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The Story of a Pioneer
The passing of "Aunt Susan"


On one occasion Miss Anthony had the doubtful pleasure of reading her own obituary notices, and her interest in them was characteristically naive. She had made a speech at Lakeside, Ohio, during which, for the first time in her long experience, she fainted on the platform.  I was not with her at the time, and in the excitement following her collapse it was rumored that she had died.  Immediately the news was telegraphed to the Associated Press of New York, and from there flashed over the country.  At Miss Anthony's home in Rochester a reporter rang the bell and abruptly informed her sister, Miss Mary Anthony, who came to the door, that "Aunt Susan'' was dead.  Fortunately Miss Mary had a cool head.

"I think,'' she said, "that if my sister had died I would have heard about it.  Please have your editors telegraph to Lakeside.''

The reporter departed, but came back an hour later to say that his newspaper had sent the telegram and the reply was that Susan B. Anthony was dead.

"I have just received a better telegram than that,'' remarked Mary Anthony.  " Mine is from my sister; she tells me that she fainted to-night, but soon recovered and will be home to-morrow.'' Nevertheless, the next morning the American newspapers gave much space to Miss Anthony's obituary notices, and "Aunt Susan'' spent some interesting hours reading them.  One that pleased her vastly was printed in the Wichita Eagle, whose editor, Mr. Murdock, had been almost her bitterest opponent.  He had often exhausted his brilliant vocabulary in editorial denunciations of suffrage and suffragists, and Miss Anthony had been the special target of his scorn.  But the news of her death seemed to be a bitter blow to him; and of all the tributes the American press gave to Susan B. Anthony dead, few equaled in beauty and appreciation the one penned by Mr. Murdock and published in the Eagle. He must have been amused when, a few days later, he received a letter from "Aunt Susan'' herself, thanking him warmly for his changed opinion of her and hoping that it meant the conversion of his soul to our Cause. It did not, and Mr. Murdock, though never again quite as bitter as he had been, soon resumed the free editorial expression of his anti-suffrage sentiments.  Times have changed, however, and to-day his son, now a member of Congress, is one of our strongest supporters in that body.

In 1905 it became plain that Miss Anthony's health was failing.  Her visits to Germany and England the previous year, triumphant though they had been, had also proved a drain on her vitality; and soon after her return to America she entered upon a task which helped to exhaust her remaining strength.  She had been deeply interested in securing a fund of $50,000 to enable women to enter Rochester University, and, one morning, just after we had held a session of our executive committee in her Rochester home, she read a newspaper announcement to the effect that at four o'clock that afternoon the opportunity to admit women to the university would expire, as the full fifty thousand dollars had not been raised.  The sum of eight thousand dollars was still lacking.

With characteristic energy, Miss Anthony undertook to save the situation by raising this amount within the time limit.  Rushing to the telephone, she called a cab and prepared to go forth on her difficult quest; but first, while she was putting on her hat and coat, she insisted that her sister, Mary Anthony, should start the fund by contributing one thousand dollars from her meager savings, and this Miss Mary did.  "Aunt Susan'' made every second count that day, and by half after three o'clock she had secured the necessary pledges.  Several of the trustees of the university, however, had not seemed especially anxious to have the fund raised, and at the last moment they objected to one pledge for a thousand dollars, on the ground that the man who had given it was very old and might die before the time set to pay it; then his family, they feared, might repudiate the obligation.  Without a word Miss Anthony seized the pledge and wrote her name across it as an indorsement.  "I am good for it,'' she then said, quietly, "if the gentleman who signed it is not.''

That afternoon she returned home greatly fatigued.  A few hours later the girl students who had been waiting admission to the university came to serenade her in recognition of her successful work for them, but she was too ill to see them.  She was passing through the first stage of what proved to be her final breakdown.

In 1906, when the date of the annual convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in Baltimore was drawing near, she became convinced that it would be her last convention.  She was right. She showed a passionate eagerness to make it one of the greatest conventions ever held in the history of the movement; and we, who loved her and saw that the flame of her life was burning low, also bent all our energies to the task of realizing her hopes.

