In June 1873, Susan B. Anthony, a prominent suffragette and women’s right advocate, was charged by a federal court for voting in the 1872 presidential election. Her act of defiance against the prevailing norms not only challenged the patriarchy but also highlighted it.
Four years earlier, in 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified which read: “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” (1). One year later, the United States Congress passed the Fifteenth Amendment which simply stated that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude” (2). At the occasion of the presidential election of 1872 between Ulysses S. Grant and Horace Greeley, Susan B. Anthony decided to test her status as a citizen and the rights afforded to her by these two amendments. She walked into a polling location in Rochester, New York, along with 50 other women and cast her ballot.
Anthony’s actions did not go unnoticed or unopposed. Just two weeks later, she was arrested and charged with knowingly, wrongfully, and unlawfully voting. The ensuing trial, United States v. Susan B. Anthony, captivated the nation’s attention. During the trial, Anthony passionately defended her right to vote and argued that the Fifteenth Amendment provided women with the same rights as men. The New York Times article written about the trial spoke of her lawyer’s defense, quoting, “The crime therefore consisted not in the act done, but in the fact that the person doing it was a woman and not a man . . . women have the same interest in the maintenance of good government as men” (3). Despite her eloquent defense, the judge instructed the jury to find her guilty. Anthony’s subsequent refusal to pay the $100 fine further propelled her cause, allowing her to bring the issue of women’s suffrage to the forefront of public discourse.
While it took several more decades for women to secure the right to vote, Anthony’s brave act galvanized a generation of suffragettes who would continue her work. In 1920, nearly a half century after her trial, the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, guaranteeing women’s right to vote across the U.S.