Sometimes it’s hard to believe, but not so long ago, women were second-class citizens.
Let’s not forget that many of the things we take for granted in today’s world were hard-won in years past. Really hard won. For example, Susan B. Anthony, a suffragette at the forefront of the women’s rights movement in the U.S., worked for over 50 years to secure women the right to vote. She died years before it actually happened.
Her life wasn’t easy — she was arrested in 1872 for voting, spent years on the road giving speeches in sometimes hostile environments, and experienced the ups and downs of a politically active social reformer’s life. Her activism took up her entire time on earth, and she just never stopped going.
Learning about her is a great reminder: While the plight of suffragettes can seem like a foreign, unrelatable, nearly-forgotten aspect of history, the truth is that equality between the sexes is a relatively new phenomenon and one that is precious and worthy of protection.
When you look at how hard it was for her, it’s difficult not to feel compelled to stay vigilant about your own liberties and to be grateful for them. Today’s world is fast-paced and filled with distractions, all vying for our mental space. Whether it’s the media, a Facebook feed, or ads designed to make us feel bad about ourselves, we’re all prone to getting swept up in things that don’t even have authentic meaning for us.
Besides, women like Anthony deserve to be remembered, revered, and respected for all they’ve done. Are you ready to learn more about this powerful woman? Let’s get into it!
Susan B. Anthony’s Purpose-Filled Life
No doubt you’ve heard of her, but how much of the famous suffragist’s story do you know? The Susan B. Anthony coin is a testament to her influence over American life, and women’s rights in particular, during the nineteenth century. A far cry from the Victorian ideal of a submissive, docile wife, she was an inspiring speaker, rebel, and activist who worked tirelessly for over 50 years for women’s rights.
She was always willing to fight for what she believed was right, even if it made her unpopular. She came from a progressive, politically active Quaker family, which informed her beliefs about universal equality. Social reformers Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison were among her friends. Before championing women’s rights, she was a staunch supporter of the abolitionist movement, for which she frequently gave speeches about ending slavery.
This was revolutionary at the time, as it was considered improper for a woman to give speeches of this nature. At the time, the Cult of True Womanhood was the standard that women like Anthony were expected to conform to. The tenets of “True Womanhood” included religious piety, purity, domesticity, and submissiveness. These restrictive ideals were hardly forgiving of outspoken female public figures like Anthony.
But it seems that Anthony was fueled by beliefs much grander than the social expectations of her time. As a Quaker, she believed that the inner light of the divine is within everyone and that the divine is love. Quakerism is a religion characterized by values like integrity, equality, and the ability of everyone to have direct experience with spirit — as opposed to believing in hierarchy, division, and a punishing God.
So, Anthony’s actions were inspired by her purpose and her beliefs in what’s right and what’s true — universal divinity, equality, and opportunity. Her vision fueled her actions and kept her going even in the face of intimidation, ostracism, and even arrest. That’s the power of purpose.
What’s your purpose? What are your values? Do you imagine that they need to be as grand as Anthony’s in order to be valid? They don’t.
We can all benefit from a sense of purpose in our lives, something to act as our true north. It’s what brings us back to center. It’s what helps us navigate the storms. And your purpose can be simple — our values can simply be to treat others the way we wish to be treated, even when it’s inconvenient.
Or, your purpose could be related to social justice, like health justice and universal access to care. Maybe you’re driven by the love of teaching and inspiring young people to be the best they can be. Maybe you just want to live a life that is true to you, even if other people don’t understand it. Whatever it is, make sure it’s authentic to you.
Susan B. Anthony’s Accomplishments
Anthony had fought for abolition and even temperance (reduced alcohol sales) before she turned her attention fully to women’s voting rights. In fact, her decision to focus on women’s rights occurred after she was told to “sit and listen” instead of giving a speech at a temperance convention.
Her shift also aligned with a dynamic time during the mid-century when discontent against the tyranny of “The Cult of Womanhood ” was brewing. Momentum for the women’s movement culminated in the first women’s rights convention in the U.S., held at Seneca Falls in 1848.
In 1851, Anthony met Elizabeth Cady Stanton, another titan in women’s history, and joined forces with her. The two would work together as activists for over 50 years, proposing legislation, organizing and rallying, gathering petitions, and enduring intimidation during hundreds of public speeches across the country.
They made a great team. Among their many accomplishments, they created the National Women’s Suffrage Association and a women’s suffragist newspaper called The Revolution, Stanton was known for her intellectual ideas while Anthony’s strengths were organization, inspiration, and oracular abilities. One can only imagine how they both felt arriving in a new town, giving a new speech, instilling hope, and creating change.
It was also both socially and even physically dangerous. They endured both praise and ridicule and risked arrest every time they made a speech. No doubt their work sometimes felt thankless and endless, but neither woman ever gave up.
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Going Against the Grain
As we’ve seen countless times in history, circumstances that we take for granted were seen as crazy, even impossible, in previous times. As outsiders looking in, we can see the power of activists like Anthony’s cause and maybe imagine that we might have supported them or why they acted as they did. But remember that in doing so, we would have risked ostracism or worse.
Nowadays, standing up for our beliefs is less dangerous, but it’s still easy to get intimidated and pressured to go along with social norms. But no one ever changed the world by being submissive. We have to be proactive.
Committing wholeheartedly to your purpose might mean you have to make a few sacrifices. Not everyone likes it when you’re true to yourself. When you live authentically, you might have to be okay with being unpopular, feeling rejected, or being misunderstood. All of that is possible when you go against the grain. But the reward is an authentically lived life that aligns with your values.
When you feel yourself growing small, shrinking at the thought of taking some action that you believe in, keep in mind that it’s natural to feel uncomfortable when you’re stepping out of your comfort zone — but it’s worth it.
So whether it’s a social change you want to see, some injustice in your own life that you want corrected, or simply having the power to live in a way that is authentic to you, remember that playing it safe will not get you the results you want. You have to be brave.
Failure is Impossible
You may have heard the quote “Failure is impossible” attributed to Anthony, and it’s truly a testament to her life’s work. She dedicated her entire life to the women’s right to vote, among other causes, and did not stop fighting until her death.
In fact, the famous quote is from her last speech, delivered in Baltimore in 1906 right before she died. It was a rousing testimony to the decades long fight for the right to vote and the need for suffragists to see it through to completion.
Those older women have gone on, and most of those who work with me in the early years have gone. I am here for a little time only, and then my place will be filled as theirs was filled. The fight must not cease; you must see that it does not stop. There have been others also just as true and devoted to the cause — I wish I could name every one — but with such women consecrating their lives, failure is impossible! – Susan B. Anthony
Unfortunately, Anthony fell sick on her way home from the speech and died soon after. She never lived to see what she’d been fighting for happen, when women’s voting rights were secured with the 19th amendment in 1920. As sad as that is, Anthony’s work paved the way for the progress we’ve seen up until now.
Remember and Support the Women’s Rights Movement
Susan B. Anthony is one of many inspiring social reformers who helped secure the lifestyle, freedom, and power you have today. It took courage for Anthony and her peers to go against social norms. Challenging expectations and fighting for women’s rights meant she risked arrest but also experienced hatred, ostracism, and the tumultuous life of an activist. She deserves to be remembered and thanked for everything she did for American women.
Let’s carry her legacy on by supporting equal rights for all!
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