Taking Back Our Stolen History
Susan B. Anthony cast her Vote on Election Day — Illegally
Susan B. Anthony cast her Vote on Election Day — Illegally

Susan B. Anthony cast her Vote on Election Day — Illegally

The tactics of the suffragists went beyond petitions and memorials to Congress. Testing another strategy, Susan B. Anthony registered and voted in the 1872 election in Rochester, NY. As planned, she was arrested for “knowingly, wrongfully and unlawfully vot[ing] for a representative to the Congress of the United States,” convicted by the State of New York, and fined $100, which she insisted she would never pay a penny of. On January 12, 1874, Anthony petitioned the Congress of the United States requesting “that the fine imposed upon your petitioner be remitted, as an expression of the sense of this high tribunal that her conviction was unjust.

Nearly 50 years after her illegal vote and subsequent arrest, 48 years to be exact, women would be allowed to vote legally in the United States on August 18th, 1920. 100 years later, the act of civil disobedience that eventually led to effective change was pardoned on the 100th anniversary in 2020 by President Donald Trump.

Susan B. Anthony died on March 13, 1906. Unfortunately, Susan B. Anthony was not able to see the day women were legally allowed to vote. All of her hard work paid off in 1920 when the U.S. Constitution was amended to give women the right to vote, which is known as the 19th Amendment or sometimes called the “Anthony Amendment”. To this day, Anthony is remembered as one of the greatest activists on behalf of women. 

Beginning in the mid-19th century, several generations of woman suffrage supporters lectured, wrote, marched, lobbied, and practiced civil disobedience to achieve what many Americans considered a radical change in the Constitution. Militant suffragists used tactics such as parades, silent vigils, and hunger strikes. The records of the National Archives and Records Administration reveal much of this struggle.

In July 1848 Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, NY.  It was here, that the woman suffrage movement was born. The attendees to the convention also included abolitionists who sought universal suffrage. The abolitionists goal was realized in 1870 when the 15th amendment to the Constitution, granting black men the right to vote, was ratified.

Women’s suffrage, under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, adopted by the United Nations in 1979, is now considered a right except in several Muslim Middle Eastern countries that continue to deny voting rights to women.

In the year following the ratification of the 15th amendment, a voting rights petition sent to the Senate and House of Representatives requested that suffrage rights be extended to women and that women be granted the privilege of being heard on the floor of Congress. It was signed by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and other suffragists. Well known in the United States suffrage movement, Anthony and Stanton organized the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) in 1869.

The ideological and strategic differences that grew among suffrage leaders during and immediately after the Civil War formally split the women’s movement into two rival associations. Stanton and Anthony, after accusing abolitionist and Republican supporters of emphasizing black civil rights at the expense of women’s rights, formed the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) in May of 1869. The American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), founded 6 months later by Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, protested the confrontational tactics of the NWSA and tied itself closely to the Republican Party while concentrating solely on securing the vote for women state by state. In 1890 the two suffrage organizations merged into the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Stanton became its president, Anthony became its vice president, and Stone became chairman of the executive committee.

In 1919, one year before women gained the right to vote with the adoption of the 19th amendment, the NAWSA reorganized into the League of Women Voters.

Wealthy white women were not the only supporters of woman suffrage. Frederick Douglass, a former slave and leader of the abolition movement, was also an advocate. He attended the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, and in an editorial published that year in The North Star, wrote, “. . . in respect to political rights, . . . there can be no reason in the world for denying to woman the elective franchise, . . .” By 1877, when he was U.S. marshal for the District of Columbia, Douglass’s family was also involved in the movement. His son, Frederick Douglass, Jr., and daughter, Mrs. Nathan Sprague, and son-in-law, Nathan Sprague, all signed this petition to the U.S. Congress for woman suffrage “. . . to prohibit the several States from Disfranchising United States Citizens on account of Sex.”

In addition, a growing number of black women actively supported woman’s suffrage during this period. Prominent African American suffragists included Ida B. Wells-Barnett of Chicago, famous as a leading crusader against lynching; Mary Church Terrell, educator and first president of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW); and Adella Hunt Logan, Tuskegee Institute faculty member, who insisted in articles in The Crisis, that if white women needed the vote to protect their rights, then black women — victims of racism as well as sexism — needed the ballot even more.

Many of the women who had been active in the suffrage movement in the 1860s and 1870s continued their involvement over 50 years later. Mary O. Stevens, secretary and press correspondent of the Association of Army Nurses of the Civil War was one such woman. In 1917 she asked the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to help the cause of woman suffrage by explaining, “My father trained me in my childhood days to expect this right. I have given my help to the agitation, and work[ed] for its coming a good many years.”

By 1916 almost all of the major suffrage organizations were united behind the goal of a constitutional amendment. When New York adopted woman suffrage in 1917 and President Woodrow Wilson changed his position to support an amendment in 1918, the political balance began to shift in favor of the vote for women. There was still strong opposition to enfranchising women, however, as illustrated by this petition from the Women Voters Anti-Suffrage Party of New York at the beginning of U.S. involvement in World War I.

During World War I, militant suffragists, demanding that President Wilson reverse his opposition to a federal amendment, stood vigil at the White House and carried banners such as this one comparing the President to Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. In the heated patriotic climate of wartime, such tactics met with hostility and sometimes violence and arrest.

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