Susan B. Anthony played the American press to her advantage as an adult. However, when she was a teenager, she hated writing and speaking. Early in her public life she lamented, “Whenever I take a pen in hand I seem to be mounted on stilts.” It is ironic, therefore, that she left behind a literary legacy that included two years of a weekly newspaper, the four-volume set of The History of Woman Suffrage, and her three-volume authorized biography.
Despite her struggles with writing, she also became famous for giving thousands of speeches on antislavery, the restriction of alcoholic beverages, and the necessity of women’s rights.
Collaboration helped her improve
To overcome her aversion to writing, Anthony collaborated. From the beginning of her friendship with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Anthony gathered materials for her silver-tongued friend to turn into prose. Then Anthony had the speeches and articles published and circulated. As time went on, Stanton mentored her friend so well that Anthony was able to make and deliver her own speeches, as well.
It’s likely that Susan first learned about publishing when she visited her brother Daniel (D.R.), who owned a newspaper in Leavenworth, KS. During that period D.R. needed time to run his mayoral campaign, so Susan stepped in to run his newspaper, “limited only by his injunction ‘not to have it all woman’s rights and negro suffrage.’” (Harper, 243) (Below, here I am in costume in Atchison, KS trying out the printing press.)
An offer they couldn’t refuse
While visiting Kansas two years later, an admirer named George Francis Train offered to fund a newspaper published by Susan and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Anthony left much of the writing to Stanton and others, focusing her efforts instead on fundraising, office management, and the actual production of the issues. From 1868 to 1870 their publication gave them the freedom to voice their support of women earning their own money and the necessity of women getting the right to vote. Called The Revolution, its motto was “Men their rights and nothing more, women their rights and nothing less.”
Radical as it was, The Revolution could not support itself through subscriptions and advertisement. This became even more difficult after George Francis Train fell on hard times and stopped contributing. D.R. advised Susan to publish less frequently or print on cheaper paper, but she refused.
Eventually, the money problems of The Revolution grew critical and they had to cease publication with a $10,000 debt. In her journal, Anthony lamented, “It was like signing my own death warrant.”
When Anthony “crashed” the U.S. Centennial Celebration in Philadelphia in 1876, she owed her strategic place on the speaker platform to D.R., who obtained a coveted press pass for her to sit there. From that vantage point, she interrupted the proceedings to make a brief speech before distributing tracts in the audience and announcing her own meeting.
Befriending the American press
Susan eventually catered to the press by sending them notices of her scheduled speeches and making herself easy to identify in her famous red shawl. One day she appeared onstage without her shawl and received a note from a newspaperman that said, “No shawl, no article.” Smiling, she sent for the shawl.
Visitors to Anthony’s Rochester home can see early pictures of a two-story house followed later by those of a three-story dwelling. That’s because Susan and her sister Mary added a third-floor workroom to accommodate the History.
Writing and publishing take time, energy, and cash flow. Alongside her many accomplishments promoting human rights, Miss Anthony marshaled her resources in such a way that she was able to leave her literary mark, as well.