How Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton recorded – and changed – history

Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton

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Women known to fame (1893)

How Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton record history

“If you want to know how mother and Susan B Anthony act together,” said Mrs Lawrence, Mrs Elisabeth Cady Stanton’s daughter, “I’ll give you a letter I wrote about them when they were writing their old history of woman’s suffrage.”

The letter was written in 1885, but Mrs Lawrence asserts that things are much the same now as then. It was dated at Tenafly, NJ, where Mrs Stanton was living.

Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton“Mother and Susan,” wrote Mrs Lawrence, “are busy all day and far into the night on volume 3 of ‘The History of Woman Suffrage.’ As our house faces the south, the sunshine streams in all day. In the center of a large room, 20 by 22, with an immense bay window, hardwood floor and open fire, beside a substantial office desk with innumerable drawers and doors, there, vis-a-vis, sit the historians, surrounded with manuscripts and letters from Maine to Louisiana. In the center of the desk are two inkstands and two bottles of mucilage, to say nothing of divers pens, pencils, scissors, knives and erasers.

“As these famous women grow intense in working up some glowing sentence or pasting some thrilling quotation from John Stuart Mill, Dumas or Secretan, I have seen them again and again dip their pens in the mucilage and their brushes in the ink. These blunders bring them back to the facts of history, where indeed they should be if that blessed word finis is ever to be written. Sub rosa, it is as good as a comedy to watch these souls from day today.

“They start off pretty well in the morning. They are fresh and amiable. They write page after page with alacrity; they laugh and talk, poke the fire by turns and admire the flowers I have placed on their desk. Everything is harmonious for a season.

“But after straining their eyes over the most illegible, disorderly manuscripts I ever beheld, suddenly the whole literary sky is overspread. From the adjoining room I hear a hot dispute. The dictionary, the encyclopedia, all the journals neatly piled in a corner, are overhauled and tossed about in the most emphatic manner.

“Susan is punctilious on dates, mother on philosophy, but each contends as stoutly in the other’s domain as if it were her own particular province. Sometimes these disputes run so high that down go the pens, and one sails out of one door and one out of the other. And then, just as I have made up my mind that this beautiful friendship of 40 years has at last terminated, I see them, arm in arm, walking down the hill to a seat where we often go to watch the sun set in all his glory.

“When they return, they go straight to work where they left off as if nothing had happened. I never hear another word on that point. The one that was unquestionably right assumes it, and the other silently concedes the fact. They never explain, nor apologize, nor shed tears, nor make up, as other people do, but figuratively speaking jump over a stone wall at one bound and leave the past behind them.”

>> Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony: A Friendship That Changed the World

As Mrs Lawrence said, things are much the same now with the two friends as they were eight years ago, when Mrs Stanton was only threescore years and ten, and Miss Anthony was not yet out of her sixties.

They live in peace and harmony still. Miss Anthony is still the authority on dates, and Mrs Stanton still writes the “state papers.” They are still criticised and sometimes ridiculed, but they are too strong in their own convictions and too broad-minded in their tolerance to do otherwise than laugh about it.

And they are still planning for greater work than ever. To the constitutional convention of next May is to be presented a petition signed by a million men and women over 21 years of age asking that the word “male” be expunged from the constitution. At any rate, that is the work planned by these two friends. – New York Sun

Photo: Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (Courtesy Library of Congress, Washington, DC)

Judge Allen’s text of address for Susan B. Anthony (1955)

From The Post Star / October 10, 1955

Text of address made by H on. Florence Ellinwood Allen, judge of the United State Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Cleveland, Ohio, Sunday, May 18, at the New York University Hall of Fame. Judge Allen was principal speaker at unveiling ceremonies for a bust of Susan B. Anthony.

In 1848, the woman movement burst into flower at Seneca Falls, N.Y. 1919 saw its fruition in.the adoption of the Woman Suffrage amendment to the Constitution of the United States. It seems a long seventy years; but the fact that women resting under the disabilities of 1848 within such a period should have changed the law of the entire country is in truth a miracle. We celebrate today the achievement of one women who more than any other secured this amazing victory.

All women everywhere owe their liberty first of all to Susan B. Anthony and the women that she led. Because of them we may own property after marriage; enter the professions; carry on trade and business; own our children so that they may not be willed away, from us; vote and hold public office. We may, in a word, develop ourselves and grow just as a plant grows in the sun, regardless of sex; limited only by our own capacity. As the Israelites of old who inherited the Promised Land, we dwell in cities that we builded not, filled of alk good things: that we filled not, we drink of wells that we digged not. Susan B. Anthony never saw the realization of her dream. She died in 1906. The Woman Suffrage Amendment was ratified thirteen years later. Susan had first introduced the resolution calling for the amendment in 1869.

