Susan B. Anthony: Celebrating "A Heroic Life"

Celebrating "A Heroic Life"


After years of traveling, staying in hotels and being a guest in private homes, Susan B. Anthony decided in 1891--at the age of seventy-one--that it was time for her to have a home of her own. Since their mother’s death in 1880, her sister Mary had rented the lower part of the house at 17 Madison Street to boarders. Now, with Susan’s decision to go into housekeeping, the boarders were dispatched and the house was completely redone including the addition of a third floor workroom and the installation of bay windows and fireplaces in the back parlor and her second floor office.

Despite Anthony’s intention to enjoy her new home, she continued to be away much of the time on suffrage business. In this letter to old friends Mary and Sarah Hallowell, Anthony asks them to pass on several suggestions about rugs and woodwork to sister Mary, who was at home dealing with the renovations.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton stayed with Susan B. Anthony for the month of September 1891. Anthony hoped that Stanton would share her home in Rochester. Stanton, who did not relish the idea of being daily harassed by Anthony to do suffrage work, declined the offer.

On May 1-2, 1892, the First Unitarian Church of Rochester celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. Though born a Quaker, Susan B. Anthony attended the Unitarian Church for many years. Unable to be at the celebration, she wrote this greeting to be read by her sister Mary.

Susan B. Anthony spent much of 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. One of the major events was the week-long World’s Congress of Representative Women attended by 528 delegates representing 126 organizations from 27 countries. The Exposition also hosted several Congresses on various topics and, as part of the Congress on Government, the National American Woman Suffrage Association held meetings between August 7 and12. The afternoon session on August 9 was devoted to a discussion of the upcoming suffrage campaigns in Kansas and New York State.

In 1895 Elizabeth Cady Stanton published the Woman's Bible. This critical commentary on the Bible was the culmination of Stanton's conviction that religious teachings were a root cause of the prejudice against women. Many suffragists, including Susan B. Anthony's most loyal followers Rachel Foster Avery and Anna Howard Shaw, believed that the Woman’s Bible was too radical and would injure the movement. At the 1896 NAWSA convention, they demanded that the organization repudiate the book. Anthony protested--"I shall be pained beyond expression if the delegates here are so narrow and illiberal as to adopt this resolution"--but she was outvoted.

Program for Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s eightieth birthday celebration at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City on November 12, 1895. Reflecting the strained relationship that existed between the NAWSA and Stanton, the event was sponsored by The National Council of Women. Susan B. Anthony helped organize the celebration and gave a talk on "Suffrage." Others, including Clara Barton, Julia Ward Howe, and Harriet Hosmer, spoke on the progress of women in the professions, philanthropy and the arts.

This fruit knife is engraved with Susan B. Anthony’s name. It is perhaps the one given to her as a Christmas gift in 1899 by her niece Lucy.

In 1896 a referendum was put before the male voters of California to add an amendment to the State’s constitution that would give women the vote. As she did so often when such referendums were held in various states, Susan B. Anthony spent months leading the campaign in favor of the amendment. Once again she was disappointed when the referendum lost by a substantial majority.

Susan B. Anthony writes Mary Lewis Gannett on August 15, 1898 soliciting a letter of endorsement for Ida Wells Barnett and her anti-lynching campaign. Writing during the Spanish-American War, Anthony points out the irony of the United States going to war to protest Spain’s mistreatment of their colonists while allowing American citizens to be lynched.

Ida Husted Harper, a suffragist and journalist from Indiana first met Anthony in 1896 during the unsuccessful California suffrage campaign. Harper had been in charge of press relations and Anthony, impressed with her efforts, asked Harper to become her official biographer. The work was done in the third floor attic of the Anthony House using as source material Anthony’s diaries, letters received for over fifty years, and accumulated newspaper clippings. The advertisement states "this is the only authentic biography of her that ever can be written, as the letters and documents will not be accessible to other historians." Harper could make this assertion because many of the letters were burned after the biography was published.

The first two volumes were published by Bowen-Merrill in late 1898; the third volume was published in 1908, two years after Anthony’s death.

In May 1899 Susan B. Anthony sailed for London to attend a meeting of the International Council of Women. The July 7, 1899 issue of Rochester’s Post Express reports on the warm reception Anthony received when she spoke at Westminster Hall on "Women in Politics." The article includes a drawing of the audience waving their white handkerchiefs at Anthony in a "Chautauqua Salute."

On February 15, 1900 a large reception was held at the Lafayette Opera House in Washington, DC in honor of Susan B. Anthony’s 80th birthday. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was unable to attend, wrote this poem "to her life-long friend and co-worker" in which she reminisces about their many years together.

The University of Rochester was founded in 1850 as an all-male institution. In the 1880s, women began to petition the University to open its doors to female students. Finally in 1898 the Board of Trustees voted to allow women to enter the University if they defrayed expenses by raising $100,000 (approximately $2,000,000 in today's money). A committee of women led by Helen Barrett Montgomery raised $40,000 over the next two years. In June 1900 the Board agreed to admit women students that September if the women could secure another $10,000.

During the summer of 1900, the committee was able to raise another $2,000, but the day before the deadline they were still $8,000 short. At this crucial point, Susan B. Anthony took charge of collecting the remaining money. She solicited the first $2,000 from her sister Mary, the second from Sarah Willis, and the third from Rev. and Mrs. William Channing Gannett. Still short $2,000, Susan B. Anthony pledged her life insurance policy, thus guaranteeing the admission of women to the University of Rochester in the fall of 1900.

Ella Salome Wilcoxen, class of 1901. She was the first woman to graduate from the University of Rochester.

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

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