First Wave Feminists- Susan B. Anthony

Inspired by her Quaker faith, Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) became active in the Underground Railroad at a young age. While she remained an outspoken abolitionist, Anthony’s focus soon shifted to the plight of women, especially those subject to alcohol-induced violence. In 1868, Anthony joined close friend Elizabeth Cady Stanton to co-edit the feminist newspaper The Revolution, which praised equitable marriage and consensual sex, defended single motherhood, and decried abortions both surgical and chemical. In addition to founding the Working Women’s Association and the International Council of Women, Anthony’s activism included an unlawful voting arrest and conviction (1873) and the harboring of an abused woman and her child. Anthony frequently babysat for Stanton in exchange for writing advice. In 1878, with Stanton’s help, she drafted what would become the Nineteenth Amendment, known colloquially as “the Anthony Amendment” in her honor.

Susan B. Anthony’s opposition to abortion is evident in diary entries and public speeches, quotes from friends and expressed editorial policies. Throughout The Revolution, the explicit refusal to run ads for the “immoral practice” of “Restellism … Fœticides and Infanticides” appears twenty-two times. Arguments against abortion appear over 100 times—second only to arguments in favor of suffrage. The Revolution was a forum for many and varied voices; while some suffragists disagreed about the best means to combat abortion, they unanimously condemned it.

All articles on this subject … denounce women as alone guilty, and never include man in any plans for the remedy … Guilty? Yes. No matter what the motive, love of ease, or a desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed. It will burden her conscience in life and burden her soul in death; but oh, thrice guilty is he who drove her to the desperation that impelled her to the crime… Much as I deplore the horrible crime of child-murder, earnestly as I desire its suppression … I cannot believe … that such a law [banning abortion] would have the desired effect. It would only be mowing off the top of the noxious weed, while the root remains. We want prevention, not merely punishment. We must reach the root of the evil, and destroy it.”

– Signed “A,” from The Revolution, July 8, 1869 (Attributed; phrasing is nearly identical to that of a public address given by Anthony during the same period.)

The prosecutions on our courts for breach of promise, divorce, adultery, bigamy, seduction, rape; the newspaper reports every day of every year of scandals and outrages, of wife murders and paramour shooting, of abortions and infanticides, are perpetual reminders of men’s incapacity to cope successfully with this monster evil of society.

– From “Social Purity” Speech, March 14, 1875

[Regarding her sister-in-law’s abortion] “…what ignorance & lack of self-government the world is filled with… She will rue the day she forces nature.”

– From Anthony’s diary, March 4 and 7, 1876

“…Sweeter even than to have had the joy of caring for children of my own has it been to me to help bring about a better state of things for mothers generally, so that their unborn little ones could not be willed away from them.”

– From a press conference (quoted by Frances Willard), October 4, 1888

-Jen Hawkins, The American Feminist: First Wave Feminists