Susan B. Anthony's life and work offer a glimpse into the extraordinary events of both the abolitionist movement and the women's suffrage movement in the late nineteenth century. Anthony was the face of the American suffrage movement and one of its primary organizers. Her actions contributed to significant progress in the inclusion of women in the United States political process.
Born to a Quaker family, Susan Brownell Anthony grew up in a household committed to social justice. Her father was an involved abolitionist and also worked to secure an equal education for his daughters. After the family moved to Central New York, a public school teacher refused to teach Susan mathematics, and her father withdrew her and set up a home school with a female teacher.
Before she was sixteen, Anthony began to teach, and in 1837, she organized a campaign to demand equal pay for female teachers in Rochester. In 1848, she began her career as an activist, working with both the abolitionist movement and the temperance movement (the restriction of alcohol consumption). That same year she formed the Woman's New York State Temperance Society.
In 1851, fellow reformer, Amelia Bloomer, introduced Anthony to Elizabeth Cady Stanton who would become her life-long friend and political partner. In the mid-1850s Anthony began to dedicate herself solely to the cause of women's rights, attending conventions and organizing petition drives for women's suffrage. Anthony and Stanton organized both the American Equal Rights Association in 1866, and the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1868. Together they also published a newsletter entitled, The Revolution, in 1868, with the masthead, "The true republic-men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less."
Anthony never married or had children, which in this era gave her the unique ability to travel and campaign. Stanton, the mother of seven, stayed home and served as the primary writer for the movement. In the 1870s, Anthony began appearing at rallies and meetings across the country. She attended every congress held between 1869 and 1906 to campaign for suffrage. She also fought for women's right to own property, and she advocated dress reform for women by cutting her hair and wearing bloomers—loose-fitting knee-length undergarments of the time. In 1872, Anthony was arrested for illegally voting in New York; she was tried and convicted, though never forced to pay the fine. During the trial, fellow activist, Matilda Joslyn Gage famously said, "Susan B. Anthony is not on trial; the United States is on trial."
Between 1881 and 1885, Anthony, together with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage, wrote The History of Women's Suffrage, the first three volumes of which were published in 1886. In 1888, she founded the International Council of Women. In 1878, "The Anthony Amendment," requesting equal voting rights for women, was first introduced in Congress. Anthony died in 1906, never living to see women gain the right to vote. The nineteenth amendment was finally approved in both Congress and the Senate in 1919, giving U.S. women the right to equally participate in their government and laying the initial groundwork for women's voices to be heard on many other matters of moral, social, and political justice.
Susan B. Anthony's place setting at The Dinner Party represents Judy Chicago's belief in the activist's position as "queen of the table" (Chicago, A Symbol of Our Heritage, 89). The three-dimensional form of her plate literally "lifts up from the surface with great force in a vain effort to escape its confines" (Chicago, A Symbol of Our Heritage, 88), representing the suffragist's struggle for freedom—a struggle Anthony did not win in her lifetime. This dynamic plate posed an artistic and emotional challenge for the artists creating it. Chicago sought a forceful image, and ceramicists collaborated to achieve this powerful end result.
In the runner, Chicago sought not just to honor Anthony but also to recognize the efforts of her fellow activists. The names of leaders of the women's rights movement, including Amelia Bloomer, Mary Sewall, Anna Howard Shaw, among others, are embroidered in memory bands along the top of the runner supporting and encircling Anthony's plate. These bands are patterned after memorial embroideries that were used during the nineteenth century to commemorate loved ones (Chicago, Embroidering Our Heritage, 226).
The back of the runner is modeled on a "crazy quilt," in which random pieces of fabric and embroidery are pieced together without a pattern, reminiscent of early American quilting. A satin band bordering the quilt reads, "Independence is Achieved by Unity" to commemorate collaboration among women. Custom-made pins are also fastened on the back of the runner with Anthony's famous quote, "Failure is Impossible."
Each capital letter of Susan B. Anthony's name is illuminated, illustrating her dedication to the cause, her relationship with Elizabeth Stanton, and her place in U.S. history respectively (Chicago, The Dinner Party, 125).
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An Account of the Proceedings of the Trial of Susan B. Anthony On the Charge of Illegal Voting at the Presidential Election in Nov. 1872. Rochester, New York: Daily Democrat & Chronicle Book Print, 1874.
Selden, Henry R. Rights of Women under the Late Constitutional Amendments. Argument of Hon. Henry R. Selden in Behalf of Susan B. Anthony, On Habeas Corpus, before the Hon. N. K. Hall, United States District Judge for the Northern District of New York, at Albany, January 21, 1873. The United States vs. Susan B. Anthony. Rochester, N.Y.: Tracy & Rew, Printers, 1873.
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage. History of Woman Suffrage. New York: Fowler and Wells, 1882.
United States v. Susan B. Anthony, Case 130, Case Files, U.S. Circuit Court, District of Northern New York, Record Group 21, National Archives and Records Administration—Northeast Region (New York City).
Translations, Editions, and Secondary Sources
Barry, Kathleen. Susan B. Anthony: A Biography of a Singular Feminist. New York: New York University Press, 1988.
DuBois, Ellen Carol. Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women's Movement in America, 1848–1869. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978.
-----. Woman Suffrage and Women’s Rights. New York: New York University Press, 1998.
----, ed. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony: Correspondence, Writings, Speeches. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1992.
Edwards, G. Thomas. Sowing Good Seeds: The Northwest Suffrage Campaigns of Susan B. Anthony. Portland, Ore.: Oregon Historical Society Press, 1990.
Gordon, Ann D., ed. The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: In the School of Anti-Slavery, 1840 to 1866. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1997..
Harper, Ida Husted. The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony. 3 vols. 1899, 1908; reprint edition, Salem, N.H.: Ayer, 1983.
Lutz, Alma. Susan B. Anthony: Rebel, Crusader, Humanitarian. Boston: Beacon Press, 1959.
Sherr, Lynn. Failure Is Impossible: Susan B. Anthony in Her Own Words. New York: Times Books, 1995.
----, ed. The Trial of Susan B. Anthony. Amherst, Mass.: Humanity Books, 2003.
Ward, Geoffrey C. Not For Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: An Illustrated History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.