Anniversary of Susan B. Anthony’s Death: Women’s Rights Crusader

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post—in honor of March being National Women’s History Month—Gena commemorates the 108th anniversary of the death of women’s rights advocate Susan B. Anthony.

1920. That isn’t really that long ago. In the United States, women have had the right to vote in federal elections for less than 100 years. Depending on your age, there’s a good chance that your grandmother or great-grandmother spent part of her life without that right. Women today have many foremothers to thank for their work in securing suffrage. One woman, whose name is familiar to most of us, dedicated her life to suffrage—and like many of those who fought that fight, she never saw her dream fully realized.

On 13 March 1906 pioneering activist Susan B. Anthony died at the age of 86.

photo of women's rights advocate Susan B. Anthony at age 50

Photo: Susan B. Anthony at age 50. Credit: Wikimedia Commons by Stmarygypsy.

When she was 52, Anthony was arrested, tried and convicted for the crime of daring to vote in the 1872 Presidential Election. She persisted in her efforts with unwavering dedication, declaring a few years before she died that national women’s suffrage “…will come, but I shall not see it.”

Her words proved prophetic 14 years after her death, when the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified on 18 August 1920, guaranteeing all American women the right to vote.

photo of a petition from E. Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, and others asking for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing universal suffrage, ca. 1865

Photo: petition of E. Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, and others asking for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing universal suffrage, ca. 1865. Credit: U.S. National Archives; Flickr The Commons.

Quaker by birth, social reform causes were not unknown to her. Susan B. Anthony spoke her mind about various causes during her life including slavery, which she spoke out against when she was only 17 years old.

History of Woman Suffrage

One of the results of her tireless work is a book series, History of Woman Suffrage, which Anthony co-authored with fellow suffragists Matilda Joslyn Gage and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. This set is not only a good history of the cause; it provides valuable information to present-day researchers on the dates women received suffrage on a local and state level. The series is available online through digitized books websites including Google Books and Internet Archive.

Genealogy Tip: Be sure to consult this book series to better understand what voting records may be available for your female ancestors.

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Obituary of Susan B. Anthony

When she died, Susan B. Anthony’s obituary was published in newspapers throughout the United States. Her obituary listed her many life accomplishments, including: lecturing in 1847 on behalf of temperance; her work towards the abolition of slavery prior to the Civil War; and her taking a “prominent part in the passage of an act in New York giving married women the possession of their earnings and right of guardianship of their children.”

obituary for women's rights advocate Susan B. Anthony, Bellingham Herald newspaper article 13 March 1906

Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Washington), 13 March 1906, page 3

Even in death Anthony was breaking down gender and race barriers. An African American woman, Mrs. R. Jerome Jeffrey, spoke at her funeral, and the honorary pall bearers were young women from the University of Rochester. Anthony helped to secure coeducation privileges for women at that institution just prior to her death.

Susan B. Anthony (Lies) in State in Church, Baltimore American newspaper article 15 March 1906

Baltimore American (Baltimore, Maryland), 15 March 1906, page 9

Even though she did not live to see women gain the federal right to vote, she had worked with women in other states that did enjoy suffrage in state and local elections. Women in the Western states of Wyoming (1869), Utah (1870), Colorado (1893), and Idaho (1896) were some of the first to hold the right to vote in state elections.

In 1920 the 19th Amendment was ratified after a 41-year-long battle. Originally penned by Anthony and Stanton, the text for the 19th Amendment was known as the Anthony Amendment. Years of women’s, and some men’s, hard work which involved marches, pickets, demonstrations, arrests, and even being tortured ended with the adoption of this sentence:

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.

Suffrage Now Is a Law, Kansas City Star newspaper article 1 September 1920

Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Missouri), 1 September 1920, page 2

Susan B. Anthony’s Grave

Susan B. Anthony is buried in the Anthony family plot at Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, New York. Abolitionist Frederick Douglas is also buried at Mount Hope. You can view her gravestone on the website The Freethought Trail.

Interesting history fact: Tennessee ratified the 19th Amendment in 1920, giving the amendment the 36 approval votes it needed to pass. However, some states didn’t ratify it until much later; the last state, Mississippi, didn’t ratify the 19th Amendment until 1984. That’s not a typo—it wasn’t until 1984!

Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, aka Frederick Douglass

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott searches old newspapers to learn about one of the great figures in American history: the African American abolitionist, Frederick Douglass.

I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.