In November preceding the convention she visited me and her niece, Miss Lucy Anthony, in our home in Mount Airy, Philadelphia, and it was clear that her anxiety over the convention was weighing heavily upon her.  She visibly lost strength from day to day.  One morning she said abruptly, "Anna, let's go and call on President M. Carey Thomas, of Bryn Mawr.''

I wrote a note to Miss Thomas, telling her of Miss Anthony's desire to see her, and received an immediate reply inviting us to luncheon the following day.  We found Miss Thomas deep in the work connected with her new college buildings, over which she showed us with much pride.  Miss Anthony, of course, gloried in the splendid results Miss Thomas had achieved, but she was, for her, strangely silent and preoccupied.  At luncheon she said:

"Miss Thomas, your buildings are beautiful; your new library is a marvel; but they are not the cause of our presence here.''

"No,'' Miss Thomas said; "I know you have something on your mind.  I am waiting for you to tell me what it is.''

"We want your co-operation, and that of Miss Garrett,'' began Miss Anthony, promptly, "to make our Baltimore Convention a success.  We want you to persuade the Arundel Club of Baltimore, the most fashionable club in the city, to give a reception to the delegates; and we want you to arrange a college night on the programme--a great college night, with the best college speakers ever brought together.''

These were large commissions for two extremely busy women, but both Miss Thomas and Miss Garrett--realizing Miss Anthony's intense earnestness--promised to think over the suggestions and see what they could do.  The next morning we received a telegram from them stating that Miss Thomas would arrange the college evening, and that Miss Garrett would reopen her Baltimore home, which she had closed, during the convention.  She also invited Miss Anthony and me to be her guests there, and added that she would try to arrange the reception by the Arundel Club.

"Aunt Susan'' was overjoyed.  I have never seen her happier than she was over the receipt of that telegram.  She knew that whatever Miss Thomas and Miss Garrett undertook would be accomplished, and she rightly regarded the success of the convention as already assured.  Her expectations were more than realized.  The college evening was undoubtedly the most brilliant occasion of its kind ever arranged for a convention.  President Ira Remsen of Johns Hopkins University presided, and addresses were made by President Mary E. Woolley of Mount Holyoke, Professor Lucy Salmon of Vassar, Professor Mary Jordan of Smith, President Thomas herself, and many others.

From beginning to end the convention was probably the most notable yet held in our history. Julia Ward Howe and her daughter, Florence Howe Hall, were also guests of Miss Garrett, who, moreover, entertained all the speakers of "College Night.''

Miss Anthony, now eighty-six, arrived in Baltimore quite ill, and Mrs. Howe, who was ninety, was taken ill soon after she reached there.  The two great women made a dramatic exchange on the programme, for on the first night, when Miss Anthony was unable to speak, Mrs. Howe took her place, and on the second night, when Mrs. Howe had succumbed, Miss Anthony had recovered sufficiently to appear for her.  Clara Barton was also an honored figure at the convention, and Miss Anthony's joy in the presence of all these old and dear friends was overflowing.  With them, too, were the younger women, ready to take up and carry on the work the old leaders were laying down; and "Aunt Susan,'' as she surveyed them all, felt like a general whose superb army is passing in review before him.

At the close of the college programme, when the final address had been made by Miss Thomas, Miss Anthony rose and in a few words expressed her feeling that her life-work was done, and her consciousness of the near approach of the end.  After that night she was unable to appear, and was indeed so ill that she was confined to her bed in Miss Garrett's most hospitable home.  Nothing could have been more thoughtful or more beautiful than the care Miss Garrett and Miss Thomas bestowed on her. They engaged for her one of the best physicians in Baltimore, who, in turn, consulted with the leading specialists of Johns Hopkins, and they also secured a trained nurse.  This final attention required special tact, for Miss Anthony's fear of "giving trouble'' was so great that she was not willing to have a nurse.  The nurse, therefore, wore a housemaid's uniform, and "Aunt Susan'' remained wholly unconscious that she was being cared for by one of the best nurses in the famous hospital.

