THE VFA PIONEER HISTORIES PROJECT
Susan Brownell Anthony II
26 July 1916 – 8 July 1991
Interview from the Studs Terkel Radio Archive, courtesy Chicago History Museum and WFMT
Studs Terkel: [00:00:02] Susan B. Anthony is a celebrated name in American history, not as celebrated as it should have been long ago, and as it has become recently thanks to the efforts of many women seeking emancipation. Susan B. Anthony, the great women’s suffragist of the 19th century. Susan B. Anthony in 1971, my guest, is her grand-niece and appropriately enough, the title of her memoir is “The Ghost in My Life”, the ghost being her great-aunt. It occurs to me, Chosen Books published this, a very moving memoir, autobiography of Susan B. Anthony, who’s had her own obstacles to overcome, as indeed her great-aunt did, but a different vein. Suppose that paragraph about that ghost, Miss Anthony, you might read.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:00:48] All right, Studs. “Forget her? It was never possible. From the beginning, she was a presence in my life, just as my first memories of her were as a presence in our home. A dozen times each day I saw her photograph: the famous Alice photograph in which she sat judge-like in a dark robe, stern and forbidding, her white hair parted in the middle and drawn back severely, her arm resting in a statesman-like pose in the chair. The very mahogany table we ate from each day had been Aunt Susan’s. In school, another picture, often maligned with moustache, looked out at me from our textbooks. Her shadowy self was so great that in my childish mind I linked Aunt Susan with another white-haired titan, the red, white and blue man in the high hat who pointed his finger and said, ‘I need you.’ I thought Aunt Susan and Uncle Sam were married, and even if I myself might have forgotten Susan B. Anthony, other people did not let me.”
Studs Terkel: [00:01:52] Isn’t this part of your life and part of the problem, too, you had ever since small girlhood, wasn’t it?
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:01:58] Yes, Studs, it began when–actually it began when I was about three years old, began at birth, but I know I had to carry and present my first bouquet to aging Lillian Russell in the Orpheum Theatre in eastern PA. simply because I was Susan B. Anthony.
Studs Terkel: [00:02:16] So you had this problem, then, it is often the case, is it not, of someone who’s a child, or a niece in this instance, or grand-niece of a celebrated figure, that albatross is there, in the sense an albatross, doesn’t it?
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:02:30] I bet you’ve interviewed hundreds of them, because even in my case I’ve met so many people like this. I’m thinking of one beautiful young man during the war that I met who was named after his famous father playwright. And he couldn’t take it, see. And eventually he did away with himself.
Studs Terkel: [00:02:46] He killed himself, of course. You’re talking about Eugene O’Neill’s son.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:02:49] Right, and he was so charming and so sweet.
Studs Terkel: [00:02:52] We come to that matter. But you yourself, now we come to your life itself. The beginnings. There was this heavy burden, it would seem, there was your aunt, Aunt Lucy, who was a sense, thought she was carrying on the tradition of Susan Anthony, and yet was something of a termagant, wasn’t she?
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:03:09] Right. Yes, she didn’t have the breadth and the, you see, the saving grace about Aunt Susan was her love, you see, she was a very loving person, whereas poor Aunt Lucy, my father’s older sister, had all the ambitions for feminism and for suffrage that Aunt Susan had, but she didn’t have that saving love.
Studs Terkel: [00:03:31] I’m thinking, too, about your father, and his yen to be an actor, which was considered sinful, of course. He wanted to be the artist, the battle to be an artist was it, wasn’t it?
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:03:42] Right. A real bohemian, you see. He could play every musical instrument, paint, draw, act, sing.
Studs Terkel: [00:03:48] So yourself then, were there many fears as a child, you know, you speak of the death of Petey.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:03:54] My little brother, yes. Actually he was older than I, but I think he was younger–
Studs Terkel: [00:03:57] The power of, you speak of the power of God, you know.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:04:00] Right. But you see, actually Aunt Susan was sort of in the place of a family deity almost, because we were not a worshipping family, we didn’t have any organized religion when I was a little girl, and she was sort of like a household saint, and you know, later on I used to even be able to express it, that she was like a ghost standing over my left shoulder, you know, not the kind of friendly rabbit that Harvey was in the play. But a more austere, white–well, Gertrude Stein gets a little bit of this quality in her beautiful opera “The Mother of Us All”, you know this–
Studs Terkel: [00:04:42] “The Mother of Us All” is based upon, isn’t it, based upon Susan B. Anthony’s life.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:04:46] Right. Yes.
Studs Terkel: [00:04:47] Virgil Thompson’s–
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:04:48] Beautiful fan–
Studs Terkel: [00:04:49] Book.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:04:49] Beautiful fantasy, yes. And she called Aunt Susan “the mother of us all,” and I used to call her even before that opera, I used to call her “the unmarried matriarch,” because, you know, one biographer called Aunt Susan “the woman who changed the mind of a nation.” But actually, she changed the mind of a family, as you just said, you see, with Aunt Lucy and my father, she yanked dad from Broadway, from where he was happily starving waiting for his main chance, because she felt that wasn’t the right thing for a Quaker-bred family, you see. And of course her impact on every member of the family was great. She took a tremendous interest in her nieces and nephews, although she was childless, of course, herself.
