Eugene V. Debs

Susan B. Anthony: A Reminiscence


From Labor & Freedom, St. Louis 1916, pp.19-33.
Originally published in Socialist Woman, January 1909.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Twice only did I personally meet Susan B. Anthony, although I knew her well. The first time was at Terre Haute, Indiana, my home, in 1880, and the last time shortly before her death at her home at Rochester, New York. I can never forget the first time I met her. She impressed me as being a wonderfully strong character, self-reliant, thoroughly in earnest, and utterly indifferent to criticism.

There was never a time in my life when I was opposed to the equal suffrage of the sexes. I could never understand why woman was denied any right or opportunity that man enjoyed. Quite early, therefore, I was attracted to the woman suffrage movement. I had of course read of Susan B. Anthony and from the ridicule and contempt with which she was treated I concluded that she must be a strong advocate of, and doing effective work for, the rights of her sex. It was then that I determined, with the aid of Mrs. Ida Husted Harper, the brilliant writer, who afterward became her biographer, to arrange a series of meetings for Miss Anthony at Terre Haute.

In due course of time I received a telegram from Miss Anthony from Lafayette announcing the time of her arrival at Terre Haute and asking me to meet her at the station. I recognized the distinguished lady or, to be more exact, the notorious woman, the instant she stepped from the train. She was accompanied by Lily Devereaux Blake and other woman suffrage agitators and I proceeded to escort them to the hotel where I had arranged for their reception.

I can still see the aversion so unfeelingly expressed for this magnificent woman. Even my friends were disgusted with me for piloting such an “undesirable citizen” into the community. It is hard to understand, after all these years, how bitter and implacable the people were, especially the women, toward the leaders of this movement.

As we walked along the street I was painfully aware that Miss Anthony was an object of derision and contempt, and in my heart I resented it and later I had often to defend my position, which, of course, I was ever ready to do.

The meetings of Miss Anthony and her co-workers were but poorly attended and all but barren of results. Such was the loathing of the community for a woman who dared to talk in public about “woman’s rights” that people would not go to see her even to satisfy their curiosity. She was simply not to be tolerated and it would not have required any great amount of egging-on to have excited the people to drive her from the community.

To all of this Miss Anthony, to all appearance, was entirely oblivious. She could not have helped noticing it for there were those who thrust their insults upon her but she gave no sign and bore no resentment.

I can see her still as she walked along, neatly but carelessly attired, her bonnet somewhat awry, mere trifles which were scarcely noticed, if at all, in the presence of her splendid womanhood. She seemed absorbed completely in her mission. She could scarcely speak of anything else. The rights and wrongs of her sex seemed to completely possess her and to dominate all her thoughts and acts.

On the platform she spoke with characteristic earnestness and at times with such intensity as to awe her audience, if not compel conviction. She had an inexhaustible fund of information in regard to current affairs, and dates and data for all things. She spoke with great rapidity and forcefullness; her command of language was remarkable and her periods were all well-rounded and eloquently delivered. No thoughtful person could hear her without being convinced of her honesty and the purity of her motive. Her face fairly glowed with the spirit of her message and her soul was in her speech.

But the superb quality, the crowning virtue she possessed, was her moral heroism.

Susan B. Anthony had this quality in an eminent degree. She fearlessly faced the ignorant multitude or walked unafraid among those who scorned her. She had the dignity of perfect self-reliance without a shadow of conceit to mar it. She was a stern character, an uncompromising personality, but she had the heart of a woman and none more tender ever throbbed for the weak and the oppressed of earth.

No leader of any crusade was ever more fearless, loyal or uncompromising than Susan B. Anthony and not one ever wrought more unselfishly or under greater difficulties for the good of her kind and for the progress of the race.

I did not see Miss Anthony again until I shook hands with her at the close of my address in Rochester, but a short time before she passed to other realms. She was the same magnificent woman, but her locks had whitened and her kindly features bore the traces of age and infirmity.

Her life-work was done and her sun was setting!

How beautiful she seemed in the quiet serenity of her sunset!

Twenty-five years before she drank to its dregs the bitter cup of persecution, but now she stood upon the heights, a sad smile lighting her sweet face, amidst the acclaims of her neighbors and the plaudits of the world.

Susan B. Anthony freely consecrated herself to the service of humanity; she was a heroine in the highest sense and her name deserves a place among the highest on the scroll of the immortals.