Who was Susan B. Anthony’s sister Guelma?

Silhouette of woman with her hair up

Susan B. Anthony’s sister Guelma Penn Anthony McLean (1818- 1873) was the oldest child in the Anthony family. She was 20 months older than Susan. Altogether there were four girls and two boys.

Guelma took her name from the first wife of Quaker William Penn, who founded the (then) British colony of Pennsylvania. Those who knew her parents would have found this no surprise, because Lucy and Daniel Anthony followed the Quaker religion. Like Susan, Guelma was born in North Adams, MA, in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains.

From the age of 15, Susan and her sister Guelma each spent summers teaching school. Although their family did not, in the early years, need the money, the parents thought it important for all girls to be self-sufficient. Both girls attended boarding school in Philadelphia, some 300 miles from home. When the Panic of 1837 occurred, the Anthonys moved to Hardscrabble, NY on the eastern edge of New York State. There, Mr. Anthony had to claim bankruptcy and remove his daughters from school.

Shortly thereafter, Guelma married a prosperous merchant Aaron McLean, son of her father’s one-time business partner.  (chapters 1 and 2). The records for Mt. Hope Cemetery show that Guelma had four children.

Close family relations

Like Hannah Anthony Mosher, Guelma and her husband remained back east when parents Lucy and Daniel relocated to a farm in Rochester. When Daniel died, Lucy moved to 17 Madison Street in the city. By this time, only Susan and Mary lived with Lucy. However, Guelma and her family also occupied the home at #17 for eight years (447), while Hannah and her family lived next door.

The two homes on Madison Street are separated only by a small garden. I can imagine the women sitting outside to snap beans or mend while the children played around them. Today, #17 is preserved as the Susan B. Anthony House Museum and the other (Hannah’s home) has been remodeled to serve as the visitor center.

This happy domestic scene had seriously unraveled by 1870. Susan had incurred a huge debt for publishing a newspaper called The Revolution. As a result, she undertook a grueling lecture schedule to repay the money. Sometimes she gave as many as 100 talks a year, keeping her away from home for extended periods. In addition, Guelma’s college-age daughter Anna Eliza and son Thomas both died. Susan noted that “his death was a heavy blow to all the family and one from which his mother never recovered.” (369)

In 1872, Susan set out to vote in the presidential election, something that a woman had never done before. In consultation with Judge Henry Selden, she studied the U.S. Constitution and was confident that the 14th amendment protected women’s right to vote because it said that “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” The fact that women must pay taxes demonstrates that they are citizens, she reasoned.

Apparently, this line of thought convinced Guelma, Hannah, and Mary, as well as eleven other female friends, to vote with Susan. All were arrested, but only Susan was made an example by having to go to trial.

Years of loss for sister Guelma

When you consider Guelma’s health at that time, it’s all the more impressive that she voted. Here is Susan’s description of her eldest sister during that period:

“Her heart had been broken by the death, a few years before, of her two beautiful children just at the dawn of manhood and womanhood, and the fatal malady consumption met with no resistance. Day by day she faded away . . . .”

p. 447, Ida Husted Harper, Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony
dark-haired woman in bed

Within a year of voting, tuberculosis claimed Susan B. Anthony’s sister Guelma. Two others who went to the polls that morning in 1872 passed away the same year. Consumption was a cruel killer. By the time Guelma died, her sister Hannah was also showing signs of the disease. Susan and brother Daniel encouraged Hannah to seek her health under the clear skies of Kansas (Daniel’s home) and Colorado.

Of the original Anthonys, only Mary, Susan, and mother Lucy remained in Rochester after Hannah’s death in 1877. Daniel and Merritt were living in Kansas with their wives, establishing families of their own. Even so, various family members continued to live at Madison Street until Mary’s death.

Page references pertain to The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony, by Ida Husted Harper.

Voting with Susan B. Anthony

box with the word "Vote" on it

Voting with Susan B. Anthony was a daunting task. Every year at this time, I like to reflect on Susan’s sisters who accompanied her on that fateful November day in 1872. You may enjoy a full account of her voting, arrest, and trial.

Lovers of Anthony lore often refer to Susan’s youngest sister, Mary, as the wind beneath the famous reformer’s wings. It’s easy to see why:

  • Mary remained single,
  • cared for mother Lucy Anthony in her widowhood,
  • kept the Madison Street home where numerous family members lodged  (including Susan),
  • and was a leader in the Women’s Political Equality Club.

