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Anthony, Susan B. (1820-1906)  
 
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Throughout her long life Susan B. Anthony devoted her nearly boundless energy to improving the lot of American women. Although best known for her crusade for women's suffrage, she spoke out on a range of feminist issues. Women were always at the center of both her professional and private life.

Early Life

Susan Brownell Anthony was the second of the eight children of Daniel and Lucy Read Anthony. She was born in the farming community of Adams, Massachusetts on February 15, 1820, but her father soon moved the family to Battenville, in upstate New York, where he built a mill to produce cotton cloth.

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The enterprise prospered for over a decade, but in the late 1830s Daniel Anthony's business went bankrupt, and the family lost their home. Needing to support herself and help the family, Susan Anthony, whose progressive Quaker father had seen to it that she received a good education, found jobs first as a teacher at a Quaker boarding school in New Rochelle, New York in 1839 and then, beginning in 1846, as headmistress at the Canajoharie Academy.

While living in Canajoharie, Anthony joined the Daughters of Temperance. The cause had long been one favored by her father, and it appealed to Anthony's feminist instincts because alcohol abuse by men could lead to physical abuse and other problems for their wives and children, who often had little hope of escaping the situation.

Social Activist

Anthony's career as a social reformer began with an 1849 address to the Daughters of Temperance in which she called upon women to take the moral lead and to work for change not just in their own homes but in society at large. She promptly followed her own advice by leaving her teaching job for a life of social activism. Her family, whose economic state had by that time improved, supported her both morally and sometimes financially as she pursued her rather radical calling.

Anthony quickly became involved in the wide range of issues on the feminist agenda of the day. In addition to temperance, property and custody rights, divorce laws, and educational and employment opportunities were also matters of great concern.

As the women's movement gained steam so did the cause of ending slavery and securing full civil rights for African-Americans. Anthony became an ardent abolitionist as well as a feminist.

Friendship with Elizabeth Cady Stanton

It was the anti-slavery movement that brought Anthony together with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, with whom she would spearhead the crusade for the franchise of women. The two first met at a lecture in 1851. Anthony said that there was an "intense attraction" between them from the start. Whether they were lovers must remain a matter of speculation, but it is clear that theirs was a particularly close and enduring friendship.

Biographer Kathleen Barry calls Anthony and Stanton "one of the great couples of nineteenth-century America." As a team in the social reform movement, the two intelligent, energetic, and determined women were a force to be reckoned with.

Their close working relationship led to a strong personal bond as well. Since Stanton was the mother of seven, her mobility was limited in the early years. Anthony spent considerable time in the Stanton home, collaborating on the work of the movement and also becoming practically a member of the Stanton family. In later life Stanton forwarded to Anthony "letters from our children," acknowledging Anthony's prominent part in their upbringing. For her part, Anthony described her partnership with Stanton as "a most natural union of head and heart."

Married Women's Property Acts

During the decade of the 1850s Anthony worked mainly in the state of New York, lecturing on temperance, promoting the cause of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and campaigning for women's rights.

Among the rights Anthony and Stanton vigorously championed was that of married women to own and control the disposition of property. The Married Women's Property Acts giving wives in New York the right to hold property and conduct business independently from their husbands did not pass until 1860, and even then the struggle was only beginning. Portions of the legislation were subsequently repealed, and the courts could not be counted upon to give women their due.

Constitutional Amendments

With the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 Anthony was among those seeing hope for a constitutional amendment ending slavery in the United States. She became one of the organizers of the Women's National Loyal League, which collected over four hundred thousand signatures in support of their position, and was gratified when Congress adopted the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865.

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