Susan B. Anthony, “Is It a Crime for a Citizen to Vote,” Teaching-Learning Materials

Classroom Activities

  1. In your reading, what were the most remarkable claims, phrases, or images in Anthony’s speech? Be prepared to point to specific parts of the text and discuss your answer.
  2. Why, according to Anthony’s address, is it vital that all U.S. citizens have the right to vote? What would be the consequences of denying the legality of woman suffrage?
  3. In her address, “Is It a Crime for a U.S. Citizen to Vote?” Anthony asserted that she was not requesting the right to vote but that she exercised her right to vote. What is the difference between these positions, and why is it rhetorically important?
  4. What kinds of evidence did Anthony marshal to support her claims? Of the many forms of evidence utilized by Anthony, which would you say was most important to her case? Did you find one form of evidence to be particularly convincing–or unconvincing? Use examples from the text to explain your perspective.
  5. Where in the speech did Anthony appeal to pathos or emotion? Point to examples from the text and discuss the kinds of emotions these passages might have evoked in Anthony’s audiences. In what ways does emotion play a significant role in Anthony’s argument?
  6. How does Anthony’s persona affect her speech, or relate to the strength of her claims? Would this speech have been received differently if delivered by another speaker? Why or why not?
  7. The accompanying essay suggests that Anthony made a compelling case for social change by representing woman suffrage as a mechanism for conserving traditional political principles. In general, what might be the benefits and perils of arguing for a progressive agenda in terms of an existing, traditional political vocabulary?
  8. Many have argued that effectiveness is the most appropriate measurement for assessing the strength of rhetoric. In light of the fact that Susan B. Anthony’s legal arguments were technically unsuccessful–inasmuch as she was convicted of illegal voting–is it the case that her speech should be understood as rhetorically insignificant? Or can you identify reasons (other than effectiveness) why Anthony’s performance should be understood as a significant rhetorical moment?

Student Research

  1. Select and read a suffrage address from a period prior to or contemporaneous with Anthony’s speech. Compare its stylistic elements and argumentative claims with Anthony’s. What similarities exist between the two speeches? How are they different? Use your findings to consider potential advantages and disadvantages of each rhetorical approach. Preliminary Resource: Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, Man Cannot Speak For Her, vol. 2, Key Texts of the Early Feminists (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1989).
  2. Although Susan B. Anthony’s case is perhaps the best known, Virginia and Francis Minor were the first activists to argue for woman suffrage before the U.S. Supreme Court. Read the Minor v. Happersett Transcript of Record, paying particular attention to substantial similarities and differences between the Minors’ legal argument and Anthony’s. Then, describe the rhetorical advantages and challenges of making New Departure arguments as a plaintiff (as the Minors did) and asserting them as a defendant (as Anthony did). Are these significant? How do the Minors and Anthony mange their respective legal positions, as plaintiffs and as a defendant? Preliminary Resource: U.S. Supreme Court, Virginia L. Minor and Francis Minor, Her Husband, Plaintiffs in Error, vs. Reese Happersett, Transcript of Record, no. 182, filed August 16, 1873.
  3. Susan B. Anthony was not the only famous nineteenth-century American to invoke (and define) abstract, revered political principles in the name of social change. Abraham Lincoln, among others, made significant rhetorical use of this strategy. Read a speech by Lincoln that addresses the subject of slaver–and gives reasons for limiting or abolishing the practice–and consider his rhetorical use of founding texts and founding fathers. For instance, in his 1854 address at Peoria, Illinois, Lincoln adapts the meaning of founding texts such as the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution to align civic ideals (such as self-government) with his position on slavery. Compare the speech with Anthony’s landmark address. How does each text frame a reformist position in terms of traditional values, political principles, and democratic vocabulary? What are the rhetorical implications of these approaches? Preliminary Resource: Abraham Lincoln, “The Repeal of the Missouri Compromise and the Propriety of its Restoration: Speech at Peoria, Illinois, in Reply to Senator Douglas,” in Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings, ed. Roy P. Basler (1946; reprint, New York: Da Capo Press, 2001): 293-323.
  4. Anthony is among the most celebrated women who participated in the New Departure, but she is certainly not the only woman who attempted to vote and asserted legal arguments for her claim to the ballot. In fact, women throughout the United States attempted to register and to vote between the mid-1860s and early 1870s. Using Ann D. Gordon’s compilation of the names and locations of all the women who are known to have attempted voting, select and research one woman or a group of women who participated in the New Departure. What was her (or their) experience at the polls? Where was her experience recorded? Was it publicized? Do records exist of her argument/rationale for claiming the right to vote? What can you deduce about her rhetorical actions from available sources? Preliminary Resource: Ann D. Gordon, ed., The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, vol. 2, Against an Aristocracy of Sex, 1866 to 1873 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2000), 645–654. Note: A Web site related to Gordon’s work appeals for additions to the list of U.S. women who attempted to vote or voted prior to 1874. See Kimberly J. Banks and Ann Pfau, “Women Who Went to the Polls,” Stanton and Anthony Papers Project Online, http://ecssba.rutgers.edu/studies/wompolls.html, posted 12 July 2001.
  5. Beginning with Karlyn Kohrs Campbell in 1973, rhetoric scholars have attended to the role of “feminine style,” particularly in speeches by women’s rights advocates. Research the meaning of “feminine style,” paying close attention to the way Campbell develops the concept. Then, formulate a response to the following questions: Does Anthony’s rhetoric enact and/or challenge the feminine style in “Is It a Crime for a U.S. Citizen to Vote?” What are the most significant elements of Anthony’s “style” and why do they matter in this speech? Support your answer with examples from the text. Preliminary Resources: Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, “The Rhetoric of Women’s Liberation: An Oxymoron,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 59 (1973): 74-86. Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, “‘The Rhetoric of Women’s Liberation: An Oxymoron’ Revisited,” Communication Studies 50, no. 2 (Summer 1999): 138-142. Bonnie J. Dow and Mari Boor Tonn, “‘Feminine Style’ and Political Judgment in the Rhetoric of Ann Richards,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 79, no. 3 (Aug. 1993): 286-302. Sara Hayden, “Negotiating Femininity and Power in the Early Twentieth Century West: Domestic Ideology and Feminine Style in Jeannette Rankin’s Suffrage Rhetoric,” Communication Studies 50, no. 2 (Summer 1999): 83-102.
Citizenship Resources

One key to Anthony’s address, “Is it a Crime for a U.S. Citizen to Vote?” is the argument by definition in which she applies a particular, strategic meaning to the key term “citizenship.” In light of your careful reading and analysis of the speech, discuss the following questions with your classmates:

  1. What, precisely, in Anthony’s definition of citizenship? How was this particular definition important to her argument for woman suffrage?
  2. How do you think citizenship is generally understood or defined in our current culture? What does it “mean” to be a citizen, or to have citizenship?
  3. What are similarities and differences between the meaning of citizenship in Anthony’s speech or her cultural milieu, and the meaning of that term today? Do you believe that these meanings may influence our experience in any significant ways?
  4. Brainstorm and consider how the meaning of the term “citizenship” plays a role in current public issues or controversies. For instance, might the definition of the term “citizenship” be of significance in the debate over legal/illegal immigration to the United States? How do individuals on either side of this debate define citizenship, and what are the rhetorical or political implications of these meanings?