The Anthony trial of 1873 helped answer the import

ant question ofwhether women as “citizens” under the recently adopted Fourteenth Amendment
were entitled, as one of the “privileges and immunities” that came with
citizenship, to vote. The answer given by prim and conservative Justice
Ward Hunt will surprise few, but the trial also shows Hunt with his hands
full, not quite knowing how to shut up his feisty defendant. Read now about
what “Aunt Susan” described in her diary as “the greatest outrage in
judicial history!”
More than any other woman of her generation, Susan B. Anthony saw that
all of the legal disabilities faced by American women owed their existence
to the simple fact that women lacked the vote. When Anthony, at age 32,
attended her first woman’s rights convention in Syracuse in 1852, she
declared “that the right which woman needed above every other, the one
indeed which would secure to her all the others, was the right of
suffrage.” Anthony spent the next fifty-plus years of her life fighting for
the right to vote. She would work tirelessly: giving speeches, petitioning
Congress and state legislatures, publishing a feminist newspaper–all for a
cause that would not succeed until the ratification of the Nineteenth
Amendment fourteen years after her death in 1906.

She would, however, once have the satisfaction of seeing her completed
ballot drop through the opening of a ballot box. It happened in Rochester,
New York on November 5, 1872, and the event–and the trial for illegal
voting that followed–would create a opportunity for Anthony to spread her
arguments for women suffrage to a wider audience than ever before.

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On November 1, 1872, Anthony and her three sisters entered a voter
registration office set up in a barbershop. The four Anthony women were
part of a group of fifty women Anthony had organized to register in her
hometown of Rochester. As they entered the barbershop, the women saw
stationed in the office three young men serving as registrars. Anthony
walked directly to the election inspectors and, as one of the inspectors
would later testify, “demanded that we register them as voters.”
The votes of Susan Anthony and other Rochester women were a major
topic of conversation in the days that followed. In a November 11 letter to
Sarah Huntington, Anthony wrote: “Our papers are discussing pro & con
everyday.” Anthony occupied much of her time meeting with lawyers to
discuss a planned lawsuit by some of the women whose efforts to register or
vote were rejected.

Meanwhile, a Rochester salt manufacturer and Democratic poll watcher named
Sylvester Lewis filed a complaint charging Anthony with casting an illegal
vote. Lewis had challenged both Anthony’s registration and her subsequent
vote. United States Commissioner William C. Storrs acted upon Lewis’s
complaint by issuing a warrant for Anthony’s arrest on November 14. The
warrant charged Anthony with voting in a federal election “without having a
lawful right to vote and in violation of section 19 of an act of Congress”
enacted in 1870, commonly called The Enforcement Act. The Enforcement Act
carried a maximum penalty of $500 or three years imprisonment.

Anthony’s lawyers refused to enter a plea at the time of her arrest,
and Storrs scheduled a preliminary examination for November 29. At the
hearing on the 29th, complainant Sylvestor Lewis and Eighth Ward Inspectors
appeared as the chief witnesses against Anthony. Anthony was questioned at
the hearing by one of her lawyers, John Van Voorhis. Van Voorhis tried to
establish through his questions that Anthony believed that she had a legal
right to vote and therefore had not violated the 1870 Enforcement Act,
which prohibited only willful and knowing illegal votes. Anthony testified
that she had sought legal advice from Judge Henry R. Selden prior to
casting her vote, but that Selden said, “he had not studied the question.”
Van Voorhis asked: “Did you have any doubt yourself of your right to vote?”
Anthony replied, “Not a particle.” Storrs adjourned the case to December

A disappointed Anthony still had a trial to face. On January 24, 1873,
a grand jury of twenty men returned an indictment against Anthony charging
her with “knowingly, wrongfully, and unlawfully” voting for a member of
Congress “without having a lawful right to vote,….the said Susan B.

Anthony being then and there a person of the female sex.” The trial was set
for May.

Anthony saw the four months until her trial as an opportunity to
educate the citizens of Rochester and surrounding counties on the issue of
women suffrage. She took to the stump, speaking in town after town on the
topic, “Is it a Crime for a Citizen of the United States to Vote?”
True to her word, Anthony never paid a penny of her fine. Her petition
to Congress to remit the fine was never acted upon, but no serious effort
was ever made by the government to collect.

Anthony tried to turn her trial and conviction into political gains for the
women suffrage movement. She ordered 3,000 copies of the trial proceedings
printed and distributed them to political activists, politicians, and
libraries. In the eyes of some, the trial had elevated Anthony to the
status of the martyr, while for others the effect may have been to diminish
her status to that of a common criminal. Many in the press, however, saw
Anthony as the ultimate victor. On New York paper observed, “If it is a
mere question of who got the best of it, Miss Anthony is still ahead. She
has voted and the American constitution has survived the shock. Fining her
one hundred dollars does not rule out the fact that…women voted, and went
home, and the world jogged on as before.”



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