“There never will be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect lawmakers.”
— Susan B. Anthony
Today, Aug. 18, marks 100 years since the ratification of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. President Donald Trump, in a surprise move, has pardoned the women’s suffrage movement’s main activist, Susan Brownell Anthony, to mark this centennial. Anthony’s crime? She dared to vote. During a White House ceremony in honor of the 19th Amendment, Trump said, “She was never pardoned. She got a bargain for a lot of other women, and she didn’t put her name on the list. So she was never pardoned for voting.”
The Woman Behind the Suffrage Movement
“There shall never be another season of silence until women have the same rights men have on this green earth.”
Susan B. Anthony was born on Feb. 15, 1820, in Adams, MA. She was raised as a Quaker, which instilled the belief that everyone, regardless of gender, was equal under God. At the age of 17, she attended a Quaker boarding school in Philadelphia but had to quit her studies after only one term when the Panic of 1837 hit and her family suffered severe financial hardship. The family sold everything they owned at an auction but luckily received assistance from an uncle who purchased the belongings and returned them. Still, times were tough, so Anthony again left home to teach at a Quaker boarding school, and the family moved to New York State.
Several years later, Anthony returned home and was introduced to two of her father’s friends, William Lloyd Garrison, an abolitionist and a social reformer, and Frederick Douglass, who had escaped from slavery to become the national leader of the abolitionist movement. After speaking with them, she was emboldened to fight for the freedom of slaves and to militate against the oppression of women.
In 1848, at Seneca Falls, NY, the first Women’s Right Convention kickstarted the suffrage movement. Ironically, Anthony did not attend the gathering, even though her mother and sister did. Just a couple years later, in 1851, Anthony met Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and the two formed a strong friendship that led to fighting for women’s rights for more than 50 years. Anthony had already been giving public speeches against the institution of slavery, and then she started advocating for the right for women to vote.
While the First Amendment protects the right to assemble in public, it was frowned upon for women to address such indelicate topics, and Anthony routinely risked being arrested for expressing her views. “Trust me that as I ignore all law to help the slave,” she said, “so will I ignore it all to protect an enslaved woman.”
Anthony and Stanton were appalled after Congress passed the 14th and 15th Amendments, giving African American men the right to vote but not women, so the two formed the National Woman Suffrage Association.
In 1872, Anthony, her sisters, and nearly 50 more women registered to vote in the 1872 presidential election. On Nov. 18, the activist was arrested for illegally voting as were the others who dared to defy convention. Anthony was not allowed to testify during her trial due to a law that prevented criminal defendants from doing so. On the second day of the trial, however, the judge asked her if she had anything to say. She protested her treatment, declaring it was a:
“high-handed outrage upon my citizen’s rights. 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 was not allowed a trial by jury but said she would have been denied one anyway since women were not allowed to be jurors. Supreme Court Justice Ward Hunt ordered her to pay $100 fine for her crime. “I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty,” she said and kept her word. Ward could have had her imprisoned, but if he had she would have been able to take the case to the Supreme Court.
Anthony did not live long enough to see the ratification of the 19th Amendment, also known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. She died in 1906, 14 years before it was approved, but her legacy lives on. In modern times, women flock to her gravesite to place “I voted” stickers in her honor.
“The true republic: men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less.”
Trump’s pardon of the women’s suffrage heroine was both a surprise and a boon for his campaign. Voting, more specifically mail-in voting, has spiked protests and discourse across the nation. What better time to honor a woman who dedicated her life to ending the oppression of blacks and women, especially with the BLM movement sweeping across the United States and even playing on the worldwide theater? Anthony’s pardon ticks a few powerful boxes:
- Gains approval of many women voters.
- Honors the abolitionist movement.
- Brings attention to the power and responsibility of voting.
This seems timely, especially with the Democratic Convention unblinkingly focused on BLM and eradicating any perceived hint at racism. Joe Biden played his presidential bid card by naming Kamala Harris, a “somewhat” black woman, as his vice president pick and President Trump countered with pardoning a woman who fought not just for black lives but also for women’s rights.
If you want to see the convention in full, you can watch it live right here on Liberty Nation.
Read more from Kelli Ballard.