But who were the other two sisters voting with Susan?

Guelma Penn Anthony, the oldest child in the Anthony family, attended Miss Moulson’s Academy in Philadelphia and, like Susan, taught for several years. While the family lived in Battenville, NY, Guelma married Aaron McLean, the son of her father’s business associate. Susan’s letters, as well as anecdotes about him, suggest a fond, easygoing relationship with her brother-in-law.

Eventually, the McLeans moved from Battenville to Rochester, where they lived for several years at 17 Madison Street with Susan, Mary, and their mother Lucy. (Hannah and her family lived next door.) The McLeans had four children, but only one lived a full adult life. Susan’s biography gives a glimpse of the crushing blow of the death of Ann Eliza McLean, whom Susan referred to as the most beloved of all her nieces. “She was twenty-three years old, beautiful and talented, a good musician and an artist of fine promise.” (Harper, 241) Shortly after the untimely death of her son Thomas, Guelma became ill and did not recover.

Despite the fact that Guelma was suffering from tuberculosis, she joined Susan, Hannah, and Mary to register for the 1872 election at the local barbershop. After Susan was tried and convicted for that vote, she remained in Rochester for many months, largely due to Guelma’s rapidly-failing health.

A short time after Guelma’s death in 1873 at the age of 55, Susan wrote to her mother, “Our Guelma, does she look down upon us, does she still live, and shall we all live again and know each other?” (Harper, 446-7)

Susan B. Anthony sister-in-law honored

Susan B. Anthony’s sister-in-law was honored on her October 28 birthday in her adopted hometown of Leavenworth, Kansas. The Leavenworth County Historical Society (LCHS) placed a historical marker near the home that Annie Osborn Anthony shared with Susan’s brother Daniel.

Mary Ann Brown of the LCHS spoke at the marker’s unveiling. She said that beginning in 1867, Susan B. frequented Leavenworth in her campaign to gain the vote for women in Kansas and throughout the country. Other suffrage notables such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Olympia Brown and Lucy Stone also visited that residence. Brown continued,

Anthony’s brother, Col. D.R. Anthony and his wife, Annie Osborn Anthony, regularly hosted these individuals. . . [Their home was situated] on a bluff of the Missouri River which served as a center of local support for early causes of abolition, temperance and woman suffrage.

Read more about Mary Ann Brown here

Susan B. Anthony’s sister-in-law essential

Annie played a significant part in furthering the cause of votes for women. Hers was the home that Susan and her associates often used as a home base. Miss Anthony, who had a small budget for her reform activities, relied heavily on donations of money and hospitality. Typically spending about 100 nights a year on the road, she often felt travel weary and appreciated a warm welcome.

Honor for an everyday woman

I’m so glad to see Annie Anthony, along with her husband Daniel, receive this honor. Too often history records only the activities of famous people, especially men. By contrast, Annie Anthony was one of those behind-the-scenes women who quietly held up half the sky. A mother of five, she led an everyday life that was usually overshadowed by her husband Daniel, a well-known editor and politician. And yet, when we look back, her many small gestures of support made a huge difference to women everywhere. Kansas was one of the first states to grant women municipal suffrage. It was also an early adopter of the 19th amendment giving all American women the right to vote.

Too much history in Leavenworth, Kansas

Flag with words "Leavenworth: A Good Place to Call Home" against background of large star and stripes. Brick buildings in far background.
The history in Leavenworth reaches deep and wide. Photo by Jeanne Gehret

This past summer I made my third visit to Leavenworth, Kansas, where there was too much history for me to absorb all at once. Ever since my return home on Labor Day, I’ve been mulling over my discoveries and finding new connections.

Starting off from home in Rochester, NY, my husband Jon and I made the 1,000-mile drive to the Midwest, tracing the journey that Daniel Read (D.R.) Anthony first made in 1854. (He lived in Rochester before emigrating to Kansas.) That was three years before Kansas was even a state.

D.R., the brother of Susan B. Anthony, cut a huge swath across the border of Kansas and Missouri starting in 1854. Ten years later, he did something almost unimaginable to a contemporary mind. This dedicated frontiersman married a whaling heiress from Martha’s Vineyard who was 20 years younger than he. Talk about a culture clash!

