With Susan B. Anthony back in the headlines and the Centennial of the 19th Amendment just around the corner, this is a good time to revisit the 1873 trial in which Anthony was found guilty of voting in the eighth ward (voting district) of Rochester, New York.
While Anthony didn’t serve time in jail, her trial lays to bare the oppressive challenges that the suffragist movement had to face during the long struggle that led to the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
Susan B. Antony’s Persuasive Powers
Anthony was by no means the first woman who tried to cast a vote in the United States. In fact, she had previously encouraged hundreds of women to register to vote, but they were invariably turned away at the polling places.
What made Susan B. Anthony different? Well, she was persuasive. First, she told the election officials that she would sue them if they refused to register her and the group of women who accompanied her. Then she delivered the decisive argument: “I have Judge Selden as a lawyer.”
The officials knew the reputation of Harry Selden as an ally of Anthony and wanted to avoid legal charges. After a long dispute, they agreed to register the women after making them take an oath in which they assumed responsibility for their actions.
Ironically, Selden would later thwart Anthony’s legal strategy. She wanted to go to jail to be able to take her case to the Supreme Court, but Selden paid her bail explaining that “I could not see a lady I respected put in jail.”
“The Power to Fly to the Moon”
The reaction to the mere fact of a woman registering to vote was immediate. The opinion published by the editors of the Rochester Union and Advertiser reveals how bizarre the idea of women voting was to many men back then, and how they rationalized what we see today as a flagrant denial of rights:
“Citizenship no more carries the right to vote than it carries the power to fly to the moon. If these women in the Eight Ward offer to vote, they should be challenged, and if they take the oaths and the inspectors receive and deposit their ballots, they should all be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
A Miscarriage of Justice
While it’s true that Susan B. Anthony never served a day in jail, her trial was an obvious miscarriage of justice.
Judge Ward Hunt did everything in his power to ensure that she was found guilty: he had written his final opinion before the trial even began, and when the proceedings concluded he directed the jury to declare Anthony guilty (which was not illegal at the time).
Anthony’s eloquent response to judge Ward reveals her keen awareness of the mechanisms that cause inequality. Almost 150 years later, her words still ring true for many women and minority citizens:
“All my prosecutors, from the Eighth Ward corner-grocery politician, who entered the complaint, to the United States marshal, commissioner, district attorney, district judge, your honor on the bench, not one is my peer, but each and all are my political sovereigns; and had your honor submitted my case to the jury, as was clearly your duty, even then I should have had just cause of protest, for not one of those men was my peer; but, native or foreign, white or black, rich or poor, educated or ignorant, awake or asleep, sober or drunk, each and every man of them was my political superior; hence, in no sense, my peer.”
About Our Celebrate 2020 Hat Collection
Commemorate the legacy of Susan B. Anthony and all the trailblazing women and men who fought (and keep fighting) for equality with Sedna Inspirations Celebrate 2020 hat collection.
The hats of our Celebration 2020 collection are available in cotton, corduroy, and sweater fabric; they celebrate and inspire with a triumphant embroidered front design with the words “Momentum!” “She Persisted!”, “I Vote!” or “Forward into Light” on the back on the back. The “19th Amendment” is embroidered on the side. The selection of colors includes purple, gold, yellow, white, ivory, and black. Shop online and start celebrating today!