Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Philosophers - Anthony, Susan Brownell (1820 – 1906)
The Dictionary of Early American Philosophers


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Anthony, Susan Brownell (1820 – 1906)

Anthony, Susan Brownell (1820 – 1906)
DOI: 10.5040/9781350052451-0017

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Susan B. Anthony was born on 15 February 1820 in Adams, Massachusetts, and died on 13 March 1906 in Rochester, New York. Her father, Daniel Anthony, was a Quaker who was barred from his meeting because he married Lucy Read, a Baptist. Though raised in a religious household, the absence of regular meeting attendance probably helped shape Susan's fiercely independent nature. The second of eight children, she was a precocious child and learned to read and write at the age of three. In 1826 the family moved from Massachusetts to Battensville, New York where she attended a district school. When the teacher refused to teach Susan long division, Susan began being educated at home. She later finished her education at a boarding school near Philadelphia. The depression of 1837 forced her to seek work as a teacher to help support her family. The very few employment opportunities for middle-class women made her realize at an early age that economic independence was necessary for women's emancipation and self-sufficiency. Anthony also taught at another female academy, Eunice Kenyon's Quaker boarding school, in upstate New York from 1846 to 1849. She returned to her family home in Rochester, New York where she began her first public crusade on behalf of temperance.

Anthony's introduction to Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1851 led to their lifelong collaboration on furthering women's civil and political rights. Between 1854 and 1860 Anthony and Stanton worked to obtain legal rights for married women, including entitlements to property, wages, and child custody in divorce settlements. In 1860 the Married Women's Property Act was passed in New York, due in large part to their collaborative efforts. During the Civil War, Anthony and Stanton organized the National Women's Loyal League demanding the abolition of slavery. Expecting women to be given the vote, they were disappointed when the Fifteenth Amendment only granted suffrage to black males. In 1868 they began a newspaper, The Revolution, which carried the masthead: “Men their rights, nothing more; Women their rights, nothing less.” They reported on anti-lynching, suffrage, racial relations, dress reform, women's property rights, education for blacks and women, an eight-hour work-day, and equal pay for equal work. Anthony called for women's inclusion in unions and the professions, stating there were no differences between the minds of women and men.

Anthony gradually focused her considerable skills in political organizing toward a single goal: women's suffrage. She also realized that this campaign had to be carried out at the federal and not the state level, concentrating her efforts toward a constitutional amendment. In 1872 she was arrested for trying to vote. She refused to pay the fine in order to use her trial as a platform to speak out against the injustice of a democratic society denying women the rights of citizenship. She appeared before every Congress from 1869 to 1906 asking for passage of the suffrage amendment, which came to be named The Susan B. Anthony Amendment. Her unflagging activism is revealed in her motto “Failure is Impossible.”

Between 1881 and 1885 Anthony, Stanton, and Matilda Justin Gage published the first History of Woman Suffrage in three volumes. The fourth volume was edited by Anthony and Ida Husted Harper soon after, and two more volumes were added by Harper some years later. When the two major suffrage organizations united in 1890 into the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Anthony was elected vice president, becoming president in 1892 and retiring when she was eighty years old. Two years later she presided over the International Council of Women. Stanton would not live to see women's suffrage, which finally was enacted as the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920.

Anthony spent her life as an activist arguing for women's natural rights, which she contended were formulated on the same basis of logic and reason as men's. The philosophic foundation for her beliefs was a radical feminism and liberalism influenced by John Stuart Mill's writings on the primacy of civil and political rights over religious ones. At the end of her life, she lamented the fact that women everywhere were in chains, their servitude all the more debasing because they did not realize it.


With Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Ida Husted Harper. History of Woman Suffrage , 4 vols. (New York and Rochester, N.Y., 1881–1902).

“Citizenship Under the Constitution,” in Women at the Podium , ed. Michele Nix (New York, 2000).

“The Status of Woman: Past, Present and Future,” in The American 1890s , ed. Susan Harris Smith and Melanie Dawson (Durham, N.C., 2000).

“Suffrage and the Working Woman,” in Ripples of Hope , ed. Josh Gottheimer (New York, 2003).

Other Relevant Works

Anthony's papers are at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony , 45 microfilm reels, ed. Patricia G. Hildebrand and Ann D. Gordon (Wilmington, Del., 1991).

The Elizabeth Cady Stanton–Susan B. Anthony Reader , 2nd edn, ed. Ellen C. DuBois (Boston, 1992).

The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony , 6 vols., ed. Ann D. Gordon (New Brunswick, N.J., 1997–2011).

Further Reading

Amer Nat Bio, Appleton's Cycl Amer Bio, Cambridge Dict Amer Bio, Comp Amer Thought, Dict Amer Bio, Encyc Amer Bio, Nat Cycl Amer Bio

Barry, Kathleen. Susan B. Anthony, A Biography: The Singular Feminist (New York, 1988).

Harper, Husted. The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony (Indianapolis, Indiana, 1908).

Hewitt, M. Women's Activism and Social Change: Rochester, New York, 1822–1872 (New York, 1984).

Lutz, Alma. Susan B. Anthony: Rebel, Crusader, Humanitarian (Boston, 1959).

Pellauer, D. Toward a Tradition of Feminist Theology: The Religious Social Thought of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Anna Howard Shaw (New York, 1991).

Sher, Lynn. Failure is Impossible: Susan B.Anthony in Her Own Words (New York, 1995).