What I Am Reading: Susan B. Anthony

This week I am reading Susan B. Anthony from Teri Kanefield’s “The Making of America” series. The series itself is fascinating in that she’s telling the history of the country through specific biographies.

The book is engaging and written well, but I’m sort of having trouble loving it so far. I think the problem may be that I actually know too much about the women’s suffrage movement and it’s leaders in the U.S. already and I’m not that impressed with Anthony. She and Elizabeth Cady Stanton got all the press and credit because while they were great advocates for important changes, they were also acceptable. They didn’t fight for deeper cultural equality or lay it all out on the line the way some of the more “radical” suffragettes did.

And that’s not to say that what they did isn’t impressive or important – I honestly think that if the movement had leaned too far in the “radical” direction of “women are *actually* the same as men” it never would have succeeded. At least, not remotely when it did, which is already shockingly late in our history (although earlier than some other places). I think Anthony’s conservatism is a big part of why the movement succeeded. And that matters a lot.

But that doesn’t mean that I’m that impressed with her as a person or a thinker looking back. I am impressed with her as a leader, but I guess I want to look back more at the women who were too radical for us to talk about much later – Matilda Joslyn Gage, Belva Lockwood, etc. I find their thinking and advocacy more interesting, even if it was maybe too much, too fast and that very fact meant it was sort of detrimental to the movement at times (hm… some social movements today might stand to learn from that, actually…).

Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is that the book is very interesting, but I’m not impressed with the extent of Anthony’s thinking and advocacy so much as I am with her leadership. I suppose that leadership is what changes the world more than thinking and advocacy do, though. And who knows, maybe I’ll find more to be engaged with in her story when I get further into it!

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