Studs Terkel: [00:05:34] What’s interesting about your book is it’s a juxtaposition back and forth here of your life and your tribulations, of which there were many, and the life of Susan B. Anthony, and when she wore the bloomers there again, the kidding not only by the oafs but also by her colleagues in the abolitionist movement, by William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips, too.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:05:55] Right. My goodness, you’ve remembered that well, because that was the big shock to her, you see, she didn’t, she expected it from the little street urchins, you know, who went around saying, “Gibbery, gibbery gab, the ladies held a confab and decided, won the right to wear the tights, gibbery, gibbery gab,” you know, like the pants today that girls wear. But it hurt her, really, when the so-called radical abolitionists, you see, were so conservative about dresses. I learned from her that beautiful quote that she gave when she finally after three years got rid of the bloomers and got back into corsets and long skirts and let her hair grow, and she said, “I found the bloomer costume a physical comfort but a mental crucifixion. But I,” she said, “I learned then that the public can only grasp one idea at a time. By advocating both dress reform and my ideas, I lost out in both because they didn’t get either message,” you see.
Studs Terkel: [00:06:54] So that was it, isn’t it, the fact she learned to change the mind, to change ritual.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:07:00] Right.
Studs Terkel: [00:07:01] That is in a sense a bigotry, but a ritual, the ritual of bigotry. It’s–you have to be quite clear about it, don’t you? It’s a question of overcoming fears, fears of that which is different.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:07:13] Right.
Studs Terkel: [00:07:14] That’s what it’s about, isn’t it?
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:07:15] Yes.
Studs Terkel: [00:07:16] I’m thinking, as–but then it’s you, see? Then as you were going to the University of Rochester, where your celebrated aunt had gone.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:07:26] Well, where she had battered down the doors for women, you see. She–this was one of her most moving. She thought it was just going to be a little minor campaign, but, actually, it almost cost her her life, and it did cost her her life insurance policy. She felt that there was something humiliating about having a university in her own backyard that barred women, you see, because by that time, by 1900 certain–even women’s colleges had opened in others, other universities had opened their doors. So she started this campaign with a committee to raise the money that the trustees said was necessary for admitting women. And she really worked like a Trojan, as she did at anything, and she did it practically single-handed, you know, the last couple of days only another committee woman and herself went out in the boiling heat, and even Rochester, New York can be hot in early September. And she shouldn’t have done it, because she was already tired from a suffrage campaign in the West, and from my own grandfather’s death and funeral, she had been out in Kansas for that. But being indomitable, she went ahead and at the very last moment when they said, “Well, this pledge is no good because the man that gave it is so feeble that we can’t accept it.” And she said, “Well, gentlemen, I just would like you to know that that’s my own pledge, that I didn’t want to mix suffrage with–so as to endanger letting the girls in the college.” And that night in victory at the celebration was the night she had her first stroke, so that she literally gave, almost gave her life to open that college to women.
Studs Terkel: [00:09:08] Your book, though, “The Ghost in My Life”, by my guest Susan B. Anthony, is not the story of your aunt. It’s not the story of suffragism, it is that, it’s a story of you, see, we come to something now, don’t we? As a result of this there was your awkwardness, your shyness–
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:09:25] My fatness.
Studs Terkel: [00:09:26] Your fatness.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:09:27] Right. I was a fatty in those days and as a child.
Studs Terkel: [00:09:31] That drink.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:09:32] Oh, yes.
Studs Terkel: [00:09:33] That loosened you, that drink that suddenly made you vibrant, isn’t that it? You needed some outside stimulant.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:09:40] But just like the kids today, Studs, I turned on with that first drink, you see. It turned me from a wallflower to a belle. And I think every teenage girl wants to be popular, and even losing weight, even though I had a brand new figure, losing, starving myself in a diet to lose weight, I had no small talk. And when I took that first big belt of rye whiskey at that fraternity dance, suddenly I forgot myself and I could be the gay, lighthearted small talk person that I wasn’t normally, you see, normally I loved reading and I really enjoyed things of the mind and the spirit and as well as sports. But this made me able to flirt, to dance, to be free. And this would have been fine, there was nothing the matter with that if I had stuck to that one drink.
Studs Terkel: [00:10:38] But isn’t it ironic, though? That something, that you point something else out here, ironic as far as the guys are concerned, that it’s the small talk. Remember Ruth McKenney, you know, “My Sister Eileen”?
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:10:49] Oh, yes.
Studs Terkel: [00:10:50] She’s too intelligent. So the guys were scared of her. We come back to that. Is that–the changes I trust are occurring now, that they didn’t want a girl who was serious about the world, knew things. Rather the stereotype addle-pated little one?
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:11:07] Absolutely.
Studs Terkel: [00:11:07] Little one, I use the phrase “little one,” even the very diminutive adjective.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:11:11] Yes. Well, back in the ’30s, you see, it was the kiss of death to be, you know, for anyone to know that you read a book more serious than, you know, than a woman’s magazine. So that the intelligent girl, if she was seeking to be popular, as I was, you see, I had this phony goal which in itself was wrong. I wanted to be popular with the boys. I wasn’t seeking to establish one decent relationship with one boy. I wanted, you know, the whole bit. And for that reason, the booze was a magnificent turn-on.
Studs Terkel: [00:11:46] So you became an alcoholic.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:11:48] Right.
Studs Terkel: [00:11:50] This is the theme throughout. That was one. Now you did become, the fact that you were Susan B. Anthony, a certain kind of person. Did lead you into politics. This is the point. At 34, say.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:12:02] Yes. You see, I suppose you could say that my life was spent living up to the name and living it down, you know, the thing that made me an alcoholic was sort of living it down, but goading me in the other direction was, “Are you following in her footsteps?” which I heard from the age of 11 on, you know, from the feminists who had worked with her, from their descendants, and this constant prod, and then the climax came in my freshman year at college when I was asked to give a speech to the alumni not because of anything I had to say, but simply because the Rochester alumni were curious to see what young Susan B. Anthony looked like. But my mentor in that speech, without knowing it, helped me write a speech which was on world peace. And lo and behold, instead of it being a dud, it was a tremendous success, so I had this double exhilaration at the end of that 15-minute talk. One, I felt the taste of the sort of changing the mind of an audience and their receptivity that my father had yearned for as an actor. Two, I got an honest interest in the content of world peace, you see.
