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15 Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Susan B. Anthony

An early advocate for women's rights, this passionate, complex leader was crucial to the women's suffrage movement. But Susan B. Anthony was so much more. Here are some little-known facts about this pivotal American.

Suffragist Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), seated at her desk.Bettmann/Getty Images

A legendary woman

You most likely remember Susan B. Anthony for the strides she made for women’s rights in the United States, but during her lifetime she achieved a lot more; some of which you might not even know about. Read on to learn about all the ways Susan B. Anthony has changed our world.

VARIOUS Suffragist Susan B. AnthonyUniversal History Archive/Shutterstock

She was raised on social justice

Susan B. Anthony’s parents raised Susan and her six siblings on a belief system that stressed the importance of social justice issues, including prison reform and the abolishment of slavery. Susan’s father, Daniel Anthony, often invited reformist leaders like Frederick Douglass, leader of the abolitionist movement, and Wendell Phillips, an advocate for Native Americans, to their home in Rochester, New York. The adults would discuss politics, advocacy, and the need for social reform. As a young child, Susan sat on the sidelines, listening, and learning.

Art (Social History) - variousThe Art Archive/Shutterstock

Her family held Quaker beliefs

The Anthony family’s Quaker traditions and beliefs were pivotal to Susan’s early views on women and what they could accomplish. From its inception, Quakerism permitted women who felt called to God to become ministers and preach to their congregation and community. Many Quaker women even became traveling ministers, traversing the country and world to bring their ideology to others. These early role models may have influenced Susan significantly. Over several decades of her life, Susan tirelessly traveled the U.S., bringing the message of women’s suffrage to anyone who would listen.

Historical Collection 98 The Order of the Sons of Temperance Friendly Society - Unsurpassed Sick and Assurance Benefits For Men Women and Children (1 of 2) circa 1910Historia/Shutterstock

Her first passion was not women’s rights

Another solid Quaker belief is temperance, or the complete abstinence from alcohol. Susan started her advocacy career as a temperance worker, after teaching children at Canajoharie Academy in central New York for 15 years. In 1852, Susan attended a state meeting of a brotherhood known as the Sons of Temperance. There, she was refused the right to address the crowd. According to Susan B. Anthony Museum & House, she was told to sit down, listen, and learn. Angered and appalled, Susan started to take heed to other influences in her life and shifted her attention to women’s rights. Check out more empowering stories of women you didn’t learn about in history class.

Blank blackboard with colored chalks and eraser and light effect. Horizontal composition.demachi/Getty Images

She was a teacher for 10 years

Susan B. Anthony taught from 1839 to 1849. Teaching was one of the few careers women were allowed to have in her time. During her time teaching, she eventually went on to become the principal in the girls’ department at Canajoharie Academy in upstate New York. Her yearly salary was $110. While teaching so spoke out about the need for higher pay for female teachers as well as the need for more career opportunities for women.

VARIOUS Susan B. Anthony 1890Universal History Archive/Shutterstock

She was hung in effigy

It was Susan’s abolitionist, anti-slavery advocacy that most threatened her life and safety. According to the African American Registry, Susan “believed in Black humanity” and worked for the abolishment of slavery as passionately as she did women’s rights. In 1856 (five years before the start of the American Civil War), Susan became heavily involved with an abolitionist group called the American Anti-Slavery Society. Here, she was a visible force working on behalf of Negro suffrage. She could often be seen putting up posters on the street. Susan was set upon by angry crowds of people who opposed her views. More than once that year, her physical safety was threatened by armed individuals. Susan was hung in effigy and her image dragged through the streets of Syracuse, New York, to the cheers of a hostile crowd. This is why Black History Month is more important than ever.

VARIOUS Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1899Universal History Archive/Shutterstock

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was her dearest friend

Susan first met Elizabeth Cady Stanton at an anti-slavery convention in Syracuse, New York, in 1851. Both women were in their thirties at the time. Elizabeth was married to abolitionist Henry B. Stanton and had a household of children to attend to. Susan was unmarried and would remain so for her entire life. Despite their different lifestyles and disparate pulls on their time, the two formed a deep, genuine friendship and became an indefatigable force for women’s rights. Susan was the business head and Elizabeth, the creative. Together, they created and published a newspaper for women called the Revolution. The two also founded the National Woman Suffrage Association. They remained best friends, as well as friends-in-arms, for the rest of their lives. Don’t miss these 13 Hispanic women who changed the world.

votingLisa S./Shutterstock

She exercised her right to vote—and was arrested

The 1872 Presidential election pitted President Ulysses S. Grant against challenger Horace Greeley. It was a full 48 years before women would ultimately win the right to vote, but Susan was there at the polls, along with 15 other suffragettes, casting her ballot (for Grant, it was later disclosed). Two weeks post-Election Day, she was arrested and put on trial in a packed courtroom. The judge instructed the jury to find her guilty, robbing her of the right to a fair trial. A verdict of innocent would have set a precedent for all women to have the right to vote. Susan was found guilty and fined $100. To her credit, she never paid a penny, nor did she serve any jail time. Here are 15 countries that gave women the right to vote before the U.S. did.

