Demanding a holiday for the revolutionary Susan B. Anthony has been one of my Women’s History Month soapbox issues ever since I learned that H.R. No. 655, also known as “The Susan B. Anthony Birthday Act,” failed to pass in a democrat-controlled Congress. Back in 2011 Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York introduced the bill to honor Anthony’s birthday as a national holiday on the third Monday of February. The bill died along with our dreams of having a national holiday for women in the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Some might ask, “What’s the big deal?” and “Do we really need another federal holiday?” For me it became a “big deal” because there isn’t a federal holiday named for women?
Consider this—our nation has elected to honor Christopher Columbus (which my friend Kim Pevia helps break down just a few of his injustices in Columbus Day: The Other Side of the New World.) And most people don’t know that the House of Representatives continue to entertain several bills to create a national holiday for labor leader Cesar Chavez. So, yes I am inclined to believe Anthony’s historic role in creating the first women’s rights movement in the U.S. makes her deserving of the designation.
As time passes, I worry the legacy of the abolitionist, suffragist, labor advocate and educational reformer could be lost on future generations. In a weekly poll, Fox News asked average citizens who Anthony was, and only 38-percent accurately responded. While I grew up with an admiration for her legacy along with her contemporary, Frederick Douglass, I was not surprised by the responses of fellow Americans. She represents an era of civil rights that could easily be forgotten. This stirred a Fox News editorial, written by Phyllis Chesler, questioning the holiday issue. “When Anthony began the fight for women’s equality, married women had to hand over their wages to their husbands. Their inherited property and their children belonged to their husbands, as well,” Chesler reminded. “Unwanted wives were sometimes gotten rid of by being locked away in mental asylums. Women could not attend college, law or medical school. Only single women could enter into contracts. Women had no political ‘voice’ in the matters that related to their own destiny.”
Her legacy is one reason why I surround myself with former members of the ERA and women’s suffrage movement. I’ve even invited myself to a “reunion” of local women’s caucus leaders in order to learn more about their tribulations and victories. Granted, most of them did not face threats like those hurled at Anthony, a sojourner who encountered hostile mobs opposed to her efforts.
Once, her body was hung in effigy and dragged through the streets of a community where she was distributing posters and leaflets. However, she continued working to end oppression for more than 50 years.
“Not Forgetting” is just one of the reasons I cherish time with women from the caucus and ERA. There is also a part of me that wants to answer a question posed to me by my good friend, Ann Holbrooks, when she handed me her copy of the PBS series “Makers: Women Who Make America.” The film features trailblazing women throughout history. I am not quoting Ann exactly, but her sentiment was something along the lines of “This is what my generation has done. Now what will yours do?”
I don’t have the answer to Ann’s question, but it resonates with me as this year’s political climate has sparked seasoned career professionals, wives, mothers, students, feminists and LGBTQ families who refuse to be classified; compelled by their collective commitment to what I believe keeps America true to the gender equity values we claim to uphold.
Women had to and will have to fight to be included in the “certain unalienable rights” upheld by the U.S. constitution. It encourages me that our system will work whenever motivated people unite for a common cause. That truth is demonstrated so vividly throughout American history, and Anthony’s birthday should be affirmation to American ideals. And after reading some of her quotes I’m inclined to think Anthony would not want this to be a celebration about her, but we should move forward for that very reason.
“Sooner or later we all discover that the important moments in life are not the advertised ones, not the birthdays, the graduations, the weddings, not the great goals achieved. The real milestones are less prepossessing. They come to the door of memory unannounced, stray dogs that amble in, sniff around a bit and simply never leave. Our lives are measured by these.” — Susan B. Anthony
The visionary died in 1906 before the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, which passed in 1919.
Let’s keeping asking congress to honor women and a true American hero.
Antionette Kerr is a writer and publisher, you may learn more at thewritefolks.net