Neglected Americana: The Woman’s Rights Movement

This is the second of two articles on notable events, books, and ephemera of the 19th century suffrage movement. The first article is in the IOBA Standard, Volume III, Number 4. Both articles are just overviews. I’ve tried to emphasize the most often repeated stories and the major books and, very cursorily, the ephemera of the movement. Although much new material continues to be written, The History of Woman Suffrage is still the main source of information.

The period from the late 1870’s through the early twentieth century was a comparatively quiet time in the history of the suffrage movement. As passage of a federal amendment seemed increasingly distant, many suffrage workers turned to the approach favored by conservatives, campaigns for passage of state amendments. These campaigns were time-consuming and, often, frustrating; by the end of the nineteenth century, only four western states, led by Wyoming, had actually enfranchised women. The first of fifty-six state votes on women’s suffrage was in Kansas in 1867, and legislatures refused to allow referenda almost five hundred times. These efforts were organizing and unifying events for suffrage supporters, but they were draining and expensive as well. 1

Two dramatic events particularly captured public interest during the 1870’s and are important in the history of the suffrage movement: Susan B. Anthony’s arrest for voting in the presidential election of 1872 and the suffrage demonstrations at the 1776 Centennial Celebration in Philadelphia.

coveroftrialaccountAnthony’s 1872 vote in the Presidential election is often represented as an almost accidental and spontaneous event. That wasn’t the case. It was a considered action, part of larger effort to effect change at the federal level. Since no federal amendment seemed likely to pass, suffrage supporters turned to a natural rights constitutional argument. Previous similar attempts had occurred. In April of 1871 a group of sixty-four women, accompanied by Frederick Douglass, had been turned away in Washington, D. C., when they attempted to register to vote.

Other groups of women attempted to register in the same election as the one in which Anthony so famously succeeded. The only successful group was the Rochester, New York group of fifteen women led by Anthony, but others who attempted to vote included Sojourner Truth, probably the best known of the African American suffrage workers, Isabella Beecher Hooker, and approximately thirty-five more women in Rochester as well as scattered groups and individuals elsewhere.

Although the legal case was somewhat tortuous, the basis of the suffrage argument was simply that voting was a right. Women had not been specifically excluded in the constitution and the amendments giving African-American men the right to vote first introduced the word male as a requirement for voting. In a speech first delivered on January 16, 1873, (between Anthony’s 1872 arrest and her trial in the spring of 1873) at a NWSA meeting in Washington, Anthony presented her case, that voting was both a natural and a constitutional right. The text of the speech was reported and a revised version appears in Anthony’s published account of the trial. 2

Anthony, the women who voted with her, and the election inspectors who allowed them to vote were arrested on November 18. At a subsequent examination before United States Commissioner, William C. Storrs, prosecution and defense agreed that the decision arrived at in Anthony’s case would apply to all the women. The election inspectors were tried separately — and convicted. They were the only defendants jailed as a result of the illegal votes.

At Anthony’s trial, held in the spring of 1873 in Canandaigua, NY, about forty miles from Rochester, Anthony was found guilty in a directed verdict (it was a juried trial but the jury was not allowed to deliberate). The penalty was ten days in jail or a $100 fine. Anthony refused to pay the fine but was never jailed, perhaps because that would have enabled her to appeal the case to the Supreme Court. News coverage of the trial strongly criticized the Judge’s refusal to allow the jury to deliberate.

In 1874 the Supreme Court ruled, in a landmark case, Minor vs. Happersett, that “the Constitution of the United States does not confer the right of suffrage upon anyone.”

A complete record of Anthony’s trial was published and paid for by her under the rather daunting title, An Account of the Proceedings on the Trial of Susan B. Anthony, on the Charge of Illegal Voting, at the Presidential Election in November, 1872. Three thousand copies of the paper-covered booklet were printed by the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in 1874. As usual, Anthony carefully noted the cost, $700. At least one copy, inscribed by Anthony to one of the women with whom she voted, has turned up in recent years, but original printings are rare. Reprints of the trial proceedings are available. According to Anthony, there were also 5,000 copies made of Judge Selden’s argument on the Habeas Corpus “which she scattered broadcast.” I have not seen a copy of that. 3

By 1776, suffrage leaders were ready for another battle —- this over the Fourth of July Centennial Celebration in Philadelphia. The Centennial was a national event of great importance and, to the suffrage leaders who were excluded from the proceedings, it was an opportunity to advance the cause. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage worked long and hard to produce a Declaration of the Rights of Women to be presented at the Philadelphia celebration and asked repeatedly to be on the program. Turned down, they decided on other action. Stanton and Lucretia Mott (then in her eighties) decided to hold a competing meeting for women’s rights in a Philadelphia Unitarian Church. Anthony, a “spinster,” was able to rent the space which Mott, a married woman, could not. They also pursued a more militant plan.

