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People & Ideas: Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony

Source: Library of Congress

Renowned suffragette and temperance advocate Susan B. Anthony became a vociferous proponent for social reform in the United States during the 19th century. Anthony was born into an activist Quaker family in Adams, Mass., in 1820; her father had spent years advocating for abolition, and he instilled a strong sense of moral and social justice in his daughter.

Working as a schoolteacher, a young Susan Anthony began advocating for abolition and temperance. But she was often barred from speaking out publicly for social reform because of her sex and began to champion women's rights with equal vigor.

At age 30, Anthony left teaching to fully devote her energies to social reform. In 1848, she attended the first women's rights convention, the Seneca Falls Convention, and signed her name to the "Declaration of Sentiments," which famously revised Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, stating: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal." Along with her friend and fellow suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Anthony co-founded the National Woman Suffrage Association to further the cause of women's rights.

Source: Library of Congress

While Stanton attacked traditional Christianity in The Woman's Bible, detailing how religion helped suppress women's rights, Anthony preferred to keep the movement as broad as possible, writing, "I have worked 40 years to make the [women's suffrage] platform broad enough for atheists and agnostics to stand upon, and now if need be I will fight the next 40 years to keep it Catholic enough to permit the straightest Orthodox religionist to pray and count her beads upon." Deeply faithful, Anthony refused to secularize the women's rights movement, knowing it would take both the religious and the irreligious to change society.

After the passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments guaranteed civil and voting rights for freed black males, Anthony argued that these same rights should extend to women. In 1872, she attempted to register a group of women in Rochester, N.Y., but she encountered opposition and was arrested for her efforts. Undeterred by resistance, Anthony traveled the nation speaking and agitating for temperance and women's rights.

Anthony died in 1906, 14 years before the 19th Amendment would grant women the right to vote, but her contribution to women's suffrage in the United States was not forgotten. In 1979, the United States Treasury honored her commitment to social reform, minting a silver dollar to recognize her contributions to American society.

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Published October 11, 2010

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