Eulogy for Susan B. Anthony
March 15, 1906 — Funeral of Susan. B. Anthony, Central Presbyterian Church, Rochester NY
Your flags at half-mast tell of a nation’s loss, but there are no symbols and no words which can tell the love and sorrow which fill our hearts. And yet out of the depths of our grief arise feelings of truest gratitude for the beauty, the tenderness, the nobility of example, of our peerless leader’s life.
There is no death for such as she. There are no last words of love. The ages to come will revere her name. Unnumbered generations of the children of men shall rise up to call her blessed. Her words, her work, and her character will go on to brighten the pathway and bless the lives of all peoples. That which seems death to our unseeing eyes is to her translation. Her work will not be finished, nor will her last word be spoken while there remains a wrong to be righted, or a fettered life to be freed in all the earth.
You do well to strew her bier with palms of victory, and crown her with unfading laurel, for never did more victorious hero enter into rest.
Her character was well poised; she did not emphasize one characteristic to the exclusion of others; she taught us that the real beauty of a true life is found in the harmonious blending of diverse elements, and her life was the epitome of her teaching. She merged a keen sense of justice with the deepest love; her masterful intellect never for one moment checked the tenderness of her emotions; her splendid self-assertion found its highest realization in perfect self-surrender; she demonstrated the divine principle that the truest self-development must go hand in hand with the greatest and most arduous service for others.
Here was the most harmoniously developed character I have ever known — a living soul whose individuality was blended into oneness with all humanity. She lived, yet not she; humanity lived in her. Fighting the battle for individual freedom, she was so lost to the consciousness of her own personality that she was unconscious of existence apart from all mankind.
Her quenchless passion for her cause was that it was yours and mine, the cause of the whole world. She knew that where freedom is there is the center of power. In it she saw potentially all that humanity might attain when possessed by its spirit. Hence her cause, perfect equality of rights, of opportunity, of privilege for all, civil and political, was to her the bed-rock upon which all true progress must rest. Therefore she was nothing, her cause was everything; she knew no existence apart from it; in it she lived and moved and had her being. It was the first and last thought of each day; it was the last word upon her faultering lips; to it her flitting soul responded when the silenced voice could no longer obey the will, and she could only answer our heart-broken questions with the clasp of her trembling hand.
She was in the truest sense a reformer, unhindered in her service by the narrowness and negative destructiveness which often so sadly hampers the work of true reform. Possessed by an unfaltering conviction of the primary importance of her own cause, she nevertheless recognized that every effort by either one or many earnest souls toward what they believed to be a better or saner life should be met in a spirit of encouragement and helpfulness. She recognized that it was immeasurably more desirable to be honestly and earnestly seeking that which in its attainment might not prove good than to be hypocritically subservient to the truth through a spirit of selfish fear or fawning at the beck of power. She instinctively grasped the truth underlying all great movements which have helped the progress of the ages, and did not wait for an individual nor a cause to win popularity before freely extending to its struggling life a hand of helpful comradeship. She was never found in the cheering crowd that follows an already victorious standard. She left that to the time-servers who divide the spoil after they have crucified their Savior. She was truly great; great in her humility and utter lack of pretension.
On her eightieth birthday this noble soul could truthfully say in response to the words of loving appreciation from those who showered garlands all about her: “I am not accustomed to demonstrations of gratitude or of praise. I have ever been a hewer of wood and a drawer of water to this movement. I know nothing, I have known nothing of oratory or rhetoric. Whatever I have done has been done because I wanted to see better conditions, better surroundings, better circumstances for women.”
She did not gain the little bit of freedom for herself, but there is scarcely a civilized land, not even our own, in which she has not been instrumental in securing for some woman that to which our leader did not attain. She did not reach the goal, but all along the weary years what marvelous achievements, what countless victories! The whole progress has been a triumphal march, marked by sorrow and hardship, but never by despair. The heart sometimes longed for sympathy and the way was long, and oh! so lonely; but every step was marked by some evidence of progress, some wrong righted, some right established.
We have followed her leadership until we stand upon the mount of vision where she today leaves us. The promised land lies just before us. It is for us to go forward and take possession. Without faltering, without a desertion from our ranks, without delaying even to mourn the loss of our departed leader, the faithful host is marching on. Already the call to advance is heard along the line, and one devoted young follower writes: “There are hundreds of us now, her followers, who will try to keep up the work she so nobly began and brought so nearly to completion. We will work the harder to try to compensate the world for her loss.”
Another writes: “I believe as you go forth to your labors you will find less opposition and far more encouragement than heretofore. The world is profoundly stirred by the loss of our great leader, and in consequence the lukewarm are becoming zealous, the prejudiced are disarming, the suffragists are renewing their vows of fidelity to the cause for which Miss Anthony lived and died. Her talismanic words, the last she ever uttered before a public audience, ‘Failure is impossible,’ should be inscribed on our banners and engraved on our hearts.
Source: The Westminster Review, Vol. 165 — No. 5, May 1906, pp. 552-554.