Where Women Lead: Susan B. Anthony

Susan B Anthony, age 36

Susan B Anthony, age 36 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Susan B. Anthony is perhaps the most famous of all US feminists. In 1872, 140 years ago in November, she was arrested for casting a ballot in New York state during the presidential election. Anthony used the event to launch a nationwide speaking tour to agitate for the right of women to the vote.

She didn’t, of course, believe she should be arrested; as a citizen, she should be allowed to vote (something obvious then and now to feminists). As a matter of fact, she didn’t want to pay for transportation to the police station, nor post bail. Her wish was to apply for habeas corpus and take the case to the Supreme Court.

But her lawyer posted bail. Later, when she was tried, the judge instructed the jury to find her guilty and fine her, without any discussion. Hence, she never had the chance to appeal the case. But she never paid the fine either.

Anthony’s position was that she was a person, therefore a citizen, and the Constitution stated in the newly adopted 14th Amendment that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” The 14th Amendment goes on to say that states cannot make or enforce laws that “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Anthony was denied the trial that would have allowed her protest to be justly considered. She delivered 10,000 signatures to Congress to redress the issue, but was laughed at. She wouldn’t be laughed at today; there’d at least be a press event. Certainly some legislators would say they were ‘looking into it’, at least to appear to care.

But the same nothing that was done in her day continues now. Roughly 50 years of agitation after nearly 150 years since the founders got it wrong in the first place, and finally women were given the legal right to vote.

The right to vote was the rallying point for first wave feminists. Reproductive rights and equal pay for equal work were the driving issues for second wave feminists. The Equal Rights Amendment is the purpose feminists must embrace now until it is accomplished. There is no reasonable nor moral reason why the Equal Rights Amendment has not been passed yet. Frederick Douglass, at Seneca Falls in 1848, supported the controversial call for women’s suffrage, stating that by having the right to vote, women could thereby secure all the rights due to them. 1848!! And yet we still don’t have the rights due to us as citizens.

Give women equality under the law and let us work out our own destinies from there. Women cannot allow their equal status as citizens with full protection of the Constitution to continue to be ambiguous.

A side note: Susan B. Anthony was silent on the issue of abortion as a political right. But she fought passionately all her life against slavery, for individual freedom, and for the equal status of women under the law. The Susan B. Anthony List, a “pro-life” Political Action Committee,  has taken her name and twisted the meaning of feminism. But that is a subject for another day.

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