On Susan B. Anthony and Marriage: What You Probably Never Knew About the Great Feminist

Without really meaning to, I kicked off Women’s History month this March with a taste of some women’s history in Sue Monk Kidd’s new novel, The Invention of Wings. (Side note: Sue Monk Kidd is my favorite author because she is a nurse-turned-writer. Holla!)

I don’t want to give the book away, but the story centers around the dilemma of one of the main characters, a young Southern woman and her struggle against choosing a career or marriage.

The book is set in the mid- to late 1800s against the backdrop of the beginning of the women’s rights movement, which can’t be discussed without mentioning, of course, its “mother” Susan B. Anthony.

SBA basically ushered in the woman’s suffrage moment, forming a formidable pair with her buddy Elizabeth Cady Stanton. And although we don’t always learn about their incredible accomplishments in the history books written by men, these two changed everything about our lives as women, from our right to vote to having a right to our own children. (Seriously, women had no say even when it came to their kids — their husbands had the right to sell them off at any time. Legally.)

And the great feminist accomplished a lot of what she wanted to because she wasn’t married. 

Which led me to wonder: just what did Susan B. Anthony really think about marriage?


Turns out, Anthony was not the biggest fan of the institution of marriage. 

As one source describes it, once Anthony reached the “marrying age,” she was courted by several interested men, but she ultimately rejected them all to live the life of a single woman forever, saying: “I never felt I could give up my life of freedom to become a man’s housekeeper.  When I was young, if a girl married poor she became a housekeeper and a drudge. If she married wealthy, she became a pet and a doll.”

Dang. Tell us how you really feel, SBA.

But of course, she had reason to feel that way, and much of what she was able to accomplish simply wouldn’t have been possible had she had a man at home to answer to. But she also knew that marriage, in most cases, also inevitably led to the other entrapment she felt women had:


As The New York Times book review section reveals, one source asked her, “Don’t you believe in women getting married?” Anthony answered: “Oh yes, but not women like you who had a special call for special work … You are distracted over the thought that maybe [your 11-month-old baby] is not being looked after as he would if you were there, and that makes for a divided duty.”

Of course as a married women with (many) children, I have to say I’m a little taken aback by the fervent attack on the life that I live. If the founder of the women’s movement thought that marriage and kiddos were a drain on the real potential of women, where does that leave me?

Well, of course things were different back then, I thought. Men really did think they ruled the world, and women had absolutely no rights whatsoever. Marriage now is empowering and, today, mothers can have it all.

And then I realized I was having this thought in the middle of doing laundry at home with my children, where I will remain all week as my husband is at work while simultaneously considering canceling an event I had been invited to speak at because I really didn’t want to leave my kids for that long.

[Insert nervous laughter here.]

Yes, Susan B. Anthony was a wise woman and a fierce leader, and she changed the entire course of life for women, but surely she wasn’t all right about marriage …


Image via feserc/Flickr 

Read more of Chaunie’s posts here or learn more about Chaunie (and her husband) by checking out her blog and following along on Facebook

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