||Daniel Read served with him, with honor, throughout the Revolutionary War. When he returned to Massachusetts, he served in the legislature and other public office. He was an inveterate reader and became known as one of the two persons in all that section of the country who did not believe in a literal hell. To this man's wife, Susannah, was born Lucy Read, the mother of Susan B. Anthony.
Daniel Anthony was born to wealth, influence and the Quaker religion—and in 1826 when that faith broke over liberal versus conservative doctrines (the divinity of Christ) the family followed the liberal camp and became known as Hicksite (after Elias Hicks) Friends.
Lucy was ostensively a "Baptist," influenced by her mother, and after her marriage to Daniel Anthony steadfastly refused to join his church, causing some censure for her husband. Susan B. Anthony was born (February 15, 1820) into the religious controversy concerned with this union. In her home, in a closet under the stairs, she saw stored the smoking pipes, the gin and the brandy for visiting Quaker preachers. Her own experiences with the Quakers were harsh and traumatic. Indeed, her father was "read out of meeting" for permitting dancing in his home. By the time of his maturity he had come to believe in "complete personal, mental and spiritual freedom."
SUSAN B. ANTHONY
At the Age of 32, From A Daguerreotype
Susan's first vocation was that of teacher, which she followed from age 17 to age 28. Her first "cause" fight was to obtain wages, equivalent to those of a male teacher, for herself. The custom was to pay men four times the wages of women for exactly the same work.
At age 29 she joined the Daughters of Temperance and became secretary, starting her public speaking toward the evil of drink, which she had watched so often with Quaker preachers in her home. Becoming interested, also, in the anti-slavery issue, she soon abandoned it in 1852, at age 32.
The Quakers divided on the slavery issue and the entire family began to attend the Unitarian Church of William Henry Channing. Through the group of persons she knew there, she was invited to the first Women's Rights Convention, held in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848—meeting Elizabeth Cady Stanton and beginning an intimate friendship which would last for about fifty years. Frederick Douglass had also just brought his family to Rochester and this friendship also was to last a lifetime.
Susan B. Anthony kept up her temperance work, being very active in 1851, and in 1852 Elizabeth Cady Stanton became president of the New York Women's State Temperance Committee. All of these women, who were destined to become great names in the suffrage fight, became then associated with Susan and the friendships continued for many years: Ernestine L. Rose, Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone, Frances D. Gage, Amelia Bloomer. . .most of whom were open "doubters" on religion.
Throughout this period, however, Susan's was the uplifted voice and her biographer says of her, "....Miss Anthony alone dared say what others only dared think, and thus through all the years made herself the target of criticism, blame and abuse. Others escaped through their cowardice; she suffered through her bravery."
The yearly conventions were highlights, but the 1851 gathering was the first to openly attack Bible interpretations. Naturally Ernestine Rose led the way, refuting that the Bible gave equality to women and declaring, "Here we claim human rights and freedom, based upon the laws of humanity, and we require no written authority from Moses or Paul,..."
It was at this point, also, that Susan supported Amelia Bloomer by her use of the bloomer as dress. In an attempt to release women from the multitudinous and cumbersome clothing of the day, this fashion had been advanced. Gymnasiums had been established, athletic sports were being encouraged and there was the advent of the bicycle. Short dresses were an acknowledged necessity. The lesson Susan B. Anthony learned from the bloomer attempt was one she never forgot. She herself said in regard to it: "I felt the need of some such garments because I was obliged to be out every day in all kinds of weather, and also because I saw women ruined in health by tight lacing and the weight of their clothing; and I hoped to help establish the principle of rational dress. I found it a physical comfort but a mental crucifixion. It was an intellectual slavery; one never could get rid of thinking of herself, and the important thing is to forget self. The attention of my audience was fixed upon my clothes instead of my words. I learned the lesson then that to be successful a person must attempt but one reform. By urging two, both are injured, as the average mind can grasp and assimilate but one idea at a time. I have felt ever since that experience that if I wished my hearers to consider the suffrage question I must not present the temperance, the religious, the dress, or any other besides, but must confine myself to suffrage."
