Author Talk on Susan B. Anthony’s Kin

“All For Suffrage: Susan B. Anthony’s Kin” will be Jeanne Gehret’s topic in an evening presentation at the Penfield (N.Y.) Public Library this coming Thursday, April 27, from 7-8:30. Admission is free.

Miss Anthony’s devotion to woman suffrage is well-known. Lesser-known is how she also campaigned for black suffrage–and how her entire family supported her in both efforts.

Come discover how the members of Susan’s family thought for themselves and stood up for their beliefs–even when they risked public disapproval, arrest, the ruin of career, or death.

Copies of The Truth About Daniel, the first in the Dauntless Series about this amazing family, will be available for sale and author signing. This talk commemorates the 100th anniversary of woman suffrage in New York State.

The Lady Who Made This Big War

That is how Abraham Lincoln is said to have greeted Harriet Beecher Stowe when he met her many years after the publication of her shocking 1852 bestseller Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which gave slavery a face and a heart by telling it through the eyes of individuals. Read about Harriet, her book and its amazing success by clicking here.Even more popular than the book itself (which had sales in the 19th century second only to the Bible) were the stage renditions of her play.

It is probable that the Anthonys of Rochester and the Osborns of Marthas Vineyard were familiar with Stowe and her work. Harriet’s family of origin moved in the same abolitionist circles as the Anthonys. And Josiah Henson, the man who upon whom Harriet based her novel, made a notable appearance at the Methodist Camp Meetings that were held every summer on Martha’s Vineyard; the Osborns would likely have seen the publicity. In addition, the stage rendition of her story was one of the most popular theatrical renditions of its era.

Of her most famous book, Stowe said:

As a woman, as a mother, I was oppressed and broken-hearted with the sorrows and injustice I saw, because as a Christian I felt the dishonor to Christianity–because as a lover of my country, I trembled at the coming day of wrath.

For another look at her family, her other literary works, and her later years, visit the website of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center.

 

The Scandal of Speaking in Public

The National Women’s History Project salutes “countless millions of women who planned, organized, lectured, wrote, marched, petitioned, lobbied, paraded, and broke new ground in every field imaginable, [making] our world…irrevocably changed. Women and men in our generation, and the ones that will follow us, are living the legacy of women’s rights won against staggering odds in a revolution achieved without violence.”

 

For women’s history month, I have confined my selection of heroines to those who lived in 19th century America. That eliminates some of my favorite women like Alice Paul and Inez Milholland, who were both so instrumental in the second generation of suffragists that brought the movement through the final years before the woman suffrage amendment finally passed in 1920.

This is a special year for New York State, where women earned suffrage on state matters in 1917. Unfortunately New York State resident Susan B. Anthony did not live to exercise her right to vote legally in either her state or her country, for she died in 1906. Indeed, even though the entire country revered her late in life, her home state in 1894 ignored 600,000 petitions for woman suffrage, and the following year it formed an association opposed to woman suffrage. The only states that allowed women to vote in Susan’s lifetime were Wyoming (1890), Colorado (1893), Utah and Idaho (1896).

To offset this sad showing for New York State, today I am highlighting two female reformers who blazed their way across the empire state so brightly that they inspired the young Miss Anthony. They were Sarah and Angelina Grimke, who made themselves unpopular in their native Charleston by championing slavery, as memorialized in Sue Monk Kidd’s excellent historical novel The Invention of Wings. The sisters grew up as privileged daughters of a judge and plantation owner, with their slaves sleeping on the floor of their bedroom.

In an article about the sisters’ Charleston home, author Louise Knight also gives background on the economic dependence of that slaveowning city on slavery.

The striking elegance of the Grimké home reflected both the sophistication of the city they lived in and the family’s fabulous prosperity. Charleston in the early years of the nineteenth century was one of the new nation’s great metropolises. In 1810, with a population of roughly 24,711, it was the fourth largest city in the United States and possessed enormous wealth. The white community numbered 11,568. Charleston was a majority black city, with 13,143 Africans and people of African descent. In 1810, 89 percent of the black population—11,570 people—was enslaved, toiling in the households or the family stables or hiring out to work in the trades. Their unpaid labor across the city—combined with the unpaid labor of those working on plantations across the state—created Charleston’s wealth. The remaining 11 percent of the black population—some 1,430 African Americans—formed the free black community, whose skills in the trades and at the docks kept the city functioning.

