Today, the 15th of February, I’m wishing Happy Birthday to Susan B. Anthony who was born on that date in 1820, almost two hundred years ago. With her erect posture, dark-brown hair, steely eyes, a bump on the bridge of her thin, arched nose, and a fearless personality, Susan B. Anthony was a formidable fighter for equality and justice. As a lecturer against slavery, she was encountered hostile crowds (once a maraudering mob burned an effigy of her). As a co-leader, with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, of the movement for women’s rights, she was ridiculed, reviled, scorned and snubbed. In the early days, she later recalled, it felt like “the whole world was against” them. Mobs of hissing, hooting, bellowing hostile spectators would disrupt women’s rights conventions. Politician, preachers, reporters, and a vociferous assortment of foes hurled slurs, and false claims. Very few people were wishing Susan B. Anthony a Happy Birthday on February 15th.
But over the years people started changing their minds about Susan B. Anthony. For her fiftieth birthday, hundreds of admirers attended a festive celebration, despite a torrential rainstorm, and honored her with gifts, speeches and poems. Even more people attended her seventieth birthday party. Gifts were piled high. Seventy pink carnations were presented to her. Toasts were made. Telegrams, cablegrams, and letters were read. A huge crowd celebrated her on her eightieth birthday. Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote a witty poem with lines describing their speaking tours: “From sleigh, ox-carts, and mayhap coaches./Besieged with beetles, bugs, and roaches:/All this for the emancipation/Of the brave women of our Nation.” Eighty children, one by one, laid a single red rose on her lap.
Susan B. Anthony’s last birthday celebration, her eighty-sixth, was held in 1906. Addressing the gathering, she declared that in the on-going fight for women’s right to vote—“failure is impossible.” Those now iconic words—“Failure is impossible”—were the last ones spoken by the esteemed Susan B. Anthony in public. She died at her home in Rochester, New York on March 13, 1906. Today Susan B. Anthony’s birthday, February 15, is an official state holiday in California, Florida, Wisconsin, New York, and in West Virginia, where it is celebrated on Election Day in even years. Efforts to make it a national holiday have failed in the U.S. Congress, but many people support the idea, including me. How about you?
Happy Birthday, Susan B. Anthony!