President Trump announced Tuesday that he will be signing a posthumous pardon for the famous suffragist Susan B. Anthony, nearly 150 years after she was arrested for voting in the 1872 presidential election.
Born in 1820, Anthony was a prominent abolitionist and lifelong advocate for women’s rights who fought for more than 50 years for women’s enfranchisement. She was arrested for casting a vote in her hometown of Rochester, N.Y., and after a two-day trial was convicted and sentenced to pay a $100 fine. During her lifetime and in the years following her death in 1906, Anthony was synonymous with the issue of women’s suffrage, becoming the first woman featured on a circulating U.S. coin in 1979.
“I was so surprised that it was never done before,” Trump said during the announcement. “She was never pardoned. What took so long?”
The pardon comes on the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women in the U.S. the right to vote. It also comes at a time when the president’s popularity with female voters is trailing behind that of Democratic rival Joe Biden, who recently chose Sen. Kamala Harris — a Black woman of Indian heritage — as his running mate.
A new Yahoo News/YouGov survey found that only 32 percent of registered voters believe Trump “respects women,” and a Quinnipiac poll in July found that 59 percent of women planned to vote for Biden, compared with 31 percent who planned to vote for Trump.
Anthony has been hailed as instrumental in gaining women the right to vote, but her legacy is complicated. She has been the subject of a long-standing dispute between anti-abortion and pro-abortion-rights forces, with each trying to claim the heroine as their own. Anthony is the namesake of the anti-abortion PAC the Susan B. Anthony List, whose president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, was in attendance at Trump’s announcement on Tuesday. In January the group launched a $52 million effort to support Trump’s reelection bid.
“The pioneers of women’s rights were unanimously and adamantly against abortion,” Dannenfelser said Tuesday. “Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul and their compatriots understood that the rights of women extend to their children — born and unborn.”
Others, however, have said there is little or no evidence that Anthony was in favor of outlawing abortion.
“Anthony’s long career of public speaking provided many occasions for her to speak about abortion if she chose to do so,” researcher Harper D. Ward wrote in a post for the Susan B. Anthony Museum and House website. “The plain fact, however, is that Susan B. Anthony almost never referred to abortion, and when she did, she said nothing to indicate that she wanted it banned by law.”
Anthony and other early feminist leaders have also been accused of racism. She vehemently opposed the 14th and 15th amendments, which gave voting rights to African-American men, on the grounds that the legislation did not include voting rights for women. And in 1895, she asked longtime ally Frederick Douglass not to attend a suffrage convention in Atlanta, fearing that the Black orator and activist’s presence onstage would offend racist Southern attendees.
This will be Trump’s 26th pardon since he entered office, in addition to numerous commutations. He posthumously pardoned heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson in 2018 after a tainted, racially charged conviction more than a century ago. But many of Trump’s pardons and commutations have been for living friends and acquaintances, such as political operative Roger Stone, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and newspaper publisher Conrad Black.
Anthony died 14 years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Today her grave in Rochester has become a popular feminist pilgrimage, with many women leaving “I voted” stickers on Anthony’s tombstone after the recent midterm elections.
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