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"Failure is Impossible" Next
Digital History ID 3200

 

Months before her death in 1906, the pioneer suffragist, Susan B. Anthony, told guests at her 86th birthday party not to abandon the fight for the vote for women. "Failure," she insisted, "is impossible."

Fifty-five years earlier in 1851, Anthony had met Elizabeth Cady Stanton at a temperance meeting in Seneca Falls, N.Y. Stanton had persuaded her to dedicate her life to women's rights. Anthony, a school teacher and the daughter of an abolitionist Quaker mill owner, was a brilliant organizer and a tireless orator. She would press on in the face of ridicule and indifference.

In 1854, Anthony collected 10,000 signatures on a petition supporting women's suffrage and property rights for married women. At the time, the property and even the wages of a married woman in New York State legally belonged to her husband. It would not be until 1860 that New York gave women control over their wages, the right to bring court action, and guardianship over their children.

During the Civil War, Anthony and Stanton set aside the suffrage issue and worked for passage of the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery. After the war, they were angry when the 15th Amendment failed to give women the right to vote. They refused to support the amendment.

In 1869, they persuaded an Indiana member of Congress to introduce an amendment to establish women’s suffrage. Three years later, Anthony, her mother, her sisters, and a number of friends, voted in Rochester, N.Y., after persuading a sympathetic male voting registrar that the 14th Amendment guaranteed equal rights to all citizens. "It is downright mockery," she said, "to talk to women of the blessings of liberty when they are denied the only means of securing them--the ballot." Anthony was fined a hundred dollars, but she refused to pay. The judge didn't try to collect the fine to prevent her from appealing his decision.

It would not be until 14 years after Anthony's death that the women's suffrage amendment would be ratified--in the Tennessee legislature, by a single vote.

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