Susan B. Anthony: Pro-life Icon?

Today at the MHS I attending a brown-bag luncheon seminar with one of our current longterm fellows, Lisa Tetrault, who is researching the way that American feminist creation stories (particularly the centered on the Seneca Falls Convention) were created and contested in the late 19th century.

In the post-presentation discussion, we were talking about the current political implications of interpreting women's and feminist history, when she happened to mention that an anti-choice group has purchased Susan B. Anthony's birthplace in Adams, Massachusetts, and turned it into a house museum. Why? Apparently, Anthony--who was, indeed, against abortion in her own very different political and social context--has become a pro-life icon. Rochester, New York, the site of another of Anthony's homes, is, Lisa tells me, peppered with anti-choice billboards targeting the women's history pilgrims who travel to upstate New York to visit the site.

Susan B. Anthony's birthday is February 15th. At the Susan B. Anthony house in Rochester, NY, guest speaker Susan Faludi, most recently the author of, The Terror Dream, an analysis of gender and the media post-9/11, will be featured at their annual celebration luncheon. The Birthplace of Susan B. Anthony asks us to ponder this question:
We've given up our bra burning and hating men, but how would Anthony and her colleagues react to one unpopular view, particularly among youth, that we support abortion on demand?
It's easy to get pissy about advocates of anti-choice policies asserting their "ownership" of one of the historical icons of American feminist history--and believe me, I'm irritated. But the historian part of my brain is fascinated by this one local example of the very political struggle over who narrates history and what version of history gets told.

And I just have to repeat: Susan B. Anthony--Pro-life Icon? That's frickin' weird!

image from America's Library.


  1. Of course she was pro life! Like all TRUE leaders of liberation movements she realized ALL people are endowed by their creator certain unalienable rights by regardless if they are male or female, black or white, born or unborn.

    Susan B Anthony also realized that to attempt to advance the civil rights of one group of people while denying them to another is the essence of hypocrisy.

    Her “political and social context” would be as irrelevant in the case of abortion as it would if she had lived to have seen the Nazi Death Camps or Rwandan Genocide. To an enlightened person, the arbitrary killing of an innocent person is appalling regardless of the “political and social context”.

    SBA saw abortion for what it is; a self mutilating violent act of death and an aberration of women. She would no doubt be sickened to know that legalized abortion is claimed as a victory of a rogue “feminist” movement that is supported by a male dominated abortion industry.

  2. Okay, there are a few issues here...Anthony would not ave agreed with you on the 'creator' angle, the was no champion of religion, having stated: "I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincideds with their own desires."
    And to argue that the political and social context in which Anthony lived, worked and wrote is irrelevent to what her position might be today is to miss the point entirely. Context absolutley matters. Anthony's opposition to abortion was based on it being a dnagerous medical procedure - and blamed men, the laws of the time, and what she believed to be a brutally unfair double standard for driving a woman to abortion as a desparate last resort. Only changing the system to give women true equality would solve the problem and end the need for abortion, and Anthony's 'anit-abortion' stand was just another of her arguments for full suffrage fro women.
    Another bit of 'context' for you, there were many times when Anthony's positions could be seen as blatantly racist, something many of us would like to believe should not or would not apply today. Anthony was angered when the Fifteenth Amendment came to pass, providing for universal male suffrage - arguing that educated white women would be better voters than ignorant freedmen or immigrants!
    At any rate, the 1869 article from Anthony's newspaper most often cited by pro-life advocates as proof of her position has never been proven to have been written by Anthony herself. The piece is signed simply 'A' - not Anthony's signature. As bold as the woman was, why would she suddenly feel the desire for anonimity? Furthermore, the essay itself was an argument against an anti-abortion law. The author was arguing that legislation was not the way to resolve the issue of unwanted pregnancy.

  3. Susan B. Anthony fought for black's rights. In fact, she was an abolitionist.
    "Where, under our Declaration of Independence, does the Saxon man get his power to deprive all women and Negroes of their inalienable rights?" ~ Susan B. Anthony
    And Susan B. Anthony’s reasons for being pro-life/anti-abortion weren’t just for the sake of criticizing men. In her publication she wrote: "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, it will burden her soul in death; But oh, thrice guilty is he who drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime!"
    Now, if you want to know who was racist all you have to do is look at Margaret Sanger! She created what is known as the "Negro Project." She believed that blacks were a social burden and that the best thing for them was to abort as many of them as possible.
    The fact is medical research and advances in Embryonic and Fetal psychology have increased way beyond what they were in the 60's or 70's. These studies show that the Fetus and Embryo are far more than what we once thought. In fact, Doctors say there is little difference between a newborn and a 24 week-old fetus. They also acclaim that psychological development for a human being begins during the embryonic stage. IT’S NOT JUST A TISSUE! You don't have to take my little word for it. Read for yourself: (psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-19980901-000026.html)
    Also, check out the 'Feminist for Life' website: www.feministsforlife.org/
    Feminist for life is not a contradiction!
    P.S. Sarah Palin is a feminist in the feminist for life group.

  4. Susan B. Anthony, was right about the guilt. But, I don’t think she was right in saying that a woman will necessarily carry that guilt on her soul to death.

    The reason why I say Susan B. Anthony is right about the condition of guilt is:

    All will be judged on what they did;
    The unjustifiable and inexcusable shedding of innocent human blood is evil;
    Human fetuses and embryos are innocent;
    Abortion unjustifiable and inexcusable sheds their blood;
    Therefore Abortion is evil.

    Still, scripture says:

    Deliver me from the guilt of shedding blood, O God, O God of my salvation; my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness. (Ps 51:14)


    You have come to Jesus, the one who mediates the new covenant between God and people, and to the sprinkled blood, which graciously forgives instead of crying out for vengeance as the blood of Abel did.
    (Heb 12:24)

    What this means is that a person doesn’t have to carry their guilt with them to the afterlife. There is a blood that gives a better report for us than the innocent blood that we have shed. The blood of Christ is the atonement (payment) of sin, guilt, shame, fear of judgment…etc. You see, it is written: And He said, What have you done? The voice of the blood of your brother cries to Me from the ground. (Genesis 4:10)
    And surely the blood of your lives I will demand. At the hand of every animal I will demand it, and at the hand of man. I will demand the life of man at the hand of every man's brother.
    Whoever sheds man's blood, his blood shall be shed by man. For He made man in the image of God. (Genesis 9:5-6)

    When God became man and walked on this earth in the flesh (God was an embryo and fetus) He allowed himself to be crucified in order to purchase your life from death; in order to make you righteous and holy. “the wages of sin is death.” That’s the gospel. He rose from the dead overcoming sin, death, hell, and the grave. Come to Jesus, ask Him to prove His existence and His life; and see what He does.

  5. Susan B. Anthony believed in true equality, and that includes equal responsibility. Her moral courage against slavery and against all forms of tyranny was proof she had would it takes to be a true citizen of a Republic. If one does not have the moral courage to protect the lives of their fellows, including the unborn - then one would have no claim to cast a vote as a citizen.

    "Thou shalt not kill" is the foundation of civilization, just as people claiming the right to kill others is the foundation of tyranny.