Susan B. Anthony, Alma Lutz
“If Sally Ann knows more about weaving than Elijah, "reasoned eleven-year-old
Susan with her father, "then why don't you make her overseer?"
"It would never do," replied Daniel Anthony as a matter of course.
"It would never do to have a woman overseer in the mill."
This answer did not satisfy Susan and she often thought about it.
To enter the mill, to stand quietly and look about was the best kind of
entertainment. For she was fascinated by the whir of the looms, by the nimble
fingers of the weavers and the general air of efficiency. (5)
Admiringly, she watched Sally Ann Hyatt, the tall capable weaver from Vermont.
When the yarn on the beam was tangled or there was something wrong with
the machinery, Elijah, the overseer called out to Sally Ann, "I'll tend your
loom, if you'll look after this." Sally Ann never failed to locate the trouble
or to untangle the yarn. Yet she was never made overseer, and this continued
to puzzle Susan. (1)
The manufacture of cotton was a new industry, developing with great promise
in the United States. When Susan B. Anthony was born on February 15, 1820,
in the wide valley at the foot of Mt. Greylock, near Adams, Massachusetts.(3)
Enterprising young men like her father, Daniel Anthony, saw a potential cotton
mill by the side of every rushing brook, and young women, eager to earn the
first money they could call their own, were leaving the farms, for a few months
at least, to work in the mills. Cotton cloth was the new sensation and the
demand for it was steadily growing. Brides were proud to display a few cotton
sheets instead of commonplace homespun linen.
When Susan was two years old, her father built a cotton factory of twenty-six
looms beside the brook which ran through Grandfather Reads meadow,(2)
hauling the cotton forty miles by wagon from Troy, New York. The millworkers,
most of them young girls from Vermont, boarded, as was the custom, in the
home of the millowner Susan's mother,(4) Lucy Read Anthony, although she had
three small daughters to care for, Guelma, Susan, and Hannah, boarded eleven
of the millworkers with only the help of a thirteen-year-old girl who worked for
her after school hours. Lucy Anthony cooked their meals on the hearth of the
big kitchen fireplace, and in the large brick oven beside it baked crisp brown
loaves of bread. In addition, washing, ironing, mending,and spinning filled
her days. But she was capable and strong and was doing only what all women
in this new country were expected to do. She taught her young daughters to
help her, and Susan, even before she was six, was very useful; by the time
she was ten she could cook a good meal and pack a dinner pail.
Hard work and skill were respected as Susan grew up in the rapidly expanding
young republic which less than fifty years before had been founded and fought
for. Settlers, steadily pushing westward, had built new states out the
wilderness, adding ten to the original thirteen. Everywhere the leaven(10)
of democracy was working and men were putting into practice many of the
principles so boldly stated in the Declaration of Independence, claiming
for themselves equal rights and opportunities.
The new states entered the Union with none of the traditional property
religious limitations on the franchise, (7) but with manhood suffrage and all
voters eligible for office. The older states soon fell into line,
Massachusetts in 1820 removing property qualifications for voters. Before
long, throughout the United States, all free white men were enfranchised,
leaving only women, Negroes, and Indians without the full rights of
Although women freeholders had voted in some of the colonies and in New
Jersey as late as 1807, just as in England in the fifteenth franchise had
gradually found its way into the statutes, and women's rights as citizens were
ignored, in spite of the contribution they had made to the defense and
development of the new nation. However, European travelers, among them
De Toqueville, recognized that the survival of the New World experiment in
government and the prosperity and strength of the people were due in large
measure to the superiority of American women. A few women had urged their
claims: Abigail Adams asked her husband, a member of the Continental Congress,
"to remember the ladies" in the "new code of laws" and Hannah Lee Corbin(8)
of Virginia pleaded with her brother, Richard Henry Lee, to make good the
principle of "no taxation without representation" by enfranchising widows with
Yet the legal bondage (9) of women continued to be overlooked. It seemed a less
obvious threat to free institutions and democratic government than the Negro
in slavery. In fact, Negro slavery presented a problem which demanded attention
again and again, flaring up alarmingly in 1820, the year Susan B. Anthony was
born, when Missouri was admitted to the Union as a slave state.
These were some of the forces at work in the minds of Americans during
Susan's childhood. Her father, a liberal Quaker was concerned over the
extension of slavery, and she often heard him say that he tried to avoid
purchasing cotton raised by slave labor. This early impression of the evil of
slavery was never erased. (6)
Lutz, Alma. "Quaker Heritage." Susan B. Anthony - Rebel, Crusader, Humanitarian. Washington DC: Zenger, 1959. 1-5. Gutenberg.org. Mark C. Orton, Richard J. Shiffer and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at Http://www.pgdp.net, 25 Jan. 2007. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.
Yet the legal bondage (9) of women continued to be overlooked.