The Trial of Susan B. Anthony

Available in Spanish

In 1872, fifty women had successfully registered to vote in Rochester, New York. Most were turned away at the ballot box, but fourteen women were successful.
Susan B. Anthony was one of them. The arrest and trial that followed made history.

For this lesson, teachers may prepare students for the visit using materials provided (see below). The class will then reenact the trial with assigned "actors" reading from the provided script.

Objectives:

1. Students will identify and explain the three branches of government, with a focus on the judicial branch.

2. Students will identify and explain what the 19th Amendment is.

3. Students will analyze how women gained the right to vote.

Time: One class period (approximately 50 minutes)

Teacher Prep:

  • Review with students the 3 branches of government. Explain the difference between state and federal branches. Teachers may use this Handout if they wish.

  • Assign background on Susan B. Anthony and discuss prior to the judge's visit.

  • Introduce students to the Susan B. Anthony script.

  • Assign students script roles prior to the presentation. Note: the script is written in the language used at trial, some sentences may require practice!

  • Coordinate a pre-visit meeting with the judge to discuss classroom needs, and delivery preference.

Background Videos: Teachers may share these videos with their students in preparation for the lesson.

Script: The Trial of Susan B. Anthony


TEACHERS: Assign in advance “actors” to read their part in the script. Each role may be assigned to a few students so they each get a turn participating. Print Script | Spanish


  1. Clerk

  2. Prosecutor

  3. Defense

  4. Witness: Beverly W. Jones

  5. Judge Hunt

  6. Susan B. Anthony


OPENING SCENE

Indictment:

(Actor 1/Clerk: reading aloud to the court) “Susan B. Anthony did knowingly, wrongfully and unlawfully vote for a candidate without having a lawful right to vote as she, the said Susan B. Anthony then and there well knew, contrary to the form of the state of the United States of America in such case made and provided, and against the peace of the United States of America and their dignity.”


Prosecution:

(Actor 2/Prosecutor) “May it please the Court and Gentlemen of the Jury:

On the 5th of November, 1872, there was held in this State, as well as in other States of the Union, a general election. It will be for you to decide under the charge of his honor, the Judge, whether or not the defendant committed the offense of voting for a representative. We think, on the part of the Government, that there is no question about it, Miss Anthony's intentions may have been-whether they were good or otherwise-she did not have a right to vote upon that question, and if she did vote without having a lawful right to vote, then there is no question but what she is guilty of violating a law of the United States.”


Defense for Susan B. Anthony:

(Actor 3/Defense) “If the Court please, Gentlemen of the Jury:

I claim and shall endeavor to establish before you that when she offered to have her name registered as a voter, and when she offered her vote, she was as much entitled to vote as any man that voted at that election, according to the Constitution and laws of the Government under which she lives. If I maintain that proportion, as a matter of course she has committed no offence, and is entitled to be discharged at your hands.


SCENE TWO


(Actor 2/Prosecutor asks Actor 4/Witness Beverly W. Jones):

Q. Do you know the defendant, Miss Susan B. Anthony?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. In what capacity were you acting upon that day, if any, in relation to election?

A. Inspector of election.

Q. Upon the 5th day of November, did the defendant, Susan B. Anthony, vote in the first election district of the 8th ward of the city of Rochester?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. Did you see her vote?

A. Yes, sir.


(Actor 3/Defense examines the witness Beverly W. Jones):

Q. Prior to the election, was there a registry of voters in that district made?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. Was you one of the officers engaged in making that registry?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. When the registry was being made did Miss Anthony appear before the Board of Registry and claim to be registered as a voter?

A. She did.

Q. Was there any objection made, or any doubt raised as to her right to vote?

A. There was.

Q. On what ground?

A. On the ground that the Constitution of the State of New York did not allow women to vote.

Q. What was the defect in her right to vote as a citizen?

A. She was not a male citizen.

Q. That she was a woman?

A. Yes, sir.

SCENE THREE


Verdict

(Actor 5/Judge):

“The question, gentlemen of the jury, in the form it finally takes, is wholly a question or questions of law, and I have decided as a question of law, in the first place, that under the 14th Amendment, which Miss Anthony claims protects her, she was not protected in a right to vote. And I have decided also that her belief and the advice which she took does not protect her in the act which she committed. If I am right in this, the result must be a verdict on your part of guilty, and I therefore direct that you find a verdict of guilty.


(Ordering the defendant to stand up), "Has the prisoner anything to say why sentence shall not be pronounced?"


Actor 6/Susan B. Anthony:
“Yes, your honor, I have many things to say; for in your ordered verdict of guilty, you have trampled under foot every vital principle of our government. My natural rights, my civil rights, my political rights, my judicial rights, are all alike ignored. Robbed of the fundamental privilege of citizenship, I am degraded from the status of a citizen to that of a subject; and not only myself individually, but all of my gender, are, by your honor's verdict, doomed to political subjection under this, so-called, form of government.”

[END]

Teachers may discuss with the volunteer judicial officer the level of understanding their students have of due process. The following is additional content, if there is time:

At the trial, the judge instructed the jury to find her Anthony guilty without any deliberations, and imposed a $100 fine (approximately $1200 today).

When Anthony refused to pay a $100 fine and court costs, the judge did not sentence her to prison time, which ended her chance of an appeal. An appeal would have allowed the suffrage movement to take the question of women’s voting rights to the Supreme Court, but it was not to be. If there is time, the class may have a discussion on how a case moves through the courts.

On March 8th, 1884 Susan B. Anthony appeared before the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives. Anthony began her statement thus:

“We appear before you this morning…to ask that you will, at your earliest convenience, report to the House in favor of the submission of a Sixteenth Amendment to the Legislatures of the several States, that shall prohibit the disfranchisement of citizens of the United States on account of sex.”

It took many more years of arguing before the suffrage amendment passed. Not until June 4, 1919, did Congress approve what was nicknamed the “Anthony Amendment” in honor of the leader who had died in 1906. On August 18, 1920, the states ratified it as the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution.