Editor's Note, October 28, 2020: Since 2014, women voters have paid their respects to Susan B. Anthony by placing "I Voted" stickers on her grave in Rochester's Mount Hope Cemetery. Just under a week before the 2020 election, some of the 66 million Americans who have already cast their ballots are continuing this tradition by decorating the suffrage leader's headstone with an array of patriotic stickers. This year, however, a clear plastic cover separates the stickers from the grave—a change made to ensure the fragile marble's preservation, reports Marcia Greenwood for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Read more about the practice's origins—and Anthony's role in securing women's right to vote—below.
When Susan B. Anthony died in 1906 at age 86, her funeral overflowed with mourners. Despite the fact that there was a blizzard raging in Rochester, New York, thousands packed into the church service and over 10,000 others showed up to pass by her flag-draped coffin and pay their respects. Yesterday, over a century later, admirers of the suffrage icon came to her grave with a different kind of tribute—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, Sarah Jane McPike, 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—as of 6:15 yesterday, the grave in Rochester’s Mount Hope Cemetery was covered with two bouquets and at least 28 stickers. In a Facebook post about the tribute that is now becoming a tradition, 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.’”
And what a legacy: Anthony fought for equality for women for over 60 years and laid the foundation for the legal right to vote that American women enjoy today. Not only did she encourage women to agitate for the vote, but 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. When she presented a petition that would have allowed women to own their own property and have custody of their children to the New York State Senate Judiciary Committee in 1856, she was openly ridiculed with a response that 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 granted to them 14 years after her death. For Anthony, who had devoted her entire life to the cause, 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.”