Early Life of Susan B. Anthony

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The purpose of this paper is to examine the life and work of an individual who was a pioneering force during the women's suffrage movement and the field of social work. The Declaration of Independence, in 1776 stated, that all men are created equal. What this famous document failed to mention was that all are created equal, despite gender or race. Among the many women who fought to ensure equal political rights, social status, and economic status among genders, no name rings truer than that of Susan B. Anthony. It would seem that from the very start Anthony would be destined to serve and commit her life to end the injustice that women were subjected to. Anthony's full name was Susan Brownell Anthony. Born on February 15, 1820, in Adams, Massachusetts, the daughter of Daniel Anthony and Lucy Read. (Sherr &Anthony, 1996). The Anthony home was never a quiet one, as Anthony was one of seven children. The Anthony family was raised in a Quaker household that lived by the nature of men and women speaking equally. Anthony became an activist at a very young age. As early as seventeen, Anthony could be seen out collecting petitions for various civil rights causes. Anthony's father, Daniel Anthony was a liberal Quaker who was well known in the antislavery movement. Conversations around slavery and abolitionism were not uncommon in the Anthony home.


When most people hear the name Susan B. Anthony, they may reference her long-term involvement to ensure voters rights and equal political status among men and women. Although Anthony went on to be one of the most influential figures involved in the women's suffrage movement, it was not the beginning of her fight for equal rights. (Ridarsky, Huth & Hewitt 2012). Anthony's first work towards the social wellbeing of others would begin as an abolitionist. During the 1830s and leading into 1870, the abolitionist movement fought to emancipate all slaves and end racial segregation. Anthony's work in the antislavery movement would catapult her into her lifelong mission to eliminate the injustices and disparities women faced. In 1852 Anthony became an agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society. During this time, Anthony worked on arranging meetings, giving speeches, putting up posters and campaigning to end slavery.

Educational Reformer

Anthony entered the world of education in 1846, at the age of 26, taking on the role of head of girls' department at Canajoharie Academy. It was here that Anthony would witness, and be subjected to the unequal treatment of women in the workplace and the disparities in pay grade. In 1890, Anthony served on the board of trustees of Rochester State industrial school. During this time Anthony worked diligently to gain pledges and raising $50,000 to ensure the admittance of men and women at the University of Rochester. Anthony campaigned for coeducation and equality among boys and girls in school. Despite all efforts, funding was still short. In an attempt to ensure admittance and meet the deadline Anthony put up a cash value on her own life insurance policy. It would not be until the turn of the century that the admittance of men and women would be accepted. However, without Anthony's contribution and involvement, the deadline would not have been met. It was selfless acts of kindness such as this, and her unwillingness to quit that made Anthony one of the most inspiring and influential leaders.

Labor Activist

In 1868, women working in printing and sewing trades in New York were excluded from men's trade unions. Anthony encouraged them to form Workingwomen's Associations. Women were fed up with unequal rights and lower pay than men. The fight for women to have access to union benefits and establish women's rights in the workplace began. In 1869, Anthony was elected president of the Workingwomen's Central Association. (Lutz 1959). The association served as a gateway to access reports on working conditions and provided educational opportunities for women in the workforce. When printers went on strike in New York, Anthony encouraged the companies to hire trained women. Anthony's thought process was to show that women could do these same jobs as men, and thus should be paid equally for the labor. Union congressmen accused Anthony of strike breaking and dubbed her an enemy of labor.

Temperance Worker

The Temperance Movement was an attempt to limit the consumption of alcohol and untimely outlaw it all together. Those who supported this cause believed alcohol was sinful and wanted to end the altering negative behaviors they witnessed people exhibiting while under the influence of alcohol. According to Murdach, he explains this as one of the first times social work and substance abuse are intertwined. Religious groups fueled the rise of the Temperance Movement in the 19th century. Anthony being raised in a Quaker home had a zero-tolerance approach on alcohol. While working in the girls' department of Canajoharie Academy, Anthony joined The Daughters of Temperance movement. This group worked to gain stricter liquor laws and draw attention to the negative impact intoxication was having on families. In 1848 Anthony gave her first public speech to bring awareness to the cause. Anthony returned to Rochester in 1849, during this time she was elected president of the Rochester branch of the Daughters of Temperance. Anthony worked on raising funds for the cause, gaining new supporters and petitioning the State legislature to pass laws that would diminish the sales of alcohol. Even with 28,000 signatures, the State legislature denied the petition on the basis that most of the signatures came from women and children. This shifted Anthony's focus on the right to vote. Women needed to be able to give their opinions and them be relevant in the voting process.


The first mention of women and voting was proposed in 1849, at a women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, NY. It was during this time that Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Moot would declare voting as a human right. Anthony would meet Stanton three years later and forever build a partnership that fueled the driving force in the struggle for woman suffrage. In 1872 Anthony would make national news when she tried voting in the presidential election. This action would lead to her arrest and eventual trial. If Anthony could convince the male-dominated jury that she had the right to vote under the U.S constitution, she could walk freely and women would be granted the right to vote. This would not be the case. Henry Selden, Anthony's lawyer would later say, If this same act [voting] had been done by her brother, it would have been honorable. But having been done by a woman, it is said to be a crime... I believe this is the first instance in which a woman has been arraigned [accused] in a criminal court merely on account of her sex. (Peck, I 2018).

This was a bold statement in an attempt to shift the concrete mindset instilled in the conservative male jury. Anthony would later be found guilty of violating the 14th amendment, which nowhere stated that women had the right to vote. On the day of sentencing, Judge Hunt would ask Anthony if the witnessed had anything else she wanted to say? Anthony opened with, yes your honor. She said. "I have many things to say. In your ordered verdict of guilty, you have trampled under foot every vital principle of our government. My natural rights, my civil rights, my political rights, my judicial rights are all alike ignored." Anthony later would be charged with the restitution fee of one hundred dollars, which she never paid. It was this statement and action that was a pivotal turning point in the women's suffrage movement.
Susan B. Anthony dedicated her life to ending the great disparities women faced in the eighteenth century. It would be her perseverance that forever impacted the way we view voting for women and pave the way for the ongoing fight in the women's suffrage movement. Anthony gave her famous, Failure is impossible speech three days before she died. (Sheer, L. 1996). It was these words that became the motto throughout the continuing fight for equal rights. Anthony did not get to live to see her mission carried out. Fourteen year's after her passing, on August 26, 1920, women would be granted the right to vote through the passage of the 19th amendment.

Anthony's true mission was the equal right to all. It was her tireless efforts and selfless work that paved the way to the 19th amendment. This amendment says, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." (Roberts & Smith, 2010). Anthony knew that the right to vote would be the only way to enact change in policies, wages and the rights of women. The field of social work seeks to help those who have been disfranchised, marginalized and discriminated against. Anthony's legacy opened the door for many leading advocates in the fight for equal rights

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Early Life of Susan B. Anthony. (2019, Nov 18). Retrieved July 13, 2024 , from

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