“No man is enough to rule a woman without her consent” – this phrase coined Susan B. Anthony. The pioneer of the American women’s movement was born 200 years ago.

Every political movement has its ancestors, every demand for rights has its pioneers. 200 years ago, on February 15, 1820, a later figurehead of the women’s movement was born in a small town in Massachusetts. The second of seven children, Susan Brownell Anthony was born into a Quaker family. In the Quakers’ worldview, the light of God is inherent in every human being – and that is why they are vehemently opposed to any form of discrimination. Susan collected signatures for the “anti-slavery movement” at the age of 17. 

In 1826, the family moved to the state of New York. The parents raised their children to be independent early on, even beyond the social and family customs prevailing at the time. Susan became a teacher and became interested in social reform after she found at age 26 that her wages were significantly lower than that of men in the same position.

In 1848, the first National Convention for Women’s Rights in the United States took place in Seneca Falls, New York. The result was a manifesto that outlined the injustices against women in 18 points and called for women to be given all the rights and privileges that men had, including the right to vote.

One of the initiators of this first congress was Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She and Susan B. Anthony met in 1851 and became close friends and companions in the struggle for women’s rights. 

Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton sit side by side and write something.  (Imago / United Archives International)“Forge lightning and fire”: Susan B. Anthony (left) next to her friend and companion Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Fight against alcohol

Abstinence from alcohol was a big issue in the women’s rights movement because the drug had become a problem in cities. Alcoholics were unreliable – both as husbands and as workers. Because very few women were allowed to work, men’s alcoholism threatened to ruin many families.

When Anthony wanted to appear at a temperance event in 1853, a movement directed against the consumption of alcohol, the men imposed a prohibition on speaking. Women should only listen and learn. Years later, she noted that women had been fought bitterly for nothing, not even for their right to vote, as for their demand for free public speech.

In response to the ban on speaking, Susan B. Anthony founded a female temperament society with Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The Daughters of Temperance petitioned for a law to restrict alcohol sales in New York State. However, the responsible body refused to examine the document because most of the 28,000 votes came from women.

Anthony had a talent for organizing, Stanton had a flair for impressive speeches: “I forged the flashes, they fired them,” Stanton later said. Anthony organized several congresses, including the Women’s Rights Convention and the Anti-Slavery Convention, to support slaves fleeing the southern states to the north, which was safe for them. In 1863, she founded the “Women’s Loyal National League”, the first national political women’s organization in the United States, the goal of which was an additional article to abolish slavery.

Suffragettes are carried away by British police officers.  (Picture-alliance / dpa / Images)In their struggle for political participation, women met resistance worldwide – including with state power, such as here at a protest by the suffragettes in Great Britain

Arrest and trial

In 1869 the women’s movement split. Anthony and Stanton’s group called for women and African Americans to be given the right to vote at the same time, while another group believed that the right to vote for women was more important.

In the presidential election in November 1872, Anthony threw a ballot into the ballot box. She was arrested and charged with violating state law, and was finally fined, but never paid.

After all, the process gave Anthony the necessary publicity to listen to the demands of the women’s movement. Anthony, who was single, worked on campaigns for a constitutional amendment to guarantee the right to vote for women and founded the National Woman Suffrage Association. She traveled the country, made 100 speeches a year and published a weekly newspaper for women’s rights with Elizabeth Cady Stanton: “The Revolution”. In 1904 she traveled to Berlin to found the World Federation for Women’s Voting Rights (International Suffrage Alliance – IWSA) with fellow campaigners. The international conferences network the activists worldwide. 

Finally, in 1920 women in the United States were guaranteed the right to vote, the constitutional amendment is called the “Susan B. Anthony Amendment”. The committed American did not live to see this day, she died on March 13, 1906. 


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