Susan B. Anthony and the Women’s Suffrage Movement
We traveled with our three daughters to Rochester, NY, less than a week after the 2016 U.S. Election. The idea had been that, upon the historic election of the first woman president, the girls would visit Susan B. Anthony’s grave in Mount Hope Cemetery, where people from across the United States had made the pilgrimage to honour her struggle for women’s suffrage. Initially we were disappointed with the outcome of the election because we had imagined that years later our daughters would look back upon this childhood trip as a symbolic moment in a struggle for equality, but we came around to the more important lesson that, had a woman won the election, it would not have meant the struggle was over. Frederick Douglass’ grave in the same cemetery is a stark reminder of that.
The girls were disappointed to have to get out of the car again; we had taken them for a walk in the lovely and accessible Mendon Ponds Park only an hour before, so the idea that we had to go for another walk seemed like unusual punishment. This didn’t set up well for this Little Lesson for the Littles, but we pushed forward. After all, what would Susan B. Anthony have done?
We explained to the girls (ages five and three) that at one time only men could vote. We asked what the girls thought of this. The three year old twins were too busy contemplating the cobblestone road we hiked to hear us, but our eldest responded simply and accurately, “That’s not fair.”
We took this cue to explain Susan B. Anthony’s contribution to the suffrage movement and that, thanks to her among others, men and women are equal under the law, which includes the right to vote. Further research shows that in Rochester in 1872, Anthony was arrested for voting. This underscores the perceived threat she represented to the establishment of the time but my first thought was someone had to provide her with a ballot and a box in order to cast that vote … and it turns out the election inspectors were complicit … and the conspiracy theory begins.
We followed the various groups of people that were travelling to her grave. As we had seen on the news, her grave, a humble stone, was peppered with “I Voted” stickers. We spent a couple of minutes at her grave, took some photos, and headed into Rochester proper for dinner. Over some legit barbecue we carried on the conversation to see what the girls had gained from the experience.
The twins, as expected, were too busy with pulled pork and apple sauce to hear us. Again though, our five year old was sufficiently worldly to consider the impact of what Susan B. Anthony’s work had on our lives today. We asked her what, if anything, she took away from our visit to the cemetery and Anthony’s grave. She replied, simply, “I remember that people who voted came to put stickers on her gravestone.”
When the girls were tucked into their hotel beds that night, we talked about what they actually took away from the visit. We agreed that the brief history lesson we provided was abstract; girls are now equal to boys (although in our home, boys are seriously outnumbered) but what resonated was the contemporary and concrete result: that people who had voted came to see Susan B. Anthony to let her know. We hope to instill in our girls that social justice is not an option; that fighting for what is right – for yourself and others – is an invaluable way to contribute. The fact that our eldest only recalled that people took the time to travel to Mount Hope Cemetery, stickers in hand, to commemorate their right to vote was enough: she saw the impact one person can have on an entire country.