Telesur posted an article on 8 November 2016 which claims Susan B. Anthony made a number of statements under the headline "White Women Pay Tribute to Susan B. Anthony, Notorious Racist":

The Bad

“I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.”

The Worse

“What words can express her (the white woman’s) humiliation when, at the close of this long conflict, the government which she had served so faithfully held her unworthy of a voice in its councils, while it recognized as the political superiors of all the noble women of the nation the negro men just emerged from slavery, and not only totally illiterate, but also densely ignorant of every public question.”

The Ugly

“The old anti-slavery school says women must stand back and wait until the negroes shall be recognized. But we say, if you will not give the whole loaf of suffrage to the entire people, give it to the most intelligent first. If intelligence, justice, and morality are to have precedence in the government, let the question of the woman be brought up first and that of the negro last.”

Did she say or write these words?

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    – Oddthinking
    Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 3:05
  • Except for the last one, those quotes seem to be more aligned with arguing that women get their due, not that freed slaves not get theirs. Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 16:54

2 Answers 2


Short version: Susan B. Anthony had a long history of working as an abolitionist, but wasn't willing to settle for gradual victories on the way to women's suffrage. Combine that with a notorious short temper, and a rocky but long friendship with Frederick Douglass, and you end up with some quotes that are less than favorable for Anthony's memory, fall short of evidence that she was an outright racist.

First off, The second quote was not said by Anthony, but instead written by Ida Husted Harper in the biography The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony.

The other two quotes are genuine, but lacking an important context: they were both said in direct response to what she felt were attacks or insults from Frederick Douglass. The two had been friends and close allies for both abolition and women's suffrage since the mid 1840s, but after the Civil War the relationship was strained when Douglass adopted a gradualist position and wanted to concentrate on rights for African-Americans first. Douglass feared that trying to universal suffrage all at once would be too difficult. Meanwhile Anthony feared that progressing in steps would inevitably stop short of full universal suffrage, and viewed Douglass's stance as a betrayal of the cause.

The first quote was said at an 1866 meeting in response to Douglass pushing for Anthony to support the Fifteenth Amendment without the inclusion of women as a protected class.

Some suffragists believed that campaigning against the [Fifteenth] amendment would be a betrayal of their abolitionist friends, because a better law might not be forthcoming. Others, including Susan B. Anthony and her colleague Stanton, feared that if women did not win their rights at this juncture, the opportunity would not present itself again for a long, long time. Stanton and Anthony had already butted heads with their old friend Frederick Douglass at an 1866 meeting of the American Equal Rights Association. Their former ally appeared to back down from his earlier commitment to female suffrage, and was now saying that, while the ballot was "desirable" for women, it was "vital" for Black men. In response, Anthony declared, "I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman."

Anthony's response should not be read as racist or anti-black, but as anti-gradualism.

The third quote comes from an 1869 American Equal Rights Association meeting, where the argument of gradualism vs. universal suffrage was still on going. Interestingly, in the minutes for the meeting you'll find that Douglass himself argues against claims that Stanton & Anthony are racists. Also in those minutes, it notes several instances of laughter and loud applause during these quotes - in context it seems that Anthony's comments of female superiority are meant to be at least partly humorous, and essentially it was an intentionally racist comment to counter what she felt was a sexist viewpoint from a friend.

  • 60
    "Also in those minutes, it notes several instances of laughter and loud applause during these quotes - in context it seems that Anthony's comments of female superiority are meant to be at least partly humorous, and essentially it was an intentionally racist comment to counter what she felt was a sexist viewpoint from a friend." THIS is what I call more context :). Have it as accepted. Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 2:36
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    I'm fairly convinced by the context of the first one, but I'm not so convinced by the description of the last. Frederick Douglas's opinion of Anthony's character, is both that of a friend, and not necessarily extremely relevant to a modern analysis of her statements. That is, that Douglas would (particularly publicly) defend his friend against accusations of racial prejudice does not necessarily mean that she wasn't prejudiced, particularly given changes in "normal" attitudes.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 9:51
  • 33
    What I find more persuasive (if not necessarily totally convincing), is that (as I read them), Douglas's comments directly before hers use exactly the same language, i.e. calling women more intelligent, virtuous, etc. (than men, not black men). I'd include that for proper context - it makes it more clear or persuasive that she was replying to him.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 9:54
  • @Sklivvz I added a reference for the "cut off my right arm" quote coming from the 1866 AERA meeting. Are there any other parts of this post that are missing citations/references?
    – LazyGadfly
    Commented Apr 23, 2018 at 15:10

Quote 1

I found an article that mentions a source for the first quote:

The Woman’s Rights Association had only recently changed its name to the American Equal Rights Association (AERA)—on May 10, 1868—and tension within the organization grew quickly over the Fourteenth Amendment. A few days after the organizational name change, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton met with fellow AERA members Wendell Phillips and Theodore Tilton. During their meeting, Phillips suggested that the organization turn away from woman suffrage for the moment and focus on Black suffrage. If anything interfered, he claimed, the chance for Black enfranchisement might be lost forever. Anthony objected vehemently. She raised up her right arm and proclaimed: “Look at this, all of you. And hear me swear that I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work for or demand the ballot for the negro and not the woman”
W.E.B. DU BOIS ON WOMAN SUFFRAGE A Critical Analysis of His Crisis Writings

The article cites this book which was published in 1928.

Quote 2

The second quote is from Anthony's biography (which was written at her request): The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony by Ida Husted Harper, page 238.

Quote 3

The third quote can be found in History of Woman Suffrage: 1861-1876 edited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan Brownell Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Ida Husted Harper, page 383. If I'm reading correctly, the book says that Anthony said it at an event in May 1869 celebrating the anniversary of the American Equal Rights Association.

More Context

As the first quote hints at, Anthony was actually fighting for the right for both blacks and women to vote. However, the fact that the 15th Amendment only gave the right for blacks to vote and not women left many, including her, feeling resentment towards blacks:

Throughout much of the 1800s, the women's alcohol temperance movement was a powerful force in the greater push toward women's suffrage. Meanwhile, many suffrage leaders — such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton — had also championed black equality. Yet in 1870, the suffragists found themselves on opposing ends of the equal-rights battle when Congress passed the 15th Amendment, enabling black men to vote (at least, in theory) — and not women. That measure engendered resentment among some white suffragists, especially in the South.
The Root: How Racism Tainted Women's Suffrage

  • 1
    I think this is helpful because it notes what the other answer doesn't, that some suffragists (including Anthony?) might have become resentful or held prejudiced views, even if the direct context of Anthony's quote was in response to Douglas. But including that context could be good too, because, for instance, some might see a difference between someone stating that they wouldn't put women's suffrage behind black suffrage after being asked to do so and saying it out of the blue.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 10:01

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