Much history about the Anthonys in Leavenworth

Soon after Annie’s arrival in Leavenworth, she and D.R. built a home in Leavenworth, and there they remained until his death in 1904. Daniel’s sister Susan B. Anthony frequently visited that lovely residence overlooking the Missouri River. (See a previous post for a family tree showing Daniel’s place in the Anthony family.)

Annie is not a focus of this particular post, but you can read plenty about her by browsing this blog. The Dauntless Series, my trilogy about her life with Daniel, is mainly from her point of view. The Truth About Daniel, published in 2017, chronicles the couple’s early history, courtship, and marriage with some fun twists and turns and a tragic story.

Leavenworth Local Hotel

After our long drive across half the country, Jon and I settled into our centrally-located hotel, The Leavenworth Local, on Shawnee St.

What a wonderful surprise awaited us there! Our “room” was actually a suite the size of a one-time classroom. We quickly felt at home in the sitting room, full kitchen, bedroom with huge closets, and gleaming bathroom. The walls of the wide hallways occasionally featured posters regaling visitors with Leavenworth history. One of these recounted the arrival of a character later in my trilogy, Mother Xavier Ross, a Sister of Charity.

Kitty-corner from our hotel was the former site of Oddfellows Hall. This distinctive building served in its heyday as a social club and the setting for many fancy dress balls. One night a cyclone took its roof clear off, and its original third story was never rebuilt. Today it is occupied by the Davis Funeral Chapel.

I’ve written recently about the pleasures of walking where my characters walked. This time in Kansas was no different. Hitting the pavement on my first morning there, I had the sense of viewing my surroundings through two different lenses. One eye regarded the current town, while the other saw the buildings and streets corresponding to my 1876 map.

I found the alleys of Leavenworth particularly interesting. Running for many blocks behind the streets named for Native American tribes, they traverse the hills and valleys of town. An alley also runs behind the Anthony carriage house, where a fire erupted suddenly, probably by arson.  

Too much history

Following my morning stroll, Jon and I drove to the Leavenworth County Historical Society to meet Mary Ann Sachse Brown, who is president of the society and my good friend. She is an avid historian and author of more than a dozen books on Leavenworth. We first met in 2012.

After giving us a warm Kansas welcome, Mary Ann took us inside to orient us with maps of Leavenworth printed at various times throughout the 1800s. They are framed and tucked alongside bookcases and above doors. I was particularly taken with the map below. Isn’t it beautiful? It showed me that D.R.’s first rented office was within a stone’s throw from the Planters Hotel, the most happening place in town.

Leavenworth map with two buildings marked
Leavenworth map: #1 was the Planters Hotel and #6 was D.R. Anthony’s office

Throughout our two days together, she drove me up and down the streets of the business district and to the outskirts of town to show me Pilot Knob, where Daniel and Annie took carriage rides. She uncovered layers and layers of history, of both black and white peoples, and regaled me with new stories about Daniel Anthony. “The problem with Leavenworth history,” she said, “isn’t that it’s hard to find. The problem is that there’s too much of it.”

We lunched at a restaurant called The Depot, the repurposed 1887 train station in Leavenworth.

Author Jeanne Gehret in front of old building

This is the site of an 1887 train station

Later, Mary Ann and I stopped to admire the building originally known as Laing’s Hall, where Susan B. gave her first speech in Kansas. I hadn’t realized that she filled such a large venue so early in her Kansas travels! Book Two of my trilogy quotes some of my favorite lines from her speech. Laing’s Hall is also where Col. Jennison, D.R.’s nemesis in that period, stole the gas meter so he wouldn’t have to give a speech.

long gray building, two stories
Susan B. Anthony spoke at this building, originally known as Laing’s Hall

D.R. amassed considerable wealth because he had two or three concurrent careers during his early life. For many years he was the postmaster and mayor of the town, which was booming at the time. Mary Ann explained that during his tenure as postmaster, the post office occupied rooms in whatever building he owned at the time. When he constructed his own office building he made room for Dr. Tiffin Sinks, who saved his life from a gunshot wound that would’ve killed anyone else. (Plenty has been written about his warlike temperament.)