Studs Terkel: [00:13:16] And of course at that time, so then you became aware, as you point out, of the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, the Italian Mussolini’s bombing of Ethiopia, and of course the Spanish Civil War.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:13:28] That was the turning point for me, as I think for many young intellectuals, college people and even older of the late 1930s from, you see, I first was a pacifist and that was natural because of the Quaker heritage and all of that, even though Aunt Susan gave up her pacifism for the Civil War because she was more of, her abolitionism was stronger than her pacifism, her desire to see the Black freed, the Black slave freed. But in my case, I was still dawdling with pacifism until that momentous voyage back from Europe in 1938 when I came back with 13 young Americans, one of whom had left his leg in the Spanish Civil War, others who had left–all of them had left their buddies. These were men of every walk of life: farmers, New York taxi drivers, sons of two famous American writers were among them. And when I saw that–
Studs Terkel: [00:14:27] Ring Lardner’s son, of course.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:14:27] Exactly. Right. And there was another one, too. Frank Benet and others. These young men had been fighting for what they believed in, which they very rightly, as history proved them right, they felt that if fascism were not stopped in Spain, that it would engulf all of Europe and eventually the world. So they did this while I was sitting around boozing at cafes in Europe and having my first experience with sex and focusing strictly on very sort of lighthearted things, and I felt so guilty when I rode–came over, journeyed, voyaged over with them, that from then on, when I went to Washington I began to devote all my extra hour that I wasn’t working in my job to helping the Spanish refugees. That was my first cause.
Studs Terkel: [00:15:21] The fact is you were becoming involved and of course, this later on led to other matters concerning the blacklist, the Joe McCarthy period, the FBI, we’ll come to that. For what? For being on the side of the Spanish Civil War guy, the Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee, for what?
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:15:40] Right.
Studs Terkel: [00:15:40] That’s the word, isn’t it?
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:15:40] Right. Right.
Studs Terkel: [00:15:43] And so it was this, the time, you were interested in the munitions, by the way, you speak of Quakerism, you had the pacifism, and this conflict was there. You met Jeannette Rankin, too, didn’t you?
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:15:52] Oh, yes, at my very first pacifist conference which was held at Duke University, and it was Jeannette who was organizing teams. You know, these were the forerunners of the 1960s civil rights teams, you know, the kids that used to go down to register the Negroes and so forth. Well, back in the 30s, were our teams were to carry the message of nationalizing the armaments industry. The big thing was take the profits out of war, you see, and there was a tremendous, not in size but in intensity, student pacifist movement, and Jeannette, who was the only woman, you see, the only member of Congress who voted against World War II, and the first woman elected to Congress even before women got the vote in 1916 and voted against World War One, she led these teams of kids, college kids, and she wanted us to go into her district in Georgia, she was living in Georgia then, to conduct a campaign against one of the biggest militarists in the House at that time. But we wound up instead in the small town of Augusta. But I consider it one of the great moments of my life to have been exposed to her and, you know, she’s still alive, and she’s living, I met at a book party in Washington a few weeks ago at the Watergate. A friend of hers said that she just had her 90th birthday party, which alas I couldn’t go to. And she’s now out in Carmel, California and she’s as alert mentally as ever and I just think this is great.
Studs Terkel: [00:17:25] It seems to me there’s one way to remain alive and to be alert, isn’t it, and that’s to be there.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:17:30] Yes.
Studs Terkel: [00:17:31] To be there.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:17:33] To be there.
Studs Terkel: [00:17:33] As Jeannette Rankin, as indeed you are. What’s interesting to me is this back and forth. Talking to Susan B. Anthony, and I’m merely adding just as a matter of describing it. Not describing her, the fact she is the grand-niece of Susan B. Anthony the suffragist, but the back-and-forth battle you had between being accepted and yet being yourself. You’re on shipboard, and there are romances, there was young German Otto, Englishman Val, you seemed to be taken with Otto, until one day you were sitting next to a young Black guy. Now, if you were the diminutive little girl, when he went, when Otto said to you, “Don’t sit next to him, I order you,” you’d have obeyed him, but you didn’t obey him, you told him to go to hell.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:18:16] Exactly. Right. Because, and that was actually the first time in my life that I had ever had to practice what I had preached, you see, all through college I had thought I was a great liberal on race. This was back in the 1930s, you know. And here I was put to the test for the first time when this charming Black man from Martinique was sitting next to me at dinner, and I must say that I had some second thoughts, but when this Nazi said, “Don’t do it,” of course that doubled my determination that I would get over whatever last vestiges I had of small-town racism in me, and of course when I found out that the Black man was so much more intellectual and sophisticated and artistic than I could ever begin to be, you see, this did a great deal.
Studs Terkel: [00:19:08] So it seems to me a battler’s blood was in you, your aunt’s blood was in you after all.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:19:12] Yes, it was. You know, they say blood will tell.
Studs Terkel: [00:19:15] So we come, it does, it does in this case a factor here, or maybe it was you yourself, of course you were doing research on your aunt, you’re reading about her, too, and her being betrayed, she and her colleagues, by the 14th, 15th Amendment.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:19:30] Yes.
