In the 1830s and 40s, Susan could count her career options on one hand: 1. Get married and have children. 2. Teach. 3. Become a Quaker minister.
Even though Quakers believed in male-female equality and received the same education as her brothers, college and the professions were closed to Susan. She rejected all suitors, not wanting to lose her independence and become either a “drudge” if she married poor or a “doll” if she married rich (her words).
Susan chose teaching, but by age 29 she was restless. Concerned about rampant family and spousal abuse due to alcoholic husbands, she took up the cause of temperance, and soon added abolition and went to work as a reformer full time. Her intense energy, organizational skills, and passion made her a powerful public speaker. She spoke in any venue that would have her. People jeered, pelted her with eggs and tomatoes, and wrote slanderous articles in local newspapers.
All this mistreatment intensified after she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1848 and added women’s suffrage to her causes. The two became a formidable team: Elizabeth as a writer, and Susan as an organizer and speaker. Quaker Lucretia Mott joined forces. Frederick Douglas and William Lloyd Garrison gave their support.
Susan was vilified at every turn as she tramped around New England speaking anywhere she could draw a crowd, but slowly other women caught the vision: Lucy Stone, Antoinette Brown, Frances Harper, Sojourner Truth … While Elizabeth was “busy having babies” (she had six), Susan organized annual conventions, fearlessly traveled in winter since that’s when farmers were homebound and supported herself by charging twenty-five cents for admission to her lectures. Ministers in general opposed her; some were hostile. Susan often experienced mob violence.
Periodically, Susan took over Elizabeth’s domestic responsibilities so her friend could write. “You need rest too, Susan,” her friend said. “Let the world rest for a time.” But Susan couldn’t rest. There was too much to do, too many people to convince, too many wrongs to right. Susan’s story is long and complex, and she died at 86 fourteen years before women’s suffrage was ratified nationally. Yet her sacrifices, hard work and skills were essential to changing a nation’s mind about giving women a voice at the ballot box. We owe her a great deal.
One woman seldom mentioned in connection with Susan was her chief supporter, advocate and caregiver: her younger sister Mary. The two women lived together in Rochester, where Mary kept the home fires burning, caring for Susan when she arrived exhausted, ill, and discouraged from her campaigns. In Horse Thief 1898, Susan is always “Miss Anthony” to Cally. But her loving sister becomes “Aunt Mary,” orphaned Cally’s first and critically important confidante.