Daniel’s stints as postmaster fluctuated according to the pleasure of U.S. presidents. During Lincoln’s final term in office and during Ulysses Grant’s term, Anthony held the position. However, Andrew Johnson (who undid many of Lincoln’s civil rights reforms) replaced D.R. for failing to follow discriminatory laws.

For many years after he settled in Kansas, Anthony also sold insurance and published a newspaper. Eventually, after he bought up all the dailies in town, he gave up the insurance business.

Memorable Mansions

The Carroll Mansion on Fifth Avenue, home of the historical society, is a gem not to be missed. Originally built for Edward and Mary Ellen Carroll, it received most of its elegant details when Lucien and Julia Scott owned it from 1882-1887, during the Anthonys’ era. My eyes drank such beautiful features as stained glass windows and parquet floors that are unique to each room; inglenook fireplaces; a breathtaking stairway; doors and shutters that “disappear” into pockets; and sleeping porches.

Hallway with ornate window and wooden stairwayow above door and
Carroll Mansion, Leavenworth, used with permission

Mary Ann did a wonderful study of residents on the street where the Anthonys lived for four decades at #417 North Esplanade. It turns out that many of those neighbors supported woman suffrage, as did Annie Anthony. Driving down the street evoked more 19th century elegance as I admired all the beautiful Victorian homes. Because several had been for sale recently, I was able to get an “inside tour” of them on Zillow. Through the decades, homeowners have updated many of the interiors. But since the North Esplanade is now a historic district, the exteriors must remain like they did when Susan B. visited.

Although a terrible fire engulfed many residences on the Esplanade during the 1880s, the Anthony home was spared. When Annie sold the house after D.R.’s death, the new owners bought the adjacent property on Pottawatomie Street, tore down its house, and added to #417. I assume that’s when external changes were made that rendered the Anthony home’s exterior unrecognizable from archival photos. Even so, it still retains a carriage house and trellises. These remind me of those in the original images of the house during Daniel and Annie’s time.

The first public park in Kansas lies across the street on the bluff. Looking over to the Missouri River, I imagined the tobacco and hemp crops that grew there by slave labor. We also visited many 1875-era landmarks of Leavenworth— the levee where Annie first set foot in Kansas; City Hall, where Daniel Anthony worked as mayor; and the Anthony Building that housed his newspaper, the post office, and the medical practice of Dr. Sinks.

What my walkabouts revealed

Several truths came home to me during these forays. First, Daniel Anthony was a big fish in a little pond. The Leavenworth of his day occupied a relatively small footprint. His home lay only a few blocks away from his various offices and his post as mayor at City Hall. It probably took more time to saddle a horse than it did to simply walk from place to place.

Second, Kansas is not flat, contrary to what I’d heard. Far from it. It’s more rolling hills, at least in the eastern region. One stretch of road reminded us of a roller coaster! (What fun it would have been on our tandem bicycle!)

Third, the black history of Leavenworth is just coming to light, as it is in many other American locales. In 1975, when Jon and I took our honeymoon trip to Williamsburg, VA, the costumed docents were almost all white. The second time we went in 2005, many black re-enactors added their own perspectives to the story. These made it both richer and more poignant.

The same is true in Leavenworth. For detailed information on the black residents of town, Mary Ann referred me to the Richard Allen Cultural Center. I sincerely hope that every visitor to this city rounds out their view of history by also touring the Richard Allen.

Black History Museum in Leavenworth

William Wallace, our guide at the Richard Allen introduced us to two early groups of black soldiers in Kansas. The First Kansas Volunteer Regiment fought in the Civil War; and the Buffalo Soldiers fought against the Indians after the war.

Black civil war soldier in dress uniform

William D. Matthews, a successful African-American businessman in Leavenworth, employed 100 men to protect his Waverly House Hotel from Confederate sympathizers. They rightly suspected that he was harboring runaways. D.R. had his office near the Planters Hotel and Waverly House. (Photo courtesy of Kshs.org.)

Partway through the war, Matthews recruited a whole regiment of black men to form the First Kansas Volunteer Regiment. Soon after, though seriously outnumbered, they prevailed against Southern sympathizers in Missouri at the Battle of Island Mound.

While Matthews was guiding the black troops, D.R. recruited a white regiment that became the Kansas Seventh. After freeing slaves from Confederate farms in Missouri, he frequently delivered them to Matthews’ basement to hide. From there they were escorted to safety in Canada, sometimes with funds from Anthony.