Between sessions of the convention I used to sit by "Aunt Susan's'' bed and tell her what was going on.  She was triumphant over the immense success of the convention, but it was clear that she was still worrying over the details of future work.  One day at luncheon Miss Thomas asked me, casually:

"By the way, how do you raise the money to carry on your work?''

When I told her the work was wholly dependent on voluntary contributions and on the services of those who were willing to give themselves gratuitously to it, Miss Thomas was greatly surprised. She and Miss Garrett asked a number of practical questions, and at the end of our talk they looked at each other.

"I don't think,'' said Miss Thomas, "that we have quite done our duty in this matter.''

The next day they invited a number of us to dinner, to again discuss the situation; and they admitted that they had sat up throughout the previous night, talking the matter over and trying to find some way to help us.  They had also discussed the situation with Miss Anthony, to her vast content, and had finally decided that they would try to raise a fund of $60,000, to be paid in yearly instalments of $12,000 for five years--part of these annual instalments to be used as salaries for the active officers.

The mere mention of so large a fund startled us all.  We feared that it could not possibly be raised. But Miss Anthony plainly believed that now the last great wish of her life had been granted.  She was convinced that Miss Thomas and Miss Garrett could accomplish anything--even the miracle of raising $60,000 for the suffrage cause--and they did, though "Aunt Susan'' was not here to glory over the result when they had achieved it.

On the 15th of February we left Baltimore for Washington, where Miss Anthony was to celebrate her eighty-sixth birthday.  For many years the National American Woman Suffrage Association had celebrated our birthdays together, as hers came on the 15th of the month and mine on the 14th.  There had been an especially festive banquet when she was seventy-four and I was forty-seven, and our friends had decorated the table with floral "4's'' and "7's''--the centerpiece representing "74'' during the first half of the banquet, and "47'' the latter half.  This time "Aunt Susan'' should not have attempted the Washington celebration, for she was still ill and exhausted by the strain of the convention.  But notwithstanding her sufferings and the warnings of her physicians, she insisted on being present; so Miss Garrett sent the trained nurse to Washington with her, and we all tried to make the journey the least possible strain on the patient's vitality.

On our arrival in Washington we went to the Shoreham, where, as always, the proprietor took pains to give Miss Anthony a room with a view of the Washington monument, which she greatly admired. When I entered her room a little later I found her standing at a window, holding herself up with hands braced against the casement on either side, and so absorbed in the view that she did not hear my approach. When I spoke to her she answered without turning her head.

"That,'' she said, softly, "is the most beautiful monument in the world.''

I stood by her side, and together we looked at it in silence I realizing with a sick heart that "Aunt Susan'' knew she was seeing it for the last time. The birthday celebration that followed our executive meeting was an impressive one.  It was held in the Church of Our Father, whose pastor, the Rev. John Van Schaick, had always been exceedingly kind to Miss Anthony.  Many prominent men spoke. President Roosevelt and other statesmen sent most friendly letters, and William H. Taft had promised to be present.  He did not come, nor did he, then or later, send any excuse for not coming--an omission that greatly disappointed Miss Anthony, who had always admired him.  I presided at the meeting, and though we all did our best to make it gay, a strange hush hung over the assemblage a solemn stillness, such as one feels in the presence of death. We became more and more conscious that Miss Anthony was suffering, and we hastened the exercises all we could.  When I read President Roosevelt's long tribute to her, Miss Anthony rose to comment on it.

"One word from President Roosevelt in his message to Congress,'' she said, a little wearily, "would be worth a thousand eulogies of Susan B. Anthony. When will men learn that what we ask is not praise, but justice?''

At the close of the meeting, realizing how weak she was, I begged her to let me speak for her.  But she again rose, rested her hand on my shoulder, and, standing by my side, uttered the last words she ever spoke in public, pleading with women to consecrate themselves to the Cause, assuring them that no power could prevent its ultimate success, but reminding them also that the time of its coming would depend wholly on their work and their loyalty.

She ended with three words--very fitting words from her lips, expressing as they did the spirit of her life-work--"FAILURE IS IMPOSSIBLE.''

