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Professor Donald Elder: Susan B Anthony

May 4, 2015 by

An Interview with Professor Donald Elder: Susan B Anthony

Michael F.Shaughnessy –

1. Another quite famous female who has contributed to our country is Susan B. Anthony. Where was she born, and educated?

Susan Brownell Anthony was born in Adams, Massachusetts on February 8, 1820. Her father owned a textile factory, and when she was six he was offered a position as the manager of a much larger factory in Battenville, New York. Her family was well-to-do enough to send her to the Friends Boarding School in Plainfield, Connecticut for six years. At the age of 17, her parents sent her to a Quaker boarding school in Philadelphia.

Unfortunately, after only a short period of time her father suffered a severe financial setback, and she was forced to withdraw from that school. To help her family out, she became a school teacher. While she was teaching in Canajoharie, New York, in 1848, one of the defining moments in the women’s rights movement took place with a convention that was held in Seneca Falls, New York. Interestingly, while she did not attend the convention, her parents and her sister were participants in that event. Her father came away from that convention converted to the cause of women’s suffrage, and his activism seems to have rubbed off on her. As a consequence, she would leave the teaching profession and immerse herself in social movements for the rest of her life.

2. Her accomplishments are quite varied. Could you brief us on some of them?

The first cause that she became involved with was abolition. To try to quell the growing national discord over the future of slavery, in 1836 the US House of Representatives had passed a resolution that made it impossible for an anti-slavery petition to be read during its meetings.
Angered by this action, Anthony began to solicit individuals to sign a petition to end that policy. 15 years later, she helped to organize an anti-slavery conference in Rochester, New York. We know now that she was also secretly aiding in the activities of the Underground Railroad. Anthony was also involved in the temperance movement. Indeed, she gave her first public speech in 1849 on that subject. In 1852 she was primarily responsible for creating the Women’s State Temperance Society. Although she had left teaching, Anthony had not forgotten her roots. Throughout the 1850s, she attended meetings of the New York State Teachers’ Association, and asserted that female teachers should be paid as much as their male counterparts. But the cause that Anthony is most often associated with is women’s rights.
Starting in the 1850s, she had advocated for equal rights for women, and after the Civil War increasingly turned her efforts in that direction. More and more, she focused on securing the right to vote for women. Her most notable action in that regard came in 1872, when she was arrested for attempting to vote in the presidential election. She was convicted and fined $100, but she refused to ever pay that fine. She was still working for the cause of women’s suffrage at the time of her death in 1906.

3. Is there any one singular event, or thing that we should recognize her for or focus on historically?

Susan B. Anthony is clearly one of a handful of Americans who cannot be defined by one particular event. While other nineteenth-century reformers may be associated with one important cause, Anthony literally embraced them all. She was equally effective at writing and speaking, and left a lasting legacy for female activists to this day.

4. Her family, husband, friends- what do we know of her personal life?

Anthony never married, and gave somewhat contradictory answers when asked why she didn’t. It seems likely that the fear of losing her independence was the greatest motivating factor in this decision. While averse to marriage, Anthony turned out to be remarkably good with children. This is evident from her friendship with Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The two met in 1851, and immediately became best friends. They shared a common devotion to the cause of women’s rights, and both were equally important to the movement.

Their skill sets, however, were dissimilar. Stanton was an eloquent writer, while Anthony was far her superior at public speaking. Anthony thus encouraged her friend to write speeches for her to deliver. The problem with this arrangement was that Stanton was married, and had a number of children to take care of.

Anthony volunteered to watch the children while Stanton wrote, and in effect was a surrogate mother to the Stanton children. It is doubtful that this arrangement would have worked if Anthony had not possessed exemplary parenting skills. The two would remain best friends until Stanton’s death in 1902.

5. Her later years- what was she involved with in that regard/respect?

It seemed to many observers that Anthony planned to retire from her active life when she decided to live with her sister in 1891 at the age of 71. Anthony, however, refused to curtail her activities. She traveled extensively during the next 15 years, and continued to immerse herself in social causes. For example, in her later years she led an effort to convince the University of Rochester to admit female students. Told by the university’s administration that there the school lacked the funds to accommodate female students, Anthony led a campaign to raise the necessary amount.

Only a few days before her death in 1906, she was still capable of giving a moving speech on the progress that the women’s rights movement had made in her lifetime. In that speech she uttered the memorable phrase that “failure is impossible” for the women’s rights movement.

Susan B. Anthony clearly had given the United States a life that every American can be proud of.

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1 Comment

  1. Cayla

    How do I get in contact with professor Donald elder I’m doing a project on susan b anthony and I need someone to interview.

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