Susan Anthony: Guilty of Unlawfully Voting - HOW DID SHE GET INTO TROUBLE?

Charles Jay Taylor created this political cartoon which he published in Puck on June 6, 1894. Entitled “A Squelcher for Woman Suffrage,” the chromolithograph is maintained at the Library of Congress where it has this summary:

“Print shows a woman being denied the opportunity to vote because she is wearing a dress and a hat that are too wide for the narrow booths labeled ‘Ballots Must Be Prepared In These Booths’ where the ballots are marked. A policeman is standing on the left, and, in the background, election officials are standing over the ballot box for ‘Election District No. 13'.” Click on the image for a full-page view.


As a tax-paying citizen of the United States, Susan Anthony believed she had the right to vote. As an educated woman, she knew there were people—lots of people—who disagreed with her.

Although the 14th Amendment (prohibiting states from passing any law diminishing rights of American citizens) took effect in 1868, people thought the amendment did not apply to women. Men were concerned that women's rights would diminish their willingness to stay at home and manage domestic affairs. (Cartoons of the time graphically make the point.)

According to this flyer (issued some years later but still expressing sentiments of 1872), even women weren't sure about their rights.

The right, the privilege and the duty of the women of New York State is to bear, rear and educate the youth of the commonwealth; to preserve a high standard of public and private morality; to minister to the needs of the unwise and the unfortunate; and to guard the institutions of church and home.

All this they can do without the ballot.

The language seems a direct attempt to convince the voters of New York (all men) that women like Susan Anthony were radicals who didn't speak for most women.

Ms. Anthony took a simpler approach. She went straight to the language of the Constitution where the 14th Amendment was pretty clear:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States...

Given the broad scope of this amendment, were women not allowed to vote, their privileges as citizens would certainly be abridged. If their privileges were abridged, a constitutional violation would result. Several women tried to convince the Judiciary Committee of those points in 1871. Susan Anthony obtained a written legal opinion supporting this conclusion from one of the best lawyers in town—Henry Selden—and confirmation from a highly respected judge.

By casting her ballot on November 5, 1872, Susan Anthony did what she thought was right. The government of the United States said she was wrong. She was charged with committing the crime of illegal voting.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jul 01, 2000

Updated Last Revision: Jul 14, 2019

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"HOW DID SHE GET INTO TROUBLE?" AwesomeStories.com. Jul 01, 2000. Feb 21, 2020.
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