And from 1854 she did just that. Keenly aware of other problems and especially "religion" she nonetheless kept her focus and her fight directly on "suffrage." In April, 1854 she got back into long skirts and conventional dress and stayed there.
She saw Ernestine Rose attacked again and again as an Atheist, saw halls refused to her, and Susan determined that no such open involvement would deter her from her main purpose: female suffrage. She was, of course, right in her strategy.
At this time she was also involved in discussion of life after death and she wrote in her diary: "The negative had reason on their side; not an argument could one of us bring, except an intuitive feeling that we should not cease to exist."
By 1853, with 2000 members, the New York Women's State Temperance Society was favoring the right of a woman to be divorced from an habitual drunkard. These were hardly popular concerns and the excerpts from media of the day are scathingly critical. Every one of the women was maligned, slandered and abused, but it was upon the unmarried Miss Susan B. Anthony that most of the scorn was heaped.
Several times along the way, Miss Anthony and Mrs. Stanton were forced out of their leadership, often out of the organizations they had founded, which then, Mrs. Harper notes: "passed into the hands of a body of conservative women, who believed they could accomplish by prayer what these two women knew could never be done except through legislation with a constituency of women behind it."
It is notable that at this time Horace Greeley yas writing freely to Susan, advising her that "those who have outgrown the church" need still be cautious of it. The conventions for women's activities also soon came to be yearly features and each one demanded "a modification of the legal and religious restraints that so long had held (women) in bondage." The first demands were for women's equal guardianship of their children and that they (and not their husbands or fathers) should be entitled to the money they earned.
They petitioned, they lobbied, they demanded, they spoke in a constant pressing of affirmative action programs.
In 1854, at the National Women's Rights Convention at Philadelphia, she was charged as an Atheist, but overcoming objection that she was an Atheist, she declared "that every religion or none should have an equal right on the platform," in support of Mrs. Rose as president.
Yet, the only grass roots meeting places to which she called women to meet with them were the churches. Susan had to be circumspect in what she said and did so that this avenue would not be closed to her in the fight for women's suffrage. But she could confide to her diary (September, 1855) that she was "...sitting under preaching that I dislike..." And, when writing to women, she often used the most Atheistic of advice. "Each of us individually has her own duties to perform and each of us alone must work out her life problems."
In an era when god references were frequent, her letters, words and diaries were devoid of the same. Indeed, the conventions became an expression of this secular intent to the point that Horace Greeley finally wrote to her that "...I can not publish your notices in our news columns... for the anti-Bible... doctrines, which your conventions generally put forth."
By 1856, Miss Anthony and her colleagues turned, also, to anti-slavery work and her long friendship with William Lloyd Garrison began. He, himself, repeatedly attacked the churches in his Liberator, never went to church and was reviled even by the Unitarian clergy. His children wrote of him, that he had "quite freed himself from the trammels of orthodoxy."
Watching him, again, Susan wrote in her diary (1857), "anti-slavery prayers ...avail nothing..." She finally became so discouraged that one letter expressed these sentiments: "What an infernal set of fools those (women) must be! ... The sooner the present generation of women dies out, the better. We have idiots enough in the world now without such women propagating any more."
Women's rights and anti-slavery lectures and activities consumed her time for many years, but in 1858-59 Susan B. Anthony had a scheme-to set up what she called a "free church" in Rochester—free from religion.
Felix Adler, later, was to establish the first Ethical Culture Society in New York City in 1876. (Her idea preceded his by 20 years.)
She was much influenced in this by Theodore Parker's Free Church in Boston, Massachusetts. He doubted the infallibility of the Bible, the possibility of miracles and the exclusive claims of Christianity. Even the Unitarians denounced him, with the cry that this "young man must be silenced."
Although she made the effort of renting Corinthian Hall for such Sunday lectures, Susan's project was abandoned, after one year, for lack of funds and in her diary, she wrote of one lecturer, "How he unmasked the church hypocrites!" She wanted desperately to educate the public, but didn't have the wherewithal.
By 1860, the collaborative work of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton was at such a point that no one could tell who wrote what, not even the ladies themselves. And in the autobiography of the latter, Eighty Years and More, Reminiscences 1845-1897, she flatly states, "To-day (sic) Miss Anthony is an agnostic," as she writes of "the most intimate friend I had had for the past forty-five years,—."
Indefatigably, Miss Anthony arranged courses of lectures, some through the Lyceum Bureau, especially those of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who had founded the Lyceum for the purpose of securing a freedom of speech not permitted in the churches. Emerson, of course, had replaced God in his thoughts with a vague pantheistic over-soul and had completely rejected the idea of personal immortality.
By 1860, Susan was angry enough to set the annual convention afire as she hammered away at "our so-called enlightened Christian civilization" and what it did to women. Congratulatory letters to her, stated she "...must have learned in the school of a Wollstonecraft..." referring, of course, to Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, an English Atheist (1759-97), who founded the feminist movement in Great Britain. And Elizabeth Cady Stanton's note was that "One word of thanks from a suffering woman outweighs with me the howls of Christendom."
All the while, the diaries were acted with Susan's references to her reading of Henry Buckle (and his criticisms of Christianity) as well as Charles Darwin.
In 1861, she noted, in her diary, that "The Republican paper called us pestiferous fanatics and infidels and advised every decent man to stay away." In 1863, she and Mrs. Stanton founded the Women's National Loyal League and although most places for them to meet were in churches, even there, Miss Anthony included the following in her initial address: "These same men have had control of the churches, the Sabbath-schools and all religious institutions, and the women have been a party in complicity with slavery."
Her strongest and staunchest supporter was Robert Dale Owen, son of Robert Owen (1771-1858), father of socialism and "rationalism"—the no-god religion of England. One of the most famous quotes of the father was, "When we use the term Lord, God or Deity, we use a term without annexing to it any definite idea." It was, also, during these years that she was associated with Dorothea Dix, Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton, all of whom were advanced rationalists, who detested the churches.
After 1866 and the Civil Rights Bill, the Negroes and women had the same civil and protected status, but lacked the ballot. Up to this point, her fight for the Negroes had been indefatigable. Her petitions to the United States Congress, for their freedom, had contained 400,000 names, the largest up to that date ever presented to Congress (in Spring, 1864). But at the Women's Rights Convention of 1866, Susan proposed "universal suffrage" and put all on notice that she would fight the idea of the Negro male being given suffrage before women received the same. Instead, she demanded that they receive it together. The Republican Party refused to champion this cause (universal suffrage).
Lucy Stone was with her, writing: "These men ought not to be allowed to vote before we do because they will be much more dead weight to lift."
Out of this came the woman's suffrage paper, Revolution, with its famous slogan: "Men, their rights, and nothing more; Women, their rights, and nothing less." On January 8, 1868, the handsome quarto of 16 pages was issued in 10,000 copies. Notwithstanding their efforts, the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified on July 28, 1868, "the word 'male' being thereby three times branded on the Constitution." It was later that year suggested by Anna Dickinson that an "Equal Rights" Amendment be proposed for women, ERA then being born.
In 1870, while lecturing in Illinois, she met the great Agnostic, Robert G. Ingersoll, who attended her lecture in Matoon, and rose to defend her at one point, concerned with Illinois law. Meanwhile, the Revolution came into more and more financial distress, with Susan pumping into it her money from lectures, any contributions she could muster, loans, grants, anything. Her biographer notes: "The strain upon Miss Anthony, who alone was carrying the whole burden, was terrible beyond description. Never was there a longer, harder, more persistent struggle against all hope, than was made by this heroic woman."
In the end, the Revolution failed. It was taken over by theistic women who changed its motto (above) to "What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder." It was quickly transformed into a literary and society journal. Susan sadly wrote to a friend, "The fact is, women are in chains, and their servitude is all the more debasing because they do not realize it."
After a time, Susan and others decided that women should also be permitted to vote under the Fourteenth Amendment and in December of 1870, a memorial was delivered to the United States Congress to enact laws enabling women to do this.
The all male Congress turned on them, as did many women, and Mrs. Stanton observed: "Women have crucified the Mary Wollstonecrafts, the Fanny Wrights, the George Sands, the Fanny Kembles of all ages; and now men mock us with the fact,..."
