Susan B. Anthony: The Making of America #4

Susan B. Anthony: The Making of America #4
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Release Date
March 26, 2018
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In the fourth installment in the Making of America series, Susan B. Anthony, Teri Kanefield examines the life of America’s famous suffragette. Anthony was born into a world in which men ruled women: A man could beat his wife, take her earnings, have her committed into an asylum based on his word, and take her children away from her. While the young nation was ablaze with the radical notion that people could govern themselves, “people” were understood to be white and male. Women were expected to stay out of public life and debates. As Anthony saw the situation, “Women’s subsistence is in the hands of men, and most arbitrarily and unjustly does he exercise his consequent power.” She began her public career as a radical abolitionist, and after the Civil War, she became an international figurehead of the women’s suffrage movement. The book includes selections of Anthony’s writing, endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.

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Why we still need biographies of first wave feminists: "A married woman taking her husband's name reflected that under legal principle of coverture she no longer had a separate legal existence of her own." (page 31) Women changing their names is one of my pet peeves, and now I have solid proof as to why!

Born in 1820, Anthony's life was so much different than women's lives today. She had to struggle to get an education, even though her family was slightly more supportive and expected less household work from her. She was able to eventually obtain a good teaching position in a school (as opposed to being a governess), but had to quit in order to take care of a family member. She became active in the abolitionist movement, and eventually met Elizabeth Cady Stanton, with whom she would work for over fifty years. This friendship helped focus her energies into getting the vote for women. In 1888, (forty years after Seneca Falls) she helped form the National American Women’s Suffrage Association and led the group until 1900. It's amazing that she was able to travel and speak as much as she did; it's hard to imagine the obstacles she must have faced.
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The best part of this book is that Anthony's life is put into perspective with discussion of the times in which she lived. Other famous women's rights activists are mentioned, such as Amelia Bloomer and Lucy Stoner, and there ware sidebars on daily life conditions as well as social movements. The notes, timeline, and bibliography at the end are very thorough. Rare period photos are accompanied by drawings and newspaper illustrations from that same time.

The intersectionality of the early women's movement is notable; many suffragettes started their activism as abolitionists, and many were also entrenched in the temperance movement, which was concerned for women in poverty. Since the suffrage movement was active both before and after the civil war, there was a lot of discussion as to whether it was more important for African American men to get the vote before women, and at what point African American women would get the vote. it took 70 years for the 19th Amendment to be formed and passed; what seems like such a simple matter now was tremendously difficult and convoluted, and Kanefield does a good job at showing how Anthony played a role in this process while highlighting missed opportunities.

I would like to see biographies of lesser known early feminists like Carrie Chapman Catt, since there are a number of Anthony biographies already, but until we have them, I'm glad to see a woman represented in The Making of America series.
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