Civil Disobedience by Voting, 1868-1873

When each of the states wrote their constitutions after the American Revolution, suffrage for women and African-American men became outlawed. When New York State adopted its first constitution in 1777 it became illegal for women to vote. “To vote is a man’s duty and a woman’s crime,” said New York State Woman Suffrage Association president Lillie Devereux Blake.

In November 1872, Susan B. Anthony cast a vote in her hometown of Rochester, NY, and was subsequently arrested and tried in 1873. While Susan B. Anthony’s voting trial is the one most publicized, women throughout New York State and the nation committed civil disobedience by voting as early as 1868 – four years before Anthony. Women unsuccessfully attempted to vote in Nyack, Fayetteville, New York City, Mount Vernon, Brooklyn, and Oswego between 1868 and 1873. Some actually cast their ballots, like Schenectady women in 1868 and women in Ithaca in 1870 who voted in local elections about erecting waterworks. Fifteen Newport women voted in a local election to help elect a temperance slate of officers in 1871. Matilda Joslyn Gage attempted to vote in Fayetteville that same year. In addition to Susan B. Anthony, thirteen other women voted in the the 8th Ward in Rochester in the November 1872 election, as well as several women in the 17th Ward in New York City.

An account of the proceedings on the trial of Susan B. Anthony, on the charge of illegal voting.The proceedings include an address of Susan B. Anthony, delivered prior to her trial in June, 1873; and speech of Matilda Joslyn Gage. Courtesy of Harvard University via HathiTrust.

Full text available here.

Diary of Maurice Leyden, 1873, p. 79. In his diary, Maurice Leyden writes about his experiences living in Rochester, NY. His wife, Maggie Leyden, proceeded to vote with Susan B. Anthony and a group of women. This page discusses Anthony’s trial: "Maggie & I went to Canandaigua this morning to attend the trial. Weather very hot. Miss Anthony was convicted, also the Inspectors - by the voting of judge." Courtesy of Binghamton University.

Gerrit Smith to Susan B. Anthony. Smith expresses his support for Anthony after her arrest for voting as unjust; he believed women had the right to vote under the 14th Amendment: "Let what will be said to the contrary, the moment that the first section of the fourteenth Amendment became a part of the Constitution, our women became Constitutional voters--and, this too, beyond the power of the a State to disfranchise them." Courtesy of Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College.