You have probably heard of Susan B. Anthony. Ardent abolitionist, temperance worker, women’s rights advocate, education crusader, labor activist, suffragist, public speaker, writer, leader—she was an amazing woman who dedicated her life to justice, equality, and social change. While it is understandable that we celebrate her legacy, Susan was not the only member of her family who deserves recognition. Her younger sister, Mary Stafford Anthony, is also worthy of our admiration and respect.
Overshadowed in both life and death by her famous older sibling, Mary S. Anthony was an impressive woman in her own right. Born on April 2, 1827, in Battenville, NY, Mary moved to Rochester with her family when she was eighteen. Well-educated, she eventually became a teacher. She taught in the city’s public schools for 27 years, retiring from her position as principal of School No. 2 in 1883. In testament to her intellect, a friend noted that Mary was “an excellent mathematician, a natural philosopher and…history was also one of her specialties” (“Death Comes to Mary S. Anthony.” Democrat & Chronicle, February 6, 1907. In Peck scrapbook v. 2:61½, Rochester Public Library Local History Division.).
Close with her sister, Mary shared Susan’s devotion to social justice. In fact, she was the first of the two to enlist in the crusade for sexual equality, attending the second women’s rights convention held in Rochester in August 1848, two weeks after the historic first meeting in Seneca Falls. Mary, unlike Susan, actually signed the Declaration of Sentiments. In November 1872, both Mary and Susan, along with their two other sisters and 10 other Rochester women, challenged state law by registering and voting in the presidential election. Six years later, Mary represented Monroe County at the Rochester convention of the National Woman Suffrage Association. In 1885, she organized and hosted the first meeting of the local Women’s Political Club (later renamed the Political Equality Club); she served as its president from 1892 to 1903. She became corresponding secretary for the New York State Woman Suffrage Association in 1893 and helped run a suffrage campaign headquarters out of the family home at 17 Madison Street.
Mary Anthony was the family breadwinner, caregiver, and household manager. It was she who held down the fort, enabling Susan to devote her time and energy to the cause. Both morally and financially supportive of her sister’s work, Mary helped to fund Susan’s journal, The Revolution, and contributed significantly to Susan’s drive to sexually integrate the University of Rochester in 1900. Mary traveled with Susan to Europe in 1899 and again in 1904 to attend meetings of the International Council of Women. Both sisters were in Berlin when the International Woman Suffrage Alliance was formed; Susan became its first member, Mary its second.
The last trip Mary and Susan Anthony took together was to attend the National American Woman Suffrage Association convention in Baltimore in 1906. A little over a month later, Susan died in their home with Mary at her side. Less than a year after that, on February 7, 1907, Mary, too, passed away in her home, two months shy of her 80th birthday. Sadly, neither sister lived to see their shared dream of woman suffrage come to fruition with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. While Susan’s contribution to this effort has been appropriately noted, Mary’s remains largely and undeservedly obscured.
The Anthony sisters are buried beside each other in Rochester’s historic Mount Hope Cemetery. Should you happen to be in the neighborhood, consider paying your respects to them both.