Women’s History Month: Susan B. Anthony on the First Women Voters

In honor of Women’s History Month, we offer a rare Susan B. Anthony letter, written in 1897, that describes the first women in the U.S. to vote, fifty years before the 19th Amendment. 

Anthony (1820-1906) has long been viewed as one of the leaders of the women’s rights movement. Along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, she founded the Women’s Suffrage Association in 1869 and was among the small group of women who famously cast a ballot in the 1872 presidential election–Ulysses S. Grant vs. Horace Greeley–and was subsequently arrested and fined for voting illegally.

But, as Anthony notes in this letter, she was not the first woman to vote. Several women had made the attempt two years earlier, to test the boundaries of the 14th Amendment, which allowed that “all persons born and naturalized in the United States…are citizens of the United States,” and as such were entitled to the “privileges” of citizens of the United States. Suffragists interpreted these privileges to include the right to vote, and to extend to women as well as men. 

Autograph letter signed. Chicago, January 23, 1897, to an unknown correspondent.I was not the first woman who ever voted — you will find a full record of my voting, and of those who preceded me — in the Chapter on Trials — in Vol. II — of the History of Woman Suffrage. I voted in 1872 – others in 1870 — but there was not so much if any prosecution. Respectfully, Susan B. Anthony.” 

An added note on the verso further advises her correspondent, “The History is in several of the Chicago Libraries…corner of Division & Lake Shore Drive — have sets of it — S. B. A.”

American women were finally guaranteed the right to vote in 1920, due in no small part to the work of Anthony, Stanton, and the female voters who preceded them, like Marilla M. Ricker of Dover, New Hampshire, and Nannette B. Gardner of Detroit, Michigan. 

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