Today, the Susan B. Anthony Dollar Coin remembers her actions of May 15, 1869 and the actions of many American women before her.
After the 36th state ratified the federal suffrage amendment in August 1920, the Ellensburg Daily Record newspaper provided background information on the struggle for women’s representation much earlier in the nation’s history.
Woman suffrage first raised its voice in America in Maryland in 1647 when Mistress Margaret Brent, heir of Lord Calvert, demanded a place in the legislature of the colony as a property holder of wide extent.
And in the days of the Revolution, Abigail Adams wrote her husband, John Adams, at the Continental Congress which was framing the laws of the infant nation that, “If—in the new laws—particular care and attention are not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion and will not hold ourselves bound to obey any laws in which have no voice.”
Organized work for woman suffrage began in the United States with the Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, 1848, in which was called by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, early leaders of Massachusetts and New York, in response to the indignation aroused by the refusal to permit women to take part in the anti-slavery convention of 1840.
From the date of that convention the suffrage movement in the United States began the fight that lasted 70 years and ended with victory. Another convention followed in 1852 at Syracuse, New York, at which delegates from Canada were present and it was there that Susan B. Anthony assumed leadership of the cause to which she devoted her life.
In 1869 (on May 15), the National Woman Suffrage Association, with Miss Anthony and Mrs. Stanton at its head was formed in New York and in the same year, the American Woman Suffrage Association was organized in Cleveland with Lucy Stone and Julia Ward Howe as its leaders.
At first differing widely in policy, the National Association working to put a suffrage amendment through the federal congress and its sister organization bending its efforts to convert the country state by state, the two associations later united under the name of the National Woman Suffrage Association.
The association’s drive for the vote was led in turn by Mrs. Stanton, Miss Anthony, Dr. Anna Howard Shaw and Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt, the latter of whom is now its president.
The nineteenth amendment, which bears her name, was drafted by Miss Anthony in 1875 and was first introduced in Congress in 1878 by Senator A. A. Sargent of California; and it is the same language that the new principle of the national law reads:
“Article—, Section 1. 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.
“Section 2. Congress shall have power, by appropriate legislation, to enforce the provisions of this article.”
The amendment holds the record of being before the country longer than any other successful amendment to the Constitution. It was introduced as the 16th amendment and has been successively the 17th, 18th and 19th and has been before every session of Congress since its initial appearance.
During the first 35 years after its introduction into Congress, the amendment made practically no progress and until seven years ago it had not been debated on the floor for 30 years. But the campaign for the movement was slowly but steadily gaining ground in the states.
Meanwhile Miss Anthony made a test of the right of women to cast the ballot by going to the polls and voting. She was arrested and convicted and, though she refused to pay her fine, was never jailed. She became, however; the forerunner of the “militants,” who adopted the forceful tactics of the latter days of the campaign.
State after state gradually enfranchised its women citizens. Beginning with Wyoming in 1869, by 1919, sixteen states had given women the right to vote, and 14 states had presidential suffrage previous to ratification of the amendment.
From its beginning in this country , the suffrage movement met determined opposition from women as well as from men. The first organized opposition on the part of women manifested itself in 1873 when a committee of prominent women presented a petition to congress “protesting against the extension of suffrage to women.” Mrs. W. T. Sherman, wife of the Civil War hero, headed the committee, of which Miss Catherine Ward Beecher, sister of the famous divine, Henry Ward Beecher, was a member.
Various anti-suffrage organizations came into being subsequently, until the National Association opposed to women suffrage was formed in 1911 with Mrs. Arthur M. Dodge of New York as its first president. This body, step by step, fought the adoption and ratification of the amendment.
Full suffrage is enjoyed today by the women of 21 foreign countries including the new states of Czechoslovakia and Poland and the ancient nations of England, Germany and the Scandinavian countries. Now that the women of the United States have won the right equally with the men to take their part in the government of the republic the effect of the women’s vote on the political life of the country remains for time to show. Many women are joining the old line parties with their men folk but the National Woman’s party holds its own convention in June and will draw up its platform for the coming campaigns. First efforts probably will be directed to the laws on inheritance, divorce, guardianship and other laws alleged to discriminate against women.
The Susan B. Anthony Dollar Coin shows against a photograph, circa 1891, of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton working on their suffrage efforts.