The Fanny Wright to whom she referred was Frances Wright, of Scotland, the first woman to speak on a public platform in the United States, an open and avowed Atheist who lectured on Atheism, circa 1820-35. Frances Wright d'Arusmont (1795-1852) was also the first and probably only person in the United States to purchase land and then purchase slaves to whom she gave the land and their freedom.
It was not difficult to tell where the hearts of Mrs. Stanton and Miss Anthony were.
In 1871, Susan took her first trip to the Pacific coast, writing home, "If I were a believer in special providences, I should say..." but she was, in fact, not such a believer. In Washington state (Walla Walla) she found the church doors closed to her, her usual access route gone. The Seattle Territorial Despatch newspaper fumed about her, "...recognizing no religion but self-worship, no God but human reason...", there she stood.
Slipping into Canada, she denounced the laws there which allowed the husband to beat the wife.
By January, 1872, she was demanding that the United States Congress permit her to address the question of female suffrage. This was denied, but she was permitted a hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee on 12 January, 1872. The committee reported in adversely to the request for women to vote under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.
After seeking legal advice, Susan B. Anthony voted in the presidential election of November 5, 1872, in Rochester, New York. She advised all women to do the same and she was promptly arrested and imprisoned by the federal government.
The hearing was held on 21 January, 1873, at which time she was indicted by the grand jury. She continued to vote, especially at a city election on March 4th of the same year. The actual trial was on June 17th. It was conceded that Miss Anthony was a woman and that she had voted on 5 November, 1872. She was not permitted to testify on her own behalf because she was incompetent (as a woman) to so testify. The judge then directed the jury to bring in a verdict of guilty of the crime of voting (while being a woman) which the jury did.
When the judge ordered Miss Anthony to stand for sentencing, he asked, "Has the prisoner anything to say why sentence shall not be pronounced?" She spoke up and at length, over six orders of the judge to sit down. Finally, he issued the penalty of $100.00 and costs, to which she responded, "May it please your honor, I will never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty."—and she never did. She used the "penalty" and the publicity as a springboard for demands of female suffrage. By the end of 1880, she had spent over 30 years on the lecture circuit, agitating where and how she could.
By this time, she had also determined to write the History of Woman Suffrage, which was published in two volumes in 1898 and 1899.
Andrew Dickson White, president of Cornell University, author of The History of the Warfare of Science With Theology in Christendom had also completely repudiated Christianity and immortality.
In 1883, Miss Anthony went to Europe and her itinerary is instructive. She was not a mere sightseer, but always the humanitarian and reformer in traveler's guise. At the Palace of Versailles, she wryly noted, "What do you find here to admire? If it were a school of five hundred children, being educated in the right of self-government, I could admire it, too; but standing for one man's pleasure, I say no!"
In England, with Mrs. Stanton, she went to the home of Atheist, Mrs. Ernestine Rose, with Agnostic, Moncure Conway. Later, she had an hour with William Henry Channing, whom she had heard "returned to the faith" and about this she wrote, "...he virtually told me this was true of himself! I exclaimed: 'Do you mean to say you have returned to the belief in the immaculate conception of Jesus and in miracles...?' ...Well, I was stunned and left... It is—it must be—simply the waning intellect returning to childish teaching."
Later she stayed at the home of Harriet Martineau, who had openly avowed Atheism from 1851 to 1876, the year of her death.
On 13 October, 1883, she met the daughter of Charles Bradlaugh, Hypatia Bradlaugh Bonner, who was refused admittance to college because of the family's Atheism. Meanwhile, Mrs. Stanton was calling on him in Parliament, to renew their old acquaintance; Charles Bradlaugh, at that time the most famous Atheist in the world. Together, Miss Anthony and Mrs. Stanton went to hear him address his constituency in Trafalgar Square. They also took time out to hear Annie Besant, the noted female Atheist speak, described by them "as a woman without peer in England."
In visiting a slum, she wrote in a letter, "The man was out working for a farmer, his wife said, and the evidences were that 'God' (from prior conversation with the woman) was about to add a no. 7 to her flock. What a dreadful creature their God must be to keep sending hungry mouths while he withholds the bread to fill them..." (None of this speaks of a theistic bent.)
