This Day in History: The fight for women's suffrage
On this day in 1873, Susan B. Anthony is convicted of casting an illegal vote. It was just one of the many milestones she would pass during her long battle for women’s suffrage.
Would you believe that she testified before every Congress between 1869 and 1906?
Suffragettes such as Anthony began their battle early, in the mid-1800s. Indeed, they were even trying, for a time, to have women included in the protections offered by the 14th or 15th amendments.
It didn’t work. When those amendments were ratified, each did their part to protect the right of all men to vote, regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” but women were excluded.
In 1872, Anthony tried another approach: She and several dozen other women registered to vote in Rochester, New York, claiming that they had a right to do so under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Anthony even managed to cast a vote for Ulysses S. Grant! Her victory was short-lived. Anthony was soon arrested, tried, and found guilty of a crime for her action.
She wasn’t even allowed to testify in her own trial. Maybe ironic that she was allowed to testify before Congress later?
On one of these occasions, Anthony’s congressional testimony began by asking “that you will, at your earliest convenience, report to the House in favor of the submission of a Sixteenth Amendment to the Legislatures of the several States, that shall prohibit the disfranchisement of citizens of the United States on account of sex.”
I suspect many of you wish THAT had been the 16th Amendment!?!
Unfortunately, it would be many more years before Anthony’s requested amendment was approved and ratified. In the interim, Congress instead approved amendments authorizing a federal income tax (16th Amendment), changing the manner in which Senators are elected (17th Amendment), and beginning Prohibition (18th Amendment).
Hmm. That was quite a series of amendments.
Congress finally got its act together and approved something a bit better: The 19th Amendment was ratified and became law on August 18, 1920. It provides that 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.”
Anthony did not live to see the fruits of her labor. She’d passed away 14 years earlier, in 1906.
Ann D. Gordon, The Trial of Susan B. Anthony (Federal Judicial Center, Federal Judicial History Office; 2005)
Deborah Enix-Ross, 10 trials that changed the world: Susan B. Anthony is convicted for casting a ballot (ABA Journal; Nov. 2013)
Encyclopedia of Women and American Politics (Lynne E. Ford ed., 2008)
Failure Is Impossible: Susan B. Anthony in Her Own Words (Lynn Sherr ed., 1996)
Ida Husted Harper, Susan B. Anthony: The Woman and Her Work (N. American Review; April 1906)
U.S. Constitution: 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th Amendments