The proximity of Mathews’ and Anthony’s places of business, coupled with their common goal of ending slavery, makes for some intriguing connections.

During the war, thousands of black refugees from the South flooded Kansas. It attracted them because since it entered the Union it was a “free state” (against slavery). Many of these formerly enslaved settled in Leavenworth, perched on the border of slave-holding Missouri.

Jobs were hard to come by for former slaves. So when the U.S. government offered a steady wage to soldiers who maintained the security of the Western Frontier, many African-Americans signed up. These black troops were nicknamed the Buffalo Soldiers. Their task was to defend settlers from outlaws, squatters, and warring Native American tribes. Ironically, the Natives were, in turn, defending their own territory.

Living off the land, the Buffalo Soldiers killed many of the buffalo that the Natives needed to live on. They also enforced policies that forced tribes to retreat onto reservations. (Another sad chapter of civil rights.) These troops also became the country’s first park rangers.

Mission accomplished

I went to Kansas with two goals in mind:

  • To get a better feel for the size and feel of Leavenworth, and
  • To learn more about the lives of the black population there before, during, and after the Civil War.

Thanks to my friends at the historical society and the Richard Allen Cultural Center, I came back with all that I hoped for to complete my trilogy. In fact, I could probably write a fourth book about Leavenworth. Too much history!

Who was Susan B. Anthony’s sister Hannah?

Susan B. Anthony’s sister Hannah Anthony Mosher was the next younger child in Susan’s birth family of four girls and two boys. The Anthony sisters formed a powerful impetus to woman suffrage and created bonds that lasted beyond death.

After their father Daniel’s catastrophic financial losses in the panic of 1838, the older sisters went into teaching and sent money home to help the rest of the family. Guelma, the oldest sister, married first. Before Hannah’s marriage to Frank Mosher in 1845, Susan helped her make a Feathered Star quilt

Image by Jessie Ziegler

When Susan, Merritt, and Mary moved with their parents to Rochester, NY, Hannah and Guelma stayed behind with their husbands. The Rochester Anthonys moved to a farm and soon after brother Daniel Read (D.R.) Anthony moved in with them. Within a decade, both he and Merritt moved to Kansas.

Reunited in Rochester

Susan must have been delighted when the Moshers relocated with their four children to Rochester in the late 1850s, taking up residence at #19 Madison Street. Not long after, the Anthonys from the farm moved in to #17 next door to the Moshers. Eventually, Guelma and her family shared  #17.

#17 Madison Street, which was home to Susan, Mary, Guelma, and many others in the Anthony family. At the far right, you can see the porch of #19, home of Hannah and Frank Mosher. Photo by Jeanne Gehret.

As I’ve noted before, all four of Susan B. Anthony’s sisters voted with her in 1872 and were arrested for it. At the time they committed this alleged crime, Guelma was suffering from consumption (tuberculosis), which took her life in 1873. By that time, Hannah, too, was showing signs of the deadly disease.

In the second half of the 19th century, consumption was killing 1/7 of the people in Europe and the U.S. It got its name by causing its sufferers to lose a lot of body weight. It would be another two decades before Robert Koch discovered that it was contracted through bacteria.

Seeking a cure

Not wanting to lose her, D.R. and Susan prevailed on Hannah to seek her health in the west, as many Americans were doing at the time.

Hannah spent several weeks in Denver trying to get better. When she didn’t improve, she went to stay with D.R. and Annie in Leavenworth, KS. Frank and the children visited her there. Distraught, Susan canceled her speaking engagements to keep vigil by Hannah’s deathbed in 1877. Hannah was buried in Leavenworth in the Anthony plot.

Shortly afterward, Hannah’s daughter Louise went to live with Mary Anthony (and Susan) in Rochester, where she remained until she finished her schooling. Thus, the bonds among the sisters extended to Louise’s care after Hannah died. Sadly, only one of Susan B. Anthony’s sisters remained.

On the occasion of Hannah’s death, Susan’s authorized biography said,   

“Between herself [Susan] and this sister, just nineteen months younger, beautiful in character and strong in affection, there ever had existed the closest sympathy. For the last decade they had been separated only by a dooryard, they had shared each other’s every joy and sorrow . . . .”

ida husted harper, life and work of Susan b. anthony, vol 1, p. 488

The Anthony influence also endured in Hannah’s three sons who, following their Uncle D.R.’s example, worked in the insurance business for the rest of their lives.

