Our national conversation on women’s rights, it could be argued, started with letters between Abigail Adams and her husband, future U.S. President John Adams, as the nation’s founding documents were being drafted.
“Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands,” Abigail wrote John in 1776. “Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”
The conversation has continued through the centuries since. The third annual Women’s March, held at Mitchell Park in San Luis Obispo on Jan. 19, was part of that debate.
Let’s rewind to about 120 years ago, when suffragette Susan B. Anthony was in San Luis Obispo to advocate for a women’s right to vote.
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Anthony, 76, was past the era’s average retirement age but she won over the crowd with her words on Oct. 12, 1896.
The Tribune reported the morning after the speech:
“Miss Anthony is well advanced in years, but gaining strength with the enthusiasm which inspires her in the cause, she soon had the audience cheering every good point, something of a frequent occurrence. If California did not vote favorably upon the amendment this year the fight would be waged again, and to settle the matter and have peace in the family the men might just as well vote “yes” this time.”
The crowd was so large that many could not even reach the door of Maennerchor Hall on Marsh Street. (The first part of the hall’s name translated to “men’s chorus,” often part of the German-American social clubs of the era.)
The newspaper wasn’t always so kind to Anthony. She was a national celebrity, a rare thing for a woman in that era who wasn’t royalty or focus of a notorious scandal.
The Tribune was 7 weeks old when it published this snarky paragraph on Sept. 27, 1869:
“Miss Susan Anthony says that she “speaks best when half asleep on her pillow.” The New York Leader thinks the knowledge of that fact will destroy her matrimonial chances forever.”
Anthony persisted, and responded with comments like this, published in The Tribune in July 2, 1870:
“Susan B. Anthony said, while there last week, that ‘Dayton (Ohio) was a very handsome little city, and could be made the most delightful place to live in the world, with an intelligent woman as Mayor.’”
Anthony died at age 86 in 1906, a decade after speaking in San Luis Obispo.
She missed the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, by about 14 years.
The language of the amendment, ratified on Aug. 18, 1920, is straightforward: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
Can you name three faces on U.S. currency who have visited San Luis Obispo County?
Susan B. Anthony ($1 coin): Gave a Oct. 12, 1896, speech at Maennerchor Hall on Marsh Street in San Luis Obispo.
William McKinley ($500 bill): Gave a May 10, 1901, speech at the Ramona Hotel in San Luis Obispo.
Franklin Roosevelt (dime): Took a secret war plant tour with a midnight rail stop in San Luis Obispo County on Sept. 22, 1942. The stop was officially announced Oct. 1, 1942.