Anthony Is Tried for Voting Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

After being arrested for voting, Susan B. Anthony hoped to carry her case to the U.S. Supreme Court, where she could make a national appeal for woman suffrage, but because of purely procedural matters, her case quietly died after her conviction and the women’s movement had to adopt a different strategy.

Summary of Event

During the mid-nineteenth century women activists hoped that with the enfranchisement of African American men by the Civil War amendments, the enfranchisement of women would follow. However, the Fourteenth Fourteenth Amendment;and women[Women] and Fifteenth Amendments Fifteenth Amendment;and women[Women] proved to be severe blows to women’s hopes because nothing in their language implied that women should be guaranteed the franchise. Outraged, many women turned their energies with a new urgency toward winning the right to vote. However, disagreements over the best means to achieve this goal split the women’s rights movement. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony founded the National Woman Suffrage Association National Woman Suffrage Association to work for passage of a Sixteenth Amendment granting women throughout the United States the vote. Meanwhile, Lucy Stone organized the American American Woman Suffrage Association;founding of Woman Suffrage Association to work for enfranchisement on a state-by-state basis. Anthony, Susan B. [p]Anthony, Susan B.;trial of Women’s movement[Womens movement];Anthony trial New York State;woman suffrage Woman suffrage;and Susan B. Anthony[Anthony] Selden, Henry R. [kw]Anthony Is Tried for Voting (June 17-18, 1873) [kw]Tried for Voting, Anthony Is (June 17-18, 1873) [kw]Voting, Anthony Is Tried for (June 17-18, 1873) Anthony, Susan B. [p]Anthony, Susan B.;trial of Women’s movement[Womens movement];Anthony trial New York State;woman suffrage Woman suffrage;and Susan B. Anthony[Anthony] Selden, Henry R. [g]United States;June 17-18, 1873: Anthony Is Tried for Voting[4710] [c]Civil rights and liberties;June 17-18, 1873: Anthony Is Tried for Voting[4710] [c]Women’s issues;June 17-18, 1873: Anthony Is Tried for Voting[4710] Woodhull, Victoria Hunt, Ward Minor, Virginia Louisa

A third line Constitution, U.S.;and woman suffrage[Woman suffrage] of attack, which crossed organizational lines, was working to demonstrate that the U.S. Constitution already granted women suffrage. To this end, Victoria Woodhull spoke before the House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee in January, 1871. She pointed out that the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, despite the former’s linkage of the word “male” to enfranchisement, also guaranteed the vote regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” She argued that all women belong to a race and are a color, and were therefore guaranteed the right to vote. The Judiciary Committee was not persuaded by Woodhull’s argument. Woodhull, Victoria

Despite Woodhull’s failure, Anthony hoped that the presidential election of 1872 Presidency, U.S.;election of 1872 could set the stage for another showdown testing the interpretation—and perhaps the constitutionality—of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. She and other women determined to attempt to vote in that election, knowing that they would likely not even be allowed to register. Anthony planned, if refused, to file suit against the election registrars and have the matter become one that the courts must decide.

In all, some fifty women from Rochester, New York, tried to register to vote in the November, 1872, presidential election. Early on voter registration day, Anthony and her three sisters went to their local voter registration site, where Anthony demanded that they be allowed to register. Their right, she explained, was guaranteed both by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and by the New York State constitution. She told the registrars that she had sought legal counsel from former appeals court judge Henry R. Selden, a respected citizen of Rochester who supported her claims. She threatened to sue anyone who turned her away. The women were allowed to register.

On election day, November 5, 1872, Anthony and fifteen other women from her ward cast ballots (Anthony voted for Republican candidate Ulysses S. Grant). By that time, local feelings were running so high that none of the other fifty women from Rochester who had registered to vote was allowed to vote. Three weeks later Anthony, the fifteen other women who voted, and two voting inspectors were arrested. When an embarrassed deputy marshal assured Anthony that she could proceed to the district attorney’s office without an escort, the fifty-two-year-old suffragist responded, “I prefer to be arrested like anybody else. You may handcuff me as soon as I get my coat and hat.”

