Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906)
MARY D. PELLAUER
A century after her death, Susan B. Anthony is the most familiar name of the American women's suffrage movement. Beyond her name, however, we are less well aware of what she believed and did. Anthony's religious position, which had few parallels in her time and has few even in ours, is especially unfamiliar. Yet Anthony's themes resonate, especially with those who have learned from liberation theology.
Unlike other figures analyzed in this volume, Anthony was not a professional theologian; indeed, theological education opened up for women only during the decades of her struggle. An activist's religious perspective is perhaps inevitably different from that of seminary professors, church people, or clergy. But it may be no less instructive; indeed, it may be more so. Religious disputes were routine in the suffragist movement. St. Paul's exhortations to women to “be silent in the churches” (1 Cor. 14:34–35), for instance, had to be countered, whether by suffragists or by women in the antislavery movement. Since earlier women, such as Lucretia Mott and the Grimke sisters, had pioneered in answering such claims, Anthony took it for granted that she could be a public activist against slavery and for women's rights.
Susan B. Anthony was born in 1820 and brought up by an unconventional Quaker family in upstate New York.1 Her parents belonged to the abolition and suffrage causes before she did. They attended the first women's rights convention and signed its Declaration of Sentiments. The Anthony family encouraged, supported, and often financed their daughter Susan's work throughout her life. For fifteen years, Anthony earned her living as a schoolteacher, leaving that career only for full-time devotion to struggling