It is a happy coincidence indeed that the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Susan E. Anthony, one of the greatest of the woman suffrage pioneers, occurs when the woman suffrage amendment to the Constitution is within sight of its triumphant ratification. Whether justly or not, that amendment for many decades bore the name of Miss Anthony, and it is commonly believed that she first suggested the policy of obtaining suffrage by national action instead of through that of individual States. Certainly there could be no more fitting recognition of Miss Anthony’s service than to have her centennial birthday on February 15 marked by the enfranchisement of all American women, and their victory over ignorance, prejudice, and tradition.
In Miss Anthony were combined all the needed attributes of a reformer–great strength of character, a remarkably even disposition, which knew neither jealousy nor any spirit of rivalry save in doing good, and absolute forgetfulness of self in her desire to be of use to others. Her gentleness and sweetness were of a rare kind, and prejudices melted away when face to face with her benign but forceful personality. Her speech on the platform came warm from the heart and clear as a bell. Yet so great was her own depreciation of her ability as a speaker that it would have probably prevented her from attempting to address an audience had it not been for the message she felt impelled to deliver. She not only was a good speaker, but was often most impressive and at times truly eloquent. In debate her straightforward statements were so sincere and convincing as speedily to win her hearers. Again and again at suffrage meetings she commanded admiration and affection by her generous acknowledgment of services rendered to the cause by less distinguished workers. On the occasion of her eighty-sixth birthday; her last appearance on the platform, when she placed in the hands of Anna Howard Shaw the responsibility for the leadership of the National Woman Suffrage Association, she said: “There have been others also just as true and devoted to the cause–I wish I could name every one– but with such women consecrating their lives”–here she paused and then added–“failure is impossible.”
I was irresistibly drawn to miss Anthony as a child whenever she visited my parents and I watched her smiling face, so constantly full of fun and so illumined by a noble spirituality. A more thoughtful and considerate visitor never came into any home. Wherever she went, her ready sympathy and helpfulness inspired affection and made her a welcome guest. This characteristic was far more important than may be realized at first thought; for in those days the itinerant reformer was passed from home to home and community to community, and came into much closer personal contact with those whom she was to inspire than is usually the case today. These friendly homes were true havens of refuge; for no one can realize today the abuse and contumely and vilification to which the early advocates of woman suffrage were subjected. In the public mind Miss Anthony was often associated with Mary Walker and those who wore the bloomer dress. Their eccentricity of costume was often made to apply to all woman suffragists. To be accused of advocating free love by demanding the right of suffrage for women, was an everyday occurrence. It was only when strangers were brought in contact with Miss Anthony and other leaders of the cause that they began to understand how brave, noble, and self-sacrificing were these single-hearted pioneers. Apropos of this, let me quote from the New York Times the kind of misrepresentation that these women had to undergo at the hands of a malicious press :