Anthony had planned to sue any inspector who refused her the right to vote; she had not expected to be arrested herself. Nevertheless, she quickly saw the use to which she could put her arrest. With luck, she could use her ensuing trial to bring the case before the U.S. Supreme Court and get a national hearing for the cause of woman suffrage. However, her hopes were dashed in this ambition. After two hearings, Anthony had Selden apply for a writ of habeas corpus, Habeas corpus;in United States[United States] arguing that the government had no legal right to hold her because no crime had been committed. The court adjourned to consider its response to the writ.

In late January, 1873, a district judge denied the writ and sentenced Anthony to jail until her trial could be held. He placed her bail at one thousand dollars. Anthony promptly refused to pay bail, but Selden insisted on paying. At the time, Anthony did not understand the importance of this act, but she found out minutes after she left court that by paying bail Selden had forfeited all chance of using the writ of habeas corpus as a route to the Supreme Court. Selden later said that he understood the legal ramifications but could not bear to have a lady detained in jail. The following day a grand jury indicted Anthony, and her trial was set for May 13.

Convinced that she would not get a fair hearing, Anthony spent the time before the trial taking her case to the people. Making speeches at each of the twenty-nine districts in her county, she proclaimed:

The Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the constitutions of the several States and the organic laws of the Territories, all alike propose to protect the people in the exercise of their God-given rights. Not one of them pretends to bestow rights.

When the judge realized what Anthony had done, he ordered the trial moved to Ontario County, saying that it would be impossible to find local jurors unprejudiced by Anthony’s speeches. He also delayed the trial until June. Anthony spent the extra time in Ontario County giving the same speeches she had delivered earlier in Monroe County.

Anthony’s trial opened on June 17, 1873, and was presided over in an unorthodox and questionable manner by U.S. associate justice Ward Hunt Hunt, Ward . When Selden called Anthony to the witness stand, the prosecution objected, calling Anthony an incompetent witness. Hunt sustained the objection, so Selden spoke as a witness in Anthony’s behalf, pointing out, among other things, that as her legal adviser he had counseled Anthony to vote.

At the end of Selden’s defense and the district attorney’s response, Hunt read his opinion, which he had written before the trial even began. He stated, “under the 14th amendment, which Miss Anthony claims protects her, she was not protected in a right to vote.” The statement concluded with Hunt issuing an illegal order to the jury, “to find a verdict of guilty.” Selden again objected, but to no avail. His request that the individual jury members be polled was also rejected, as was his request for a new trial.

Hunt then asked the prisoner if she had anything to say. Anthony accused Hunt of having “trampled under foot every vital principle of our government.” She continued, “My natural rights, my civil rights, my political rights, my judicial rights, are all alike ignored. Robbed of the fundamental privilege of citizenship Citizenship, U.S.;and women[Women] , I am degraded from the status of a citizen to that of a subject.” Although ordered to be silent several times, she continued, pointing out that she had been denied a jury of her peers, for as long as women were denied equal rights of citizenship, no man could be her peer. Instead, she said, “each and every man [connected with the trial—lawyers, judge, and jury members] was my political superior; hence, in no sense, my peer.” Law itself, she insisted, was “all made by men, interpreted by men, administered by men, in favor of men and against women.”

Susan B. Anthony.

(Library of Congress)

When Anthony finished her statement and sat down, Justice Hunt fined her one hundred dollars plus the cost of the prosecution. Anthony retorted, “I will never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty.” Had Hunt ordered Anthony held until her fine was paid, she would again have had recourse to appeal to the Supreme Court. Considering the blatant disregard of legalities during her hearing Anthony would almost certainly have gained the right to a new trial. However, Hunt knew that, so he let her go and never tried to collect her fine, thus ending her hopes of a Supreme Court hearing.