Studs Terkel: [00:19:31] And the disfranchisement continued, of women white and Black.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:19:33] Right, because the men, their real allies, you see, just as today’s women’s lib movement grew out of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, so did the 19th century suffrage movement grow out of the abolitionist movement which began, for the women anyhow, in 1837, and Aunt Susan spent all of her time, from 1851 really until 1865, ’til the end of the Civil War, most of her time working for abolition. And it was her work that enabled Lincoln to get through the constitutional amendment freeing, emancipating the slaves. But that was the deal that she made with the men, with the Republicans in Congress said, “Now, if you’ll abandon women’s suffrage for the duration of the Civil War, we will enfranchise Black women and white women when we give the vote to the Black man.” And then, after she had done her job and they all congratulated her and said it was a great thing and that she had helped so much getting 400,000 names on a petition to give Lincoln the public support he needed, then they said, “Don’t bother us. This is the Negroes’ hour, because women’s suffrage is far more radical than Black suffrage even.” So then she said, “Well, now I’m going to devote myself to working for women’s suffrage,” and then because of course that wasn’t–because after she first tested her right to vote under the 14th Amendment, she actually performed one of the first acts of civil disobedience in the world of a large scale, you see. And that was when she voted in the 1872 election with 15 other women hoping to go to jail. Her one dream was to be, you know, arrested and go to jail.
Studs Terkel: [00:21:24] This was the trial, wasn’t it? This was the trial.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:21:24] That’s right. Right. And she just wanted so much to get to jail so she, her lawyers could get a habeas corpus and carry her case to the Supreme Court and test the 14th Amendment, woman’s right to vote under the 14th Amendment. But, alas, two things barred her from jail. One, at one stage her lawyer kept her from being put in custody by paying some kind of bond and said, “I couldn’t let a lady go to jail.” But the final blow was when the judge, who pronounced her guilty of voting illegally fined her a hundred dollars and instead of adding, as the law stated that he should have, that if she didn’t pay the fine she’d go to jail, he cut that out of the sentence. And she said, “I’ll never pay the fine.” But he refused to send her to jail.
Studs Terkel: [00:22:14] You know, part of that speech she made to the court, this is rather good, isn’t it?
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:22:17] Oh, yes. This–
Studs Terkel: [00:22:18] This is appropriate today, isn’t it? When did she make, what year was it, 18?
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:22:21] This, the trial, well, she voted in 1872 and the trial took place in 1873 in the beautiful little town of Canandaigua, New York. They changed the venue because they knew they couldn’t get a jury to vote against her in Rochester, and because she had so many friends there and she’d converted them, you see. So they moved it 38 miles away, the trial, and they gave her 20 days, in which she spoke 20 times in 20 days. But then they rigged the whole thing by appointing a Supreme Court justice to hear a circuit court case. I mean, this had never been heard of before. And he took out his verdict, he wrote before he even heard the arguments. So he took out a written verdict and said she was guilty, and then she stood up, and he said, “The prisoner has been tried according to the established forms of law,” and she fought back and she said, “Yes, your honor, by forms of law all made by men, interpreted by men, administered by men in favor of men and against women. Hence, your Honor’s ordered verdict of guilty against a United States citizen for the exercise of that citizen’s right to vote simply because that citizen was a woman and not a man. But yesterday, the same man-made forms of law declared it a crime punishable with one thousand dollar fine and six months’ imprisonment for you or me or any of us to give a cup of cold water, a crust of bread, or a night’s shelter to a panting fugitive while he was tracking his way to Canada, and every man or woman in whose veins coursed a drop of human sympathy violated that wicked law reckless of consequences and was justified in so doing as them, the slaves who got their freedom, must take it over or under or through the unjust forms of law, precisely so now women, to get their right to a voice in this government, take it, and I have taken mine and mean to take it, and at every opportunity.” Which I just think is beautiful.
Studs Terkel: [00:24:30] That’s an eloquent defense of civil disobedience, isn’t it?
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:24:32] Isn’t it? Isn’t it amazing to think of that in 1873?
Studs Terkel: [00:24:38] So she and Thoreau, really, in a way back then.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:24:40] Right. Thoreau and of course then Thoreau’s influence on Tolstoy and then Tolstoy’s influence on Gandhi, and then we come the full circle back to the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Studs Terkel: [00:24:50] Martin Luther King.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:24:53] Right. To Martin Luther King.
Studs Terkel: [00:24:53] And then something happened to you. I mean, throughout, something–you see, obviously your knowledge and your research was having an effect on you. There was the double Susan B. Anthony, yourself, the double thread was going on here. And I was thinking then the New Deal days in Washington, and now your defense of unpopular causes that eventually got you into sort of a jam, not sort of a jam, a jam. Suppose we take a slight break at this moment, talking to Susan B. Anthony, whose book, her memoir “The Ghost in My Life”, Chosen Books the publishers. That’s the name of the publishing house, Chosen. We’ll return in a moment. We’re resuming the conversation with Susan B. Anthony and based upon her autobiography, “The Ghost in My Life”, the influence of your great-aunt, who lived a century ago, and then yourself, and now it’s a question of finding yourself, isn’t it? What it amounts to, is finding yourself. So there you are in the New Deal, there were pretty exciting days, weren’t they?
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:25:53] Oh, yes. And you have written about them so beautifully. When I heard I was coming to Chicago, my great thrill was to meet you because I love your recasting through human beings of those days, and your beautiful book “Hard Times” which has meant so much to me, because I knew some of those people.
