Voting with Susan B. Anthony

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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)

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