During 1871 and 1872, at least 150 women in ten different states and Washington, D.C., attempted to vote. Only a handful were successful in having their ballots counted. Anthony’s case, however, was the most publicized and the only one targeted for prosecution, no doubt because of her status as a suffragist leader. Meanwhile, a far less publicized case was making its way to the Supreme Court—that of Virginia Louisa Minor, the president of the Missouri Woman Suffrage Association.

Minor Minor, Virginia Louisa filed suit against a St. Louis, Missouri, registrar who refused to let her register to vote. She argued that states had no right to bar U.S. citizens who were women from voting, as that was to give states power to rescind “the immunities and privileges of American citizenship [which] are National in character. . . .” Her stance that citizenship and the right to vote are synonymous was not upheld by the Supreme Court, which in October, 1874, ruled that citizenship did not necessarily guarantee suffrage. That ruling closed off interpretation as an avenue toward gaining woman suffrage.

By the end of 1874, the only routes remaining for gaining the vote for women were state-by-state legislation or an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In either case suffragists would have to sway the votes of already enfranchised male adults—hardly, as Anthony had pointed out, a jury of peers. Following Wyoming’s lead in 1869, a number of western territories and states began granting woman suffrage, but it would be almost a half century before the Nineteenth Amendment finally guaranteed all American women the franchise in 1920.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"


    An Account of the Proceedings of the Trial of Susan B. Anthony of the Charge of Illegal Voting, at the Presidential Election in Nov., 1872, and on the Trial of Beverly W. Jones, Edwin T. Marsh and William B. Hall, the Inspectors of Election by Whom Her Vote Was Received. Rochester, N.Y.: Daily Democrat and Chronicle Book Print, 1874. This transcript of the trial is an invaluable primary source.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Baker, Jean H., ed. Votes for Women: The Struggle for Suffrage Revisited. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2002. Solidly researched work that examines the entire history of the woman suffrage movement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Barry, Kathleen. Susan B. Anthony: A Biography of a Singular Feminist. New York: Ballantine Books, 1988. This scholarly and sympathetic biography dispels earlier portraits of Anthony as self-serving, while outlining Anthony’s involvement in the abolition and suffrage movements.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Flexner, Eleanor. Century of Struggle: The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1959. Comprehensive and still standard history of the women’s rights movement that places specific incidents into the larger historic picture.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lehman, Godfrey D. “Susan B. Anthony Cast Her Ballot for Ulysses S. Grant.” American Heritage 37 (1985): 25-31. Engaging and dramatic description that includes often omitted information about public response and the fate of the voting inspectors.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McFadden, Margaret, ed. Women’s Issues. 3 vols. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press, 1997. Comprehensive reference work with numerous articles on Susan B. Anthony, woman suffrage, and related issues.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sherr, Lynn. Failure Is Impossible: Susan B. Anthony in Her Own Words. New York: Times Books, 1995. Excerpts from Anthony’s speeches and letters with commentaries about her life and career.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, eds. History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. 2. New York: Fowler & Wells, 1882. Reprint. New York: Arno Press, 1969. Part of an eleven-volume set, this invaluable primary source is edited by women who worked for woman suffrage for the better part of their long lives, including Anthony and her closest friend and associate, Stanton.

Seneca Falls Convention

Suffragists Protest the Fourteenth Amendment

Woman Suffrage Associations Begin Forming

Wyoming Gives Women the Vote

Minor v. Happersett

Declaration of the Rights of Women

Women’s Rights Associations Unite

National Council of Women of Canada Is Founded

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Nineteenth Century, 1801-1900</i>

Susan B. Anthony; Elizabeth Cady Stanton; Lucy Stone; Victoria Woodhull. Anthony, Susan B. [p]Anthony, Susan B.;trial of Women’s movement[Womens movement];Anthony trial New York State;woman suffrage Woman suffrage;and Susan B. Anthony[Anthony] Selden, Henry R.

Categories: History