I thought for weeks about how to get my students to learn about women's history, especially the suffrage movement. All research projects we've done have been severely hampered by student laziness or plagiarism, and I was tired of that crap. I gathered some information, articles, timelines from various sources online, but still wasn't sure how exactly to bring it to my classroom. I was frustrated and running out of time.
One afternoon I was reading a Scholastic article about Susan B Anthony's 1872 criminal trial for voting in a national election. It included a lot of actual quotes and suddenly it hit me. I took that article and some other information and created a play!
Here is a slightly longer version of what my students read; I added a couple paragraphs at the end. But the students were definitely into it and I was really excited!
As a preface, the day before this, I had read several excerpts to the students, about life and expectations in the 1700s and 1800s. So before we read this play, I asked them if they thought women liked being told that they were weak and stupid. Of course not! There were plenty of women who fought back against those ideas.
Here you go, I hope you enjoy and can maybe even use it with your own students sometime!
Susan and Elizabeth: Tireless Activists. (A Play, adapted from Scholastic.)
Narrator 1: In the 1840s, five women, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, decided they’d had enough discrimination because of their gender. They were tired of not having the same rights, respect and privileges as men.
Narrator 2: They held a Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls in 1848, to protest women’s inequality and to propose suffrage for women, which means the right and privilege to vote. The convention participants—300 men and women, including abolitionist Frederick Douglass—discussed and signed the Declaration of Sentiments.
Narrator 3: Elizabeth had written this document, modeled after the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal… The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her."
Narrator 4: “He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise. He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice. He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men - both natives and foreigners.”
Narrator 5: “He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead. He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns. He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education - all colleges being closed against her.”
Narrator 6: Born a Quaker in 1820, Susan B Anthony was raised to believe that girls and women were equally important to boys and men. She was an active abolitionist, which means that she wanted slavery to be abolished or ended.
Narrator 7: Susan met Elizabeth in the 1850s, and they began working together to gather support in the fight for equality. They formed a friendship and partnership, writing and giving speeches, forming groups and overseeing campaigns, and writing books.
Narrator 8: In 1869, the Wyoming Territory gave women full suffrage. Soon, other states around the country were discussing and voting about woman suffrage on the state level. Most failed.
Narrator 8: In 1872, Susan led a group of women in registering and voting in the national presidential election.
Susan: Ladies of National Woman Suffrage Association, we have been fighting for many years to win the right to vote. Black men won suffrage after the civil war, but women were left out. We must fight back and continue the struggle for equality! We need to prove that women deserve to vote. Aren’t we citizens just as men? The states can’t deny citizens their rights or privileges, so let’s go test the waters and make them see that women deserve equality and suffrage!
Police officer: Ladies, you are violating the law by voting. I must arrest all of you.
Narrator 1: Susan was put on trial a few months later.
District Attorney: Miss Anthony has violated the 14th Amendment. At the time of voting, she was a woman.
Selden (Susan’s lawyer): Your honor, gentlemen in the jury, the defense wishes to admit that Miss Susan B Anthony is indeed a woman.
DA: Your honor, Miss Anthony has violated the 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868. It states that states may not deny any male 21 and over the right to vote. Since she’s a woman, she broke the law.
Seldon: Your honor, this trial is ridiculous. If the voting had been done by her brother, it would have been honorable. But having been done by a woman, it is said to be a crime. I believe this is the first instance in which a woman has been accused in a criminal court merely because of her gender. Now I would like to call Miss Anthony to the stand to testify in her own defense.
Judge: No, I will not allow it!
Shock and upset from Susan, Seldon, and crowd.
Judge: The 14th Amendment gives no right to a woman to vote, and the voting of Miss Anthony was in violation of the law. Jury, you must find a verdict of guilty.
Seldon: Your honor, I must object. In a criminal court, the jury must independently decide the innocence or guilt of the defendant.
Judge: Mr Clerk, record a verdict of guilty!
Jeers and cries out from crowd. “What?!” “No fair!” “Unfair trial!”
Judge: I will now read Miss Anthony’s sentence for committing this crime. Has the prisoner anything to say why sentence should not be pronounced?
Susan, standing; loudly: Yes, your honor. I have many things to say. In your ordered verdict of guilty, you have trampled underfoot every vital principle of our government. My natural rights, my civil rights, my political rights, my judicial rights are all alike ignored!
Judge: The court orders the prisoner to sit down! It will not allow another word! The sentence of the court is that you pay a fine of $100 and the costs of prosecution.
Susan: May it please your honor, I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty! And I shall earnestly and persistently continue to urge all women that resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.
Narrator 9: After this unfair trial, more Americans began to respect Susan and the other suffragettes. Susan and Elizabeth continued writing, touring, and speaking about equality and women’s suffrage. They presented Congress with a Woman Suffrage Amendment, but the legislators rudely interrupted and laughed.
Narrator 10: Elizabeth helped women win rights to own property and divorce abusive husbands. She drafted and submitted a constitutional amendment for woman suffrage in 1878. She died in 1902 after a long and successful career.
Narrator 11: In 1906, after more than six decades of tireless work, Susan gave her last speech.
Susan: I am here for a little time only, and then my place will be filled. The fight must not cease! You must see that it does not stop! Failure is impossible.
Narrator 12: Susan B Anthony died two days later. The fight did not stop with her death, however. Alice Paul helped form the National Woman’s Party in 1913. She organized parades and picketing of the White House. Her militant tactics got the suffragettes arrested and thrown in jail, where the women went on hunger strikes.
Narrator 13: Fourteen states gave women the right to vote between 1896 and 1918. New Zealand was the first nation to grant suffrage, in 1893. By 1918, women in Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Germany, Russia, Austria and Poland could vote.
Narrator 14: In 1919, the US Congress finally passed the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. In 1920, the bill was ratified. Susan and Elizabeth’s dream had finally came true, seventy-two years after the first public proposal of woman suffrage.
Carrie Chapman Catt: To get the word ‘male’ out of the Constitution cost the women of the country fifty-two years of pauseless campaign,... During that time they were forced to conduct fifty-six campaigns of referenda to male voters; 480 campaigns to get Legislatures to submit suffrage amendments to voters; 47 campaigns to get State constitutional conventions to write woman suffrage into state constitutions; 277 campaigns to get State party conventions to include woman suffrage planks in party platforms, and 19 campaigns with 19 successive Congresses.