National Council for the Social Studies 2016

The Trial of Susan B. Anthony: Using Federal Trials to Teach History

In the federal election in November 1872, Susan B. Anthony, the best-known advocate of woman suffrage, registered to vote and then voted. The government charged her with the crime of voting without “the legal right to vote in said election district”—she, in the words of the indictment, “being then and there a person of the female sex.” Her trial revealed the complexity of federalism in the post-Civil War years. She was convicted in federal court for violating state law about who was eligible to vote. Primarily a case about woman suffrage and sexual discrimination, United States v. Susan B. Anthony is also a case about citizenship and rights and civic action.

Anthony and the members of the National Woman Suffrage Association, after failing to gain explicit reference to the voting rights of women in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, set about testing the meaning of what those amendments did say and implications for the rights of women. The case of Susan B. Anthony also serves as an introduction into voting rights in the United States, historically and today. Her story is but one among several, of people using courts and federal legislation to assert their right to vote.

Session Materials

Voting Rights handouts

Additional Resources