(WOMENSENEWS)–Almost a quarter century after the idea that women should be voting citizens of their own country had first been raised in public, the resistance remained strong. A new tactic was needed. In 1872, across the country, hundreds of women went to polling places on Election Day, demanding to vote.
In Battle Creek, Mich., Sojourner Truth was turned away. In Oswego, N.Y., Dr. Mary Walker strode up to the polls wearing the congressional medal she had been given for battlefield service during the Civil War. No dice. And in Rochester, N.Y., Susan B. Anthony registered but cast no ballot at the barbershop, where male citizens were exercising their rights.
On Thanksgiving Day, police arrived at Anthony’s home to arrest her for breaking the law. Refusing to enter the patrol wagon, she and her guards rode a streetcar to police headquarters. Although the authorities hoped to stop the women’s rights movement by making an example of her, Anthony and her friends launched an educational campaign, aimed at the town’s citizens who would sit on the jury.
So successful were they that the trial was moved out of town. Again, the women campaigned, notably Matilda Joslyn Gage, who shouted from street corners, “The United States in on trial, not Susan B. Anthony.”
The trial in June was presided over by a judge who wrote his decision in advance; the jury was all-male. Considered “incompetent” to testify in any court proceeding because she was a woman, the silenced Anthony was finally allowed to speak after the guilty verdict and the $100 fine were announced.
“Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God,” she said.
Inspired, other women in later years continued to use Election Day as an opportunity for civil disobedience. In 1874, veteran black abolitionist Mary Ann Shadd Cary tried to vote in Washington, D.C., along with 60 women. They were unable to vote, but Cary later became the second African-American woman to become a lawyer in the United States.
Louise Bernikow is the author of seven books and numerous magazine articles. She travels to campuses and community groups with a lecture and slide show about activism called “The Shoulders We Stand on: Women as Agents of Change.”