After repeatedly requesting to be on the Fourth of July program, Anthony, Matilda Joslin Gage and three other women obtained four seats on the platform (using at least one press pass from Anthony’s brother, Daniel) but were denied permission to be on the program. After the reading of the Declaration of Independence, they rose from their seats, handed a copy of their Declaration to the acting vice president of the United States, and walked out scattering copies of their Declaration as they went. Anthony read the Declaration from a musicians’ platform outside and additional copies were distributed to the crowd. Few copies of that Declaration have survived although the text is in the History of Woman Suffrage, Volume III.

Joslyn Gage and Anthony’s militance in this instance is sometimes seen as foreshadowing the media-oriented militance of 20th century suffragists. Lucy Stone, who was part of the convention organized by Cady Stanton and Mott, apparently disapproved, but said the action would “no doubt go down in the history books” and twentieth century biographer of the movement, Rheta Childe Dorr, pointed to it as proof that Anthony, not Emmeline Pankhurst, “invented militant feminism.” 4

Two interesting paper items came out of the suffrage demonstration in Philadelphia, but an item promised in the advance publicity by NWSA is especially interesting because it never appeared. In order to pay for the headquarters, Gage, Stanton, and Anthony offered, as a premium, a history of the women’s rights movement to anyone donating $5. The three had long discussed writing the history and anticipated producing a several hundred-page pamphlet. The pamphlet was never written and the short history eventually turned into the six-volume History of the Woman Suffrage Movement. Anthony, always scrupulous about keeping promises, eventually sent each of the donors a $15 set of the history. 5

Work didn’t actually begin on the history until 1880 although Anthony sent trunks and boxes of materials to Stanton’s home in Tenafly, NJ in 1876. When the work did begin, in Tenafly, it turned out to be an enormously more demanding task than the authors had anticipated. According to Anthony “the task loomed up in an appalling manner.” 5 Stanton did most of the writing with Anthony providing history and factual information and Gage contributing some sections. Anthony was also publisher (a pattern established when they produced their short-lived suffrage newspaper, The Revolution) and was critic and provider of factual information. They requested information and records from others active in the movement and, though most people responded, Lucy Stone refused to contribute because she objected to their “attempt to write the history” of the AWSA. 6

Anthony spent much time looking for a publisher. According to one biographer, Anthony took trips to NY as early as 1877 to look for a publisher. 7. The subject was unpopular and the books large and expensive. According to the Life and Work, the portraits of suffrage leaders (steel engravings) cost $126 apiece, an amount which some women paid themselves. Anthony paid for those who were unable to pay. The publisher finally found, Fowler & Wells, best known for their publications on phrenology, released Volume I in May of 1881 and Volume 2 in 1882. Volume 3 was held up due to lack of money. In 1884 Anthony inherited a little over $24,000 from an estate (Lucy Stone inherited a like amount), and work on volume 3 began. It was completed in December, 1885 and the book was copyrighted and published in 1886. At that time Anthony bought the rights to volumes 1 and 2 from Fowler and Wells. She also bought out Stanton and Gage’s rights, and volume 3, along with a reprinting of volumes 1 and 2, was printed by Charles Mann of Rochester. Stanton, Anthony, and Gage held the original copyrights for volumes 1 and 2, but later printings show only Anthony as the copyright holder. The Fowler and Wells printings of volumes 1 and 2 are, of course, first printings and are quite scarce. Anthony’s 1886/1887 reprints, also scarce, are often mistaken for first printings.

After Volume 3 was completed, Stanton wearied of the project and volume 4, which lists Anthony as first author, was edited and largely written by Ida Husted Harper, Anthony’s biographer. It was published in 1902, four years before Anthony’s death. Volumes 5 and 6, edited and written by Harper, were published in 1922, two years after the Nineteenth Amendment, enabling women all over the county to vote, was ratified.