The next morning she was taken to her home in Rochester, and one month from that day we conducted her funeral services.  The nurse who had accompanied her from Baltimore remained with her until two others had been secured to take her place, and every care that love or medical science could suggest was lavished on the patient.  But from the first it was plain that, as she herself had foretold, "Aunt Susan's'' soul was merely waiting for the hour of its passing.

One of her characteristic traits was a dislike to being seen, even by those nearest to her, when she was not well.  During the first three weeks of her last illness, therefore, I did what she wished me to do -- I continued our work, trying to do hers as well as my own.  But all the time my heart was in her sick-room, and at last the day came when I could no longer remain away from her.  I had awakened in the morning with a strong conviction that she needed me, and at the breakfast-table I announced to her niece, Miss Lucy Anthony, the friend who for years has shared my home, that I was going at once to "Aunt Susan.''

"I shall not even wait to telegraph,'' I declared.

"I am sure she has sent for me; I shall take the first train.''

The journey brought me very close to death.  As we were approaching Wilkes-Barre our train ran into a wagon loaded with powder and dynamite, which had been left on the track.  The horses attached to it had been unhitched by their driver, who had spent his time in this effort, when he saw the train coming, instead of in signaling to the engineer.  I was on my way to the dining-car when the collision occurred. and, with every one else who happened to be standing, I was hurled to the floor by the impact; flash after flash of blinding light outside, accompanied by a terrific roar, added to the panic of the passengers. When the train stopped we learned how narrow had been our escape from an especially unpleasant form of death.  The dynamite in the wagon was frozen, and therefore had not exploded; it was the explosion of the powder that had caused the flashes and the din.  The dark-green cars were burned almost white, and as we stood staring at them, a silent, stunned group, our conductor said, quietly,

"You will never be as near death again, and escape, as you have been to-day.''

The accident caused a long delay, and it was ten o'clock at night when I reached Rochester and Miss Anthony's home.  As I entered the house Miss Mary Anthony rose in surprise to greet me. "How did you get here so soon?'' she cried. And then:  "We sent for you this afternoon.  Susan has been asking for you all day.''

When I reached my friend's bedside one glance at her face showed me the end was near; and from that time until it came, almost a week later, I remained with her; while again, as always, she talked of the Cause, and of the life-work she must now lay down.  The first thing she spoke of was her will, which she had made several years before, and in which she had left the small property she possessed to her sister Mary, her niece Lucy, and myself, with instructions as to the use we three were to make of it.  Now she told me we were to pay no attention to these instructions, but to give every dollar of her money to the $60,000 fund Miss Thomas and Miss Garrett were trying to raise.  She was vitally interested in this fund, as its success meant that for five years the active officers of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, including myself as president, would for the first time receive salaries for our work.  When she had given her instructions on this point she still seemed depressed. "I wish I could live on,'' she said, wistfully.

"But I cannot.  My spirit is eager and my heart is as young as it ever was, but my poor old body is worn out.  Before I go I want you to give me a promise:  Promise me that you will keep the presidency of the association as long as you are well enough to do the work.''

"But how can I promise that?'' I asked.  "I can keep it only as long as others wish me to keep it.''

"Promise to make them wish you to keep it,'' she urged.  "Just as I wish you to keep it.'' I would have promised her anything then.  So, though I knew that to hold the presidency would tie me to a position that brought in no living income, and though for several years past I had already drawn alarmingly upon my small financial reserve, I promised her that I would hold the office as long as the majority of the women in the association wished me to do so.  "But,'' I added, "if the time comes when I believe that some one else can do better work in the presidency than I, then let me feel at liberty to resign it.''

This did not satisfy her.

"No, no,'' she objected.  "You cannot be the judge of that.  Promise me you will remain until the friends you most trust tell you it is time to withdraw, or make you understand that it is time. Promise me that.''

