Only one statue of a woman stands on Hillsdale College’s Liberty Walk, and she’s an honorary American citizen making bronzy eyes at Ronald Reagan from across the quad.
It’s as if the walk forgot the influential women who fought fiercely for liberty with pamphlets, pens, petitions, and parades right here in the United States. But thanks to formidable American stateswomen like Susan B. Anthony, today’s women are free to work, vote, and be independent.
Because Susan defended women’s and African-American’s equal right to life, liberty, and property, she deserves to stand among the men and lone British lady on the college’s Liberty Walk.
Hillsdale teaches its students that God endowed us with inalienable rights; but women couldn’t exercise these rights until the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment because many men in America’s history threw antiquated Bible verses and ill-informed science against us, conferring our rights to our husbands, hushing our voices, and subduing our spirits.
(No, really. Preachers even quoted Deuteronomy 22:5 to outlaw pants for women: “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto man; neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for all that do so are an abomination unto the Lord thy God.”)
In this hostile environment, where men wouldn’t let her speak, Susan spoke anyway, advocating for slaves’ and women’s freedom, political rights and privileges, and equal opportunity for blacks and women in education and industry.
The statues on the Liberty Walk bear witness to principled, moral visionaries who motivated the masses and changed the course of history. Susan too had strength of character she forged toiling in poverty and facing humiliation in her advocacy. It sustained her when newspapers ridiculed her and men shushed her and vaulted her to heights of public opinion decades later.
Susan was born into the working class and knew its struggles. Originally from Massachusetts, her family moved to upstate New York. She worked as a school teacher, one of few respectable job for women, accepting cramped living quarters and pittance wages.
Once she committed herself to public service, men humiliated her repeatedly: Often nominated as a delegate to abolition and temperance conventions, leaders scorned and turned her away. But Susan steeled herself against moments of defeat, uttering, “Failure is impossible.”
She worked tirelessly, demonstrating both an impatience for laziness and clarity of thought as well as overcoming her weaknesses: a tendency toward terse speaking. She traveled the country with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, fundraising and delivering a hundred speeches a year, including one in Hillsdale County.
Though Susan did not hold public office, she participated in politics energetically, petitioning Congress on multiple occasions. A fierce abolitionist, she didn’t support President Abraham Lincoln until he turned the Civil War’s cause into one of freedom for all slaves rather than merely stemming slavery’s spread. After this turning point, Susan mobilized thousands of women to petition the government for a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery.
“There never can be true peace in this Republic,” she said, “until the civil and political equality of every subject of the Government shall be practically established.”
After Congress ended discrimination based on race or slave status with the Fifteenth Amendment, many disappointed women used racist rhetoric to argue that women should vote because black men had that right. To her credit, Susan tried to remain friends with Frederick Douglass and kept her associations open to black women, while remaining sensitive to racial tensions in her southern conventions.
History doesn’t completely exonerate her, however. Some historians interpret her prioritization of women’s right to vote after the Fifteenth Amendment split to have set back blacks seeking equal rights. Others denounce the deletion of black suffragettes in her encyclopedic “History of Woman Suffrage.”
Despite this, Susan’s legacy still unifies the American political spectrum and inspires a diverse body of women and men to involve themselves in politics. Every four years, women proudly stick their “I voted” stickers to her gravestone, and the Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life group, claims the advocate because her newspaper refused to run abortifacient ads and published numerous articles from contemporary feminists who denounced the practice.
Since 1979, our government has minted a Susan B. Anthony dollar coin. Hillsdale College should go a step further with a statue honoring her sacrifices, inspiring character, and enduring legacy.
Susan would join President Lincoln and her long-time friend Frederick Douglass to inspire students to use their education to fight for liberty and equality. In front of Delp Hall, the athletically built, imposing Susan would dare students to take risks if they want to reform politics, to be “anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathy with despised and persecuted ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences.”