This image is NOT Susan B. Anthony. This photograph, while poignant, and painful to view, is NOT Susan B. Anthony, it’s NOT a photograph of 1872, and Anthony was NOT beaten for “trying to vote.” In fact, she succeeded that November morning in casting a ballot, afterwards writing Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “Well I have been & gone & done it!”
Every March (Women’s History Month), August (Women’s Equality Day, 8/26) and November (2nd Tuesday in November) a flood of well-meaning folks post this image (and a similar one of Emmeline Pankhurst) purporting the woman in the photo to be Susan B. Anthony, in an effort to encourage women in the United States to vote. Recently it’s been cropping up in social media due to the string of primaries, but I want to take a brief moment to set the record on this image straight.
This is an image from England, presumed to be Ada Wright, a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), the militant faction of the English suffrage moment led by Emmeline Pankhurst (the WSPU was most recently featured in the film Suffragette (2015); see below for my review). This photo was front page of the British paper the Daily Mirror, with the headline “Violent Scenes at Westminster Where Many Suffragettes Were Arrested While Trying to Force Their Way Into the House of Commons.” Look at the clothing of the woman, the man laughing and watching, and the officer perpetrating the attack. The clothing worn by the woman on the ground and the male spectator sets the date well-past 1872, and the uniform attire for the officer is English. Also, handheld cameras that could capture images in a moment were a technological advancement that hadn’t yet occurred in 1872, but were available by the early 1900s, and often used by the press.
There are no photographs of Susan B. Anthony at the time she voted on November 5th, 1872. There are no photographs of her arrest. She was arrested in her parlor at home, and demanded handcuffs when she learned she would merely be escorted (she wished to be arrested the same way men were arrested at that time). She was then taken to the Commissioner’s office, and the date for her trial was set. She was not physically abused, although her rights were trampled upon, as a citizen without a voice. Illegally voting for publicity and the ensuing court case that followed, Anthony documented her experience in detail for posterity, and it makes for great reading–there are many books on her arrest and trial that describe clearly what occurred. While a vital piece of women’s history, it is NOT what is shown in this picture.
The English suffragettes were indeed battered publicly by the police in the early 1900s, and militant suffragists in the U.S. around the same time also experienced public abuse at the hands of mobs and later by prison guards. We should not forget this history, and yes, these images and descriptions of what these courageous women endured should send us to the polls every opportunity we have to vote, no matter what side of the pond we live.
However, to consistently post inaccurate information leaves our history vulnerable; if we don’t value our own past, learn it, study it, understand it, and ultimately respect it, why should anyone else?
Be well. Be historically correct. VOTE. Spill ink.