- Historic Sites
Susan B. Anthony Cast Her Ballot For Ulysses S. Grant
For this crime, she was arrested, held, indicted, and put on trial. Judge Hunt presided.
December 1985 | Volume 37, Issue 1
Anthony was pleased, but she had already decided to proceed whatever his opinion. On Friday, November 1, when the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle urged all citizens to “Register NOW,” Anthony gathered fifteen other women, including her three sisters, and appeared that very day before a startled board of registry in a barbershop in Rochester’s Eighth Ward.
Two members of the three-man board, Beverly Jones and Edwin F. Marsh, were Republicans; the third was a Democrat named William B. Hall. Anthony offered her credentials, and Jones, chief of the board, sought the advice of his superiors. Two U.S. supervisors of elections had been appointed to oversee things in the Eighth Ward, but one left the barbershop as soon as the women entered. The other could see no way to get around placing the names in the register; he asked if Jones knew the penalty for refusing to register an eligible voter.
This convinced Jones and Marsh, but Hall resisted. The 2 to 1 majority prevailed, however, and all the women were registered. When the Rochester newspapers published the story the next day, some thirty-five other women came to register in other wards. Their action was denounced by the Rochester Union and Advertiser , which demanded the prosecution of any election official who accepted their ballots. The paper published the essential features of an enforcement act of the Fourteenth Amendment: “Any person… who shall vote without having a legal right to vote; or do any unlawful act to secure… an opportunity to vote for himself or any other person… shall be deemed guilty of a crime,” punishable by a fine of five hundred dollars and/or imprisonment up to three years. This warning was so intimidating that on Election Day, November 5, no official in any ward except the Eighth permitted women to vote.
The sixteen registered women of the Eighth Ward arrived as the polls opened at seven o’clock: they found the same three men there, now serving as inspectors of election. The women asked for ballots, they received them, and they all voted. Most of the ballots were returned to Jones or Marsh, but even Hall accepted some. The women went home, the ballots were counted, and the story was telegraphed across the nation.
On Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 28, an imposingly tall, impeccably attired, and very fidgety gentleman presented himself at the Anthony family’s front door. After a few nervous comments about the weather he began hesitantly, “Miss Anthony,” but could not continue.
“Won’t you sit down?” she said pleasantly.
“No thank you. You see, Miss Anthony …,” he stammered. “I am here on a most uncomfortable errand.” He hesitated again. “The fact is, Miss Anthony … I have come to arrest you.”
I prefer to be arrested like anybody else,” Anthony told the embarrassed deputy marshal who appeared at her door. “You may handcuff me as soon as I get my coat and hat.”
The unhappy deputy marshal, E. J. Keeney, seemed about to collapse, but he pressed on. “If you will oblige me by coming as soon as possible to the District Attorney’s office, no escort will be necessary.”
“Is this the usual manner of serving a warrant?”
Keeney blushed and drew the warrant from his pocket. It said she had violated an act of Congress.
The possibility of arrest had never occurred to Anthony, but she kept her composure. “I prefer to be arrested like anybody else. You may handcuff me as soon as I get my coat and hat.” Keeney refused.
The marshal then served warrants on her three sisters; in other parts of the city, deputies were calling on the twelve other women. The sixteen were brought into a bleak, dirty courtroom where only a few years before runaway slaves had been held awaiting trial. No one acknowledged their presence until early evening, when the commissioner of elections arrived to inform them that the district attorney had failed to appear; they could go home and return the following morning.
On Friday Anthony was subjected to an inquisition:
“Would you have made the same efforts to vote that you did, if you had not consulted with Judge Selden?”
“Yes, sir,” she replied.
“Were you influenced in the matter by his advice at all?”
“You went into this matter for the purpose of testing the question?”
“Yes, sir; I had been resolved for three years to vote at the first election when I had been at home for thirty days before.”