It will not allow another word."


Miss Anthony: "When I was brought before your honor for trial, I hoped for a broad and liberal interpretation of the Constitution and its recent amendments, which should declare all United States citizens under its protecting aegis--which should declare equality of rights the national guarantee to all persons born or naturalized in the United States.  But failing to get this justice--failing, even, to get a trial by a jury not of my peers--I ask not leniency at your hands but rather the full rigors of the law."


JUDGE HUNT: "The Court must insist (here the prisoner sat down). The prisoner will stand up. (Here Miss Anthony arose again). The sentence of the Court is that you pay a fine of $100. and the costs of the prosecution."


Miss Anthony: "May it please your honor, I will never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty.  All the stock in trade I possess is a debt of $10,000, incurred by publishing my paper--The Revolution--the sole object of which was to educate all women to do precisely as I have done, rebel against your man-made, unjust, unconstitutional forms of law, which tax, fine imprison and hang women, while denying them the right of representation in the government; and I will work on with might and main to pay every dollar of that honest debt, but not a penny shall go to this unjust claim.  And I shall earnestly and persistently continue to urge all women to the practical recognition of the old Revolutionary maxim, "Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God."


She never did pay the fine.  From then on she campaigned endlessly for a federal woman suffrage amendment through the National Woman Suffrage Association and the National American Woman Suffrage Association and by lecturing throughout the country. In 1878 she convinced Senator Aaron Sargent of California to propose an amendment to the Constitution for women's suffrage.  Although it was defeated, Susan Anthony continued to press for its re-introduction.  In 1888 she organized the International Council of Women and in 1904 the International Woman Suffrage Alliance.


On November 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed giving all women citizens the right to vote, this, fourteen years after Susan B. Anthony had died.


Every woman in the United States today, who can go to College, who can vote, who can own property, owes a debt to Susan B. Anthony's tireless struggle.  Unfortunately, many take such liberties for granted, but such freedoms have been gained by the unwavering devotion of people who have dared to dream "the impossible" but yet  have persevered despite the odds against them, among them was Susan B. Anthony-- an heroine of the past providing a much needed lesson for today's generation. 


L.M. / Contributing Correspondent




The United States v. Susan B. Anthony (June 19, 1873) in Ida H. Harper, 'The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony, including Public Addresses', Vol. I, Indianapolis, Hollenbeck Press, 1898, ( p. 438-441.)

Posted  August 07, 2005

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