“I Have Been & Gone & Done It!!” Susan B. Anthony exuberantly wrote to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, her co-fighter and long-time friend in the struggle for women’s rights. What had she done that warranted all those capital letters and two exclamation points?
She had voted at a time in America when women were denied the right to vote, except in the Territories of Wyoming and Utah. The year was 1872. Accompanied by her three sisters and a small band of women, Susan B. Anthony arrived at the polling place in Rochester, New York. A bonnet-wearing, sharp-witted woman with keen grey eyes, she wielded a copy of the U.S. Constitution and announced that the newly passed Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments gave all citizens the right to vote. And, she declared, women were citizens! Although reluctant, the inspectors accepted their ballots.
The fact that the nationally known Susan B. Anthony had voted got a lot of attention. Newspapers covered the story. Lawyers, judges, politicians, preachers, and ordinary people voiced their opinion, most of it negative. Clearly the country was not ready for women voters. So, perhaps in an attempt to squelch her and send a message to other women, Susan B. Anthony was arrested thirteen days later. The charge against her was voting without “the legal right to vote” because she was “a person of the female sex.”
Her trial lasted for two days in June of 1873. It was a sham. Judge Ward Hunt, an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, was in Susan’s words, “a small-brained, pale-faced, prim-looking man.” He refused to allow her to testify because she was “not a competent witness.” He preempted the jurors’ role by ordering them to “find a verdict of guilty.” Before sentencing her, Judge Hunt, asked if she had “anything to say.”
“Yes, your honor,” she said, rising to her feet. “I have many things to say. . . .” Six times Judge Hunt tried to silence her. Finally she stopped and Hunt pronounced her sentence—“a fine of one hundred dollars,” a fine she never paid.
In 1920, fourteen years after Susan B. Anthony died, women finally won the right to vote with passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. A leader of that victory, Carrie Chapman Catt, proclaimed: That vote has been costly. Prize it!
To find out more about America’s first female voter read Penny Colman’s new book about Anthony’s friendship with Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The pair fueled and sustained the nineteenth-century fight for women’s rights. To find more information please visit Penny’s website www.pennycolman.com