I made the promise.  She seemed content, and again began to talk of the future. "You will not have an easy path,'' she warned me.  "In some ways it will be harder for you than it has ever been for me.  I was so much older than the rest of you, and I had been president so long, that you girls have all been willing to listen to me.  It will be different with you.  Other women of your own age have been in the work almost as long as you have been; you do not stand out from them by age or length of service, as I did.  There will be inevitable jealousies and misunderstandings; there will be all sorts of criticism and misrepresentation.  My last word to you is this:  No matter what is done or is not done, how you are criticized or misunderstood, or what efforts are made to block your path, remember that the only fear you need have is the fear of not standing by the thing you believe to be right.  Take your stand and hold it; then let come what will, and receive blows like a good soldier.''

I was too much overcome to answer her; and after a moment of silence she, in her turn, made me a promise.

"I do not know anything about what comes to us after this life ends,'' she said.  "But if there is a continuance of life beyond it, and if I have any conscious knowledge of this world and of what you are doing, I shall not be far away from you; and in times of need I will help you all I can.  Who knows? Perhaps I may be able to do more for the Cause after I am gone than while I am here.''

Nine years have passed since then, and in each day of them all it seems to me, in looking back, I have had some occasion to recall her words.  When they were uttered I did not fully comprehend all they meant, or the clearness of the vision that had suggested them.  It seemed to me that no position I could hold would be of sufficient importance to attract jealousy or personal attacks.  The years have brought more wisdom; I have learned that any one who assumes leadership, or who, like myself, has had leadership forced upon her, must expect to bear many things of which the world knows nothing. But with this knowledge, too, has come the memory of "Aunt Susan's'' last promise, and again and yet again in hours of discouragement and despair I have been helped by the blessed conviction that she was keeping it.

During the last forty-eight hours of her life she was unwilling that I should leave her side.  So day and night I knelt by her bed, holding her hand and watching the flame of her wonderful spirit grow dim. At times, even then, it blazed up with startling suddenness.  On the last afternoon of her life, when she had lain quiet for hours, she suddenly began to utter the names of the women who had worked with her, as if in a final roll-call.  Many of them had preceded her into the next world; others were still splendidly active in the work she was laying down.  But young or old, living or dead, they all seemed to file past her dying eyes that day in an endless, shadowy review, and as they went by she spoke to each of them. Not all the names she mentioned were known in suffrage ranks; some of these women lived only in the heart of Susan B. Anthony, and now, for the last time, she was thanking them for what they had done.  Here was one who, at a moment of special need, had given her small savings; here was another who had won valuable recruits to the Cause; this one had written a strong editorial; that one had made a stirring speech.  In these final hours it seemed that not a single sacrifice or service, however small, had been forgotten by the dying leader.  Last of all, she spoke to the women who had been on her board and had stood by her loyally so long--Rachel Foster Avery, Alice Stone Blackwell, Carrie Chapman Catt, Mrs. Upton, Laura Clay, and others. Then, after lying in silence for a long time with her cheek on my hand, she murmured:  "They are still passing before me--face after face, hundreds and hundreds of them, representing all the efforts of fifty years.  I know how hard they have worked I know the sacrifices they have made.  But it has all been worth while!''

Just before she lapsed into unconsciousness she seemed restless and anxious to say something, searching my face with her dimming eyes.

"Do you want me to repeat my promise?'' I asked, for she had already made me do so several times. She made a sign of assent, and I gave her the assurance she desired.  As I did so she raised my hand to her lips and kissed it--her last conscious action.  For more than thirty hours after that I knelt by her side, but though she clung to my hand until her own hand grew cold, she did not speak again.

She had told me over and over how much our long friendship and association had meant to her, and the comfort I had given her.  But whatever I may have been to her, it was as nothing compared with what she was to me.  Kneeling close to her as she passed away, I knew that I would have given her a dozen lives had I had them, and endured a thousand times more hardship than we had borne together, for the inspiration of her companionship and the joy of her affection.  They were the greatest blessings I have had in all my life, and I cherish as my dearest treasure the volume of her History of Woman Suffrage on the fly-leaf of which she had written this inscription:

REVEREND ANNA HOWARD SHAW:

This huge volume IV I present to you with the love that a mother beareth, and I hope you will find in it the facts about women, for you will find them nowhere else.  Your part will be to see that the four volumes are duly placed in the libraries of the country, where every student of history may have access to them.

