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.

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.

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:


Daniel Anthony’s Abolitionist Activities

two 19th c men and two women, smoky sky, and burned out building

The abolitionist activities of Daniel Anthony wrought destruction on Missouri’s western border

“Well mercy me!” as they might have exclaimed in the 19th century. It seems I never published the post explaining why Daniel Anthony’s abolitionist activities were controversial. So let’s play catch-up. The photo above, from a mural in Pleasant Hill, Missouri, should give you a clue.

When Susan B. Anthony was four, her brother Daniel Read Anthony was born on August 22, 1824. The family called him “D.R.” to distinguish him from Susan’s father, whose name was also Daniel. Brother and sister grew up to be ardent abolitionists.

Jayhawkers’ abolitionist activities against bushwhackers

Before the Civil War, while Susan was hosting speaking tours for the New York State Antislavery Society, D.R. joined Jennison’s Jayhawkers on the Kansas-Missouri border. Together, they sparked fear in slaveholders’ hearts by laying waste to farms and liberating their slaves. Some blamed the Jayhawkers’ raids for inciting rage in Quantrill and his band, who attacked Lawrence.

After the jayhawkers raided Missouri slaveholders, they would free people in bondage and also “liberate” livestock. That is why midwesterners either hated or revered the jayhawkers, depending on politics of the onlooker.

The Border War between Kansas and Missouri involved Southern sympathizers (“bushwhackers,” usually from Missouri) tampering with Kansas elections. Bushwhackers were typically young plantation residents who made guerilla raids and retreated to the safety of their homes. The purpose of the abolitionists’ activities was to rout them out by attacking the homes where the bushwhackers received provisions and protection.

The Kansas Seventh

Later, when the Civil War began, D.R. helped Charles Jennison organize a Union cavalry unit called the Kansas Seventh. They were so thorough in burning out bushwhackers that only the chimneys survived, nicknamed “Jennison’s tombstones.”

As hated as he was by some for the border raids, D.R. was also called “The Moses of Kansas” for the number of African-Americans he liberated. Sometimes as many as a hundred slaves followed the Seventh across the Kansas border into freedom.

Historic Rochesterian Burns Up the West

Historic Rochesterian Daniel Read Anthony, brother of Susan B., wielded both fire and bullets to bring about the end of slavery in the Wild West. Pictured behind me is the city of Leavenworth, Kansas around 1860, where Daniel emigrated after selling insurance in Rochester, New York for several years.

Throughout his life, Daniel also supported his sister’s more peaceful but equally radical attempts to bring about equal rights for women.

How did his convictions mesh with Susan’s? And what methods did he use? Learn all about it at this upcoming talk:

Powerpoint presentation by Jeanne Gehret

The Truth About Daniel: Susan B. Anthony’s Forgotten Brother

Saturday, April 21, 1-2:30

Rochester Public Library, Central (Rundel) branch

South Avenue

Sponsored by Rochester’s Rich History Series



Nov. 26, 1862 Death of Susan B. Anthony’s father

One day in early November 1862, Susan B. Anthony and her father Daniel were reading and discussing antislavery newspapers when he suddenly began suffering acute pain in Continue reading