Why women bring their "I Voted" stickers to Susan B. Anthony's grave
Susan B. Anthony died in 1906 at age 86. Her funeral overflowed with mourners. Thousands packed into the church service. Over 10,000 others showed up to pass by her flag-draped coffin and pay their respects. This despite a blizzard raging in Rochester, New York. Admirers of the suffrage icon now come to her grave with a different kind of tribute. They bring dozens of “I Voted” stickers.
Rochester women have been coming to Anthony’s grave with flowers and stickers since at least 2014. One of them was Sarah Jane McPike. She told The Huffington Post’s Caurie Putnam that the first year she voted, she brought flowers to Anthony’s grave. She isn’t the only one. Brianne Wojtesta wrote that the cemetery “has taken an official stance that they love this. It’s seen as a way of interacting with and honoring the legacy of one of their ‘permanent residents.’” This was in a Facebook post about the tribute that is now becoming a tradition.
And what a legacy. Anthony fought for equality for women for over 60 years. She laid the foundation for the legal right to vote that American women enjoy today. She encouraged women to agitate for the vote. And she herself illegally voted and served time for her defiance.
Anthony’s espousal of temperance and abolitionism was controversial enough. But it was her die-hard insistence on women’s right to the vote that won her mockery and outright abuse during her lifetime. She presented a petition that would have allowed women to own their own property and have custody of their children. She made the presentation to the New York State Senate Judiciary Committee in 1856 and was openly ridiculed with a response. It recommended the petitioners “apply for a law authorizing them to change dresses, so that the husband may wear petticoats, and the wife breeches, and thus indicate to their neighbors and the public the true relation in which they stand to each other.” Effigies of Anthony were given sneering mock funerals when she came to town. And she was often caricatured in the press as what one biographer called “an unattractive reject.”
But to Anthony, the right to vote was worth it all. “It was we, the people, not we, the white male citizens, nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed this Union.” she said in an 1873 speech. “And we formed it, not to give the blessings or liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people—women as well as men. And it is downright mockery to talk to women of their enjoyment of the blessings of liberty while they are denied the use of the only means of securing them provided by this democratic-republican government—the ballot.”
Anthony did help women in the United States win the vote, but it was not granted to them until 14 years after her death. Anthony had devoted her entire life to the cause. So this was a bitter pill to swallow. “To think I have had more than sixty years of hard struggle for a little liberty, and then to die without it seems so cruel,” she said to a friend while on her deathbed.
For the women she helped enfranchise, a little sticker holds a lot of symbolism. Perhaps the tribute is a 21st-century version of the outpouring of love and emotion at Anthony’s funeral—an acknowledgment that, in the words of Reverend Anna Howard Shaw, who delivered Anthony’s eulogy, “there is no death for such as she.”