Stop me if you've heard this already: a famous female political activist -- so well known, newspaper headlines use only her first name -- expresses her frustration at the reluctance of the next generation to support her cause. "I really believe I shall explode if some of you young women don't wake up -- and raise your voice in protest," she says. "Do come into the living present & work to save us from any more barbaric male governments."
Hillary Clinton or one of her surrogates? Nope. That rant came from suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony in 1894, after nearly half a century of the struggle to get women the still elusive right to vote. Earlier that year, at her annual public birthday party on February 15, she predicted with stunning accuracy, "We shall some day be heeded, and when we shall have our amendment to the Constitution of the United States, everybody will think it was always so, just exactly as many young people believe that all the privileges, all the freedom, all the enjoyments which woman now possesses always were hers. They have no idea of how every single inch of ground that she stands upon today has been gained by the hard work of some little handful of women of the past."
Today, as we celebrate the 196th anniversary of Anthony's birth, her not-so-gentle prodding of the daughters and granddaughters of the founders provides a useful perspective on some of Secretary Clinton's problems with young female voters. Revolutions require constant maintenance, and the barricades will always need shoring up. To change the metaphor, yesterday's flood of reform will never be able to resist tomorrow's new wave.
The line of descent from pioneers like Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Clinton is not a straight shot, but the parallels are significant. Anthony's drive to improve women's lives through the franchise paved the way for Clinton's "women rights are human rights," and making both happen takes considerable talent. With predictable consequences. As as an unmarried woman at a time when being a wife was a girl's only acceptable aspiration, Anthony was regularly ridiculed for her looks, her guts, her speaking style. No one ever called her shrill, but slurs like "shrewish spinster" were common.
For Anthony, though, the cruelest cut of all was the hostility of other women to what she was doing for them. Astoundingly, the right to vote was early opposed -- vehemently -- not only by most men, but by most women, too. "It is the disheartening part of all my life work," she lamented to a friend, "that so very few women will work for the emancipation of their own half of the race!" She also scolded the converted, worrying that they never did enough -- as if anyone could have done half what she herself did. "You young people will have to pull the oar sometime," she told a 19th century millennial tasked with organizing a D.C. convention without her, "and this is a good time to begin." Ever the softie she added, "You are doing splendidly."
Towards the end of her life, Susan B. Anthony continued to reach out to her potential successors, knowing -- or perhaps hoping -- that they'd see the light. But even her hand-picked successor, the next-gen Carrie Chapman Catt, could not do it alone. Nipping at her heel was the even younger Alice Paul with her more theatrical tactics. It would take a combination of both, plus the unavoidable enlightenment of the modern era, to turn the tide.
Susan B. Anthony died in 1906 at the age of 86. The tributes to her remarkable life were full of gratitude, but women still did not have the right to vote. That finally came in 1920 with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution. It was called the Anthony Amendment. And it changed the future for for women of all ages.
Former ABC News correspondent Lynn Sherr wrote "Failure is Impossible: Susan B Anthony in Her Own Words." She is currently writing a play about Anthony.