‘We the people’

Susan B. Anthony was once arrested and found guilty of voting as ‘a person of the female sex’

Voters around the nation are heading to the polls Tuesday, an important day for state and local elections, and also a momentous day in New York State as it is the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. In 1917, the Empire State passed a constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote. It was a victory 70 years in the making and a fight that many women had put up to ensure that today we can vote as we do, regardless of our sex.

That said, arriving at that pivotal moment was no easy feat and would not have been possible with the trailblazing women like Susan B. Anthony who broke the law in the name of freedom. Anthony famously violated the 14th Amendment in 1872 when she cast her vote in the presidential election for, according to Slate, Ulysses S. Grant and the rest of the Republican candidates on the ticket. The now momentous-act was covered in The New York Times the next day under the heading “minor topics” and took a dismissive tone by referring to Anthony and those with her that day as “a little band of nine ladies.”

Anthony was arrested, and in 1873 was found guilty of placing a vote and fined $100 (about $1,900 in today’s value). The official charge accused her of voting “without having a lawful right to vote” because she was “then and there a person of the female sex.” She never paid the fine, for, as she said in a fiery speech delivered after her arrest, she did not commit a crime but simply exercised her citizen’s rights.

“It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people–women as well as men,” Anthony said in her memorable speech. Although Anthony did not live to see the pinnacle of the women’s suffrage movement with the passing of the 19th amendment and its ratification in 1920, she paved the way for all of the women heading to the polls today.  

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