Anthony gave copies of the early volumes to libraries, schools and individuals. They are often inscribed by her, often briefly, but sometimes with quite personalized and interesting inscriptions. One of three copies inscribed to novelist and reformer Albion Tourgee says, in part “In memory of his truthful portrayal of facts in Fools Errand and Bricks without Straw at the close of the war…his Sincere Friend and Coworker Susan B. Anthony.” The inscription is dated 1893. That copies of the books were available for quite some time is indicated by a listing for the first four volumes in a 1911 NAWSA (National and American Woman Suffrage Association) catalogue, which also listed all three volumes of The Life and Works of SBA. Anthony had distributed many copies of both and willed the remaining copies to NAWSA.

The Life and Works of SBA, written by Ida Husted Harper, is both the official biography of Anthony and an invaluable reference. Anthony met Harper, a professional journalist, during the California suffrage campaign and persuaded her to move to Rochester and live at the Anthony home, promising her that the biography would be completed in a year. Work began in March of 1897. Anthony’s estimate of the length of the biography proved to be optimistic—-the first draft turned out to be much longer than expected and had to be cut. Anthony, Harper, and a typist/secretary, working together, completed the work in 1898 and sent the two volumes to the publisher, Bobbs Merrill. A third volume, written by Mrs. Harper, was published posthumously. Unfortunately for later historians, much of the original source material was burned after use. Ads promised “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.” Anthony also insisted that “letters and documents that reflected badly on others must not be included.” 8

Mrs. Harper, who had expected the work to be complete with the second volume, was almost immediately persuaded by Anthony to start work on volume 4 of the History of Woman Suffrage.

Although The History of Woman Suffrage is the primary source for 19th century suffrage history, two other collectible works should be mentioned: Stanton’s very controversialWoman’s Bible, and her autobiographical Eighty Years and More, an informal collection of reminiscences and personal anecdotes intended, in part, according to biographer Elizabeth Griffith, to counter some of the very bad publicity resulting from the publication of the Woman’s Bible9

Part I of the Woman’s Bible, published in November, 1895, by the European Publishing Company in New York, consisted of commentaries written by eight of twenty-two women on the “revising committee,” a misnomer since they did not revise the Bible but rather commented on selected verses. (9) Part II was published in 1898. Despite Susan B. Anthony’s pleas to the contrary, a resolution disavowing the Woman’s Bible was adopted at the 1896 NAWSA convention, a victory for conservative leaders Anna Howard Shaw and Carrie Chapman Catt. The day of the ultras (the radical suffrage wing led by Anthony and Stanton), was seemingly over. “By the last decade of the nineteenth century, woman suffrage had become respectable…a new generation of conservative women came into the suffrage movement to achieve the victory that the Stantons and Anthonys had made possible.” 10

Stanton’s autobiographical Eighty Years and More was, according to biographer Kerr, her “apologia” intended to create an image of herself as “benign, nurturing, good-humored…” downplaying both personal and political conflicts and the reality of an often irritating, radical, charismatic but demanding leader. 10

A conservative time in the movement had arrived. NWSA and AWSA had merged in 1890 and become NAWSA, the National American Woman Suffrage Association, with Stanton as President and Anthony as Vice-President. The movement had, by this time, arrived at such respectability that in 1892 the three leaders, Stone, Anthony and Stanton were invited to tea at the White House by first lady Lavinia Scott Harrison.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, most of the rights for which women had fought, including the right of married women to own property and to keep their own wages, the right to an education, and to enter a profession, had been won. A federal amendment giving women the right to vote in federal elections remained elusive and the traditional and, by this time, rather conservative women’s suffrage association, was putting much of its energy into the campaigns for the vote on a state-by-state basis. Out of these state campaigns came mountains of paper ammunition including pamphlets, fliers, postcards, broadsides and posters.

