Suffragette Susan B. Anthony would not take “No” for an answer. In November 1872, despite a discriminatory law that denied women the right to vote, Anthony cast her ballot for president of the United States. Anthony believed that the Constitution already guaranteed women’s right to vote — especially the 14th Amendment, passed just four years earlier, which decreed that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States … are citizens.”
In 1870, Congress ratified the 15th Amendment, which prohibited any state from withholding the right to vote from any citizen “on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.” Anthony had tried to persuade legislators to add “sex” to the list of protected classes; but in any case, she believed that the 14th Amendment made her case.
But not everyone agreed with her. Charged with “illegally voting” in the election of 1873, Anthony was convicted by an all-male jury in her hometown of Rochester, New York, and fined $100. Unwilling to quietly abandon the cause of women’s empowerment, Anthony gave a speech in which she chastised the government for barring women from voting and vowed that she would never pay even a penny of the fine. She kept that promise until her death in 1906. And despite the charges hanging over her head, the government never pursued the matter.
On Aug. 18, 1920, 14 years after Anthony’s death, the 19th Amendment was ratified, confirming the point she had been making. “The right of citizens of the United States to vote,” the 19th Amendment says, “shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
A Presidential Pardon
Celebrating that victory of women’s equality 100 years later, on Aug. 18, 2020, President Donald Trump officially pardoned Anthony for her “crime” of illegal voting. “She was never pardoned,” the president reported during a White House ceremony on the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. “What took so long?”
Who, exactly, was this strong-willed woman who rebelled against established practice, demanding that the state and federal governments look again at the laws they’d enacted?
From her youth, Susan B. Anthony was a social reformer. Beginning in her teens, she fought against slavery and in support of temperance. Fearing that a woman married to an alcoholic husband might endure beatings and abuse, she fought to give women the right to divorce. She sought to obtain for women the right to study alongside men in schools and trade programs, hence learning skills that would permit them to compete for jobs in skilled trades; and she advocated for equal pay for women. At one point, she attempted to establish an all-women’s trade union, although that initiative was not met with success.
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