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Anthony, Susan B. - THE TRIAL JUDGE

THE TRIAL JUDGE (Illustration) American History Biographies Famous People Government Social Studies Civil Rights Trials

Matthew Brady or Levin Corbin Handy took this now time-worn photograph of Ward Hunt sometime between 1870 and 1880. It is now part of the Brady-Handy Photograph Collection at the Library of Congress.  Hunt, an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, was the trial judge in the case of the U.S. versus Susan B. Anthony.

 

Most modern accounts of Susan Anthony's trial merely list her judge as "Ward Hunt." If we trace who Ward Hunt really was, though, we uncover an astonishing fact.

When he tried the Anthony case, in the U.S. Circuit Court for the Northern District of New York, Ward Hunt was a Grant-appointed, sitting United States Supreme Court Justice! What was he doing ... trying a criminal case in Canandaigua, New York?

And what was the case against Susan Anthony? (Follow this link to her copy of the trial, including her notations.) We can summarize it by using the words of Richard Crowley, the U.S. District Attorney:

Miss Susan B. Anthony...upon the 5th day of November, 1872...voted...At that time she was a woman.

 
The government's case really was that simple. (This link will take you to the entire trial transcript.)

Beverly W. Jones, the registrar and also a defendant, testified Miss Anthony had voted. The poll list verified Susan Anthony's name. That was essentially the government's case.

When Anthony's lawyer called her to the stand, the prosecutor objected. Who would object to a defendant giving testimony?

She is not competent as a witness on her own behalf.

After all, women weren't allowed to testify in federal court.

The only defense testimony the court allowed by her lawyer. (An interesting situation since lawyers can either be lawyers, or witnesses, but they can't be both lawyer and witness in the same trial.) Henry Seldon, chief defense counsel, told the jury:

If the same act had been done by her brother under the same circumstances, the act would have been not only innocent, but honorable and laudable; but having been done by a woman it is said to be a crime. The crime, therefore, consists not in the act done, but in the simple fact that the person doing it was a woman and not a man.

 
Later, a member of the all-male jury said he was prepared to acquit. (Women were not allowed to sit as jurors at that time). However, the jury never had the chance to deliberate.
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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5124stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jul 01, 2000

Updated Last Revision: Feb 23, 2015


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