Susan B. Anthony at Legg Hall

Susan_B_Anthony_c1855

Of all the lecturers who have spoken at Legg Hall, Susan B. Anthony is probably the least in need of an introduction. In January of 1880, she spoke on the notion that “Women Want Bread, Not the Ballot.” It was a speech she delivered many times over the course of her crusade, and it was never written down. But contemporary scholars have reconstructed the talk from scores of news accounts, and I include a few excerpts here. Reading these words, one can clearly imagine the power of their delivery in person:

“My purpose tonight is to demonstrate the great historical fact that disfranchisement is not only political degradation, but also moral, social, educational and industrial degradation; and that it does not matter whether the disfranchised class live under a monarchial or a republican form of government, or whether it be white working men of England, negroes on our southern plantations, serfs of Russia, Chinamen on our Pacific coast, or native born, tax-paying women of this republic. Wherever, on the face of the globe or on the page of history, you show me a disfranchised class, I will show you a degraded class of labor.

“Disfranchisement means inability to make, shape or control one’s own circumstances. The disfranchised must always do the work, accept the wages, occupy the position the enfranchised assign to them… If they could, do you for a moment believe they would take the subordinate places and the inferior pay?

“And yet, notwithstanding the declaration of our Revolutionary fathers, ‘all men created equal,’ ‘governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed,’ ‘ taxation and representation inseparable’—notwithstanding all these grand enunciations, our government was founded upon the blood and bones of half a million beings, bought and sold as chattels in the market. Nearly all the original thirteen States had property qualifications, which disfranchised poor white men as well as women and negroes.

“Thomas Jefferson took the lead in advocating the removal of all property qualifications… Martin Van Buren declared, ‘The poor man has as good a right to a voice in the government as the rich man, and a vastly greater need to possess it as a means of protection to himself and his family.’

“It is said women do not need the ballot for their protection because they are supported by men. Statistics show that there are three million women in this nation supporting themselves. In the crowded cities of the East they are compelled to work in shops, stores and factories for the merest pittance.

“The question with you, as men, is not whether you want your wives and daughters to vote, nor with you, as women, whether you yourselves want to vote; but whether you will help to put this power of the ballot into the hands of the three million wage-earning women, so that they may be able to compel politicians to legislate in their favor and employers to grant them justice.

“The law of capital is to extort the greatest amount of work for the least amount of money; the rule of labor is to do the smallest amount of work for the largest amount of money. Hence there is antagonism between the two classes; therefore, neither should be left wholly at the mercy of the other.

“It was cruel, under the old regime, to give rich men the right to rule poor men. It was wicked to allow white men absolute power over black men. But there never was, there never can be, a monopoly so fraught with injustice, tyranny and degradation as this monopoly of sex, of all men over all women.

“Denied the ballot, the legitimate means with which to exert their influence, and as a rule, being lovers of peace, they have recourse to prayers and tears, those potent weapons of women and children, and, when they fail, must tamely submit to wrong or rise in rebellion against the powers that be. Women’s crusades against saloons, brothels and gambling dens – emptying kegs and bottles into the streets, breaking doors and windows and burning houses – all go to prove that disfranchisement, the denial of lawful means to gain desired ends, may drive even women to violations of law and order. Hence to secure both national and domestic tranquility, to establish justice, to carry out the spirit of our Constitution, put into the hands of all women, as you have into those of all men, the ballot, that symbol of perfect equality, that right protective of all other rights.”

Susan B Anthony

A typical broadside announcing Anthony’s appearance

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