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.

 

Back in the Saddle, Almost

After an absence of several months for family matters, I’ll soon be back to posting on this site. In the meantime, I’m preparing for a talk entitled “All in the Family: The Extended Family of Susan B. Anthony” at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Webster, NY on July 15.

A Christmas Tale

The Rochester Anthonys were not in the habit of celebrating Christmas until the end of the 19th century. “We Quakers don’t make much of Christmas,” Susan said as late as 1899.

It should come as no surprise, then, that on Christmas Day in 1860 Susan became embroiled in one of the most unpopular causes of her life. To make matters even worse, the situation was filled with cruel irony.

Ever since 1850, Susan had worked tirelessly with a group of abolitionists to free African-Americans from slavery. Along with her family and friends, she had personally assisted runaways on the Underground Railroad. For this reason, she probably assumed that her associates would spring to her aid when she tried to help a white woman and daughter who were fleeing an abusive husband—a situation with many parallels to a life of slavery.

Here’s an excerpt from my book *Susan B. Anthony And Justice For All:

“Phoebe Phelps was the wealthy mother of three children, married to a member of the Massachusetts Senate. She suspected him of loving another woman, and one day she told him so. He became so angry that he threw her down the stairs. Fearing that people would hear about his affair and his terrible temper, Senator Phelps had his wife locked up in an asylum. For a year and a half, she lived like a prisoner, away from the children she loved.”

Finally, she was released into her brother’s custody and allowed to have her children visit one at a time. On one of these occasions, she fled with her 13 year-old daughter Delia to Quaker friends, who introduced them both to Susan in Syracuse, NY.

Thus Susan marked that Christmas by boarding a train headed for New York City with the two fugitives. But as in the original Christmas story, there was no room at the inn.

“Because it was late at night when they arrived, Susan tried to get a hotel room for the night. However, the clerk refused to rent them a room [because they were not accompanied by a man]. After Susan threatened to sleep in the lobby, he gave in. The whole next day Susan took Mrs. Phelps and Delia from one friend’s home to another, but none would help them for fear of breaking the law.”

At that time, Massachusetts law viewed children and married women as property of the man of the house. Among others, Susan’s abolitionist hero William Lloyd Garrison demanded that she return the women to Senator Phelps rather than sully the antislavery movement with law-breaking on behalf of the Phelpses. Susan retorted, “Trust me that as I ignore all law to help the slave, so will I ignore it all to protect an enslaved woman.”

Susan’s father affirmed that she had made the right moral choice. Most likely, she also had the support of her brother D.R. in Kansas, who two years later as a Civil War colonel would face a court martial rather than return fugitive slaves to their masters. He frequently supported Susan’s travels on behalf of women’s rights.

Senator Phelps eventually kidnapped Delia, who was never re-united with Phoebe. In 1876, the Phelps failure probably returned to haunt Susan: when D.R.’s wife Anna needed assistance on a female issue, she turned to someone other than her famous sister-in-law.

(*Verbal Images Press, 1994)