Although state campaigns continued during the twentieth century, younger women formed the National Women’s Party, led by Alice Paul, Harriot Stanton Blatch, and others who were impatient with the lack of progress toward a federal amendment and adopted increasingly militant tactics in their battle for a federal suffrage amendment: picketing, parades in Washington, and partisan political action. These ultimately resulted in the most violent phase of the revolution, the period between 1912 and 1919 when the 19th Amendment granting women the vote was passed. But that’s another story.
(1) Jablonski, T. “Female Opposition The Anti-Suffrage Campaign” in Jean H. Baker, editor, Votes for Women: The Struggle for Suffrage Revisited) (NY: Oxford University Press, 2001).

(2) Anthony, Susan B. An Account of the Proceedings on the Trial of Susan B. Anthony, on the Charge of Illegal Voting, at the Presidential Election in November, 1872. (Rochester: Democrat & Chronicle, 1874).

(3) Harper, Ida Husted. The Life and Works of Susan B. Anthony, Volume 1. (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1899). p. 446.

(4) Dorr, Rheta Childe. Susan B. Anthony The Woman Who Changed the Mind of a Nation. (NY: AMS Press, 1970). Reprint of 1928 edition. p 283.

(5) Harper, Ida Husted. p. 475.

(6) Barry, Kathleen. Susan B. Anthony a Biography. (NY: New York University Press, 1988). p 272.

(7) Anthony, Katharine. Susan B. Anthony Her Personal History and Her Era. (NY: Doubleday, 1954.) p. 341.

(8) Huth, Mary. From a talk delivered at the Susan B. Anthony House in 2002.

(9) Kraditor, Aileen S. The Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement. (NY: Columbia University Press, 1965) p. 86.

(10) Griffith, Elisabeth. In Her Own Right The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. (NY: Oxford University Press, 1984) p. 207

Primary Sources

Anthony, Susan B. An Account of the Proceedings on the Trial of Susan B. Anthony, on the Charge of Illegal Voting, at the Presidential Election in November, 1872.

Gordon, Ann D., Editor. The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Two volumes have been published: Volume I: In the School of Anti-Slavery, 1840 to 1866and Volume 2: Against an Aristocracy of Sex, 1866 – 1873. Part of a massive project from Rutgers headed by Gordon, these two volumes include letters, diary entries, speeches and articles. Wonderful notes go along with the entries.

Harper, Ida HustedThe Life and Work of Susan B. AnthonyThe first two volumes were written during Susan B. Anthony’s life, based on her records, and with her active assistance. They were published in 1898 and constitute her “authorized” biography. The third volume was published in 1908, two years after Anthony’s death.

Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. Eighty Years and More, 1815 – 1897Stanton’s autobiography was first published in 1898. The most recent edition includes an Introduction by Ellen Carol DuBois and an Afterword by Ann D. Gordon, which add current scholarship and recent interpretation of Stanton’s work.

Stanton, Elizabeth Cady; Anthony, Susan B.; Gage, Matilda Joslin; and Harper, Ida Husted. The History of Woman Suffrage. The six volumes were published between 1881 and 1922. The first three volumes are by Stanton, Anthony, and Gage, Volume 4 is by Anthony and Harper, and Volumes 5 and 6 are by Harper. They have been reprinted a number of times and are also available on CD-ROM.

Secondary Sources

Baker, Jean H. Votes for Women The Struggle for Suffrage Revisited. An excellent collection of articles on topics relating to the suffrage movement which had not been much explored.

Barry, Kathleen. Susan B. Anthony: A Biography of a Singular Feminist. Published in 1988, this is the most recent biography of Anthony. Earlier biographies by Alma Lutz, Kathleen Anthony and Rheta Childe Dorr are, unfortunately, out of print. Barry’s is the most scholarly biography; Anthony’s is quite complete and very readable.

Dorr, Rheta Childe. Susan B. Anthony The Woman Who Changed the Mind of a Nation.

Griffith, Elizabeth. The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. This most recent and comprehensive biography of Stanton was published in 1984.

Harper, Judith. Susan B. Anthony: A Biographical Companion. This 1998 alphabetical reference includes entries on all the people and events of the suffrage and other reform movements with which Anthony was involved and is an invaluable “quick” reference.

Kraditor, Aileen. The Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement, 1890 – 1920. Classic analysis of the philosophy and tactics of the leaders of the movement.

Rakow, Lana F. and Kramarae, Cheris. The Revolution in Words Righting Women 1868 – 1871. Excerpts and analysis of Stanton and Anthony’s suffrage paper.

By: Martha Kelly
Gutenberg Books

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