—Frederick Douglass

Exactly 119 years ago today, on 20 February 1895, America suddenly and unexpectedly lost one of its most impressive abolitionists, reformers, orators, writers, statesmen, and advocates for equal rights of all people: Frederick Douglass.

photo of Frederick Douglass

Photo: Frederick Douglass. Credit: Wikipedia.

Wanting to know more about this great African American, I turned to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to look for old articles to learn about his life and times. I was not disappointed with my research findings.

This obituary of Frederick Douglas appeared in an 1895 New York newspaper. All of us genealogy fans can always appreciate a well-written obituary, and this certainly is one.

Death of Frederick Douglass, Irish American Weekly newspaper obituary 25 February 1895

Irish American Weekly (New York, New York), 25 February 1895, page 4

Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey

Born about 1817 as an African American slave on the eastern shore of Maryland, Frederick Douglass was born with the name of Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. He proceeded to spend his life breaking just about every mold people tried to force him to fit.

Runaway Slave & Man of Many Names

Douglass tried to escape slavery twice before he was finally successful, but once free, he was a wanted man. As a result, he had to change his name from Bailey, to Johnson, and then to Douglass—and as genealogy fans we can appreciate Douglass writing his autobiography, which helps us understand his changing name history.

Rising to Be a Famous American Abolitionist

Just how impressive was Frederick Douglass? Take a look at this article from a 1909 Chicago newspaper with its subheading calling Douglass “…One of the Sublimest and Most Noble Characters…”

The 92nd Anniversary of the Birth of Frederick Douglass, Broad Ax newspaper article 13 February 1909

Broad Ax (Chicago, Illinois), 13 February 1909, page 1

Douglass rose from the hardship of being born into slavery and the cruelty of being removed from his mother’s care as an infant (which was a customary practice in slavery at the time), to finally managing to escape to freedom—and became, at the time, America’s premier African American voice against slavery. One of my favorite quotes by Douglass is captured in this article from a 1952 Kansas newspaper. It is short, but really powerful:

I know of no rights of race superior to the rights of humanity.

Frederick Douglass' Statement, Plaindealer newspaper article 11 July 1952

Plaindealer (Kansas City, Kansas), 11 July 1952, page 7

Facing Abolitionist Opponents

While we all wish this was the case throughout American history, we all know it certainly was not. For an unvarnished view of just how challenging Frederick Douglass’s anti-slavery stand was, I strongly suggest that you look up and read this article from a 1930 Kansas newspaper.

The Truth about the Great Frederick Douglass, Plaindealer newspaper article 30 August 1930

Plaindealer (Topeka, Kansas), 30 August 1930, section: illustrated feature section, page 3

Running an entire page, this article often graphically relates what kinds of perils Douglass faced in his quest to speak out against slavery. Here is one horrifying example:

At Pendleton, Ind., the mob tore down the platform on which he was speaking. When the mob attacked him, he defended himself with a club until his arm was broken and he was battered into unconsciousness. When he regained it, with is arm in a sling, he insisted on speaking again.

Strong Advocate for Women’s Rights

Slavery was not the only cause that Frederick Douglass fought for. As you can read in this article from an 1848 Washington, D.C., newspaper, he supported the Women’s Rights Movement as well. Douglass spoke (he was the only African American invited to speak) at the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, where he continued his strong advocacy for equal rights for women.

article about Frederick Douglass speaking at the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, Daily National Intelligencer newspaper article 16 August 1848

Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.), 16 August 1848, page 2

Frederick Douglass Meets President Lincoln

This article from an 1864 Louisiana newspaper reported on Douglass meeting with President Abraham Lincoln. In a speech he gave afterward, Douglass said:

Now, you will want to know how I was impressed by him [Lincoln]. He impressed me as being just what every one of you have been in the habit of calling him—an honest man.

article about Frederick Douglass meeting President Abraham Lincoln, New Orleans Tribune newspaper article 26 July 1864

New Orleans Tribune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 26 July 1864, page 2

This old article from an 1891 Nebraska newspaper reported that Frederick Douglass advised President Lincoln on the Emancipation Proclamation, and was appointed the U.S. Minster to Hayti (now Haiti).

He (Frederick Douglass) Advised the (Emancipation) Proclamation, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 7 August 1891

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 7 August 1891, page 4

His Home a National Historic Site

Moving toward more current times, the Douglass family home, known as Cedar Hill, became a National Historic Site and a part of our National Park Service, as you can read in this article from a 1972 Wisconsin newspaper.

