Susan Brownell Anthony was an American social reformer who played a pivotal role in the women’s suffrage movement.
On this day in history, Susan B. Anthony was arrested for voting in the election that previous November 5. She pled not guilty, and traveled around giving a lecture entitled “Is It A Crime for a Citizen of the United States to Vote? (You can read the text of her speech here.) On January 24, 1873, a grand jury of twenty men returned an indictment against Anthony charging her with “knowingly, wrongfully, and unlawfully” voting for a member of Congress “without having a lawful right to vote,….the said Susan B. Anthony being then and there a person of the female sex.” The trial was set for May.
She was tried in Canandaigua, New York. Her lawyer, Henry Selden, argued that Anthony cast a legal vote pursuant to the recently enacted Fourteenth Amendment. After both sides completed their arguments, Judge Ward Hunt drew from his pocket a paper and began reading an opinion that he had apparently prepared before the trial started, and reading aloud, declared:
The Fourteenth Amendment gives no right to a woman to vote, and the voting by Miss Anthony was in violation of the law.”
Further, the judge directed a verdict of guilty:
Upon this evidence I suppose there is no question for the jury and that the jury should be directed to find a verdict of guilty.”
Anthony was sentenced to pay a fine of $100 plus court costs. She refused to pay, submitting a petition to Congress asking that the unjust fine be remitted. Congress never acted on her petition, but no serious effort was ever made by the government to collect the money.
Two years later, in Minor v. Happersett (88 U.S. 162; 21 Wall. 162, 1874), the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the 14th Amendment did not give the right to vote to women. It reasoned that although the Amendment applied to women, the phrase “privileges and immunities” did not include the right to vote. It agreed that women were “citizens” but found that the fact that a person was a “citizen” did not imply she had the right to vote. The Court pointed out that prior to the enactment of the Amendment, all the states considered women to be citizens, but none of them had granted them the right to vote.
It was not until the passage of The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (ratified on August 18, 1920) that it was prohibited for any United States citizen to be denied the right to vote on the basis of sex.