Susan B. Anthony was born in 1820 at Adams, Massachusetts. Her father was a Quaker, a member of a sect that already allowed women to speak in meeting and thus broke Paul’s ancient rule (still in effect) that women should keep silence in the churches. Moreover, Daniel Anthony was a nonconformist member of a nonconforming sect for he married “out of meeting.” His wife Lucy Reade had a singing voice of loveliness and power which probably came down to Susan to be used as a trumpet to awaken American women. Her father was sympathetic with the strange desires of his brilliant but, for those days, eccentrig daugbter. All through his life he gave her help, money, sound advice, warm encouragement. In her early girlhood he let her work as a spooler in his mill and paid her the regular wage of three dollars a week.

Susan astonished her family in early childhood by demanding to study long division, a subject never taught to females in those days. And her father responded, even in depression times, to the needs of his rare child. He sent her to the only school possible for him — Miss Deborah Moulson’s Select Seminary for Females. The principal subjects there were Morality, Humility, and Love of Virtue — all characteristics devoutly to be desired but inot really substitutes for Philosophy, Chemistry, and Physiology.

Susan passionately desired to enter the gates of knowledge and clashes with the priggish Miss Deborah were inevitable… She wrote in her school diary: “If I am such a vile sinner I would that I might feel it myself.” And with the honesty that enabled her to criticize herself: “Perhaps the reason is that my heart is hardened.” It was with no regret that she departed from the Select Seminary and went to teach school in Hardacrabble, New York. She received $2.50 a week and her board. The man before her had received $10.00 a week for the same service. For all her self-supporting life Susan’s profession was teaching and all her life she continued to teach the basic truth that freedom was intended for all.

During all ages of recorded history mankind has told over and over the stories of superb and seemingly futile resistance to tyranny. The Spartans of Thermopylae, the little band of Greeks at Marathon, the Dutch who turned the sea in upon their own land rather than to submit to Philip the Second of Spain: these are old-world instances, Washington and the long night at Valley Forge; we tell these stories over and over because they lift the spirit. In the same way history will always repeat the chapters in the life of Susan Anthony.

She did not create divine poetry like Sappho, the Tenth Muse, or like Edna St. Vincent Millay; she did not discover a new chemical element like Madame Curie. She had the supreme power of great leadership in a situation utterly without hope. The incomparable leaders of other seemingly impossible causes, William the Silent, George Washington, had at least men of influence to help them, and in their armies men of proven military skill. Susan had women of great spirittial resource working with her; but by and large women were completely swaddled in feudal restrictions, uneducated, unorganised, without money. She marshalled them over a battle front which extended through the whole country. Much of it she did single-handed. She infused these weak and scattered forces with her own magnificent courage and her own forgetfulness of self so that the fight was won.


She could do this: 1) because before all other women she understood that disfranchisement affected the whole life of women, social and economic; 2) because of monumental industry and a courage which quailed before no task; 3) because she sought absolutely nothing for herself. “This one thing I do” could be said of her as well as of Paul.

Her broad understanding of the significance of the woman movement was publicly displayed in a dramatic statement before a New York State Teachers’ Convention in 1852. The question under discussion was why school teachers were looked down upon in comparison with lawyers, doctors and ministers. Although many women attended the meeting the men were in complete control. Susan rose and addressed the chair, which in astonishment asked what the lady desired. Susan said, “The lady desires to speak to the question.” A furious debate ensued. One courageous man moved that she be permitted to address the meeting and for half an hour Susan stood, with her knees trembling.

By a bare majority she was allowed to speak and she said: “Do you not see that so long as society says that woman has not brains enough to be a lawyer, doctor or minister, but has plenty to be a teacher, everyone of you who condescends to teach tacitly admits before all Israel and the sun that he has no more brains than a woman?” When she finished her short and telling statement, women held their skirts aside from her as if she had the plague. This was to be her experience for many years, contempt and ridicule mounting even to abuse. It takes more than ordinary courage to withstand such buffeting. She must have thought often of the Beatitude: “Blessed are you when men shall persecute you and revile you.” For she was persecuted and reviled for freedom’s sake.

After one of her cogent speeches somewhat later, a teen man said to her, “Madam, that was a magnificent address. But I would rather that my wife were in her coffin than to hear her speaking as you did, in a public assembly.”

And over and above the constant humiliation to which she was subjected was the discouragement of beating against stone walls. Under Susan’s direction the women went out into the cold and storm of a New York winter to canvas house-to-house in order to secure signatures to the petition asking for laws to grant to married women the right to collect and control their own earnings and the right of equal guardianship of their children. They secured 4,000 names. In the discussion one distinguished speaker said, “Are we to put the stamp of truth upon the libel here set forth that men and women in the matrimonial relation are to be equal?”

But the house-to-house canvass and the magnificent hearings conducted by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton won the day. In 1860 the legislature of New York enacted a law repealing the old rule of the English common law that the husband and wife were one, providing that any property, real or personal, of a married woman should be her sole and separate property not subject to control or interference by her husband; providing that a married woman could carry on trade and that her earnings should be her sole and separate property; that she could make contracts, buy and sell, sue and be sued, and be the joint guardian of her children with her husband. This was an amazing victory for women without votes, without finances, with no power but the rightness of their cause. But in 1862, the section giving mothers equal guardianship of the children and widows control over the property of minor children was repealed.