Studs Terkel: [00:26:13] I know you did. You knew some, we had mutual friends, of course, in that marvelous Virginia Durr, of Montgomery, Alabama, and others, and these were the–HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee had not yet formed, the Cold War was just about beginning, but you were defending, you, [unintelligible] youth administration, you [were? with?] The Federal Employees Union, and now Roosevelt had died.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:26:35] Yes.
Studs Terkel: [00:26:37] And now Truman was in, and now something was happening in the world, and now the attorney general’s list came into being.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:26:44] Yes.
Studs Terkel: [00:26:45] This is it.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:26:46] Of course, I always feel–I’m not a historian, I was a political scientist at one time with my M.A. in it and all that, but I often think when history is really written of the ’40s, that the Cold War actually began, it was less than a fortnight after Roosevelt died at the U.N. conference out in San Francisco. It was called the UNO then, and I was, I remember it so well, when I felt a sudden chill come over the country, and I didn’t realize then it was the chill of the Cold War, that all of the things that all of us had worked for in unity, you see, during the war and during the New Deal, suddenly people were dropping out of sight. They were being fired, and suddenly I found myself, and I would bring all these people on my radio program in New York, I had this very controversial premature woman’s lib show, but it was far more than woman’s lib.
Studs Terkel: [00:27:42] What was it called again?
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:27:43] It was called “This Woman’s World”.
Studs Terkel: [00:27:45] “This Woman’s World”.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:27:45] And the theme of it was, make the–to women, “Make the world your home, not the home your world, be a servant of the world, not a servant of the home.” In other words, I had written two books on women’s lib in my Washington days, and I was following in the footsteps of, but had a sincere interest in it, you see, I had a sincere interest in finishing up the job that Aunt Susan had begun, and I really felt that the core of it was childcare centers for working women and housekeeping services so that women would be free.
Studs Terkel: [00:28:21] You were doing this in the ’40s.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:28:22] Yes, I was doing this from 1940, and nobody was interested except the left. The only people that were interested were the auxiliaries of the CIO, and we founded this group of leftwing women in America which cooperated with the anti-fascist women in France and throughout the world called the Congress of American Women, not only to get equal pay for equal work, but primarily to get these services in the home that are essential if women are ever to be free to go out and do a job or to go out and even do volunteer work or to become effective voters and students of politics, but this show was a pretty controversial show. I had everybody in every cause was on that show. And I don’t know, I got along with it and got by with it for nine months, how it ever stayed on the air that long. But my nemesis came and my downfall came when I did three days on birth control, and no–
Studs Terkel: [00:29:23] You had Margaret Sangers on that.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:29:23] Oh, yes. God bless her. I had her on, and Planned Parenthood, and a rabbi, and within one week I got my walking papers from the station. They said, “Too controversial to be commercially feasible,” and I was canned. I was off the air. Well, then I was picked up by another station, another studio in New York. And they said, “Not too controversial for our studio.” And I lasted six weeks there, and then I realized that the–it was no point in trying to get back on the air, because the whole climate had changed, and I was just one of dozens of liberals and progressives and leftists who were being wiped off the air, wiped out of even acting, you know, there had been great cases which I won’t go into now of people–
Studs Terkel: [00:30:11] This is what John Henry Faulk, of course, wrote about. This is red channels, the blacklist came, and the fears, and of course the cravenness of the sponsors, the cravenness of the networks at, you know, lickspittling to the wretched little men.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:30:25] Exactly. And some beautiful people were permanently damaged, you see. Whenever I think of the little damage that was done to me, it’s nothing compared to the people whose whole lives were shot, and some of course who died because of this. But in my own case, I by this time the other half of me had been catching up with me. The conflict, as you put it so beautifully, between the two Susans, not Aunt Susan, but the two Susans within me, the Jekyll and Hyde, the uptown commentator and the downtown drunk, because all the while I was putting this controversial show on the air, this was the period of my final, most degrading, sickest drinking. In other words, I had the nerve to go on the air every day with all these wonderful people like Margaret Sanger, like Mrs. Roosevelt, like Judy Holliday, you name them, they were on the show, and hiding my martini breath and my hangover because I had been closing the bars in Greenwich Village ’til four that morning, you see. And so finally this caught up with me and I knew I was going to die. That while I was trying to change the world and save the world, I was personally dying of starvation. I didn’t know what the starvation was, but I knew that booze wasn’t going to fill that starvation. So by the grace of God, and the fellowship that helped me, of men and women who had recovered from this disease, I began the long, slow climb back to sobriety and sanity and then back to a whole new life, too, you see.
Studs Terkel: [00:32:05] Can we stick with this a bit, Susan? Miss Anthony?
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:32:06] Susan, call me Susan.
Studs Terkel: [00:32:09] This matter of double that to the split in you, the need for the other even though you were doing these accelerating programs, the climate was against you, the pressures were there obviously, and maybe allowing sort of rationalization, too, for the boozing. But that need for that, there still go back to overcoming your aunt’s image, you think?
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:32:30] Yes.
Studs Terkel: [00:32:30] That is, to match her, you think?
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:32:35] Part of it, yes, part of it was this desire to match and even surpass the megalomania was so, you know, this, the part of it was a megalomania, or a desire to surpass. But there was something that was actually more valid, which the kids, when I hear about the drug kids today, I can sympathize with them so much, and this was that I wanted something–I wanted to be consumed by something larger than myself. I call it a transcendental thirst, and I was trying to slake it with booze like the kids are trying to slake it with LSD and heroin and the rest of it and pills. I was looking in the wrong place to slake it, but the thirst is valid. The thirst is right, because I think that none of us alive, that the human being what makes us human and not just an animal is that we all seek a oneness with something larger than ourselves, you see, now I did it the wrong way. I did it, I could only turn on transcendently after those three martinis or four martinis and then by the fifth I was beginning to get plastered. The kids think that they get it with their first smoke of pot or their first attempted LSD. But the thing in us that wants this transcendental fulfillment is a very valid good thing. It’s just that we seek it in the wrong way. I also saw it in political intoxication, you see. I wanted to be intoxicated with fame and with the big world, you know, the–
Studs Terkel: [00:34:11] Power, too.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:34:11] Power, yes, all of this. Something big. I didn’t want the tyranny of trivia. I didn’t want this mundane life of the establishment. And that kind of thing. But of course, the very thing that helped me to turn on and to blow, you know, expand my mind and all of that was the thing that then almost destroyed me, you see.