Frederick Douglass statue in Rochester, NY

The Frederick Douglass statue in Rochester, NY’s Highland Park celebrates one of my hometown’s two greatest civil rights luminaries. The other is Susan B. Anthony. Their names also grace the two concourses of the Rochester airport and a bridge in downtown Rochester (affectionately dubbed the Freddie-Sue bridge by locals).

Author Jeanne Gehret visiting the Frederick Douglass statue in Rochester, NY

Douglass statue is as imposing as the man

Douglass (1817-1895) himself stood more than six feet tall and weighed at least two hundred pounds. His reputation as a formerly enslaved person, self-educated publisher, civil rights orator and statesman made him a man to look up to. Thus it is fitting that his eight-foot statue sits on a nine-foot granite base. (In the above photo, I am standing about ten feet away from the statue.)

Erected in 1899, the monument originally stood outside Rochester’s New York Central Train Station. At the time of its dedication, Susan B. Anthony commented that it should have been facing north, owing perhaps to Douglass’s Rochester newspaper The North Star. Two subsequent moves brought it within the confines of Highland Park, just a few hundred feet from where the African-American leader lived during his early reform years. Susan would be happy to know that the statue now faces northeast.

Of Rochester, Douglass later wrote:

I know of no place in the Union where I could have located at the time with less resistance, or received a larger measure of sympathy and cooperation, and I now look back to my life and labors there with unalloyed satisfaction . . . having spent a quarter century among its people.

Rose O’Keefe, Frederick and Anna Douglass in Rochester, New York, p. 45

Douglass, in making this comment, graciously overlooked the fact that Rochester’s Board of Education in 1845 closed city schools to African-American students. Later, a neighbor who had sold a plot of land to Douglass voted against allowing young Rosetta Douglass access to a local girls’ school.

In a similar hopeful vein, he commented thus on the 1857 Dred Scott Decision that denied African-Americans citizenship:

I know of no soil better adapted to the growth of reform than American soil. I know of no country, where the conditions for effecting great changes in the settled order of things for the development of right ideas of liberty and humanity are more favorable than here in these United States.

Engraved on the frederick douglass monument in rochester’s highland park

Colleagues in Rochester and beyond

Three years older than Susan, Douglass preceded her into reforms seeking gender and racial equality. While he was starting his North Star newspaper, she was teaching school to help her family recover from bankruptcy. She met him for the first time at her parents’ dinner table where it was customary for the Douglass and Anthony families to dine together with other reformers on Sundays. Once she entered the fray, the two of them often spoke on the same lecture circuits and sometimes the same platforms. Eventually, she became the head of the Antislavery Society of New York.

Susan B. Anthony’s family tree–strong and supportive

Tree with many branches
Susan B. Anthony’s family tree included branches in Massachusetts, New York, and Kansas.

Susan B. Anthony’s family inspired and supported her throughout her life as an activist. When I began writing this blog in 2014, I quickly learned that though she devoted herself passionately to woman suffrage and other causes, her dedication to her family burned even brighter.

But before we go into her family tree, let’s review who Susan was and what she did.

Snapshot of Susan

In the 19th century United States, Susan B. Anthony (aka SBA) campaigned for three social causes: the abolition of slavery, temperance (moderation or abstinence from intoxicating liquor), and women’s rights. Along with her friends Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and many others, Susan mounted a grassroots organization to gain women’s right to vote at the federal level. In 1872 she was arrested for “voting illegally”–i.e. as a woman.

Adelaide Johnson’s monument of Elizabeth, Susan, and Lucretia stands in the U.S. Capitol Building.

Strong-minded people in her family tree

Copyright 2017 Verbal Images Press


A few quick facts:

  1. Her father, Daniel Anthony Sr., defied his Quaker fellowship to marry a Baptist, Lucy Read
  2. Though raised (pacifist) Quaker, both her brothers fought in the Civil War
  3. All her sisters voted with her 
  4. Her sister Mary was the first school principal in her city to receive equal pay for equal work

Anthony family origins in Massachusetts

The Anthony story began in Adams, Massachusetts at the family homestead. Four of Lucy and Daniel’s six surviving children were born in Adams, including Susan and D.R., who figure prominently in this blog. After taking a research break for several years, my visit to Adams brought about the renascence of my personal quest for all things Anthony.

