This Day In History: November 5

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On November 5, 1872, 48 years before American women gain the right to vote with the 19th Amendment, pioneering women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony illegally attempts to cast a vote in the presidential election. Anthony, who had devoted five decades of her life to women’s suffrage, gets arrested for the shenanigan—and is tried and convicted the following year.

In later testimony, Beverly Jones, a Rochester poll official in the election that pitted incumbent President Ulysses S. Grant against Horace Greeley, described the confrontation with Anthony.

“I made the remark that I didn’t think we could register her name,” Jones wrote. “She asked me upon what grounds. I told her that the constitution of the State of New York only gave the right of franchise to male citizens. She asked me if I was acquainted with the 14th Amendment to the constitution of the U.S. I told her I was.”

According to Jones’ written testimony, Anthony had approached him in a barbershop, set up as a voter-registration site, a few days before the election and challenged him about the 14th Amendment, which guarantees many rights to citizens.

“She wanted to know if under that she was a citizen and had a right to vote,” Jones wrote. “At this time, (the election supervisor) said, ‘Young man, how are you going to get around that? I think you will have to register their names’—or something to that effect.”

Anthony, who attempted to vote along with 14 other women (none of whom were indicted), was taken to jail on December 26, 1872. In her federal court case in June 1873, Anthony unsuccessfully argued that the 14th Amendment gave her the right to vote as a citizen of the United States. Judge Ward Hunt instructed the jury to issue a guilty verdict without any deliberation. Anthony was found guilty and fined $100, but she never paid it.