Various Susan B. Anthony, 1820-1906. American Woman Suffrage Advocate. Organizer Of National Woman Suffrage Association. Lecturer And ComposerNara Archives/Shutterstock

And yet, she persisted

Some called her resilient and others, obstinate. In 1860, Susan began making annual appeals in person to Congress for women’s suffrage. In 1877, she made her annual trip with a petition, signed by over 10,000 U.S. citizens in hand, but was literally laughed down on the Congressional floor. Despite widespread derision from many, she continued making this appeal until 1906, the year of her death.

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She starred in a famous nursery rhyme

Miss Lucy had a baby, she named him Tiny Tim. She put him in a bathtub, to see if he could swim. He drank up all the water, he ate up all the soap, he tried to eat the bathtub but it wouldn’t go down his throat. Miss Lucy called the doctor, Miss Lucy called the nurse, Miss Lucy called the Lady with the Alligator Purse……

Many don’t know that Susan B. Anthony was the famous Lady with the Alligator Purse. The ending line of this little ditty is “Vote! Said the lady with the alligator purse.” Along with her red shawl, Susan’s alligator purse was a famous trademark she was rarely seen without. More a briefcase than a bag, it held speeches, pamphlets, petitions, and other documents. It accompanied her on her travels across the U.S. and Europe. Check out these 20 confidence-boosting quotes from impressive women in history.

American abolitionist and suffragette Susan B Anthony (1820 - 1906) standing outside her home on 17 Madison Street, in Rochester, NY, late nineteenth century.Interim Archives/Getty Images

She fought for women to have the right to own property

Anthony also fought for women to be able to own property. In the 19th century, married women didn’t have the right to have their own earnings or property. The purse that she so famously carried around became a symbol of women’s freedom. In 1853 she wrote, “Woman must have a purse of her own, and how can this be, so long as the wife is denied the right to her individual and joint earnings.  Reflections like these, caused me to see and really feel that there was no true freedom for woman without the possession of all her property rights … This demand must be made by Petitions to the Legislature…”

ROCHESTER, NY - MAY 2017: The University of Rochester, benefiting from industrial donors, has notable programs in technological subjects.Spiroview Inc/Shutterstock

She put her money where her mouth was

As a child, Susan left school for good when her teacher refused to teach her long division. She went on to study in a school her father founded for the rest of her student career. Understanding the importance of education, in 1900, Susan pledged to provide the entire cash value of her life insurance policy to the University of Rochester, so that women seeking admission to the school could not be turned away for lack of funds. The school still provides a scholarship named for her and her long-time partner-in-arms, Frederick Douglass. The Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony Award is bestowed to high school students who display leadership and have a demonstrated commitment to tackling difficult social issues.

VARIOUS Florence Jaffray 'Daisy' Harriman with bannerUniversal History Archive/Shutterstock

Failure is impossible

Susan is known for many things, including the battle cry, “Failure is impossible.” She uttered these famous words during the last suffrage speech she ever gave, one month before her death, at 86 years old. The motto became the rallying cry of suffragettes for years until the right to vote was finally won. Here are 13 moments that changed women’s history forever.

American woman votes, ca. 1920. The 1920 election was the first time all American female citizens over 21 were able to vote for a U.S. President.Everett Historical/Shutterstock

The 19th Amendment is named after her

Several states, including Wyoming (1890), Kansas (1912), and Susan’s home state of New York (1917) granted women the right to vote years before it became federal law. In 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, effectively ensuring the right of women who are U.S. citizens to vote in any election. It changed the face of the American voting public forever. Sadly, Susan B. Anthony died in 1906, not living long enough to see her hard work come to fruition. In her honor, the Nineteenth Amendment was posthumously named the Susan B. Anthony bill, forever etching her legacy on every polling place in every corner of America.

US Dollar Silver Coin Featuring Susan B AnthonyFrank L Junior/Shutterstock

She once graced U.S. currency

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter signed the Susan B. Anthony Dollar Coin Act, and so the first coin ever to be graced with a woman’s countenance in U.S. history made its debut. The coin circulated until 2000 when it was replaced with the Sacagawea golden dollar. Don’t miss these 16 things you never knew were invented by women.

VARIOUS Main Parlor of Susan B. Anthony HouseUniversal History Archive/Shutterstock

Her life and legacy live on

Today, Susan’s home in Rochester, New York, is a museum visited by thousands annually. Many make this trip on Election Day after voting, so they can visit Susan’s final resting place afterward. Here, they stand on line for hours, waiting to place “I Voted Today” stickers on her gravestone. You’ll also want to read up on these other women pioneers who changed the world.

Corey Whelan
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer and reproductive health professional who has worked with infertility patients and adopting parents for over 25 years. Her work has been featured in multiple media outlets, including Reader’s Digest, The Healthy, Healthline, CBS Local, and Berxi. Follow her on Twitter @coreygale.