Home where Susan B. Anthony was born. Photo by Jeanne Gehret
Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum by Jeanne Gehret

The Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum looks out onto Mount Greylock, which inspired Susan her entire life. Behind the home runs the Tophet Brook, which powered Daniel’s cotton mill. Here Lucy Anthony cooked, laundered and cleaned for more than 12 people. The museum has dedicated the front of the house to a birthing room and Daniel’s prosperous store.

Woman at door of old building
Jeanne Gehret portraying Susan B. Anthony at Quaker Meetinghouse, Adams, MA

In Adams, the Anthonys worshipped at the Quaker Meeting House. Although the Quakers were ahead of their time in allowing women to speak in the Meeting, nevertheless the two sexes entered through different doors.(One of the advantages of this division is that the women sat closer to the fireplace!)

The Anthonys spent a few years living in Center Falls, NY before making their final move further west.

1845 move via Erie Canal to Rochester, NY

The Erie Canal was a major transportation route during the Anthonys’ lifetime. Alongside the waterway, donkeys pulled barges along a towpath. Other boats plied the canal, too, such as line boats used to transport people with their goods.

According to SBA’s diaries, it took the Anthonys a week or more to make their way west by train, boat, and wagon from Center Falls, NY to their new home in Rochester, NY.

A lot of history has flowed along the Erie Canal. Dug partly by hand, it employed thousands of laborers who lived and brawled along its path across the top of New York State. Their penchant for liquor may have helped bring about the Second Great Awakening in upstate New York, a religious revival that had such political and social offshoots as woman suffrage, abolition, and temperance. Moral and religious reforms were so hot that the area was referred to as the “burned-over” district.

Mule pulling boat along Erie Canal

Not only did the Anthonys move to the burned-over district, but they became neighbors with Frederick Douglass and worshipped with Quakers Amy and Isaac Post, dedicated abolitionists on the Underground Railroad.

Not long after the move, Susan began her lifelong friendship with fellow reformer Elizabeth Cady Stanton. In the next decade, both would begin their rise to national fame for their work on behalf of women.

What did Susan’s siblings do?

Susan B. Anthony home in Rochester, NY, 3 stories, red brick
Susan B. Anthony House. Photo by Jeanne Gehret

SBA frequently mentioned her sisters in her diaries. At one time or another, all of them lived on Madison Street in Rochester, NY, which Susan also called home. All of them voted with her. Hannah and Guelma died in their 50s, leaving Mary to tend to the widow Lucy Anthony while Susan touched home base during her extensive travels. I had the privilege of working as a docent here in the 1990s.

Brothers D.R. and Merritt emigrated to Kansas in the 1850s as the U.S. headed into the Civil War. Kansas was, at that time, only a territory. It was engaged in a contentious vote about whether to enter the United States as a slaveholding state or a free one. The Anthony brothers decided to tip the scales towards a free state by taking up arms.

Photo by Jeanne Gehret

Susan’s brothers seared their brand into Kansas. Merritt fought with John Brown. D.R., alongside another Rochesterian named John Doy, helped to establish the city of Lawrence, an abolitionist stronghold amid proslavery enthusiasts.

Hearing about Susan’s westward-bound brothers, I began to wonder about their similarity to their famous sister:

  • Who among their parents’ dinner guests inspired Susan, Daniel, and Merritt to become such active proponents of reform?
  • How did the brothers experience the Wild West, and what role did they take in forging Kansas’ self-identity?  
  • How did Susan react when her brothers’ militant methods to advance racial equality departed from their Quaker upbringing?

Though the Anthonys were opinion-makers, they were highly influenced by Quakerism and reforms that swept the northeast, as well as by the customs and contemporaries that hindered or helped them.

Still curious? Read on!

Order SBA here
Order Daniel here

My docent experiences and early Anthony research culminated in the publication of an easy-reading biography entitled Susan B. Anthony And Justice For All. If you want more on Susan, this is a great place to begin. Be sure to get the Suffrage Centennial Edition for all the updates.

The Truth About Daniel is the first book in my trilogy about Daniel and Annie. The series includes Susan but delves more deeply into the Kansas Anthonys. This is historical fiction so compelling you’d swear I made it all up. If you want Susan B., you’ll find her in the series. But this blog, besides the series, focuses more on uncharted territory about Daniel and Annie — people who were very interesting in their own right. Book Two is on its way.

Join me as I explore the Anthonys in context. To begin, check out these posts about Daniel and Annie:


Posting to a timeline for historical fiction

photograph of timeline

Posting to a timeline is one of my most useful tools in writing historical fiction. Have a peek at my five-foot-long timeline of the Anthony-Osborn family, beginning in the 1700s and ending in 1930. On it, I have recorded not only events that were significant to the Anthonys but to the United States in general. So we have a mix of births, deaths, and marriages alongside events of the Civil War, the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, dates of military service, arrests, and acts of civil or military disobedience.

My chronology of the Anthony family shows me where their lives intersected with each other or with important historic events. For example, a newspaper snippet mentioned that Daniel and Annie attended the nation’s centennial in July 1876. Posting it to my timeline reminded me that Susan was there for that nation’s birthday, too. She and her friends deemed the women’s pavilion at the Centennial Exhibition too apolitical for their taste and created their own headquarters.

While they were all in Philadelphia for the celebration, Daniel set Susan up to take control of the formal celebration of the Declaration of Independence proceedings and read the Women’s Declaration of Rights. He must’ve been grinning from ear to ear. Do you suppose that Annie chewed her cheek raw with anxiety until the whole demonstration was over? Or did she, too, cheer Susan on?

photo of baby dressed in white christening gown
Daniel and Annie named a daughter after
Susan B. Anthony

Here’s another thing I’m pondering. In September 1872, Daniel and Annie named a newborn daughter Susan B. Anthony II. Two months later, in November 1872, the elder Susan registered to vote and was subsequently arrested and convicted. This coincidence made me wonder: After Susan’s conviction, how did Annie and Daniel feel about naming their baby after Susan? We’ll likely never know the answer to this question, but they could certainly lead to an interesting fictional chapter.

Finally, I came across this surprising fact as I studied my timeline. n 1875, Daniel sustained a near-fatal gunshot wound that required him to stay immobile in bed with compression on his neck for three months. During that period, he lost a lot of weight. Yet my timeline reveals that he and Annie traveled to Rochester, a trip of 1,000 miles, almost as soon as he was allowed to get up. If this isn’t a testament to his heartiness, I don’t know what is!

The Anthonys were real people who responded to current events and sometimes fretted over each other’s choices. I hope you enjoy getting to know them as much as I do.

Using historical newspapers to write fiction

I discovered the value of historical newspapers on my second visit to Kansas to research Daniel Read Anthony and his family.

An eloquent packet

While at the Spencer Library, University of Kansas, I found a packet of news clippings neatly folded and tied with a black grosgrain ribbon. My breath caught in my throat as I gently untied it. There I found a couple of newspaper articles recalling how, in February 1889, Susie Anthony (named after Susan B.), had died by drowning in a pond while skating with friends. This little packet spoke as nothing else could of Daniel and Annie’s grief at losing their daughter..

Wax and wane of Daniel’s strength

Here’s another important detail I learned from historical newspapers. This one is dated several years before Susie’s death. It appeared in the Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester, NY, which was Daniel’s home in his 20s.

I sat up and took notice. Here’s why:

  • This clipping describes D.R. as “incompetent to defend himself” owing to the impairment of his right arm. In his younger years, people feared and admired him for his daring and physical strength. But apparently that changed ten years before this news clipping, when a bullet to the right side of his neck nearly killed him. At the time I read about his wound, I wondered whether he sustained a permanent injury from that episode. This article strongly suggests that he did.
  • Also, although he couldn’t use his arm to protect himself, he still didn’t pull any punches with words. The same belligerent attitude that got him shot in the first place prevailed even when he could no longer defend himself physically.

This concludes my three-part series on ways to learn about historical people. Biographies, census records, and family trees can help us glimpse the skeleton of a person. But to discover their thoughts and feelings, their temperament, and how they responded to their place and time requires considerable more digging.

Plotting events on a timeline, reading newspaper articles about them, and visiting places that historical people frequented, give further details that put flesh and blood on the skeleton and present a much more satisfying account.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into the toolkit of a historical researcher. BTW, here’s a link to Newspapers.com, where you can subscribe to hundreds of old newspapers. Enjoy!