Susan B. Anthony, 1820-1906: She Led the Fight to Gain Equal Rights for Women, Including the Right to Vote
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PEOPLE IN AMERICA, a program in Special English on the Voice of America.
In the eighteen fifties, women in the United States began to try to gain the same rights as men. One woman was a leader in the campaign to gain women the right to vote. I'm Stan Busby. And I'm Shirley Griffith. Today we tell about a fighter for rights for women, Susan B. Anthony.
In seventeen seventy-six, a new nation declared its freedom from Britain. The Declaration of Independence was the document written to express the reasons for seeking that freedom. It stated that all men were created equal. It said that all men had the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Not every citizen of the new United States of America had one important right, however. That was the right to vote. At first, the only people permitted to vote in the United States were white men who owned property and could read. By eighteen sixty, most white male citizens over the age of twenty-one had the right to vote.
The Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the Constitution gave black male citizens the right to vote. These amendments were passed in eighteen sixty-eight and eighteen seventy.
Women were not really full citizens in America in the eighteen hundreds. They had no economic independence.
For example, everything a woman owned when she got married belonged to her husband. If a married woman worked, the money she made belonged to her husband. In addition, women had no political power. They did not have the right to vote.
In the eighteen fifties, women organized in an effort to gain voting rights. Their campaign was called the women's suffrage movement. Suffrage means the right to vote. American women sought to gain that right for more than seventy years.
One of the leaders of the movement was Susan B. Anthony of Massachusetts. Miss Anthony was a teacher. She believed that women needed economic and personal independence. She also believed that there was no hope for social improvement in the United States until women were given the same rights as men. The rights included the right to vote in public elections.
Susan B. Anthony was born in eighteen twenty. Her parents were members of the Quaker religion. She became one, too. The Quakers believed that the rights of women should be honored. They were the first religious group where women shared the leadership with men.
As a young woman, Susan had strong beliefs about justice and equality for women and for black people. And she was quick to speak out against what she believed was not just.
Many young men wanted to marry her. But she could not consider marrying a man who was not as intelligent as she. She once said: "I can never understand why intelligent girls should want to marry fools just to get married. Many are willing to do so. But I am not. "
She did meet some young men who were intelligent. But it always seemed that they expected women to be their servants, not their equals.
Susan B. Anthony became a school teacher in New York state. She realized that women could never become full citizens without some political power. They could never get such power until they got the right to vote. She went from town to town in New York state trying to get women interested in their right to vote. But they did not seem interested. Miss Anthony felt this was because women were not able to do anything for themselves. They had no money or property of their own. The struggle seemed long and hard. She said:
"As I went from town to town, I understood more and more the evil we must fight. The evil is that women cannot change anything as long as they must depend on men for their very lives. Women cannot change anything until they themselves are independent. They cannot be free until they have the legal right to own property and to keep the money they make by working."
Miss Anthony went to every city, town and village in New York state. She organized meetings in schools, churches, and public places. Everywhere she went, she carried pamphlets urging rights for women.
She urged the lawmakers of New York to change the state law and give women the right to own property. Her campaign in New York failed at that time. But elsewhere the struggle for women's rights was making progress.
In eighteen fifty-one, Susan B. Anthony met Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Mrs. Stanton also supported equal rights for women. Mrs. Stanton had many children. She needed to remain at home to raise her large family. Miss Anthony, however, was not married. She was free to travel, to speak, and to organize for the women's rights movement. The two women cooperated in leading the fight to gain rights for women in the United States.
Their first important success came in eighteen sixty when New York finally approved a married woman's law. For the first time in New York, a married woman could own property. And, she had a right to the money she was paid for work she did.
At last, Miss Anthony's campaign was beginning to show results. The campaign spread to other states.
The end of the American Civil War in eighteen sixty-five freed Negroes from slavery. Susan B. Anthony felt that there was still much to be done to get full freedom -- for Negroes and also for women. She began to campaign for the right for Negroes and women to vote.
The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was approved in eighteen sixty-eight. It gave Negro men the right to vote. But it did not give women the right to vote.
Susan B. Anthony led efforts to have voting rights for women included in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Her efforts were not successful. Then Miss Anthony decided to test the legal basis of the Fourteenth Amendment. She did this during the presidential election of eighteen seventy-two.
On election day, Miss Anthony led a group of women to vote in Rochester, New York. Two weeks later, Miss Anthony was arrested. She was charged with voting although she had no legal right to do so.
Before her trial, Susan B. Anthony traveled around New York state. She spoke to many groups about the injustice of denying women the right to vote. She said:
"Our democratic, republican government is based on the idea that every person shall have a voice and a vote in making the laws and putting them to work. It is we, the people -- all the people -- not just white men or men only, who formed this nation. We formed it to get liberty not just for half of us -- not just for half of our children -- but for all, for women as well as men.
"Is the right to vote a necessary right of citizens? To my mind, it is a most important right. Without it, all other rights are nothing. "
Susan B. Anthony was tried and found guilty of violating the law. She was ordered to pay one hundred dollars as a punishment. She said the law was wrong. She refused to pay.
Miss Anthony then led efforts to gain voting rights for women through a new amendment to the Constitution. She traveled across the country to campaign for such an amendment until she was seventy-five years old. In nineteen-oh-four, she spoke to a committee of the United States Senate for the last time. The committee was discussing the proposal for an amendment to the Constitution giving women the right to vote. She knew the victory would come. But she also knew it would not come while she was alive.
Susan B. Anthony died in nineteen-oh-six at the age of eighty-six. Thirteen years later, in nineteen nineteen, Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment stated that the right to vote shall not be denied because of a person's sex.
The amendment had to be approved by three-fourths of the states. It won final approval on August twenty-sixth, nineteen twenty. It was called the Anthony Amendment, to honor Susan B. Anthony.
This Special English program was written by Shelley Gollust. It was produced by Lawan Davis. I'm Stan Busby. And I'm Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for another PEOPLE IN AMERICA program on the Voice of America.