Happy Birthday, Susan B. Anthony

The celebrations for Susan B. Anthony’s birthday (February 15) seemed to have swelled in size as her years increased. Newspapers were filled with tributes to her, and she received many gifts.

At her 80th birthday celebration, she shook hands with well-wishers for two hours. Three tributes stand out from the many she received that evening:

  • From Wyoming, the first state to grant woman suffrage, came a flag, with the explanation that it bore “on its field forty-one common stars and four diamonds, representing the four progressive or suffrage States—Wyoming,…Colorado, Utah, and Idaho. …We hope you may live to see all the common stars turn into diamonds.”
  • She received notice that upon her return home, she would find two fine Smyrna rugs in the parlor and sitting room, which were getting worn because the Anthony home sometimes entertained up to 50 guests a day—a custom that she may have learned from her parents’ hospitality in her childhood home in Adams.
  • Eighty boys and girls, marching in time to music, passed in single file across the stage where Miss Anthony sat and deposited a rose—one for each of her 80 years—in her lap.

(Ida Husted Harper, The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony, p. 1184)

On her 86th birthday, Susan exerted her indomitable determination to appear on the speaker’s platform in Washington once more, despite severe nerve pain. Because of her frailty, she was not expected to speak, but she wanted to say one last word. In appreciation she stretched out her hand thanking the national officers on the stage and then said these famous words:

“There have been others also just as true and devoted to the cause…. with such women consecrating their lives, failure is impossible!”

(Harper, p. 1409)

Returning to her Rochester home under the care of a nurse, she took to her bed and soon developed pneumonia.

As this blog chronicles Susan’s life alongside her brothers and sisters, it is worth noting that only Mary, Susan’s youngest sister, outlived the great reformer. Devoted homekeeper for all of Susan’s public life, Mary sat vigil with a host of suffrage friends who had become as close as family.

Within a month of her 86th birthday, Susan died.