Remembering Susan B. Anthony's Pioneering Vote
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
Nancy Pelosi's election this past week as the first woman speaker of the House marked a milestone for women in American politics. This has been a landmark election cycle for women all around. New Hampshire elected its first woman to Congress. Minnesota elected a woman senator for the first time. Alabama has its first woman chief justice and Alaska has its first woman governor. All this progress for women dates back to the work of pioneers like Susan B. Anthony.
We'd like to take you back now to November 1, 1872. Susan B. Anthony and three of her sisters walked into a barber shop in Rochester, New York.
Unidentified Man (NPR Producer): She made her appearance in the room, and she asked if this was the place where they register voters. We answered her that it was.
ELLIOTT: That's an account by Mr. Beverly Jones, read here by one of our producers. Jones was a 20-something poll worker who found himself face to face with the country's leading suffragette. Ms. Anthony demanded the right to register to vote, but Jones told her that only men had that right in New York.
Unidentified Man: She asked me if was acquainted with the 14th Amendment of the Constitution of the U.S. I told her I was. She wanted to know if under that, she was a citizen and had the right to vote. At this time, Mr. Warner, the election supervisor, said, Young man, how are you going to get around that? I think you will have to register their names.
Ms. STACEY BREDHOFF (Curator, National Archives): You really get a sense of her as a person and how formidable she would be. And you just get the sense that she was not going to take no for an answer. She was going to be registered that day.
ELLIOTT: Stacy Bredhoff is a curator at the National Archives. Beverly Jones's account of that November day is part of a traveling exhibit called Eyewitness: American Originals from the National Archives. Bredhoff says Susan B. Anthony and 14 other women did register to vote that day in Rochester, New York.
Ms. BREDHOFF: And several days later, on November 5th, she appeared again on election day at the polls, and she voted, and for that crime she was later arrested, tried and convicted, found guilty for the crime of illegal voting.
ELLIOTT: She was fined $100. When the judge ordered her to pay up, she replied: May it please Your Honor, I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty, and she didn't. Anthony hoped her case would make its way to the Supreme Court, but it never did. Voting didn't become legal for American women until 1920, years after her death. And if you're wondering which party Susan B. Anthony cast her illegal ballot for that day in Rochester, it was the Republicans.
The exhibit, Eyewitness: American Originals from the National Archives, begins its tour of the country next month at the Carter Library and Museum in Atlanta.
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