Progress, 1872–2012: Arrested for voting, Susan B. Anthony, top right. Voted in, clockwise from top left, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Senator Kelly Ayotte, Governor Maggie Hassan, Representative Carol Shea-Porter, Representative Ann McLane Kuster.

 

 

 

 

Dateline: New Hampshire, November 6, 2012:  America learns that—for the first time in U.S. history—women have swept into the five top offices in a state. That state is New Hampshire, which had previously elected two female senators and has just added two female members of Congress and a female governor. November 6 also brought the total of female U.S. senators to an all-time high of 20. Pundits proclaim it “the year of the woman.”

It has been a long road.

Dateline: Rochester, New York, November 1, 1872. Fifty-two-year-old suffragist Susan B. Anthony registers to vote, and four days later, on November 5, she casts her vote in the presidential election for incumbent Republican President Ulysses S. Grant.  A complaint to the court is made by a man whom Anthony would identify as an “eighth-ward corner grocery politician.” Soon after that she is arrested and charged with “illegal voting.”

Anthony believed that women had gained the right to vote after ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, which guarantees to all persons born or naturalized in the United States that “no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” She was wrong. 

She pleaded “not guilty” on that basis of her Fourteenth Amendment rights, but the circuit court justice trying the case in 1873 disagreed. He found her guilty and fined her $100 plus prosecution costs.

It is fitting that, exactly 140 years after Anthony voted illegally, we give her the last words and reflect on the changes resulting from the long struggle for women to win the vote.

When asked by the judge if she had anything to say after her sentencing, Anthony answered:

Yes, Your Honor, I have many things to say; for in your ordered verdict of guilty, you have trampled underfoot every vital principal of our government. My natural rights, my civil rights, my political rights, my judicial rights, are all alike ignored.  Robbed of the fundamental privilege of citizenship, I am degraded from the status of citizen to that of a subject; and not only myself individually, but all of my sex are, by Your Honor’s verdict, doomed to political subjection under this so-called form of government.

Forty-eight years later, the Nineteenth Amendment would be ratified and twenty-eight vital words would be added to the United States constitution: “The right 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.”  Let’s honor the women elected to office this year by remembering the women who came before them.

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  • Judith A. Ross November 9, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    I am thrilled for New Hampshire, but also extremely proud of our new Senator in Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren.

    Reply