Happy Birthday, Sue B.
Monday, Feb. 15, 2016 marks the 196th birthday of American civil rights and social justice leader, Susan B. Anthony.
Anthony was born in Massachusetts but settled in Rochester, New York, in 1849. In 1900, Anthony led a successful campaign to have women admitted to the University of Rochester by raising $50,000 in pledges. This included the cash value of her life insurance policy.
Though she did not live to see women gain the right to vote, her work with Elizabeth Cady Stanton in drafting and introducing the 19th Amendment, which prohibited the denial of a U.S. citizen to vote based on sex, laid the foundation for its ratification fourteen years after her death.
Anthony is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery. Her house on 17 Madison Street in the city of Rochester has been preserved and is now known as the Susan B. Anthony House and Museum. The University’s Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, which is dedicated to addressing curricular and scholarly issues throughout history and in contemporary society, hosts an annual birthday celebration.
The River Campus Library’s Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation is home to many important holdings related to Anthony’s role in women’s suffrage, including several collections of letters, personal items, and suffrage memorabilia.
Every year, the University’s Susan B. Anthony Center celebrates Anthony’s birthday and pays tribute to her efforts to win women admission to the University at their annual Legacy Awards Celebration. This year, Donna Brink Fox, senior associate dean of academic affairs at the Eastman School of Music, received the Lifetime Achievement Award for her work as a champion of music education.
Last spring, Rochester artist Sarah Rutherford created a University–themed mural, which includes an image of Anthony as both a young and an old woman, an image of a present-day young woman, and the University’s official flower, the dandelion. The project is part of a new initiative to bring more public art to the River Campus.
'May their numbers increase...'
The University was founded in 1850 as an all-male institution. In the 1880s, women began to petition the University to open its doors to female students. Finally in 1898 the board of trustees voted to allow women to enter the University if they defrayed expenses by raising $100,000 (approximately $2,000,000 in today’s money). A committee of women led by Helen Barrett Montgomery raised $40,000 over the next two years. In June 1900 the board agreed to admit women students that September if the women could secure another $10,000.
During the summer of 1900, the committee was able to raise another $2,000, but the day before the deadline they were still $8,000 short. At this crucial point, Anthony took charge of collecting the remaining money. She solicited the first $2,000 from her sister Mary, the second from Sarah Willis, and the third from Rev. and Mrs. William Channing Gannett. Still short $2,000, Anthony pledged her life insurance policy, thus guaranteeing the admission of women to the University in the fall of 1900.
“Failure is impossible,” Anthony proclaimed, creating a motto that carried the women’s suffrage movement to success. But while much is known about the famed suffragist’s stance on social equality and slavery, she also had lots to say on a variety of issues that still resonate today. This is why on last summer, researchers from the Susan B. Anthony Center launched a Twitter campaign aimed at connecting social media users with her opinions on an array of social issues, under the hashtag #SueBSays.
“While reading through her personal letters, we saw that her insights are as relevant today as over 100 years ago,” says Catherine Cerulli, director of the Susan B. Anthony Center. “That is why we thought Twitter was the right channel to present her thoughts on issues we still struggle with today and a great way to bring her into the 21st century.”
The Twitter campaign, which coincides with the 95th anniversary of the signing of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, will consist of quotes from Anthony’s correspondence to friends, family, and other suffrage leaders. Over the next 10 months, researchers at the Center will post two tweets a week that address a wide range of topics, including education, voting, and race relations.
Celebrating a 'heroic life'
The River Campus Library’s Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation is home to many important holdings related to Anthony’s role in women’s suffrage, including several collections of letters, personal items, and suffrage memorabilia. Letters and images can be viewed online.
The 1866 Woman’s Rights Convention was the first held since the beginning of the Civil War. The call to the Convention reflects Stanton and Anthony’s concern that the proposed fourteenth amendment would extend suffrage to black males only. In an enclosed note to Amy Post, Anthony writes: “I hope you will be at the convention. We shall need every woman & man who really believes now is the hour for woman to demand the ballot.”
On November 1, 1872, Anthony, her three sisters, and ten other Rochester women registered to vote after persuading the election inspectors that the Fourteenth Amendment gave them that right. Four days later they cast their ballots, and on November 18, Anthony was arrested for voting illegally.