           With unbounded love and faith,

                                   SUSAN B. ANTHONY.

That final line is still my greatest comfort.  When I am misrepresented or misunderstood, when I am accused of personal ambition or of working for personal ends, I turn to it and to similar lines penned by the same hand, and tell myself that I should not allow anything to interfere with the serenity of my spirit or to disturb me in my work.  At the end of eighteen years of the most intimate companionship, the leader of our Cause, the greatest woman I have ever known, still felt for me "unbounded love and faith.''  Having had that, I have had enough.

For two days after "Aunt Susan's'' death she lay in her own home, as if in restful slumber, her face wearing its most exquisite look of peaceful serenity; and here her special friends, the poor and the unfortunate of the city, came by hundreds to pay their last respects.  On the third day there was a public funeral, held in the Congregational church, and, though a wild blizzard was raging, every one in Rochester seemed included in the great throng of mourners who came to her bier in reverence and left it in tears.  The church services were conducted by the pastor, the Rev. C. C. Albertson, a lifelong friend of Miss Anthony's, assisted by the Rev. William C. Gannett.  James G. Potter, the Mayor of the city, and Dr. Rush Rhees, president of Rochester University, occupied prominent places among the distinguished mourners, and Mrs. Jerome Jeffries, the head of a colored school, spoke in behalf of the negro race and its recognition of Miss Anthony's services.  College clubs, medical societies, and reform groups were represented by delegates sent from different states, and Miss Anna Gordon had come on from Illinois to represent the Woman's National Christian Temperance Union.  Mrs. Catt delivered a eulogy in which she expressed the love and recognition of the organized suffrage women of the world for Miss Anthony, as the one to whom they had all looked as their leader.  William Lloyd Garrison spoke of Miss Anthony's work with his father and other anti-slavery leaders, and Mrs. Jean Brooks Greenleaf spoke in behalf of the New York State Suffrage Association.  Then, as "Aunt Susan'' had requested, I made the closing address.  She had asked me to do this and to pronounce the benediction, as well as to say the final words at her grave.

It was estimated that more than ten thousand persons were assembled in and around the church, and after the benediction those who had been patiently waiting out in the storm were permitted to pass inside in single file for a last look at their friend.  They found the coffin covered by a large American flag, on which lay a wreath of laurel and palms; around it stood a guard of honor composed of girl students of Rochester University in their college caps and gowns.  All day students had mounted guard, relieving one another at intervals. On every side there were flowers and floral emblems sent by various organizations, and just over "Aunt Susan's'' head floated the silk flag given to her by the women of Colorado.  It contained four gold stars, representing the four enfranchised states, while the other stars were in silver.  On her breast was pinned the jeweled flag given to her on her eightieth birthday by the women of Wyoming--the first place in the world where in the constitution of the state women were given equal political rights with men.  Here the four stars representing the enfranchised states were made of diamonds, the others of silver enamel.  Just before the lid was fastened on the coffin this flag was removed and handed to Mary Anthony, who presented it to me.

From that day I have worn it on every occasion of importance to our Cause, and each time a state is won for woman suffrage I have added a new diamond star.  At the time I write this--in 1914--there are twelve. As the funeral procession went through the streets of Rochester it was seen that all the city flags were at half-mast, by order of the City Council.  Many houses were draped in black, and the grief of the citizens manifested itself on every side.  All the way to Mount Hope Cemetery the snow whirled blindingly around us, while the masses that had fallen covered the earth as far as we could see a fitting winding-sheet for the one who had gone.  Under the fir-trees around her open grave I obeyed "Aunt Susan's'' wish that I should utter the last words spoken over her body as she was laid to rest:

"Dear friend,'' I said, "thou hast tarried with us long.  Now thou hast gone to thy well-earned rest. We beseech the Infinite Spirit Who has upheld thee to make us worthy to follow in thy steps and to carry on thy work.  Hail and farewell.''


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