It’s my privilege today to introduce you to “Song for Mary Anthony” by historical songwriter Steve Adams. In this poignant piece, the listener accompanies Susan B. Anthony’s younger sister home after fulfilling Susan’s dying wish for her to work at Oregon’s suffrage campaign.
Sorry I can’t make these lyrics look elegant, but I’m compelled to share them anyway. Enjoy!
Song for Mary Anthony
© Words and music by Stephen Adams
These cross-country train rides really grind you down
A few more miles and I’ll be back in town
It’s just sinking in she’s not around
No more stories about where she’s been
Am I still angry or am I just back up on my feet again
After all that we have done, all we’ve lost and all we’ve won
After all is said and done
I don’t care that I’m unsung
I know my work let her be the one we needed her to be
I loved her and she loved me . . . after all
Feel the carriage kick
Returning to a dark house like she never did
I worked so hard to keep my feelings in
She carried so much burden, God forbid
How could she leave me with our work undone
To see the road ahead, sometimes it feels like we’ve just begun
Push the key into the lock and stumble in
Light the gas against the dark and take it in
Familiar walls around me like a long-lost friend
I thought I would feel so left behind
But standing here I swear I feel your heart beating next to mine
Steve has graciously given permission to share his work here. I encourage you to spend some time looking at his website, too, because this song is part of a longer musical documentary. After you listen to “Song for Mary Anthony,” please comment below for Steve to see.
A reader introduced me to Steve following my recent blog post on Mary. Inspired and moved, I dug deeper into the story of Mary Anthony’s trip to Oregon. What did Susan say or do that prompted her ailing, 79 year-old grieving sister to travel 3,000 miles? Here’s what I found.
Oregon’s woman suffrage campaign: four decades
In 1872, four Portland women voted in the same election for which Susan was tried as an illegal voter. Unfortunately, election officials placed the Oregon women’s votes under the ballot box rather than inside it.
Oregon brought the issue of woman suffrage to the voters six times from 1882 to 1912, only to suffer defeat every time. Twice, when the state’s House and Senate drafted a bill for woman suffrage, voters rejected it in a referendum.
In 1905 Susan journeyed with her sister Mary on behalf of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) to hold a very successful convention in Portland. On that occasion, NAWSA leaders agreed to assist with a strategic campaign for the 1906 state election, contributing $18,000 for the cause. Accompanying them was the organization’s president Anna Howard Shaw.
The following February, as I’ve written in previous posts, Mary accompanied Susan to the latter’s last convention in Baltimore. Susan took sick during that trip. Nevertheless, during her last days until March 1906 she continued to raise money for Oregon and made a generous contribution herself. Before dying in March, she elicited Mary’s promise to follow through on what the NAWSA had begun the previous summer.
Death of two sisters
Like so many caregivers who maintain a vigil at loved ones’ deathbeds, Mary had her own health problems during Susan’s last illness. Since 1905, the younger sister had suffered from vertigo and fainting spells. Nevertheless, according to biographer Ida Husted Harper, only nine days after Susan’s funeral, Mary set off for Oregon with her niece and Anna Howard Shaw. There she stayed for three months, working at headquarters and accompanying Miss Shaw on her lecture trips to neighboring towns.
Throughout her 1906 Oregon stay, Mary counted the days since last laying eyes on her beloved sister:
Once again that June, Oregon rejected woman suffrage after fierce opposition by business and liquor interests. It was a devastating loss. The women left June 11 for their six-day return trip and the very next morning visited Susan’s grave at Mt Hope Cemetery.
As the song says, Mary Anthony returned to a home without Susan, became ill, and never recovered. That October, she attended her last suffrage event in Syracuse, NY.
One week before her own death on Feb 14, 1907, Mary composed her final suffrage message for a Chicago convention. She died at home and was buried at the Unitarian Church where she had belonged for many decades.
The death of the two sisters did not stop the women whom they had inspired and trained to take up the cause. In November 1912, Oregon voters approved woman suffrage by the narrow margin of 52 percent. And in January, 1920, that state ratified the national 19th Amendment, finally removing sex as a barrier to voting rights.
The Anthony sisters would have been proud.