(Frederick) Douglass Honored, Milwaukee Star newspaper article 24 February 1972

Milwaukee Star (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), 24 February 1972, page 10

Frederick Douglass’ Newspaper

Note: one of the historical newspapers in GenealogyBank’s collection is the very newspaper edited and published by Frederick Douglass himself! It is the Frederick Douglass’ Paper (Rochester, New York), where you can read entire issues of this newspaper from 1847 to 1860.

I’d encourage you to take some time, delve into the newspapers of GenealogyBank’s online collection, and really investigate Frederick Douglass, one of America’s finest!

Eleanor Roosevelt’s ‘My Day’ Newspaper Column: A Public Diary

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena writes about Eleanor Roosevelt’s popular and long-running newspaper column, “My Day.”

When you think of Franklin Delano Roosevelt what comes to mind? Maybe it’s the fact that he was the only U.S. president to be elected to four terms. Maybe you’re familiar with the programs he helped to establish during the Depression, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Maybe you remember the words from his speech after the attack on Pearl Harbor, calling it “a date which will live in infamy.” Our 32nd president led the nation during the difficult times of the Great Depression and World War II.

What do you know about his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt? She was a crusader for many political and social issues, including women’s and civil rights. Mrs. Roosevelt has a long list of accomplishments in her own right apart from being a first lady. Starting in late 1935 she became one of the most-documented first ladies in U.S. history, due to the fact that she began a syndicated newspaper column that she personally wrote. Eleanor worked on her column “My Day” six days a week, from 1935 to 1962, writing about her daily activities and giving her views on a range of subjects.

This 1935 newspaper notice announced the upcoming “My Day” newspaper column.

Roosevelt Columns, Plain Dealer newspaper article 30 December 1935

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 30 December 1935, page 7

Many of Eleanor Roosevelt’s newspaper columns read like diary entries. In some cases, they resemble a letter to a dear friend—filled with her thoughts, conversations and opinions.

Her newspaper columns addressed many different topics; not all were especially poignant. For example, in one early column she discusses how much sleep she got and describes eating a tray of food by herself in her room. But looking at the totality of the columns helps paint a picture of the United States through the mid-20th century, reflecting the important issues our families faced such as war, poverty and racism. These “My Day” columns provide researchers with a social history of life during this time.

One issue that Eleanor Roosevelt was passionate about was civil rights. In her 21 February 1936 column, she mentions that she and her husband enjoyed a concert by African American singer Marian Anderson.

My Day in the White House by Eleanor Roosevelt, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 21 February 1936

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 21 February 1936, page 6

Three years later in February 1939 Eleanor Roosevelt quit the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) over their refusal to allow Marian Anderson to perform in Constitution Hall. At that time the Hall was segregated and the DAR refused to allow African Americans to perform there.

In her resignation letter, Mrs. Roosevelt stated:

“However, I am in complete disagreement with the attitude taken in refusing Constitution Hall to a great artist. You have set an example which seems to me unfortunate, and I feel obliged to send in to you my resignation. You had an opportunity to lead in an enlightened way and it seems to me that your organization has failed.”

You can view a copy of that DAR resignation letter on the National Archives website.

Thanks to the support of Eleanor Roosevelt and other like-minded individuals, Marian Anderson eventually sang at Constitution Hall at the invitation of the DAR in 1942.

photo of Eleanor Roosevelt and Marian Anderson

Photo: Eleanor Roosevelt and Marian Anderson in Japan. Credit: Flickr: The Commons, U.S. National Archives.

Mrs. Roosevelt’s 27-year newspaper column spanned her time as first lady, when she became a widow, and when she worked with the United Nations. One of her only breaks from writing the columns was in the days following her husband’s death on 12 April 1945.

In her last column, which ran 26 September 1962, Eleanor was once again addressing the issue of civil rights. In that column she discussed the issue of desegregating the schools, saying:

“In the same way, we must realize that however slow the progress of school integration in the South, analogous situations exist over and over again in the Northern states. There the problem of school desegregation is closely tied to desegregation of housing; certainly we are not doing any kind of job that we could hold out as an example to our Southern neighbors.”

With that discussion Eleanor’s “My Day” column came to an end.* She died two months later on 7 November 1962 at the age of 78.

* “My Day” by Eleanor Roosevelt, 26 September 1962. Available on the website My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt. Prepared by the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project.