The Bureau County Historical Society is celebrating Women’s History Month. Join us as we celebrate famous women with a Bureau County connection!
By Jim Dunn-Board member, BCHS
For Susan B. Anthony, the legendary suffragist and women’s rights advocate, Princeton, Illinois, of the early 1870s was a city so nice, she visited it twice!
The second visit for Anthony (1820-1906) came 150 years ago this April, slightly more than 100 years before her image first appeared on the Susan B. Anthony one dollar coin in 1979.
The story of the well-traveled Anthony’s two visits to Princeton in 1871 and 1872 can be pieced together through brief entries she made in her diary along with articles in the Bureau County Republican and other sources.
Anthony, from Rochester, New York, had long crusaded for women’s rights in an era when society and the legal system offered nothing but restrictions. Winning the right to vote was key to Anthony’s campaign on behalf of women, and she delivered many lectures from coast to coast trying to sway public opinion toward that end.
She also needed to raise money on the lecture circuit to pay off a $10,000 debt she accumulated as co-owner of The Revolution, a women’s rights newspaper she co-founded with Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1868 but which proved financially unsuccessful. (By 1876, Anthony succeeded in repaying her last creditor.)
Anthony’s Princeton presentation at Patterson Hall on April 5, 1871, was heralded in the Bureau County Republican before and after it was given by the 51-year-old suffragist, whose lecture was titled “The new situation, or Women already voters.”
The BCR on March 30, 1871, pronounced her “the noblest Roman of them all” and added, “The simple announcement that she is to lecture, will insure her a fine audience.”
According to Anthony’s diary, she arrived in Princeton on April 5 on a Chicago, Burlington & Quincy train from Mendota.
“Miss Lovejoy – daughter of [the late U.S. Rep.] Owen Lovejoy – met me [at the] Depot & made me most welcome – and comfortable – plenty of nice fruit and cream etc.,” Anthony wrote.
In the April 13, 1871, issue of the BCR, a story praised Anthony’s lecture, which was attended by a large audience, as “a clear, candid and forcible presentation of the question of woman suffrage from a legal standpoint; and was well calculated to open the eyes of the blind, and unstop the ears of the deaf.”
The BCR story continued: “Commencing with the Declaration of Independence, she showed conclusively that all human creatures were created free and equal and endowed with civil and religious liberty. She then proceeded to give the opinion of the Supreme Court as to the meaning of the word ‘citizen,’ which by the court was held to be a voter and entitled to civil rights. …
“The fourteenth and fifteenth amendments declared that no ‘citizen shall be deprived of the right of suffrage on account of color or previous condition of servitude,’ and women being declared citizens by law, they are virtually voters to-day, and have a right to demand and enforce justice at the hands of the authorities. …”
The article continued: “In closing, she said in great national questions, the ballot in the hands of women would probably make no material difference; but in local affairs, the rum traffic, school matters, and the social evil, woman’s influence would be felt, and public opinion in this direction revolutionized.”
Anthony wrote in her diary that she stayed on in Princeton April 6 and delivered a second lecture on the same topic.
“Mrs. [Maria E.] Patterson owns the Hall & wants me to come next winter,” Anthony wrote.
She added that she slept at Mrs. Owens’ residence until 3 a.m., “then her son took me to Depot — took sleeping car into Chicago.” Her next speaking engagement was in LaFayette, Ind.
Anthony’s first and second Princeton lectures were separated by one year, and an eventful year it was for the suffragist. She embarked on a lengthy West Coast tour that included dozens of lectures in California, Oregon, Washington territory and Nevada, and concluded with her transcontinental railroad train being snowed in among the Rocky Mountains for several days during her return trip.
While Anthony’s 1871 trip to Princeton went quite well, illness plagued her second visit to the Bureau County seat.
Anthony noted in her diary that her lecture in Lacon, Illinois, on Friday, April 12, 1872, attracted a “splendid audience.” Then it was on to Princeton and the residence of Mrs. Patterson, the friendly lecture hall proprietor, where Anthony’s usual robust health unexpectedly failed her.
“Dreadful attack of nausea – all day getting across – couldn’t speak – first time in all my work life that I had to give up a lecture from illness,” she wrote in her Saturday, April 13 entry.
Fortunately for Anthony, Owen Lovejoy’s family came to the rescue.
“Sophy Lovejoy came for me & I must have mother here – dear Mrs. Lovejoy is a good mother,” she wrote on April 14.
By Monday, April 15, Anthony wrote, “Quite well again.” She evidently felt healthy enough to take to the lecture platform the next day.
“Spoke on temperance and social purity – had good audience & was favored – as Quakers say,” she wrote on April 16. The next day, she was off to Davenport, Iowa, and her next speaking engagement.
The Bureau County Republican had predicted a good turnout in its April 11, 1872, preview notice on Anthony’s temperance and social purity lecture: “All those that have any interest in the above subject, will not fail to attend, as Miss Anthony is second to none as a lecturer and reasoner.”
Later in 1872, Anthony put her strong beliefs regarding women’s suffrage to the test. Back home in upstate New York, she persuaded Rochester officials to allow her to register to vote, then she actually voted in the November election, which led to her arrest and 1873 trial and conviction for breaking the law that prohibited women from voting. It would not be until 1920, 14 years after her death, that the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving women the right to vote nationwide would take effect.
For Susan B. Anthony, greatness as a suffragist and women’s rights advocate is her lasting legacy. For Princeton, the story of its brush with Anthony’s greatness is well worth remembering.
Author’s note: Sources for this article are the diary of Susan B. Anthony, Bureau County Republican archives, “Susan B. Anthony: Rebel, Crusader, Humanitarian” by Alma Lutz, “Susan B. Anthony: A Biography” by Kathleen Barry, and Wikipedia.
Note to readers: Jim Dunn, a retired editor of the Bureau County Republican, is a member of the Bureau County Historical Society Board. For more information on Women’s History Month, click here.