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.
Strong-minded people in her family tree
A few quick facts:
- Her father, Daniel Anthony Sr., defied his Quaker fellowship to marry a Baptist, Lucy Read
- Her parents and sister Mary attended Rochester’s first women’s rights convention in 1848 and signed the Declaration of Sentiments
- Though raised (pacifist) Quaker, both her brothers fought in the Civil War
- All her sisters voted with her
- 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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: