Susan Brownell Anthony was born on February 15, 1820, in Adams, Massachusetts. She was born to Daniel Anthony and Lucy Read and had one older and five younger siblings. It seems natural for her to become an activist because her family cared a great deal about social reform.
Ms. Anthony’s father was a Quaker as well as an abolitionist and a temperance advocate. Her mother was not a Quaker but was tolerant of her husband’s religious tradition. Her father insisted that his sons and daughters be self-supporting; he gave them responsibilities at a young age and taught them business principles. Her two brothers, Daniel and Merritt, moved to Kansas to support the anti-slavery movement there. Merritt was with John Brown in his battle against pro-slavery forces, and Daniel became a newspaperman and mayor of Leavenworth. Her sister Mary became a public school principal in Rochester as well as a woman’s rights activist. In later years Susan and Mary shared a home.
Ms. Anthony went to school at The Friends’ Boarding School in the Black Hill section of Plainfield, Connecticut. She was sent to a Quaker boarding school in Philadelphia when she was seventeen years old but attended only one term due to family financial problems. She left school to teach at a Quaker boarding school to assist her family.
The Anthony family moved to a farm outside Rochester, New York, in 1845. They became acquainted with some social reformers who had left their Quaker congregation; they formed the Congregational Friends in 1848. Local activists gathered to the Anthony farm on Sunday afternoons; Frederick Douglass, a former slave and prominent abolitionist, became a lifelong friend to Ms. Anthony.
Ms. Anthony moved to Canajoharie in 1846 to become the headmistress of the female department of the Canajoharie Academy. At age 26 this was the first time for her to live away from the influences of Quakers. She began to wear more stylish dresses and stopped using the traditional forms of speech used by the Quakers. She was interested in social reform; she was especially interested in equal pay for equal work.
Ms. Anthony became the manager of the family farm in Rochester when the Canajoharie Academy closed in 1849. This allowed her father to spend more time in his insurance business. After a couple of years, she was increasingly drawn to reform activity. Her parents’ supported her desire to become fully engaged in reform work and lived almost entirely on speaking fees for the rest of her life.
Embarking on her career of social reform, Ms. Anthony schooled herself in reform issues. She was drawn to people with more radical ideas, such as William Lloyd Garrison, George Thompson, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Ms. Anthony and Ms. Stanton became lifelong friends. “Soon she was wearing the controversial Bloomer dress, consisting of pantaloons worn under a knee-length dress. Although it was more sensible than the traditional heavy dresses that dragged the ground, she reluctantly quit wearing it after a year because it gave her opponents the opportunity to focus on her apparel rather than her ideas.”
Ms. Anthony was heavily involved in civil rights issues for slaves and women. She “traveled extensively in support of women’s suffrage, giving as many as 75 to 100 speeches per year and working on many state campaigns. She worked internationally for women’s rights as well.
“When she first began campaigning for women’s rights, Anthony was harshly ridiculed and accused of trying to destroy the institution of marriage. Public perception of her changed radically during her lifetime, however. Her 80th birthday was celebrated in the White House at the invitation of President William McKinley. She became the first non-fictitious woman to be depicted on U.S. currency when her portrait appeared on the 1979 dollar coin.”