last week i took my parents and daughter to visit susan b anthony’s house on madison street, in rochester. susan b anthony was a consummate activist – she lobbied for the abolition of slavery, women’s rights, women’s suffrage, education reform, temperance and a myriad other causes close to her heart. at a time when women were struggling to find a voice, susan b anthony’s speeches held sway over generations of men and women and changed the socio-political landscape of our country. she was arrested in 1872 for casting a vote in the presidential election. this is the speech she delivered in court in defence of women’s right to vote:
“friends and fellow citizens: i stand before you tonight under indictment for the alleged crime of having voted at the last presidential election, without having a lawful right to vote. it shall be my work this evening to prove to you that in thus voting, i not only committed no crime, but, instead, simply exercised my citizen’s rights, guaranteed to me and all united states citizens by the national constitution, beyond the power of any state to deny.
the preamble of the federal constitution says: “we, the people of the united states, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution for the united states of america.”
it was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the union. and we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people – women as well as men. and it is a downright mockery to talk to women of their enjoyment of the blessings of liberty while they are denied the use of the only means of securing them provided by this democratic-republican government – the ballot.
for any state to make sex a qualification that must ever result in the disfranchisement of one entire half of the people, is to pass a bill of attainder, or, an ex post facto law, and is therefore a violation of the supreme law of the land. by it the blessings of liberty are forever withheld from women and their female posterity. to them this government has no just powers derived from the consent of the governed. to them this government is not a democracy. it is not a republic. it is an odious aristocracy; a hateful oligarchy of sex; the most hateful aristocracy ever established on the face of the globe; an oligarchy of wealth, where the rich govern the poor. an oligarchy of learning, where the educated govern the ignorant, or even an oligarchy of race, where the saxon rules the african, might be endured; but this oligarchy of sex, which makes father, brothers, husband, sons, the oligarchs over the mother and sisters, the wife and daughters, of every household – which ordains all men sovereigns, all women subjects, carries dissension, discord, and rebellion into every home of the nation.
webster, worcester, and bouvier all define a citizen to be a person in the united states, entitled to vote and hold office. the only question left to be settled now is: are women persons? and I hardly believe any of our opponents will have the hardihood to say they are not. being persons, then, women are citizens; and no state has a right to make any law, or to enforce any old law, that shall abridge their privileges or immunities. hence, every discrimination against women in the constitutions and laws of the several states is today null and void, precisely as is every one against negroes.”
frederick douglass was one of her lifelong friends. the bronze statue of susan b anthony and frederick douglass having tea in the park by laos-born sculptor pepsy kettavong is located across the street from anthony’s house. it is life-like, life-size, accessible and bang in the middle of the neighborhood where she lived. it’s genius. the house itself is being renovated and slowly restored. but what really brought susan b anthony back to life for us was the knowledge and passion of our excellent docent annie. as rochestarians, and even more so as american women, we should all be proud of anthony’s legacy.