Forward thinking: Susan B. Anthony and the fight to vote

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A note on my calendar indicates that Wednesday, Feb. 15 is Susan B. Anthony Day.

The name may be familiar to you. Others can vaguely recall hearing it at some point – but not recently. However, I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of folks do not have a clue who she is or what she accomplished.

So the questions is, who is this lady that has a day designated in her honor?

But I’m getting ahead of myself — let me back up just a bit.

Gaining equal rights for women, including the right to vote in the United States, has been a long and slow process. The first real fight for women’s suffrage came out of the antislavery movement by the abolitionists in the 1840s and 50s, prior to the Civil War.  These people felt that not only should slavery end, but that all people should be treated equal regardless of race — or gender.

The first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848.

The main outcome of the meeting was the Declaration of Sentiments, a document similar to the Declaration of Independence. It stated that women should have equal rights to men, including the right to vote.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” With those words, the Declaration of Independence set forth the idea of equality — but the women at the Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca felt a key phrase was missing and set about to rewrite the Declaration.

“All men and women are created equal,” they insisted. The fight to vote was on. The first step on the long road to women’s suffrage had been taken.

Enter Susan B. Anthony, stage right, born Susan Brownell Anthony on Feb. 15, 1820 in Adams, Massachusetts.

Anthony was the second oldest of eight children to a local cotton mill owner and his wife. Only six of the children lived to be adults.

Being raised in a Quaker family and studying at a Quaker school, she developed a strong moral compass early in life. Then in the mid-1840’s, her family moved to a farm in Rochester, New York.

The Anthonys’ farm served as a meeting place for those involved in the fight to end slavery. She spent years promoting the Anti-Slavery Movement up until the Civil War.  It was during this same time that her interest and work on other social causes took root.

She became involved in the temperance movement aimed at limiting or completely stopping the production and sale of alcohol. While campaigning against alcohol, Anthony was denied an opportunity to speak at a temperance convention because she was a woman. It was then that she realized that no one would take women seriously unless women had the right to vote.

After the Civil War, Anthony began to focus more on women’s right. She helped to establish the American Equal Rights Association (AERA) in 1866 with a colleague by the name of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The AERA called for the same rights to be granted to all regardless of race or sex.

Anthony and Stanton created and produced The Revolution, a weekly publication that lobbied for women’s rights. The newspaper’s motto was “men their rights, and nothing more; women their rights, and nothing less.” The two ladies also founded the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869.

Anthony was tireless in her speeches around the country to convince others to support a woman’s right to vote. She even took matters into her own hands in 1872 when she and other supporters voted illegally in the presidential election. She was arrested for the crime and unsuccessfully fought the charges. The ordeal resulted in a $100 fine which she never paid!

Even in her later years, Anthony never gave up on her fight for women’s suffrage. It is reported that in 1905, she met with President Theodore Roosevelt in Washington, D.C. to lobby for an amendment to give women the right to vote. She died the following year on March 13, 1906 at the age of 86.

According to her obituary in the New York Times, shortly before her death, Anthony told a friend, “To think I have had more than 60 years of hard struggle for a little liberty, and then to die without it seems so cruel.”

And now for the rest of the story: her legacy.

On Aug. 26, 1920, some 14 years after the death of Susan B. Anthony, the 19th Amendment to the U.S Constitution was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson. It gave all adult women the right to vote. The text of the amendment reads: “The rights of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

On Nov. 2, 1920, eight million American women voted in a presidential election for the first time as the result of the nicknamed Susan B. Anthony Amendment.

In 1942, a ship was named the Susan B. Anthony. It was one of very few named for a woman. It was commissioned and became a transport ship carrying troops and equipment for the Allied invasions of both Sicily and Normandy during World War II.

Then in 1979, the U.S. Treasury put Anthony’s portrait on dollar coins making her the first historical woman to be so honored on any U.S. currency. These dollars were only minted from 1979 through 1981. Production was halted because the dollars were easily confused with quarters. The coin was again minted in 1999 to meet the demand from the vending machine industry.

The passion and moral courage of Susan B. Anthony is reflected in her many quotes that have been preserved for us in various historical writings. In closing I submit one of them for you to ponder:

I beg of you to speak of Woman as you do the Negro, speak of her as a human being, as a citizen of the United States, as half of the people in whose hands lies the destiny of this Nation.” She wrote this in a letter addressed to Theodore Roosevelt in 1905.

Thank you, Susan B. Anthony… We gladly honor you today.

Until next time…
Loren (1)–By Loren Simmonds

Loren Simmonds has been a resident of Lynnwood for 35 years. He served on the Lynnwood City Council for 16 years and is currently a member of the Lynnwood Civil Service Commission. Loren works as a consultant, writer, speaker and trainer. He is currently a member of the Lynnwood Parks and Recreation Foundation.

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