Studs Terkel: [00:34:32] So this was the battle again of finding yourself, and of course there were the men to whom you were married, each one different, each one with his own kind of involvements: a doctrinaire guy, young seaman you met, variety. But also it in a way knowing then, you know, difficult, traumatic though it was, [really?], I suppose also part of making you what you are today, I suppose, in a sense, aren’t they?
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:34:59] Yes.
Studs Terkel: [00:35:00] The human condition. So [any? many?] of these guys and yourself.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:35:03] Right. I often say that I bless the way I came, and as I grow older, I bless the men in my life. I mean, for example, even though I’ve been rather hard on my first husband, the doctrinaire one in the book, but it was that husband whom I call Ralph, he was the one by gosh that taught me to sit down at the typewriter and stay there. This book wouldn’t have been written in other words if he hadn’t said, “You sit there for hours a day, whether anything comes out or not.” In fact, I mean, he taught me, he took this wild, unruly playgirl, because that’s what I was when I married him, 13 years younger than he was, and he, even though part of it was bad, his molding me into a sort of, you know, he lured me on with this goal “You’ll be greater than your Aunt Susan and all of that if you’ll just be disciplined,” but part of it was good, too, you see, because I needed that self-discipline, and I use it to this day. And if I’m not at a typewriter in the morning I’m miserable.
Studs Terkel: [00:36:02] So here, then, is the outside battle. That was the inside battle, now comes the outside battle and the repression, and now we come to the attorney general’s list, of you say that many of the young out of the depression, fighting for what they deem just and good, being condemned for that when the Cold War took over, and now came various appointments you had or called, and so the FBI. You spoke of a certain sin in your life.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:36:30] Well, Studs, I feel that the, of all the sins I’ve committed in my life, and I don’t consider my alcoholism, of course, wasn’t a sin. That’s a disease. I’d like to make that very plain. That’s the great thing that we in the 20th century know about alcoholism, it is not a sin, it is a disease, just like TB or anything else. It has very unpleasant manifestations for society, but of the things I did drunk I don’t consider a sin contrasted with the major sin of my life. If I were to die today and I had to make my confession, and I’ve made this confession many times, don’t worry, that the big sin of my life was going to the FBI under terrific emotional pressure. This was in the Cold War, it was back in 1953 when, even though I had left my activist causes simply for survival, to sober up, to find out who am I, and was trying to lead a sort of a, not a superficial life, but I was a newspaper woman in Key West, I was skin diving with this glamorous naval officer, and then on the eve of our marriage, we were told that we could not marry because I–the Navy, the admiral told him that I was a security risk, and that to marry me would mean the end of his naval career. And this went on into a nightmare of a couple of weeks of an absolute nightmare. Finally, he said that the only possible way that I might be able to marry him would be if I made a clean breast of all of my radical past and went to the FBI, and to my great sorrow and regret, in hysteria and anguish I went. I went to the FBI and I sat down and told the story of my own political life from the very first pacifist cause right on through. In other words, I put my–
Studs Terkel: [00:38:33] These were terrible things you were guilty of; you were against the war.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:38:36] Yes.
Studs Terkel: [00:38:37] You were against Jim Crow housing.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:38:38] Right.
Studs Terkel: [00:38:39] You were for the Spanish Loyalists.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:38:40] Exactly.
Studs Terkel: [00:38:41] These were pretty terrible un-American things.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:38:42] And daycare centers for children of working mothers. A founder of the Congress of American Women. National Negro Congress back in 1940.
Studs Terkel: [00:38:50] You were apologizing for your most humane acts.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:38:53] Exactly. For the things that today if I stood at the judgment seat I would say, “These, Lord, are the things that I have earned. These are my hostages to heaven.” But here I went in this craven, sick, hysterical way and sat down and did this, thereby putting my head in the noose, which I didn’t realize at the time. Not only did it have no effect on the marriage, I mean the man was sent off to a no-woman post in Japan, but I put my head in the noose because less than two years later, when by this time I was living in Jamaica, I had married a Britisher, and we were on our farm trying to start a new life there, and the Department of Justice came onto our veranda walking up the hill in the rain with an American consul, and the 64-dollar question: Would I come back and testify in the McCarthy hearings?
Studs Terkel: [00:39:49] In short, would you inform on people?
