Susan B. Anthony: Celebrating "A Heroic Life"

Celebrating "A Heroic Life"


"Men have been faithful about noting every heroic act of their half of the race," observed Susan B. Anthony, "and now it should be the duty, as well as the pleasure, of women to make for future generations a record of the heroic deeds of the other half." To this end she, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage began the project of writing the History of Woman Suffrage in 1876. After many interruptions, the first volume appeared in 1881 and the second in 1882. Anthony then purchased the rights from the publisher Fowler & Wells and the third volume was published under her imprint in 1886. With money she inherited from Eliza Jackson Eddy, Anthony was able to fulfill her wish to distribute the volumes free of charge and over the next several years she sent copies of the History of Woman Suffrage to 1,200 libraries in the United States and Europe, to hundreds of schools, and countless individuals. Shown is volume three of the set she presented to the University of Rochester Library in 1903.

In February 1883 Susan B. Anthony traveled to Europe and Great Britain in the company of Rachel Foster Avery. The two met at a suffrage convention in 1879 and soon established a special bond as co-workers and friends. Avery, who was almost forty years younger than Anthony, referred to her as "Aunt Susan" and Anthony regarded Avery as her "niece." When Avery decided to study abroad in 1883, she persuaded Anthony to make the trip with her. While Avery toured the continent, Anthony spent much of her time in Britain where she met with the feminist leaders of England, Ireland and Scotland. Avery kept Anthony informed of her European travels through a series of postcards some of which are shown here.

On May 26, 1883 Susan B. Anthony sent a postcard from Paris, France to her sister Mary in Rochester about her plans: "I shall take a look at Scotland & Ireland & make for home in a very few weeks--unless somebody has power to make me see it [is] for the best for me to stop longer--which I do not believe they can."Apparently someone did persuade her to stay longer for she did not sail for home for another six months. During that time she met with Stanton, who was now spending much of her time abroad, and other British and European feminists to lay plans for what became the International Council of Women.

On December 19, 1883 Susan B. Anthony writes her niece Louise Mosher about the power of mind over body. Perhaps this is the secret of Anthony’s continued vigor over the years.

In January 1884, Frederick Douglass married his second wife Helen Pitts, a white woman who had worked for him while he was U. S. Marshal in Washington, DC. The marriage, which was denounced in both the white and black communities, elicited different responses from Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony and showed the growing disparity between the two women. Stanton retained the broad, liberal views of the early woman’s rights movement and was ready to denounce any social, political or religious ideology that she found offensive. The more pragmatic Anthony, who had spent decades building a suffrage organization, was concerned that endorsing controversial issues would cause harm by offending conservative suffragists and potential supporters. In this lengthy letter written between January 27 and 29, 1884 Anthony implores Stanton not to publicly endorse Douglass’s marriage.

The call to the 1884 annual convention of the National Woman Suffrage Association lists the places where women had the franchise including Wyoming, the first state to give women the vote.

Dress buttons owned by Susan B. Anthony.

On January 20, 1887 Susan B. Anthony writes Rachel Foster Avery that she has viewed the sculpture of herself by Adelaide Johnson. She also sends suggested wording for the call to the upcoming International Council of Women.

Adelaide Johnson created portrait busts of Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. These were first displayed at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. She later incorporated the busts into a large sculpture entitled "The Woman Movement" that now stands in the rotunda of the United States Capitol. The Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired the Anthony bust in 1906 and it is now on loan to the Susan B. Anthony House.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton writes Susan B. Anthony from England on March 10, 1887 giving her thoughts on what Anthony should do to prepare for the International Council of Women including what it should be called (she preferred International Federation), where it should be held (she preferred New York), and how long each speaker should speak (twenty minutes). She cautions Anthony to "not get up more machinery than you can manage. You err on the side of details & I on the opposite extreme. Let us try & strike the happy medium & leave something to peoples common sense."

The letter provides a preview of the controversy over Stanton’s religious opinions that would come to a head when she published the Woman’s Bible in 1895. Here Stanton writes that she plans to manage a religious session at the Council and will have as speakers those who share her liberal religious views such as Matilda Joslyn Gage, Helen Gardner, Clara Neymann, and her daughter Harriot Stanton Blatch. A "Religious Symposium" was held the last day of the Council, but it was Anthony, and not Stanton, who presided. Matilda Joslyn Gage was one of the participants and she spoke on the Divine Motherhood of God.

Before her marriage in 1888, Rachel Foster Avery and her sister Julia Foster adopted a baby girl. The news greatly distressed Susan B. Anthony who feared that this new responsibility would distract Avery's attention from working for the woman suffrage movement. She expresses her concern in this letter to the baby.

Despite Anthony’s fears, Rachel Foster Avery remained a steadfast worker in the woman suffrage cause. She managed many of the details for the International Council of Women and was instrumental in bringing about the reconciliation between the National and the American suffrage associations. Merger discussions began in 1888 and several members of the American group, including Lucy Stone, participated in the International Council. As evident in this November 11, 1887 letter from Anthony to Avery, the negotiations did not always go smoothly and old animosities did not die easily.

When the merger finally occurred in 1890 Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage and other members of the National were dismayed, for they feared that the newly reunited organization would adopt the more conservative social and religious agenda of the American association. Even though Stanton continued to serve as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association until 1892, she attended few of their meetings.

The International Council of Women brought together 80 speakers and 49 delegates representing 53 women’s organizations from England, Ireland, France, Norway, India, Canada, and the United States. The National American Woman Association, the American Woman Suffrage Association, and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union participated as well as many other professional organizations, trade unions, benevolent societies, and arts groups. Susan B. Anthony presided over 8 of the 16 sessions.

Susan B. Anthony wears an International Council of Women pin in this photograph with Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

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

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