There are a number of individuals who have richly contributed to the values and morals that have come to be synonymous with American values. The College Hall of Fame for Great Americans, located at the Bronx Community College in New York, showcases many of the individuals who have changed the course of American history through their bravery and skill. This exhibit is the original “Hall of Fame” in the U.S., and includes information on great Americans like Alexander Graham Bell, Robert E. Lee, Horace Mann, and even George Washington. Susan B. Anthony, a woman who was and is well known for her work concerning women’s equality, is considered by one of the most influential figures in U.S. history. However, does Anthony deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, according to American values, and the role of women in the 19th century, when she actively made her mark on the country?
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First, let’s explore what American values are. Values are the set of morals and ideals that a culture lives by, and the United States certain has both a spoken and unspoken code of conduct for its citizens. One of the values that this country was built on was equality—the notion that all human beings are created equal. Americans also hold the people, in general, that anything is possible, and that citizens should work hard to pursue their dreams—whether those dreams include owning a home, raising a family, or becoming a business owner, which are all part of the American Dream. Most Americans believe in individualism as well, which entails religious, educational and sexual freedom. The mindset of treating everyone equally, even if their beliefs and moral system is different from your own, is part of what sets America apart from other countries where this mindset is not the norm.
However, how many of these American values are truly practiced? After all, women were not allowed to vote until August of 1920, 14 years after Susan B. Anthony had passed away. She was not able to see all the fruits of her labor, as much of her work had been devoted to equal rights for women. Which begs the question: why did Anthony have to work so hard for women’s equality in the U.S., when the country had supposedly upheld the principle of equality since its inception? This suggests that even if the powers that be in America during the 19th century did not generally promote the concept of equality for all American people, but rather, for all American men. During this time, women were expected to be homemakers, or to work in the homes of wealthier women when their husbands or fathers did not have the financial means to care for the family in their own. Women in the 19th century also suffered significantly health-wise, as there was little aid for women bearing children who were not well-to-do. The stress of keeping an immaculate home was also further indication of the inequality that was commonplace in the 19th century:
" A really good housekeeper is almost always unhappy. While she does so much for the comfort of others, she nearly ruins her own health and life. It is because she cannot be easy and comfortable when there is the least disorder or dirt to be seen." (The Household, January 1884).
Susan B. Anthony could easily serve as a suitable example of American values, since her work ethic and belief in equal treatment for men and women were well known. By the age of 16, she was already taking small jobs and teaching. She attended Deborah Moulson’s Female Seminary, a Quaker school dedicated to the education of women, at a time when higher education for women was not widely encouraged. Although Anthony was not happy at the school, she didn’t have to remain at the institution long, because her family was affected by the financial panic of 1837, and she had to quit school to work.
Life experience and a passion for certain issues led Susan B. Anthony to campaign for a number of causes, despite the fact that she faced gender discrimination. For instance, she joined the Daughters of Temperance in 1838; but a year later, she was forbidden to speak at an Albany, NY temperance rally—because she was not a man. This prompted her to start the Woman’s New York State Temperance Society. In the years to come, Anthony developed a keen interest in women’s rights.
In 1869, Anthony, along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, formed the Women’s Suffrage Association. Together, these women worked to promote women’s rights, including the right for women to vote, for more than half a century. She also founded the International Council of Women and the International Women Suffrage Council, in 1888 and 1904 respectively, so that the issue of women’s suffrage would become an international issue. This brought attention to the fact that although women were not treated as equals in the U.S., conditions for women were even more harsh in other parts of the world, and Anthony sought to make women—and men—around the world aware of the need for gender equality.
Anthony’s efforts also helped to bring attention to the fact that women in America of different races endured customized degrees of inequality. Activist and author Angela Davis states in her book Women, Race and Class:
In the United States, women of colour – and especially Black women – have been receiving wages for housework for untold decades. In 1910, when over half of all Black females were working outside their homes, one-third of them were employed as paid domestic workers. By 1920 over one-half were domestic servants, and in 1930 the proportion had risen to three out of five.One of the consequences of the enormous female employment shifts during World War II was a much-welcomed decline in the number of Black domestic workers. Yet in 1960 one-third of all Black women holding jobs were still confined to their traditional occupations.It was not until clerical jobs became more accessible to Black women that the proportion of Black women domestics headed in a definitely downward direction. Today the figure hovers around 13 percent. (Davis 1981).
This indication proves that the work that Anthony started has continued for decades after her death, and that women have been inspired by her work and have sought to improve the feminine condition in America. While some may view this as a current and ongoing pursuit, Susan B. Anthony could be considered a trailblazer in matters of women’s equality. Many members of the College Hall of Fame for Great Americans fit this qualification. So, including Anthony in the ranks of those who have changed the course of American history in one way or another could be considered feasible.
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