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:39:52] Right. In other words, would I be–they were scraping the bottom of the barrel, you see, they had the army hearings, McCarthy had put on that farce, you know. But it wasn’t a farce for some of the people, the civilian people whose lives had been ruined and who had died, who had taken dives out of skyscraper windows because they were ruined, who are exiles to this day teaching because they were ruined in that period. But they–they needed a name. They didn’t want me. They knew everything I knew, you see, because had I made that awful misstep of going to the FBI, so I knew there was nothing that they wanted out of me except one thing: publicity and headlines. And so when they said this, “We want you to come back and testify.” And I said, “To do this would be asking my life. I am an alcoholic. I have spent eight years fighting for my sobriety and to go against my conscience now would mean I would take a drink. And for me to take a drink is to die.” And they said, “We will not stop. We will see that you get there.” And they then subpoenaed me and threatened to have Jamaica deport me permanently from Jamaica and to bar my British husband from ever coming to America. And that was when I took the next misstep under hysterics and pressure, which was the lawyers said the only way that I could avoid being deported from Jamaica was to take an oath to the queen. And I did that. And so that I could not be deported from Jamaica, but I was then an exile from America, because they told me that if I went back even when my father died that I would be subpoenaed and put in jail for contempt if I put foot on American soil. So for two years, two and a half years I remained–it was it was the most idyllic exile anyone’s ever been in, because Jamaica is a beautiful place, but it was still the haunting refrain “You can’t go home again,” you see. Finally an American lawyer friend said, “You cannot live like this. You have to face it, and you have to go home, and this has died down, McCarthy is dead. McCarthyism is dying.” And so I did. I did go home again, finally, you see. And then of course I found out what had happened, you see. When I finally came back in 1960 they said, “You’re not an American. You’re an excludable alien. You can never be a citizen again because all those organizations which were retroactively declared subversive by the attorney general bar you from ever resuming your American citizenship again.” So I lived from 1960 until 1969 with a deportation order over my head. Fingerprinted, barred from working where I wanted, having to have written permission to move from–when I was in South Bend, Indiana, if I had, if I wanted to go to, say, Ohio to give a talk, I had to have written permission from immigration to leave the immigration district to go to Ohio, you see, or to cross over into Michigan because it was six miles away because it was a different district. But as I say, what, this was nothing compared to what others went through.
Studs Terkel: [00:43:03] So this humiliating process was there. I’m trying to think of what your Aunt Susan would have thought of this. She probably would have liked you, I imagine, for still sticking to your guns.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:43:15] Well, in the first place, she would never have gone to the FBI.
Studs Terkel: [00:43:18] No!
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:43:18] She would never have done that. She was made of far stronger stuff than I, you see. She was not a split person. Aunt Susan was one of those, William James has called them “sky-blue people,” that is, a whole soul. She was not a divided soul, even though she had her suffering, you know, because of her cast in her eye and her lost love and all of that. But she was one of those marvelous 19th century characters who were still a total human being, not split. She wasn’t split right down the middle, you see, whereas my mistake was in thinking all those youthful years that I was made of the same whole fiber that she was. My salvation has been that I accept my limitations and I can forgive myself for that big sin of going to the FBI because I know that I have been forgiven.
Studs Terkel: [00:44:13] I think something else has entered, if I may, don’t mean to sound sentimental about this, but one spot you pass the woman’s home of detention, Women’s House of Detention, in the Village, Greenwich Village you frequented when you frequented the bars, and you saw the women in the detention home. And suddenly you saw the prison outside, too.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:44:34] Right. I felt that just as they were shouting on a summer night, I remember that night so well because it was just before I stopped drinking myself. And I felt a close kinship with them because although their shouts were vocal and loud, I knew I was screaming inside from my own inner prison, you see, that I was locked in a prison of my own just as they were in their prison behind bars. And then of course, later in the 18 years of what I called my captivity in the Cold War, there were no bars, it was a deluxe incarceration. I was never, you know, put in a cell or anything like that, but my movements were circumscribed. I could never leave this country. For example, when I was offered a beautiful job in Mexico for the church, and I could not go, because I would then have had to sacrifice my right ever to come back. So that, although never behind bars, I can sympathize with prisoners today because I know that feeling of having your movement, your liberty of movement restricted.
Studs Terkel: [00:45:41] As well as the prison of the mind.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:45:43] Oh, yes. Yes. This Is the prison that–I often think, you know, Roosevelt who you’ve described so well in your book “Hard Times”, and I came of age in the Roosevelt administration. And he always described the four freedoms, which I never can remember all of them. But I’ve always wanted to add a fifth freedom, which I think is freedom from self, or freedom from the prison of my own mind. And this is, this has been what my life has been spent trying to get free of.
Studs Terkel: [00:46:22] So what you’ve really done, the ghost, in a way you helped lay the ghost, haven’t you, in a way?
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:46:27] Yes, but I couldn’t have done it alone.
Studs Terkel: [00:46:31] Susan B. Anthony, the book is–Chosen, the publishing house. It’s coming to terms with yourself, really is what it amounts to, coming to terms with yourself, who you are, finally, amounts to.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:46:44] Right. But again, as I say, I have myself could never have done it. I had to have help, the help of other human beings in love, that is, loving human beings who helped me sober up, the help of all the writers whom I’ve loved all my life, and you know, some writers I feel as I know better than people that are living in this century. And there was one writer, Meister Eckhart, a mystic of the Rhineland Mystic School of the Middle Ages, and I carried around in my purse for years a saying that he had which began my whole, really began my whole identity of self, but also my conversion to a power greater than myself, to God, because this said that “I am a man. This I share with all other men. That I eat, drink, and sleep, this I share with all animals, but that I am I. This belongs to me and to no one else. Not to another man, not to an angel, and not to God except as I am one with him.” In other words, I finally reached that beautiful day when I was delivered not by my own efforts, but by the efforts and power of the Lord. From this human ghost, you see, of Susan B. Anthony and given instead the, what the traditional churches call the Holy Ghost, that I call the spirit of God.
Studs Terkel: [00:48:08] What’s interesting about the development in the church today. You and, you are of course, I should point this, closely involved with a church today. The changes in the, some of the church, particularly some of the younger churchmen.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:48:23] Yes.