Sarah and Angelina witnessed their mother’s arbitrary and cruel punishment of slaves in the “sugar house,” a place of such barbarism that its walls were soundproofed to muffle the screams of tortured persons within. Sarah taught her slave to read and would probably have been a lawyer had she been female. Angelina wrote a pamphlet entitled “Appeal to the Christian Women of the South,” in which she wrote:

I appeal to you, my friends, as mothers; Are you willing to enslave your children? You start back with horror and indignation at such a question. But why, if slavery is no wrong to those upon whom it is imposed? Why, if as has often been said, slaves are happier than their masters, free from the cares and perplexities of providing for themselves and their families? Why not place your children in the way of being supported without your having the trouble to provide for them, or they for themselves? Do you not perceive that as soon as this golden rule of action is applied to yourselves that you involuntarily shrink from the test; as soon as your actions are weighed in this balance of the sanctuary that you are found wanting?

Her pamphlet was burned in Charleston. Soon after, the Grimke sisters undertook a 67-city speaking tour of the Northeast (including New York), where they amazed crowds by addressed mixed audiences, not just women—a practice that was considered scandalous because the sexes were supposed to be kept separate and women were not supposed to speak in public.

Sarah and Angelina Grimke paved the way for Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, and others to speak in public about abolition and on women’s rights, as well.

 

Where is Hannah Anthony Mosher buried?

Tomb, Tomb of Hannah Anthony MosherHannah was the third child of Lucy and Daniel Read. (Imagine D.R. growing up with three older sisters!) There are suggestions that she also taught (like Guelma, Susan, and Mary) before her marriage to Eugene Mosher in 1845, for which Susan helped make a Feathered Star quilt. Susan’s diaries and biography demonstrate that the three oldest sisters remained close all their lives, for they all lived in two red brick houses on Madison Street in Rochester.

Hannah bore three sons and a daughter. By the time her sister Guelma died in 1873, Hannah was already showing signs of tuberculosis herself and, at the urging of Susan and D.R., spent time in Colorado for her health and then took up residence in Leavenworth with D.R.’s family. Eventually Hannah’s husband and children were called from Rochester, and she succumbed to her illness.

She was buried in Leavenworth, KS, the first of the clan to be interred there. Susan stayed in Leavenworth for six more weeks, eventually returning to Rochester with Hannah’s only daughter Louise, who would live with Susan and Mary until she graduated from the Rochester Free Academy. (Harper p. 477)

Was Susan B. A Homebody?

Susan B. Anthony House, Rochester, NY. Photo by Jeanne Gehret

Susan B. Anthony House, Rochester, NY. Photo by Jeanne Gehret

Susan B. Anthony gave approximately 100 speeches a year, by her own account, crisscrossing the United States to do so. Her woman suffrage campaign even took her to Europe and earned her an audience with Queen Victoria. Underlying her familiarity with travel, however, she had a strong sense of home and family that brought frequent bouts of homesickness and a longing for her kin.

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Susan B.’s Sibling Trivia

Seventy people joined me for a presentation on the Anthony siblings at Webster Immanuel Lutheran Church today. What a program! Each week they meet for an exercise program followed by a speaker (this week, it was me) and then lunch–all for $2! I am impressed by this group’s creativity in serving the interests and needs of their community.

As I was preparing for the presentation, I came up with some interesting facts about the Anthony siblings. Susan had three sisters and two brothers. Here goes:

  • Both brothers moved to Kansas to serve the abolitionist movement and the Army, despite their pacifist Quaker upbringing.
  • All but two of the siblings married. Susan and her sister Mary, two linchpins of the woman suffrage movement, remained single.
  • Two sisters died of consumption. Susan feared it would claim her life also, but it never did.
  • Both brothers died of heart trouble; D.R. had a weak heart after his serious gunshot wound.
  • All the sisters voted with Susan and got arrested.
  • Susan was a teetotaler all her life; D.R. flaunted his enjoyment of alcohol and did not support prohibition.
  • Susan was a member in good standing in the Quaker fellowship, but D.R. was almost dismissed after he killed a civilian in self-defense. (He was always getting into scrapes because of his hair-trigger temper.)
  • D.R. supported Susan’s newspaper The Revolution with both advice and money. When injury and political campaigns prevented him from giving enough attention to his own newspaper (The Daily Times), Susan ran it for him.

Like all parents, the senior Daniel Anthony and his wife Lucy must have watched their children with bemusement and marveled sometimes at how such different fruits could have fallen from the same tree.