United States v. Susan B. Anthony - 1873

Landmark Case in Women's Voting Rights History

Susan B. Anthony at her desk
Susan B. Anthony. Fotosearch / Getty Images

Importance of United States v. Susan B. Anthony:

The United States v. Susan B. Anthony is a milestone in women's history, a court case in 1873. Susan B. Anthony was tried in court for illegally voting. Her attorneys unsuccessfully claimed that citizenship of women gave to women the constitutional right to vote.

Dates of Trial:

June 17-18, 1873

Background to United States v. Susan B. Anthony

When women were not included in the constitutional amendment, the 15th, to extend suffrage to black men, some of those in the suffrage movement formed the National Woman Suffrage Association (the rival American Woman Suffrage Association supported the Fifteenth Amendment).

 These included Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Some years after the 15th Amendment passed, Stanton, Anthony and others developed a strategy of attempting to use the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause to claim that voting was a fundamental right and thus could not be denied to women.  Their plan: to challenge limits on women voting by registering to vote and attempting to vote, sometimes with the support of the local poll officials.

Susan B. Anthony and Other Women Register and Vote

Women in 10 states voted in 1871 and 1872, in defiance of state laws prohibiting women from voting. Most were prevented from voting. Some did cast ballots.

In Rochester, New York, almost 50 women attempted to register to vote in 1872. Susan B. Anthony and fourteen other women were able, with the support of election inspectors, to register, but the others were turned back at that step.  These fifteen women then cast ballots in the presidential election on November 5, 1872, with the support of the local election officials in Rochester.

Arrested and Charged With Illegal Voting

On November 28, the registrars and the fifteen women were arrested and charged with illegal voting. Only Anthony refused to pay bail; a judge released her anyway, and when another judge set new bail, the first judge paid the bail so that Anthony would not have to be jailed.

While she was awaiting trial, Anthony used the incident to speak around Monroe County in New York, advocating for the position that the Fourteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote.  She said, "We no longer petition legislature or Congress to give us the right to vote, but appeal to women everywhere to exercise their too long neglected 'citizen's right'."

Outcome of United States v. Susan B. Anthony

The trial was held in U.S. District Court.  The jury found Anthony guilty, and the court fined Anthony $100. She refused to pay the fine and the judge did not require her to be jailed.

A similar case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1875. In Minor v. Happersett, On October 15, 1872, Virginia Minor applied to register to vote in Missouri.  She was turned down by the registrar, and sued.  In this case, appeals took it to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the right of suffrage -- the right to vote -- is not a "necessary privilege and immunity" to which all citizens are entitled, and that the Fourteenth Amendment did not add voting to basic citizenship rights.

After this strategy failed, the National Woman Suffrage Association turned to promoting a national constitutional amendment to give women the vote.

 This amendment did not pass until 1920, 14 years after Anthony's death and 18 years after Stanton's death.