Known to have a voice that could reach 3,000 people, Susan B. Anthony is coming back to Leavenworth.
The famed suffragist's voice itself might not be heard, but her famous words will return Friday as Jeanne Gehret presents a historical account in character of Anthony's last suffrage speech, called “Failure is Impossible,” first delivered in the 1880s and later to become a sort of rallying cry for the women's suffrage movement. The presentation and reception is scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at the Caroll Mansion, home of the Leavenworth County Historical Society that also currently has an Anthony family exhibit, with historical artifacts on display. The museum is located at 1128 Fifth Ave. in Leavenworth and tickets cost $25.
“Failure is Impossible” was delivered in 1880 against the backdrop of the first failed suffrage vote in the state. Anthony was 60 at the time, though Gehret said she would stay active until her death in 1906, with about 75 speaking engagements each year.
“She was out campaigning, even then, at age 86,” she said.
The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that extended the right to vote to women was not fully ratified until 1920, but Kansas this year will celebrate 100 years of women's suffrage, having voted in 1912 along with Oregon and Arizona to extend the vote and become one of the first eight states to approve such measures.
Gehret said Anthony's affection for the Sunflower state extended beyond its 1912 vote, however. Her brother, Daniel Read Anthony, was the longtime publisher of the Leavenworth Times and he, along with other members of her family, lived here. Carol Crossed, president of the Susan B. Anthony BIrthplace Museum in Adams, Mass., said Kansas was also at the bleeding edge of social movements at the time — in 1867 the state held the first referendum on a women's suffrage amendment, an effort that failed due in some part to a split in the Republican Party over support for women's suffrage and voting rights for blacks. In 1887, Kansans did give women the right to vote in municipal elections and the city of Argonia would elect the nation's first female mayor ; in 1892, Kansas allowed females to homestead and by proxy rights to property; and in 1894 the state conducted the second of three elections for suffrage.
“Kansas was a shining light for Susan in the later part of her life,” Gehret said, to the point where the suffragist movement had incorporated the sunflower as a symbol of their movement. “Kansas was the great hope.”
She would visit the state several times in her campaigns for suffrage. Susan would also visit her brother Daniel here in 1875 after he was shot by William Embry, editor of a rival newspaper. She, likely along with other members of the family, would hold fingers to his artery around the clock to ensure he would survive the attack. Gehret said she sees similarities between the two siblings.
“Both of them seemed to be fearless and both of them published newspapers,” she said. “And I can't help but wonder if Susan visited the Leavenworth Times and picker her brother's brain.”
After her death, the Anthony family would carry on her fight — D.R. Anthony II, a longtime representative in U.S. Congress, would be the one to introduce the 19th Amendment in the House. Mary Ann Brown of the Leavenworth County Historical Society said Susan is said to have even helped run the paper as her brother recovered. Though steeped in the history of Susan's day-to-day life in Rochester, N.Y., and Adams, Gehret and Crossed said it is only through traveling to places like Leavenworth and Kansas that they get the full picture of her life.
“There's just nothing like going somewhere to get the links,” Gehret said.