My Darlings, please enjoy this wonderful article by Paula Marie Usrey. Paula founded Boomer Best U to promote positive aging and to fight age discrimination. In this article, she speaks of the power of a mature Grandwoman! Enjoy.
Valient Women of the Vote
March is National Women’s History Month. This year’s theme is “Valiant Women of the Vote.” This theme recognizes those women who courageously fought for woman’s suffrage.
When reading about the dedication and sacrifices that other women before us have made for our benefit, I am both grateful and inspired. I think what inspires me most is that some of the women who struggled with self-doubt could do extraordinary things—especially as they matured and worked with other women. One of those women was Susan B. Anthony. Writing about Miss Anthony, historian Lynn Sherr wrote, “She did much of her best and most lasting work after she turned fifty years old.”
About 14 years ago (when I was about 54), I started reading everything I could find on Susan B. Anthony’s life. I read a couple of volumes about her life that she had edited, I read excerpts from her diaries, books written by people who knew her, and historical accounts of her life and travels. Sometimes I even dressed in costume and channeled Miss Anthony for some of the speech classes I taught and for community groups and organizations.
In Spite of Her Fear, She Persisted
Miss Anthony, who was raised as a Quaker, felt compelled to speak out against all kinds of injustices, including slavery, but she also had a significant fear of public speaking. To make matters worse, it was considered inappropriate for women to do any public speaking when she first started her advocacy work. When she did speak out, she risked being heckled, pelted with rotten eggs, and even chased at times.
In 1851 when she was just 31, Susan met Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the organizers of the 1848 Seneca Falls meeting—a meeting where a critical mass of women and some men chose to fight for woman’s suffrage. With Stanton’s encouragement and help, soon Susan was delivering speeches about suffrage anywhere she could. Anthony would often travel great distances by horse or wagon when she had an opportunity to speak for her cause. When traveling overnight, her evening accommodations could be challenging at best. Sometimes she had to pick bed bugs off her clothing before continuing her travels.
Susan B. Anthony
In Spite of Criticism, She Persisted
As Miss Anthony’s reputation grew, public criticism of her unpopular suffragist efforts also increased. Newspapers frequently printed unflattering depictions of her. As an example, in 1870, the Utica Herald wrote, “She is sweet in the eyes of her own mirror, but her advanced age and maiden name deny that she has been so in the eyes of others…” At the time, Miss Anthony was fifty-years-old. (As the average life expectancy was under forty-years-old, Anthony would have been considered well past her productive or ‘reproductive’ years.) Contrary to popular belief, Elizabeth Cady Stanton had once advised Susan in a letter, “We shall not be in our prime before fifty, and after that, we shall be good for twenty years at least.”
In 1871 when an Oregon suffragist named Abigail Scott Dunaway was preparing to tour with her, she had some reservations because she had read that Anthony was a “cranky old maid.” When she met Susan, she was surprised to find that Susan was “soft-spoken, motherly looking, and modestly attired.”
In Spite of Her Continued Self-Doubt, She Persisted
Even though her ability as a speaker had grown, Anthony was still full of self-doubts. Writing a letter from Portland, Oregon, in November 1871, she said, “The mortal agony of speaking again in Portland is over, the hurt stings yet. Never was I dragged before an audience so utterly without word or thought.” Nonetheless, Anthony was a woman driven by a purpose bigger than herself. A growing number of women throughout the country provided her with support and encouragement. Her friend, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, also helped coach her as a speaker.
Because of Her Persistence and Steadfast Purpose, She Succeeded
In spite of her years of self-doubt, Susan’s speaking abilities grew as a result of support, feedback, practice, and a strong desire to make a difference. Newspapers started writing about her powerful ability to persuade audiences. Anthony continued her work until her last breath when she passed in 1906 at the age of 86. She had spoken all over the country, had organized and led a national movement, had frequently lobbied Congress, had met with three sitting presidents and was eventually lauded both home and abroad for her work. She had become one of the early voices and faces for suffrage.
Lessons from a Life Well-Lived After Fifty
- Don’t give up when people tell you that you are too old or you can’t succeed. If you have the support of others—especially from a strong community of other women—and are driven by a purpose or a cause that is bigger than yourself, you can make a difference.
- Life can be very challenging—especially for some of us as we start getting older. Yet we are more resilient than we may realize. Learn everything you can. At first, you may struggle, but you have the ability to learn what you need to know.
- When you get discouraged, find role models—from the past or the present—who can provide inspiration and direction.
I do feel a debt of gratitude because of women like Susan B. Anthony. Not only do I have more freedom as a woman because of the efforts of those who went before me, but I also feel more courageous.
Final note: On August 26, 2020, it will be 100 years since the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was ratified, giving women the right to vote. Thank you, Miss Anthony and others whose sense of purpose and persistence have made our lives better.
Paula Marie Usrey founded Boomer Best U to help promote positive aging and fight age discrimination. She has also given a TEDx presentation on how to live your best life at any age. Paula recently retired as an Associate Professor of Communication from Umpqua Community College.