When Free Speech isn’t Free

It almost cost Frederick Douglass his home to publish his newspaper in the Talman Building in Rochester, pictured here; and Harriet Jacobs, who operated a reading room with her brother one floor up, couldn’t make her rent, either. Continue reading

Susan B. Anthony and the Freedom of the Press

From the time she was a teenager, Susan B. Anthony hated writing. Early in her public life she lamented, “Whenever I take a pen in hand I seem to be mounted on stilts.”  It is ironic, therefore, that she left behind a literary legacy that included two years of a weekly newspaper, the four-volume set of The History of Woman Suffrage, and her three-volume authorized biography.

Despite her struggles with writing, she also became famous for giving thousands of speeches on antislavery, the restriction of alcoholic beverages, and the necessity of women’s rights.

To overcome her aversion to writing, Anthony collaborated.  From the beginning of her friendship with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Anthony gathered materials for her silver-tongued friend to turn into prose. Then Anthony had the speeches and articles published and circulated. As time went on, Stanton mentored her friend so well that Anthony was able to make and deliver her own speeches, as well.

It’s likely that Susan learned about publishing when she visited her brother Daniel (D.R.), who owner a newspaper in Leavenworth, KS. During that period D.R. needed time to run his mayoral campaign, so Susan stepped in to run his newspaper, “limited only by his injunction ‘not to have it all woman’s rights and negro suffrage.’” (Harper, 243) (Below, here I am in costume in Atchison, KS trying out the printing press.)

While visiting Kansas two years later, an admirer named George Francis Train offered to fund a newspaper published by Susan and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

As always, Anthony left much of the writing to Stanton and others, focusing her efforts instead on fundraising, office management, and the actual production of the issues. From 1868 to 1870 their publication gave them the freedom to voice their support of women earning their own money and the necessity of women getting the right to vote. Called The Revolution, its motto was “Men their rights and nothing more, women their rights and nothing less.”

Radical as it was, The Revolution could not support itself through subscriptions and advertisements, especially after George Francis Train fell on hard times and stopped contributing. D.R. advised Susan to publish less frequently or print on cheaper paper, but she refused.

Eventually, the money problems of The Revolution grew critical and they had to cease publication with a $10,000 debt. In her journal Anthony lamented, “It was like signing my own death-warrant.”

When Anthony  “crashed” the U.S. Centennial Celebration in Philadelphia in 1876, she owed her strategic place on the speaker platform to D.R., who obtained a coveted press pass for her to sit there. From that vantage point she interrupted the proceedings to make a brief speech before distributing tracts in the audience and announcing her own meeting.

Nevertheless, the loss of The Revolution must have nagged at Anthony because when she received a bequest several years later, she spent it to fund a several-volume work entitled The History of Woman Suffrage. Although she embarked on this venture with Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage, she ended up buying them out.

Visitors to Anthony’s Rochester home can see early pictures of a two-story house followed later by those of a three-story dwelling. That’s because Susan and her sister Mary added a third-floor workroom to accommodate the History.

Writing and publishing takes time, energy, and cash flow. Alongside her many accomplishments promoting human rights, Miss Anthony marshalled her resources in such a way that she was able to leave her literary mark, as well.

D.R.’s Pugnacious Temperament

I love the term “pugnacious,” which describes someone just itching for a fight. That seems a fair representation of Daniel Read Anthony of Leavenworth, who was descended from the same stock as Susan B. Anthony. While this brother and sister were both devoted to the abolition of slavery, she fought with words, attempting to change legislation, while he wrote fiery articles and backed them up with bullets. (Besides being a Union colonel and Kansas Jayhawker, he founded a newspaper dynasty whose owners were all named Daniel Read Anthony.)

Here’s an excerpt from a colorful account of several Kansas editors whose combative natures emphasized their verbal onslaughts:

Dan Anthony I of Leavenworth deserves top billing among the pistol-packing pencil pushers. He fought a duel, was shot at numerous times, was seriously wounded once and killed a rival editor in his own home town. All of these incidents occurred during the territorial or early statehood days, and he carried two big horse pistols for many years and to his dying day these lethal weapons, ready to go, laid on or in the top drawer of his desk. During the later period of forty years he never had occasion to use this armament, but it was well known that “Ole Dan” was always ready. He mellowed a good deal as he grew older and while his likes and dislikes were just as sharply drawn and aggressively supported or opposed he learned to temper his violence materially.

Another significant difference between them is that D.R. married and settled in Leavenworth, KS while Susan remained single and became a citizen of the world. Many years she logged 100 speeches–think of that, two a day–many of them in different towns.

The photo of D.R. above depicts one of his quieter moments. Despite his warlike nature, he died of natural causes at the age of 80. Read about his most deadly encounter in The Truth About Daniel, coming in January.