As a school student, Kimberly Jones was baffled to hear of Susan B. Anthony’s arrest upon casting her ballot. The president and CEO of Butler/Till, a media and communications agency, could not comprehend why Anthony would be arrested for the change she sought.
“I was deeply inspired as a young woman learning about this dynamic individual who persevered down a path that was riddled with obstacles,” Jones says. “Every story about her was another story of how she got knocked down, but it was paralleled by a story about how she got back up.”
For Jennifer Muniga, executive director of Cameron Community Ministries, learning about Anthony in elementary school made her “obsessed with equal rights for women.”
“I remember challenging my middle school social studies teacher to teach about what women were doing in the history of this country too,” Muniga says. “I have a note in my yearbook from that teacher telling me to ‘keep fighting the good fight for women’s rights.’
“I’ve always felt a sense of responsibility to not only vote but to use my voice and talents as a leader because that’s what Susan B. spent her whole life fighting for.”
Anthony’s resilience in the face of obstacles continues to inspire young female leaders today. Over the last few days, the Rochester Beacon has chronicled Anthony’s life and her stamp on Rochester, marking the bicentennial of her birth and the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in this country, a fight that she would be widely known for, over her passion and influence on other calls for change.
“Growing up in Rochester, I have always been so proud of our legacy of champions—including Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass—who sparked others to join in to do what was right and fought with their words and actions to make change,” says Jaime Saunders, president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Rochester.
Anthony’s life inspired Saunders, who read Anthony’s letters and speeches, to dedicate her career to the Rochester community and to serving others.
“I followed the trail to Seneca Falls, and volunteered to help organize events for Celebrate ’98 commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Women’s Rights Convention,” Saunders says. “I have been drawn to better understand the times in which she lived and those who were a part of it such as Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and the hundreds of women and men who gathered for the Declaration of Women’s Rights and Sentiments in 1848.”
Jones, like Saunders, doesn’t take the power of understanding history for granted.
“I read somewhere that women’s history is human history,” she says. “Susan B. Anthony made it clear that women’s history is all of our history. We need to understand our past experiences and our varied perspectives to shape the future to be more inclusive and understanding. That is how she inspires me every single day.”
Alexis Vogt, associate professor and endowed chair of optical systems technology at Monroe Community College, lives the impact of Anthony’s contributions.
“Without the work of Susan B. Anthony, it is hard to imagine as a woman I could hold a PhD, particularly in optics—a field dominated by men,” Vogt says. “I often find myself as the only woman in a meeting and I am humbled by the thought I might not even have a seat at the table if it were not for Susan B. Anthony’s selfless dedication to the women’s rights movement.”
Anthony’s ideas continue to be relevant today, especially as the gender gap prevails. A 2018 Pew Research Center report found that women over the last 50 years have strengthened their position in the labor force and boosted their economic standing by making gains in labor force participation, wages and access to more lucrative occupations. At the same time, their progress on some fronts has stagnated, and large gender gaps persist at the top levels of leadership in government and business.
“We have made progress in so many ways, and yet, we also have so far to go—most notably with wage disparities, particularly for women of color,” Saunders says. “Top leadership roles and our elected offices do not reflect 51 percent of the population in equal measure.
“Violence against women is still all too prevalent,” she adds, “and women and children bear the brunt of debilitating poverty locally and throughout the globe. Susan B. Anthony’s unwavering insistence that women deserve equal opportunity is a goal we must continue to fully achieve.”
Women make up 47 percent of the U.S. labor force, up from 30 percent in 1950, but growth has stagnated, the Pew report states. In 2018, women earned 85 percent of what men earned, according to a Pew analysis of median hourly earnings of both full- and part-time workers in the United States. Based on this estimate, it would take an extra 39 days of work for women to earn what men did in 2018, the report states.
“I believe that the political climate today in America has brought a rejuvenated effort to women’s rights,” Muniga observes. “Susan B. would be thrilled to see the unprecedented number of women serving in the House of Representatives today, not to mention the extraordinary ones running for president of the United States. We will have a woman president in the near future, of that I’m sure.”
She notes that millennials, like herself, expect equality to be the norm and don’t settle for anything less.
“Some days it feels like we have a long way to go, however, with the current culture of empowered women standing up, using their voices to say ‘me too’ and ‘enough is enough,’ I believe that the next generation will be even better and stronger and that Susan B. would be proud of us,” Muniga says.
To that end, she and her peers are making sure the next generation understands equality, starting at home. Muniga fought through a stomach bug to cast her ballot in 2016, with her daughter in tow to help fill the bubbles on the ballot sheet. Since then, Muniga’s daughter, who is reading “Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls,” with her mother, joins her to vote each time.
The Saunders family talks about Anthony at home and have visited the Susan B. Anthony Museum & House.
“Thankfully, to my children, it seems incomprehensible that women did not have the right to vote, that women could not choose the college or profession they dreamed of, or that their grandmother could not play the sports she wanted or buy a home on her own,” Saunders says.
Vogt has bought nearly every children’s book on Anthony, she says, pointing to the importance of teaching her children that with dedication and hard work, the opportunities are endless. Like others, she is appreciative that her children cannot imagine a world where women could not own property, vote or receive a formal education.
“Susan B. Anthony used her voice for change and we, and our children, can use our voices for change, even if we are unpopular and have rotten eggs thrown at us, as they did for Susan B. Anthony,” Vogt says.
Adds Jones: “For anyone today that thinks our job is done, I challenge that notion by using Susan B. Anthony’s words as proof that we should never stop: ‘Forget conventionalisms; forget what the world thinks of you stepping out of your place; think your best thoughts, speak your best words, work your best works, looking to your own conscience for approval.’”
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor. This article is the final installment in the Beacon’s tribute to Anthony.