Mary Stafford Anthony

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Mary Stafford Anthony (April 2, 1827 - February 5, 1907) was an American suffragist for women who played a strong role during the women's rights movement in the 19th century. Mary was the first female principal in the Rochester City School District in Western New York. She involved herself in several organizations such as the New York Women’s Suffrage Association, the Women's Christian Temperance Union, and the National Woman Suffrage Association. More than that, Mary Anthony founded the Women's Political Club, later renamed, the Political Equality Club (PEC) in 1880.[1] She was the youngest sister of Susan B. Anthony.

Early life[edit]

Mary Stafford Anthony was born on April 2, 1827 in Battenville, New York.[2] She was the youngest of three sisters and two brothers.[2] Her parents, Daniel and Lucy Read Anthony had different religious backgrounds. He was a liberal Quaker and she was Baptist.[2] The Anthony family and other families were engaged in the society’s activities with at least eight members of the Anthony family actively involved.[3] In moving to the their farmhouse with their parents, Mary with her sister, Susan, “had made their beds with blankets on the floor having some doubts concerning the new home were revived by the family’s spirit”.[4] The Anthony family followed the Quaker traditions, where “men and women were partners in church and at home, hard physical work was respected, help for the needy and unfortunate was spontaneous, and education was important for both boys and girls".[5] As a matter of fact, Quakers not only encouraged, but demanded education for both boys and girls.[5] For the rest of her life, this became her suffragist message from a young girl on the farm to the established woman in history.


Mary Anthony acquired her father’s sense for business. In her work as an educator, homemaker, teacher, and women's rights activist, Mary challenged the meaning of suffrage to its fullest, so that, women could have the necessary voice and recognition as contributing citizens. She tackled projects fiercely and measured her success by learning to understand the deficiencies that blocked women from achieving their highest potential—attaining suffrage.

In 1844, at the age of seventeen, Mary became a teacher receiving a salary of $1.50 per week.[citation needed] She taught for one year until the family moved to a small farm in Gates, New York. It was here that Mary helped her parents with the farm and household chores. In her free time, Mary studied. At the age of twenty-seven, Mary returned to teaching and taught in the city’s public schools for 27 years, retiring from her position as principal of School No. 2 in 1883.[6] Before 1859, the job description for a school principal involved unification of the school program, equal opportunity offered to all districts of the city, and improvements to be secured.[7]


Mary Anthony was active in several organizations. Her involvement in organizations such as Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), beginning in 1873, helped provide many women with the opportunity to unite together in size and gender. In fact, the WCTU gained over 200,000 members in the 1880s, built a national grassroots organization, and established local alliances with state politicians.[8]

In 1893, Mary Anthony became corresponding secretary of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association.[9] From home, Mary and others tackled voting policies that eventually led to the 1918 law allowing women to vote in some New York elections.[9]

In 1901, Mary S. Anthony became a Life member of National American Woman Suffrage Association, which was the most democratic of organizations.[10] Its sole object was to secure, for women citizens, protection in their right to vote.[11] On August 2, 1848, Mary attended the Adjourned Convention held at the Unitarian Church in Rochester, New York.[12] and together with her father and mother signed the Declaration of Sentiments.[13]

In 1885, Mary organized and hosted the first meeting of the local Women’s Political Club and served as its president from 1892 to 1903.[9] Her initiative spirit formed the most forthright woman’s club of this period.[9] The club's leadership pushed to open the University of Rochester to women, “a herculean task was undertaken in 1893-a canvass of the city for suffrage petitions to the state constitutional convention then about to meet at Albany”.[14] The club's business was vigorous. Mary accumulated more in number of petitions from women and men than votes by almost twenty five percent, a record not matched elsewhere in the state.[15] Mary helped her sister Susan financially. In 1900, Mary Anthony made a difference, by giving her sister, Susan, $2,000 to assist the University of Rochester with the process of "opening its doors to women".[13] Her stabilization made it possible for progress made by women for women. The results of their work came in 1920 with the addition of the Nineteenth Amendment.

Personal life[edit]

Mary Anthony was practical. She wrote letters to her family and friends about subjects like cooking a family recipe called Higdom[16] that included many vegetables from her garden. After vacations, she was determined to “go right to work”,[17] but only after the housekeeper organized her study. She had no trouble removing "her under rigging",[18] when the weather turned hot. Mary commented boldly about different cultures around the world. After meeting two women from China and observing their cultural practice of foot binding, Mary commented, “Even to the unbinding of the feet that they may be natural in size, even at the risk of failing to get a lover and husband on account of her large feet”.[19] For Mary, her sacrifices for women's suffrage were natural in practice, but always at risk of failing in the eyes of many men, who did not understand that great demands were necessary to achieve full citizenship.

Mary Anthony, a homeowner and taxpayer, believed that women should not have to support a government that did not allow them representation and recorded this by writing her message directly on her checks. For ten years, her taxes were "Paid under protest".[13] Mary also wrote to the county treasurer. She said, "A minor may live to become of age, the illiterate to be educated, the lunatic to regain his reason, the idiot to become intelligent--when each and all can help to decide what shall enforce them; but the women, never".[20] She continued to say, "to a Government that allows its women to be thus treated".[21] On October 9, 1906, she informed her cousin Jessie that "all monies are to go to the suffrage cause".[22] Mary also wrote: "To me, the beauty of it all consists in the order".[23] For Mary Anthony, the order consisted of citizenship rights, educational rights, and vocal rights for women in marriage equality, divorce proceedings, payment for work, choice of profession, and freedom from the domestic sphere,[24] which without, bounded women painfully.

Mary Anthony died, at her home, four months later on February 5, 1907[25] at age 80 from Leukemia. She is buried, next to her older sister, Susan B. Anthony, at the historic Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, New York.[25]


  1. ^ "Western New York Suffragists: Winning the Vote". Rochester Regional Library Council. Retrieved October 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c "Western New York Suffragists". Rochester Regional Library Council. Retrieved October 2013. 
  3. ^ Hewitt, Nancy (1984). Women’s Activism and Social Change, Rochester, New York, 1822-1872. Ithaca: Cornell University. p. 61. 
  4. ^ McKelvey, Blake (July 1945). "Women’s Rights in Rochester: A Century of Progress". Rochester History VII (2). 
  5. ^ a b Lutz, A. (1959). Susan B. Anthony Rebel, Crusader. Humanitarian. Boston: Beacon Press. 
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  9. ^ a b c d McKelvey, Blake (July 1948). "Women’s Rights in Rochester: A Century of Progress". Rochester History X (2 & 3). 
  10. ^ Appendix: National American Woman Suffrage Association In History of Woman Suffrage vol. 4: 1883-1900. Rochester, NY. 1902. pp. 1098–1104. 
  11. ^ Appendix: National American Woman Suffrage Association, vol. 4: 1883-1900. Rochester, NY: Privately published. 1902. pp. 1098–1104. 
  12. ^ McKelvey, Blake (July 1948). "Women’s Rights in Rochester: A Century of Progress". Rochester History X (2 & 3): 18. 
  13. ^ a b c  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  14. ^ McKelvey, Blake (July 1948). "Women’s Rights in Rochester: A Century of Progress". Rochester History X (2 & 3): 16–17. 
  15. ^ McKelvey, Blake (July 1948). "Women’s Rights in Rochester: A Century of Progress". Rochester History X (2 & 3): 17. 
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  24. ^ Lerner, Gerda (Fall 1998). "The Meaning of Seneca Falls: 1848-1998". ProQuest: 34–41. 
  25. ^ a b History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 4: 1883-1900. Rochester, NY: Privately published. pp. 1098–1104.