11/18 – United States v. Susan B. Anthony

On this day in 1872 American activist Susan B. Anthony was arrested by US Marshals on charges of voting illegally. Anthony and a number of women in Rochester, New York, had registered in the days leading up to the 1872 election; Anthony and 14 others had successfully cast their ballots, but were arrested afterwards. As Anthony had planned, her case was heard in the federal circuit court by Justice Ward Hunt, who had never presided over a trial before. Hunt forbade Anthony from speaking during the trial and, towards the end, told the jury to find Anthony guilty of illegal voting. On the third day of trial, Anthony was allowed to speak and reminded Hunt that “…you have trampled under foot every vital principle of our government. My natural rights, my civil rights, my political rights, my judicial rights, are all alike ignored.” Anthony was eventually ordered to pay a fine of $100 (she never did).

New Zealand became the first nation to grant suffrage (the right to vote) in 1893. Following World War I, in which women throughout the Western world took an unprecedented role in the workplace, industry and local politics, widespread suffrage was granted unevenly. In 1918, most Canadian women could vote; the United States followed in 1920. The fight started by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucy Stone in the 1860s had finally been won. Although the idea of denying women suffrage today seems absurd, it’s important to recall how recently Anthony’s arrest took place (within a broader historical context, 150 years is practically the blink of an eye). In most cases, societal attitudes don’t evolve quite as fast as the legislation does.

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