Susan B. Anthony: Celebrating "A Heroic Life"

Celebrating "A Heroic Life"


Susan B. Anthony was born in Adams, Massachusetts on February 15, 1820. She was the second child and second oldest daughter of Daniel and Lucy Read Anthony. Both the Anthony and the Read families had lived in New England since the colonial period and Susan B. Anthony’s maternal grandfather fought in the Revolutionary War. Her siblings were Guelma, Hannah, Daniel Read, Mary, Eliza (died at age 2), and Jacob Merritt. In Adams and later in Battenville, NY, her father managed cotton mills. His mills prospered and he built the family a large new house, but in the economic panic of 1837 his business failed and he went bankrupt. As a result Susan and her sister Guelma left the Quaker academy they were attending in Philadelphia and in 1839 she began teaching at a Quaker boarding school in New Rochelle, NY.

Daniel Anthony, a liberal Hicksite Quaker, believed in educating his daughters as well as his sons and opened a school in their Battenville home. He was an ardent abolitionist and from her earliest years Susan B. Anthony was greatly influenced by his views.

Her mother, Lucy Read Anthony, managed the large household of family members and mill workers. She shared her husband’s convictions and supported her daughter’s reform work.

In 1845 the family purchased a 32-acre farm in Gates, New York, just outside of Rochester. Because married women could not own their own property, Lucy Anthony’s brother Joshua Read sequestered the money she had inherited from their parents and he used this money to purchase the farm. When the Married Women’s Property Act was passed in 1848 he transferred ownership of the farm to Lucy. To supplement the family income, Daniel Anthony also became an agent for the New York Life Insurance Company with an office in downtown Rochester.

1851-52 Rochester city directory listing Daniel Anthony as an insurance agent at 9 Arcade Hall.

Susan B. Anthony’s niece Lucy E. Anthony donated this needle case to the University. According to Lucy, Susan B. Anthony made the needle case when she was fifteen years old.

Anthony’s niece Lucy E. Anthony also donated this lusterware cup and saucer to the University. The cup and saucer are said to be from a set of china Anthony purchased for her mother while she was teaching school.

In 1897 Ida Husted Harper began the research for Susan B. Anthony’s biography. To capture Anthony’s memories of her early years a stenographer took down these notes as Anthony reminisced. On page 8 she describes how excessive reading as a child caused her eyes to turn inward, a condition that explains her preference for being photographed in profile. On pages 13-16 she gives her recollections of moving to Rochester and the farm.

The first Woman’s Rights Convention met on July 19 and 20, 1848 in Seneca Falls, NY; two weeks later a reconvened session met in Rochester. Susan B. Anthony, who was then headmistress of the Female Department at the Canajoharie Academy, did not attend the conventions. Her parents and sister Mary, however, were present at the Rochester meeting and signed petitions in support of the resolutions.

In 1849 Anthony became dissatisfied with teaching and returned to Rochester to help manage the farm. Frederick Douglass (who moved to Rochester in 1847 to begin publishing his newspaper The North Star), William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, and other abolitionists and reformers often visited the farm and their fervent discussions of the events of the day soon turned her interest to reform work.

Initially Anthony was not in total sympathy with the woman’s rights movement, and she instead devoted her energies to temperance and the abolition of slavery. This changed when in 1851 she traveled to Seneca Falls to attend an abolitionist meeting and met Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who along with Lucretia Mott had organized the first woman’s rights convention. It was Stanton who convinced Anthony that women could not be effective reformers without the right to vote. It was the beginning of a friendship and a working relationship that was to last for over half a century.

In September 1852 a woman’s rights convention was held in Syracuse, NY. This was Susan B. Anthony’s first convention, but despite being a relative newcomer, she served on the nominating committee and as one of the secretaries. Others attending the convention were Lucretia and James Mott, Lucy Stone, Ernestine Rose, Gerrit Smith, Samuel J. May, Antoinette L. Brown, Amy Post, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Elizabeth Oakes Smith and Paulina Wright Davis. Anthony read a letter from Elizabeth Cady Stanton who was about to give birth to her fifth child and not able to attend.

In the winter of 1853 Susan B. Anthony inaugurated a petition campaign to secure for married women the right to retain their own wages and equal guardianship of their children. In 1854 she presented to the New York State Legislature petitions containing 10,000 signatures.

In this 1853 letter to George W. Jonson, a Buffalo attorney, Anthony asks "How may women in the State of New York be placed on the ground of Legal Equality with men?" She also asks his assistance in drawing up forms of petitions to present to the Legislature.

On June 17, 1852 the New York State Temperance Society met in Syracuse, NY for its annual convention. Susan B. Anthony, Gerrit Smith, and Amelia Bloomer were delegates appointed to the convention by the Woman’s State Temperance Society, which Anthony had founded the previous April. Because the convention refused to accept the credentials of the women delegates or allow them to speak, the women and their supporters adjourned to the Wesleyan Chapel where they held their own meeting. Anthony delivered a speech, which was published in the July 1852 issue of the woman’s rights newspaper, The Lily. It is one of her earliest addresses.

Susan B. Anthony wrote on September 18, 1854 to the feminist author and suffragist Elizabeth Oakes Smith about her book Bertha and Lily.

Susan B. Anthony letter to Anson Bingham, June 20, 1855. Bingham, a lawyer from Nassau, NY, supported woman’s rights and wrote several articles for The Lily.

Amy and Isaac Post moved to Rochester from Long Island in 1836. They were active advocates of temperance, spiritualism, and abolition. They were close friends of Frederick Douglass and their home on Sophia Street was a station on the underground railroad. Amy Post was equally dedicated to the question of woman's rights and attended the Seneca Falls and Rochester conventions in 1848.

On October 1, 1855 Susan B. Anthony writes to Amy Post that she has lined up Wendell Phillips, Theodore Parker, William Lloyd Garrison, and Charles Lenox Remond as speakers for a series of anti-slavery lectures to be given in Rochester in November. The letter was written from the Worcester Hydropathic Institute, where Anthony was supposedly resting and recuperating from a back ailment.

Susan B. Anthony letter to Amy Post, December 24, 1856.

On March 8, 1858 Anthony attended an anti-slavery meeting in Albany, NY. Her remarks were published in the March 20, 1858 issue of the National Anti-Slavery Standard.

This 1860 Appeal to the Women of New York was written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and signed by Lydia Mott, Ernestine L. Rose, Martha C. Wright and Susan B. Anthony. Stanton outlines the progress that woman’s rights agitation has brought about in New York State including legislation protecting married women’s property rights. Looking forward six years to 1866 when New York State planned to revise its Constitution, Stanton admonishes women to do their duty by securing signatures on petitions demanding "that the word "Male" be stricken from our State Constitution, and henceforth our Representatives may legislate for humanity, and not for privileged classes."

Stanton and Anthony often led the way on controversial issues. At the 1860 Woman's Rights Convention Stanton made several resolutions in favor of divorce under certain circumstances. The resolutions caused a furor. Even such staunch supporters as Wendell Phillips backed away from the divorce question as seen in this letter to Anthony of June 5, 1860.

The background on these pages was created from an image of a handkerchief that belonged to Susan B. Anthony.

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