Eulogy for Susan B. Anthony
March 15, 1900 — Funeral service for Susan B. Anthony, Central Presbyterian Church, Rochester NY
Every century has produced a few men and women whose memories the world has adjudged worthy of perpetuation. The dear friend who has gone from us was one of our century’s immortals. Both friends and foes of the causes she espoused are agreed that this honor is hers. Her eighty-six years measure a movement whose results have been more far-reaching in the change of conditions, social, civil and political, than those of any war of revolution since history began.
When this woman opened her eyes upon the light of our world there was scarce a civilized nation whose standards were not tainted by the protection of human slavery somewhere within its domain. Not a woman was there in any land, or among any people, who did not live under the shadow and the oppression of laws and customs which should have been found alone in barbarism. When Miss Anthony laid down her self-appointed task of uplifting the world to a more just order of things, these iniquities had passed away as the result of that mighty movement. There is today an infinitely broader field of opportunity, of happiness and of usefulness for women than when she came. There is an immeasurably sounder, healthier and more rational relationship between the sexes than when she began her work. There is a higher womanhood, a nobler manhood and a better humanity. This woman for a large part of half-a-century was the chief inspiration, counselor and guide of that movement. Few workers have been privileged to sec such large results from their labors.
There were great women associated with her from time to time, women of wonderful intellect, of superb power, of grand character, and yet she was clearly the greatest of them all, the greatest woman of our century, and perhaps the greatest of all times. Although she possessed intellectual attributes in full measure and was an acknowledged power upon the platform, there were other women equally well endowed. Her greatness lay in the rare qualities of her character, which have not been duplicated in any other leader.
Well do I remember my first intimate work with Miss Anthony sixteen years ago in a campaign in South Dakota. She was then seventy years of age. Should we hear of man or woman of those years today going into a new and sparsely settled country to conduct a campaign, we should marvel at it. Yet so full of energy and determination was she that no one thought of her age. She remained there for months, living under hardships and privations of which she never complained. Toward the close of that campaign, women began to whisper to each other and to say: “Oh, if we lose this amendment it will kill Miss Anthony. She has so set her heart upon it that at her time of life the shock of defeat will surely prove fatal.” So we all redoubled our efforts, working no longer for the cause alone but for her sake as well. The day after the vote was taken, we gathered in the headquarters at Huron to hear the returns. As the reports piled up the adverse results, Miss Anthony passed from one to an other, giving a cheerful word everywhere, smiling always, and bringing back the fleeting courage of all with her strong, “Never mind, never mind, there will be another time. Cheer up, the world will not always view our question as it does now! By and by there will be victory.” This incident is indicative of her true greatness.
It was that hope which hoped on when others saw nothing to hope for; that splendid optimism which never knew despair; that faith which never forgot the eternal righteousness of her cause; that courage which never recognized disappointment, that tenacity of purpose which never permitted her to deflect in the slightest from the main object of her life, which combined to make her greater than others. This is the combination of qualities which has produced martyrs. It is the character of a Savonarola or a Bruno. She never knew defeat. When that happened which others called defeat, she was wont to think of it merely as the establishment of a mile post to indicate the progress which had been made, and she never doubted that victory was just ahead.
We had hoped that this wonderful woman might remain with us for many years to come. We believed our hopes were warranted by the youth which she preserved in spite of her advancing years, and by the activity and ardor which never forsook her. We had hoped that she might see the full fruition of her desires. All over the world there had been prayer without ceasing that she might remain until her dearest hope should become an established fact. But I believe I speak for all enlightened womanhood when I say that we almost forget the grief and disappointment in the prayer of thanksgiving that this great soul has been permitted to live even thus long and to give its splendid service to the world. We realize that her life has given to many nations a higher perception of life and duty and that it has lifted society to a higher plane, and we are grateful. We are rejoiced that she was permitted to make her life a continual and triumphal march of well-doing until the very end.
She seemed to have been especially called to do a work which none but her could do. That work was not completed; but where in the beginning there was but a tiny force of workers, now there is a vast army to carry it on. This army has its leader, a superb and fearless leader, and I feel sure that I speak for every man and woman in this army when I say that we, one and all, at the grave of her whom we have loved, pledge anew our loyalty to that leader and fresh devotion to our common cause. Perhaps, then, the world did not need her any more. Perhaps she could now be spared to go to her well-deserved rest.
But we mourn her today, and every heart aches that we must let her go. We admire, we revere and we honor her because she was great, but we mourn her because we loved her. Who can tell why we love? There was something in her one may not describe which won our hearts as well as our devotion. Perhaps it was her simplicity, her forgetfulness of self, her thoughtfulness of others, which made us love her. We have not lost a leader alone, but a dear, dear friend, whose place can never be filled. We shall never see her like again. Had the poet wished to put into verse that which was the motto of her life, the spirit which always actuated her, he could not have worded it better than when he wrote:
“To the wrong that needs resistance,
To the right that needs assistance,
To the future in the distance
We can pay her no higher tribute and build her no grander monument than to write those words in our hearts and make them the guide for the remainder of our lives, as we go on with the work she laid down.
Source: The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony, Including the Triumphs of Her Last Years, Account of Her Death and Funeral, and Comments of the Press, in Three Volumes, Volume III, by Ida Husted Harper (Indianapolis: The Hollenbeck Press), 1908, pp. 1437-1439.