Chapter 12. Susan B. Anthony of North Adams

 

We are fortunate to have in our area of travel the birthplace of one of the most important workers for women's equality in our nation's history: Susan B. Anthony. This feminist was born in 1820, in Adams, Massachusetts. Her father was a Quaker before he was thrown out of meeting for permitting young people to dance in his house. Susan was devoted to her father who espoused the women's rights movement even before Susan did, and who later supported her cause both emotionally and financially.

When Susan was only six the family moved to Battenville, New York where the father managed a large cotton mill. The economic depression of 1837 wrecked the cotton mill, and the family moved again and again until the father settled in Rochester, taking a salaried job with the New York Life Insurance Company.

To support herself, Susan became a school teacher in such towns as New Rochelle, Center Falls, and Canajoharie. In 1843 at Canajoharie she became principal of the girl's department.

Anthony's life changed as a result of the birth of the women's movement. In 1848 Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the first women's rights convention in the United States. In those days women had very few legal rights with married women being seen as a virtual appendages of their husbands.

Through her work in abolitionist and temperance circles, Anthony met and worked with Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The women became life-long friends: Stanton, the great speaker, and Anthony, the great organizer. In 1853 Anthony finally became convinced of the necessity of working wholeheartedly for women's rights after she experienced great resistance to her reform efforts from male reformers simply because she was a woman. At first Anthony worked under the shadow of Stanton, but gradually she moved to the fore to become the primary force in the women's' movement.

Anthony tirelessly worked for the passage of women's rights laws in New York state, introducing the technique of petition drives. In 1860 New York finally passed a series of liberal reforms giving married women greater legal rights vis--vis their husbands.

The Civil War temporarily slowed the women's movement as both men and women turned to face the slavery issue. After the war, women were not included in those entitled to the right to vote in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, the women being consoled with the statement: "This is the Negro's hour." In the post-civil war era the women's movement split into two groups. The split came over the establishment by Stanton and Anthony of a women's rights paper, the "Revolution," which first appeared in 1868. The paper had the backing of Democrat George Francis Train and Democratic party items appeared in the paper. Republican members of the women's movement bolted, accusing Stanton and Anthony of putting women's suffrage ahead of that of the blacks and of supporting Democratic policies.

Anthony and Stanton represented the radical group, known as the National Woman Suffrage Association. Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, Henry Ward Beecher, and Harriet Beecher Stowe supported the conservative group, the American Woman Suffrage Association. (Isabella Beecher Hooker supported the radical group thus causing a family split among the Beechers. You can read more about this in the chapter in this book on Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain's Hartford).

While both organizations supported women's suffrage, the American Woman Suffrage Association chose to work on the local level, and had many women members opposed to women's suffrage. The National Woman Suffrage Association concentrated their efforts on the federal level.

In 1872 Anthony went to trail for having voted in an election, which at that time was illegal. The judge in the case demanded that the jury find her guilty, and then discharged the jury. He fined Anthony $100, but she never paid the fine. Congress side-stepped the issue in the following elections, and women still did not receive the right to vote.

Interest in women's suffrage languished so much that the National and American Woman Suffrage Associations reunited. Stanton became the President and Anthony the Vice-President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. In 1893 the association voted to hold its annual meeting every other year. This was the death toll for women's suffrage on the national level until the issue was revived again in 1913.

At the age of 74, Susan went to live in the family's Rochester house now run by her sister, Mary. She remained active in the women's movement right up to her death in 1906. Women did not receive the vote until 1920.

Susan B. Anthony House
North Adams, Massachusetts

This simple Quaker house is being restored. It was the birthplace of Susan B. Anthony. When she was six the family left the house to move to Battenville, New York.

Other Sites

See the chapters on the Berkshires for other sites to visit.

 

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