On November 1, 1872, Susan B. Anthony and several other women walked into the barbershop that was used as the voter registration office. They asked to be legally registered to vote in the presidential election to be held in four days on November 5. They were refused several times, but Anthony persisted.
Election official, Mr. Beverly W. Jones, was there when it happened and gave this eyewitness account, “. . . I made the remark that I didn’t think we could register her name. She asked me upon what grounds. I told her that the constitution of the State of New York only gave the right of franchise to male citizens.”
Jones’ testimony later continued, “She asked me if I was acquainted with the 14th amendment to the constitution of the U.S. I told her I was. She wanted to know if under that she was a citizen and had a right to vote. At this time, Mr. Warner [the Supervisor of Elections] said, ‘young man, how are you going to get around that. I think you will have to register their names’—or something to that effect.”
Anthony made one final play that could not be ignored, "If you refuse us our rights as citizens, I will bring charges against you in Criminal Court and I will sue each of you personally for large, exemplary damages!" She finished her argument by saying, "I know I can win. I have Judge Selden as a lawyer. There is an amount of money to back me, and if I have to, I will push to the 'last ditch' in both courts."
So the ladies were registered and voted in the 1872 presidential election. Election Inspectors voted two to one to accept Anthony’s ballot and put it in the box. Faced with conflicting state and federal laws over who qualified to vote, they were breaking election law in one form or another regardless of what they had chosen to do. It was the talk of the town for days. Both pros and cons were openly debated.
The day after the women in Rochester voted, the “New York Times” ran a one paragraph story. It was located several pages in, under the headline, “Minor Topics.” (see this week’s graphic) Other than local talk stirred by an event, in 1872 women’s suffrage was still not deemed worthy of much news coverage and was often relegated to back pages. However, this treatment by the press also meant that the subject of women’s rights could be viewed as something unimportant and easily dismissed.
However insignificantly, it was treated at the time, weeks later, Susan B. Anthony would be publicly arrested; she was charged with illegal voting. The trial became national news and a major turning point in women’s rights. (more in a later post) This event and trial became an opportunity for leaders like Anthony to speak directly to a wider audience with her testimony and present arguments in favor of women’s suffrage.
This week’s song pick:
“I’m Just a Girl” by No Doubt https://youtu.be/PHzOOQfhPFg
Episode 28 Sources: