Anna Dickinson and the Election of 1872
J. Matthew Gallman
On October 25, 1872, Anna Elizabeth Dickinson walked alone to the speaker's platform at New York City's Cooper Union. The weather was so terrible that evening that even the famed orator could not fill the house. But Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were there along with various colleagues from the woman's rights movement. All the New York papers and most of the leading national journals sent reporters. They had gathered to hear what the woman who had once been dubbed "America's Joan of Arc" had to say about the upcoming election between Horace Greeley and Ulysses S. Grant.
The speech was a particularly dramatic one, delivered with the flair that audiences had come to expect from Dickinson. Historians have not paid much attention to Dickinson's words that day. In political terms she did not break new ground, nor did her words significantly affect the election results the following month. Nevertheless, the 1872 campaign—and the path that Dickinson took to her role in it—are a valuable window into how the memory of the Civil War shaped postwar politics and culture. Only seven years after Appomattox, all public events unfolded with the memory of the Civil War as a powerful backdrop, but the terms of that memory remained subject to interpretation and negotiation. Her audiences recognized Dickinson as a celebrated veteran of the sectional conflict, and thus, like the candidates themselves, the memory of her own wartime career framed the popular perceptions of her 1872 actions. Moreover, Dickinson, ever the clever orator, did her best to shape the popular recollection of the Civil War to support her chosen candidate. Anna Dickinson understood both the power and the potential malleability of historic memory.
Anna Dickinson had her first taste of the public arena in 1860 when, as an eighteen-year-old, she delivered "The Rights and Wrongs of Women" at a public forum in Philadelphia. The following February Dickinson returned to the same themes at Philadelphia's Concert Hall, where the famed aboli