Upon her return home, she was immediately back in the fray, again urging suffrage, principally, this time, backing the Sixteenth Amendment, which had been introduced to the United States Congress as a proposed joint resolution (8 December, 1886). "The rights of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." It was defeated 34-16, with 26 absent.
Now age 66, she simply turned again to more organizational effort and more outreach. She had formed new organizations along the way, as necessary. Now, the criticism of Mrs. Stanton was heavy and at the convention, she spoke as follows: "We have come now to another turning-point and, if it is necessary, I will fight forty years more to make our platform free for the Christian to stand upon whether she be a Catholic and counts her beads, or a Protestant of the straitest orthodox creed, just as I have fought for the rights of the infidels the last forty years. These are the principles I want you to maintain, that our platform may be kept as broad as the universe, that upon it may stand the representatives of all creeds—Jew or Christian, Protestant or Catholic, Gentile or Mormon, pagan or Atheist."
Yet, some of the terrible criticism was abating and she was among women honored by a reception at the White House (by President Cleveland). She also graced many a state's Women's Suffrage Convention, across the United States, always seeking at state level, women's equal voting rights; in South Dakota, Wyoming, Washington, Louisiana, Georgia, Nebraska, California. . .long arduous journeys in those times of limited travel facilities. She encouraged women's group formations, political and other agitation and urged attendance at state and national political conventions.
It was very late in their careers that Mrs. Stanton decided to write The Women's Bible, that being simply a commentary upon the chapters of the Bible directly referring to women. (It is interesting to note that Eva Ingersoll, Robert G. Ingersoll's wife, was on the committee of revision). In her preface, Mrs. Stanton wrote "...I do not believe that any man ever saw or talked to God, ..."
Immediately, fears arose that the National American Suffrage Association would be injured by this and official action was demanded, the committee on resolutions reporting the following: "This association is non-sectarian, being composed of persons of all shades of religious opinions, and has no official connection with the so-called Woman's Bible, or any theological publication."
Miss Anthony was fired with indignation over the insult to Mrs. Stanton, and leaving the chair over which she presided, arose and proclaimed, "The one distinct feature of our association has been the right of individual opinion for every member. We have been beset at each step with the cry that somebody was injuring the cause by the expression of sentiments which differed from those held by the majority. The religious persecution of the ages has been carried on under what was claimed to be the command of God. I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires. All along the history of our movement there has been this same contest on account of religious theories. Forty years ago one of our noblest men said to me, 'You would better never hold another convention than allow Ernestine L. Rose on your platform;' because that eloquent woman, who ever stood for justice and freedom, did not believe in the plenary inspiration of the Bible. Did we banish Mrs. Rose? No. indeed! "Every new generation of converts threshes over the same old straw. The point is whether you will sit in judgment on one who questions the divine inspiration of certain passages in the Bible derogatory to women. If Mrs. Stanton had written approvingly of these passages you would not have brought in this resolution for fear the cause might be injured among the liberals in religion. In other words, if she had written your views, you would not have considered a resolution necessary. To pass this one is to set back the hands on the dial of reform.
"What you should say to outsiders is that a Christian has neither more nor less rights in our association than an atheist. When our platform becomes too narrow for people of all creeds and of no creeds, I myself can not stand upon it. Many things have been said and done by our orthodox friends which I have felt to be extremely harmful to our cause; but I should no more consent to a resolution denouncing them than I shall consent to this. Who is to draw the line? Who can tell now whether these commentaries may not prove a great help to woman's emancipation from old superstitions which have barred its way? Lucretia Mott at first thought Mrs. Stanton had injured the cause of all woman's other rights by insisting upon the demand for suffrage, but she had sense enough not to bring in a resolution against it. In 1860 when Mrs. Stanton made a speech before the New York Legislature in favor of a bill making drunkenness a ground for divorce, there was a general cry among the friends that she had killed the woman's cause. I shall be pained beyond expression if the delegates here are so narrow and illiberal as to adopt this resolution. You would better not begin resolving against individual action or you will find no limit. This year it is Mrs. Stanton; next year it may be I or one of yourselves, who will be the victim.