Studs Terkel: [00:48:23] Americans, of course.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:48:24] Of course. You see, Studs, when I came into the church, my conversion to Jesus was so strong that I was perfectly willing at that time, this was in 1960 and 1961, that I was willing to be quiet for a while. I wanted to listen and to find out what Judeo-Christianity was all about, because I didn’t really know, and I thought, “Isn’t this a riot? My coming into the church which is the most anti-woman church in the world, I thought, you know, the Roman Catholic Church. And here I’ll be a laywoman and have to sit back and keep my mouth shut.” But of course, I didn’t figure on Pope John and I didn’t figure on Vatican II and the revolution in the church that was taking place. So even though I thought I was leaving the family tradition of pioneering in feminism and radical causes, I found myself four years later one of the first 15 women in America, probably in the world, to get a Ph.D. in theology, you see. And then I found that the nuns–I’ll never forget the day, you see, I went to school with nuns out at Notre Dame here, you see, just a few miles away when I wanted to find out about God I went to the horse’s mouth. I went to one of the best theology schools, and my classmates were nuns and I will never forget the day in 1964 or five, whenever Selma was, Selma, Alabama–
Studs Terkel: [00:49:47] If I can pun, habits are changing.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:49:49] Right. And I had to stand on the steps and say goodbye to these nuns who were going down to take part in the demonstrations for civil rights in Selma, Alabama. And these were, these holy women and I, a layman was not allowed to go at that time because I was under the deportation order. And I thought, “This is a fine turn-around.” So that one of the first and happiest things that I was able to do when I finally won my citizenship back, and found out that I’d never lost it, like de Maupassant’s “The Necklace”, you know. That kind of thing.
Studs Terkel: [00:50:25] It was paste!
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:50:26] Right. Right. Was that now I can speak out again. And one of the proudest things I am today is that this church, that I thought I was coming into a church that was, you know, no social conscience, no nothing. When now it’s in the forefront. And one of the most heroic women of today, and I don’t know if you’ve ever interviewed her. Dorothy Day.
Studs Terkel: [00:50:48] Oh, yes. She’s–you better read–she’s in “Hard Times”.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:50:52] Oh, of course. Of course. One of the greatest women.
Studs Terkel: [00:50:54] Dorothy Day is quite remarkable.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:50:57] She’s the mother in a sense. Dorothy Day, we spoke of Jeannette Rankin. Well, Jeannette Rankin is the grandmother of the peace movement today. But the mother of the peace movement, not only in the Roman Church, but because it was so fervent in the Roman Church it branched out everywhere, was the mother of the Catholic, the Roman Catholic peace movement back in ’63 when it was still not chic to oppose the Vietnam War.
Studs Terkel: [00:51:22] I’m thinking as we’re talking, Susan B. Anthony and myself, the forward and the afterward written by your friend Catherine Marshall.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:51:30] Yes. Catherine is one of the great women alive today. She is not only great because of her written word, which has changed the life of millions. Millions of people have been rescued and helped and saved by the spiritual depth of Catherine’s writings, and also the fact that she’s a fine writer. But by the victory in her own life, Catherine is a very courageous woman, because she–through prayer and faith her own physical handicap which she never talks about, you know.
Studs Terkel: [00:52:10] Yeah, but she also takes a stand aside from prayer and faith. She spoke out against Joe McCarthy.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:52:16] Yes.
Studs Terkel: [00:52:18] As that other matter, too, you know.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:52:19] Yes.
Studs Terkel: [00:52:20] It’s both, isn’t it?
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:52:20] She was, she was that wonderful combination of which I think the goal is, the goal is not just the personal salvation. The goal has to be planetary salvation, too, and I’m always collecting people and as I’m sure you are, people who combine this great quality, and Catherine combines it and of course the Berrigans combine it in their way, and–
Studs Terkel: [00:52:45] Dorothy called, they might be con–Dorothy. They may call, what was that William James phrase again about your aunt?
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:52:50] Divided soul? Or the sky-blue soul.
Studs Terkel: [00:52:52] Sky blue.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:52:54] Sky-blue people.
Studs Terkel: [00:52:54] Sky-blue people.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:52:55] Right. Yes. They’re the total people.
Studs Terkel: [00:52:57] The sky-blue people. So in a sense your book is a book about fusing a split, isn’t it? A split that was there and now there’s a kind of a synthesis that’s occurred.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:53:07] Exactly. This is the Teilhardian synthesis, yes. Of Teilhard de Chardin, you see, which is what? The whole aim of life I think is to synthesize rather than to tear apart into fragments.
Studs Terkel: [00:53:20] What’s his phrase, “Everything that rises must converge”?
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:53:22] Yes. Right.
Studs Terkel: [00:53:24] So it is.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:53:25] And we have this great tradition, you see, in the Judeo-Christian society of civilization of synthesis, you see. Because in one person, the great Jewish prophets Isaiah, first, second and third Isaiah, and the others were people who were not only concerned with personal salvation, but with the salvation of all the people, you see. And then, of course, Jesus Christ himself was concerned not only with personal salvation, but with the salvation of the whole world.
Studs Terkel: [00:53:55] Which comes right back again, doesn’t it, if there is to be personal salvation, it can only be if there is salvation of the whole world.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:54:01] Exactly.
Studs Terkel: [00:54:02] [Unintelligible] to that. Susan B. Anthony my guest. Very rewarding hour for me. “The Ghost in My Life” is her memoir, her autobiography. Chosen. That’s a new firm, Chosen Books the publishers. Thank you very much.
Susan Brownell Anthony: [00:54:23] Thank you, Studs.