Monday, March 12, 2012

"Failure Is Impossible": My Hero Susan B. Anthony

March 12 - Today's post provided by Claire Rudolf Murphy

“Failure Is Impossible”: My Hero Susan B. Anthony
(February 15, 1820 – March 13, 1906)
Susan B. Anthony.
Digital ID: 490327.
 New York Public Library
            Tomorrow is the 106th anniversary of my beloved hero Susan B. Anthony. But “Aunt Susan” belongs to all Americans throughout our history who have believed that women deserve the same rights as men. The iconic symbol of American women’s 72-year fight for suffrage, Susan B. had been dead fourteen years when the nineteenth amendment finally passed in 1920, giving all American women the right to vote. She admits to many dark nights, but in the daylight she never gave up. Her most famous quote, “Failure is impossible,” was directed to discouraged young suffragists at the 1905 national NWSA (National Women’s Suffrage Association) convention.

            Susan wasn’t present at the first Women’s Rights’ Conference in 1848. She didn’t hear Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s famous speech “A Sentiment of Rights,” which ended with a demand for women’s right to vote. But when the two women met three years later at an anti-slavery meeting in Seneca Falls, they became fast friends.

Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton

            Over the years as I researched the history of women’s suffrage and Susan B.’s life, I have pondered how she survived the rigors of travel and campaigns on the road, all the rejections and defeats, the turncoat behavior of men in power. I now believe that it was the friendship of other women (and like-minded men) who kept her going, kept her from giving up in utter frustration. Stanton was indeed her soulmate. They soon began going door to door together, campaigning for a women’s property law in New York State. Stanton didn’t need to do much to convince Anthony to begin directing her efforts on women’s suffrage. A Quaker, Susan had been raised to believe in the equality of women. And she learned at an early age about inequality when her teacher would not let her and the other girls learn long division.

            In the 1860’s, Anthony began traveling for suffrage and soon had sisters in spirit across the land. One was Mary McHenry Keith from Berkeley, the first woman graduate of a California law school and the wife of the famous landscape painter, William Keith. My hands shook as I read correspondence between the two women while doing research in the Keith family papers at U.C. Berkeley, for my picture book Marching With Aunt Susan:Susan B. Anthony and the Fight for Women’s Suffrage, set during the 1896 California suffrage election.

             Mary McHenry Keith first met Anthony in1871 when Susan and Elizabeth Cady Stanton first visited California. Anthony and Stanton met state leaders and helped set up suffrage clubs, as they did on visits to many states. They also traveled to Yosemite Park with the Keiths, and their family friend, John Muir. Both men opposed suffrage. Eventually Anthony won over William Keith and in 1905 he painted her portrait. Anthony never changed Muir’s mind, but they were in total agreement about Yosemite. She described it as “a holy place” in a letter to her mother in 1871.

            When Anthony returned to California in 1895, in preparation for the 1896 suffrage vote, she traveled again to Yosemite. Later Muir helped make sure that one of the huge Sequoia trees in the Mariposa Grove in the national park was named after three of his giant heroes: Washington, Lincoln, and Anthony herself.

            Anthony made friends and developed true believers wherever she traveled. She stayed in California for many months leading up to the October 1896 vote. At one rally of 5000 people in Woodward Pavilion in San Francisco, she said, “Abe Lincoln once said that ‘No man is good enough to govern another man without his consent.’ Now I say into you, No man is good enough to govern any women without her consent.“

            Susan sat down to the roar of applause and one of the young suffragists said, “The applause is for you, Miss Anthony." "Nonsense," Susan B. said. “It’s for the cause, the cause!”

            Later, the young writer and suffragist wrote, “Didn’t she know that she and the cause were one?”

            Thanks to the bar owners in San Francisco, afraid women would vote in the prohibition of alcohol, the suffrage amendment went down to defeat in October 1896. Later, Anthony wrote to Mary McHenry Keith about the election. “I don't care for myself. I am used to defeat. But these dear California women who have worked so hard, how can they bear it?” But then she cajoled, “But you must not give up.”

             Susan B. never did, even when devastated by Stanton’s death in 1902. Miss “Failure is Impossible” died on March 13th, 1906, in her hometown of Rochester, New York. She never gave up and inspires us still. Every cause, every woman needs a friend like that, don’t we?

Editor's Note:
"Claire Rudolf Murphy has loved history since she was a young girl; in fact she majored in it at Santa Clara University. Murphy is the author of fourteen books for children. A former middle and high school teacher, she is a member of the faculty of Hamline University's Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults. She lives in Washington."

If you'd like to win a copy of this book, along with an assortment of other books on women's history, please leave a comment below.  Each comment that you submit this month on this blog will give you an entry to win this prize pack of seven women's history picture books for your library, classroom, or personal collection!


  1. Great post--especially since I knew so little about Susan B. That will change!

  2. Thanks so much for your inspiring post! She's definitely a woman from history that I'd like to have met. Talk about determination and "moxie!"

  3. Girls couldn't learn long division!? Hoorah for all of our foremothers!

  4. I would love to win! She is such a wonderful role model!


  5. I was simply obsessed with suffragists growing up. I'll be sure to check it out.

  6. Susan B. Anthony & Elizabeth Cady Stanton inspired me to write my screenplay about their lives, loves and politics. "THE REVOLUTIONISTS" However, they had one secret that they kept hidden from themselves and each other that led to inner personal disaster.