"If we do not inspire in women a broad and catholic spirit, they will fail, when enfranchised, to constitute that power for better government which we have always claimed for them. Ten women educated into the practice of liberal principles would be a stronger force than 10,000 organized on a platform of intolerance and bigotry. I pray you vote for religious liberty, without censorship or inquisition. This resolution adopted will be a vote of censure upon a woman who is without a peer in intellectual and statesmanlike ability; one who has stood for half a century the acknowledged leader of progressive thought and demand in regard to all matters pertaining to the absolute freedom of women."
The vote resulted in 53 ayes and 41 nays; the resolution was adopted. Miss Anthony characterized it as "this miserable, narrow action." To a friend she expressed herself in this way: "I don't know what better one could expect when our ranks are now so filled with young women not yet out of bondage to the idea of the infallibility of that book."
To Mrs. Stanton, she held out her argument of priorities. "You say 'women must be emancipated from their superstitions before enfranchisement will be of any benefit,' and I say just the reverse, that women must be enfranchised before they can be emancipated from their superstitions. Women would be no more superstitious today than men, if they had been men's political and business equals and gone outside the four walls of home and the four of the church into the great world, and come in contact with and discussed men and measures on the plane of this mundane sphere, instead of living in the air with Jesus and the angels. So you will have to keep pegging away, saying, 'Get rid of religious bigotry and then get political rights;' while I shall keep pegging away, saying, 'Get political rights first and religious bigotry will melt like dew before the morning sun;' and each will continue still to believe in and defend the other."
In February of 1896, Nelly Ely published the results of an interview with the now aged 76 year old Miss Anthony in the New York World newspaper. Her questions and Susan's responses were instructive:"'Do you believe in immortality?' I don't know anything about heaven or hell,' ... 'Do you pray?' 'I pray every single second of my life; not on my knees, but with my work. My prayer is to lift women to equality with men. Work and worship are one with me. I can not imagine a God of the universe made happy by my getting down on my knees and calling him 'great.' ... ' "
Susan B. Anthony, conventional in outward observances, was totally radical in thought and speech. She was honest, abrupt, resolute, uncompromising and never accepted a defeat as final; constantly rallying from each, just one more time. Her job would have been easier had any of the rich or powerful financed her, or openly allied with her. Every penny was hard earned, yet her detractors stooped so low as to comment on the one new dress she usually allowed herself each year.
At the time of her 50th anniversary as head of the suffrage movement, at a memorial, she spoke, but briefly, of that fifty year struggle, "When I was the most hated and reviled of women, ..., " and then immediately, as always, she asked for money and allies to continue the work.
She died on 13 March, 1906 at the age of 86. Her conscious thoughts during her last and brief illness were not of religion. She pled with all to continue her work and right before death remarked, (holding up her hand and measuring a little space on one finger), "Just think of it, I have been striving for over sixty years for a little bit of justice no bigger than that, and yet I must die without obtaining it. Oh, it seems so cruel!"
Of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Miss Anthony said, "Yes, I think she wished to be cremated; in time this will be the universal method of disposing of the dead." She requested the same for herself. Both were buried in orthodox manner and the families of each had ministers hold forth over the bodies.
Susan had expressed herself on immortality in a letter to her sister Mary in 1880, at age 60, concerned with her sister Hannah's death: "Just three years ago this day was our dear Hannah's last on earth, and I can see her now sitting by the window and can hear her say, 'Talk, Susan.' I knew she wanted me to talk of the future meetings in the great beyond, all of them, as she often said, so certain and so beautiful to her; but they were not to me, and I could not dash her faith with my doubts, nor could I pretend a faith I had not; so I was silent in the dread presence of death."
This great American Atheist, every woman in the United States who can vote, attend college, hold property, have custody of children, or live with some independence owes these liberties to the great Atheist fighters of the suffrage movement, led by Susan B. Anthony. She is revered in the common every day routines of living by women everywhere. The small freedoms —as well as the large— hard won victories of her single-minded devotion and dedication, remind us constantly that we all need to struggle to maintain them and enlarge them, in her memory and for our personal expanding satisfactions of a good life.