Susan B. Anthony was born and bred a Quaker. As a matter of principle her father refused to vote until at last he voted for Lincoln. But after reversals such as this Elizabeth Cady Stanton said, “Do you understand now?” and Susan said, “Yes, I do.” She knew that women must vote throughout the nation as a whole. In 1867, she together with Elizabeth Cady Stanton sent the first memorial to Congress asking for the enfranchisement of women. She herself arranged hearings in Congress on the woman suffrage proposal every year until her retirement…

Then came the election of 1872 and the famous trial which demonstrated her superb courage. One of the Rochester papers had urged citizens to register. Susan and her sisters accordingly asked to be registered. There was some hesitation about this, but. Susan read the Fourteenth Amendment and part of the New York State Constitution to the inspectors and finally their names were entered. Immediately afterwards Susan consulted some leading lawyers in Rochester. Henry E. Selden, a former judge of the Court of Appeals, told her he believed her claim to vote was valid under the Fourteenth Amendment and that he would represent her. So Susan voted the next day. When the inspectors hesitated to receive her vote Susan assured them that if they should be prosecuted she would bear all the expenses of the suit.


However, it was not the inspectors who were prosecuted. A deputy United States marshal called upon Susan and announced that it was his unpleasant duty to arrest her. “Is this your usual method of serving a warrant?” she inquired, and the marshal thereupon produced the warrant. Susan suggested that the marshal put handcuffs on her, but he declined. At the examination before the United States Commissiner Susan testified that Judge Selden had advised her she had a legal right to vote, but she also stated (and this; of course; was fatal) that she would have tried te vote if she had not consulted with Judge Selden. The commissioner held her guilty and fixed her bail at $500. She refused to give bail and applied for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court. This was denied and the judge increased the bail to $1,000. Susan refused to give this, but Judge Selden went on her bond.

Immediately following the refusal of the writ of habeas corpus, Susan B. Anthony was indicted by the grand jury for voting in violation of law. At the trial it was conceded that, she was a woman and that she voted on November 5, 1872. Judge Selden testified that he had advised her to vote, and maintained that under the Constitution she had a legal right to vote, and moreover, since she believed that she had a right to vote, the guilty mind which is an essential ingredient of criminal liability was completely lacking. After Judge Selden’s exhaustive argument and a two-hour speech by the district attorney, the judge, without leaving the bench, delivered a written opinion to the effect that the Fourteenth Amendment gave Susan no right to vote.

He then directed the jury to bring in a verdict of guilty. Judge Selden demanded that the jury be permitted to bring in its own verdict, but the judge ordered the clerk to take the verdict. An application that the jury be polled was refused and the jury was discharged without questioning whether it had agreed upon a verdict. After being discharged, several of the jurymen declared that they would have brought in a vefdict of not guilty. The court sentenced Susan to pay a fine of $100 and the costs of the prosecution. She said that she would work with might and main to pay every dollar of honest debts, but “not a penny shall go to this unjust claim,” for “resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.” This case lifted the question of woman suffrage from one of grievance into one of constitutional law. 

And finally Susan B. Anthony was absolutely selfless. There was no task so hard that she would refuse it. She sought no honor, advantage or fame for herself. And so it was natural that when she came home from Europe in 1904, after forming the International Woman Suffrage Alliance and greatly in néed of rest, she should become the expendable leader of the shock troops trying to open the University of Rochester to women. This project had been under way for a long time and the University had agreed to admit women to its courses if a certain fintnciat endowment should be supplied. The women were glad to agree to this condition, but owing to a variety of circumstances when Susan came back from Europe she was met with the news that $8,000 had to be collected in one day or the offer of opening the university to women would lapse. She proceeded to raise it, and the university extended its privileges to women. But the grand old warrior suffered a stroke of apoplexy. She never regained her full powers, and in 1906 she died.

Shortly after her death, a friend of mine was in Susan B. Anthony’s home. There sitting in the library was a distinguished leader of the colored women of America, a woman who by her force and eloquence and intelligent understanding of the problems of her own group had made herself-a nation-wide power. She had come to Susan B. Anthony’s home as to a shrine. She wished to be there in the home of the woman who had fought so valiantly for all women everywhere, and so for all men as well, for the entire human, race. Like Moses, Susan B. Anthony only looked upon her Promised Land but she led us to the gate. 

Before Gandhi was born Susan B. Anthony, had tested the truth of the principle which he so successfully applied. She knew that there is no answer to a determination which counts no cost. She knew that she could not fail if she was willing to give up every hope of material advancement, every desire for comfort, rest and enjoyment, in the search for what to her was the Promised Land, freedom for one-half of the human race.

There is no answer to the determination of the human spirit to attain a great emd when suffering, humiliation, hardship and death are simply not considered; and so Susan B. Anthony herself exemplified her ringing statement that failure is impossible.

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