LGBT History Month October 1: Susan Brownell Anthony, American Suffragist

Photo Credit © WIKIPEDIA

b. February 15, 1820

d. March 13, 1906

 “Men their rights and nothing more; women their rights and nothing less.”

Susan Brownell Anthony was an American activist central to the women’s suffrage movement. She rallied for women’s voting and labor rights and for the abolition of slavery. Her efforts were foundational to securing women’s voting rights in America.

Anthony was born in Adams, Massachusetts. She grew up in a Quaker household, raised with the belief that all people are equal in God’s eyes. Quaker values underpinned Anthony’s lifelong battle for equality. Her seven siblings also became women’s rights activists and abolitionists.

In 1846 Anthony began teaching at Canajoharie Academy in New York. Five years later, she traveled to Seneca Falls for the seminal abolitionist convention. There, she forged friendships with Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who inspired her to include the abolition of slavery in her activism. Anthony eventually became the chief New York agent of the American Anti-Slavery Society, which Garrison founded.

In 1851 Anthony and Stanton began working and traveling the country together in the fight for women’s rights. Anthony gathered signatures for petitions and spoke publicly about women’s suffrage, despite the taboo against women making speeches. She faced angry hecklers who claimed her campaign was an attempt to destroy the institution of marriage. She was nearly arrested many times for speaking out.

Anthony and Stanton became lovers and lifelong companions. In 1866 they created the American Equal Rights Association, which distributed a newspaper called The Revolution. They used the publication to address all aspects of women’s equality, but especially suffrage, eliciting both love and hate from the citizenry. Detractors labeled Anthony “manly” — one of the worst insults a woman of the era could receive. Anthony countered with a published essay titled “The New Century’s Manly Woman.”

After the 15th Amendment was proposed, ensuring the right of Black men to vote, Anthony and Stanton were outraged that women were excluded. They formed the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869 to pressure Congress to include women’s voting rights. In 1870 the U.S. ratified the 15th Amendment, leaving women out. Anthony managed to vote in the next election anyway. The police arrested her, and she received a $100 fine, which she refused to pay.

Though rarely acknowledged, Anthony is one of the most famous lesbians in American history. In addition to Elizabeth Stanton, she is known to have had relationships with a least two other women.

Anthony died at the age of 86. Fourteen years later, the United States ratified the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. In 1979 she became the first woman depicted on a circulating U.S. coin.

In 1994, Rodney Wilson, a Missouri high school teacher, believed a month should be dedicated to the celebration and teaching of gay and lesbian history, and gathered other teachers and community leaders. They selected October because public schools are in session and existing traditions, such as Coming Out Day (October 11), occur that month.

Gay and Lesbian History Month was endorsed by GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Education Association and other national organizations. In 2006 Equality Forum assumed responsibility for providing content, promotion and resources for LGBT History Month.