July 4, 1876


July 4, 1876


One of the myths of the suffrage story is that nothing radical or confrontational happened before 1913. Not so.

On July 4, 1876, at the national Centennial celebration in Philadelphia, suffragists stormed the stage.


They had asked for a place on the official program for the dispossessed half of the citizenry. The chairman refused: the event program was set, he said, and besides, “We propose to celebrate what we have done in the past hundred years, not what we have failed to do.”

They asked for seats for the National Woman’s Suffrage Assoc. and were refused because “only government officials were invited.”

DC suffragist Sara Spencer replied: “We are aware that your programme is published, your speakers engaged, your entire arrangements decided upon, without consulting with the women of the United States; for that very reason we desire to enter our protest.”

Susan B Anthony wrangled press credentials via her brother’s newspaper. Matilda Joslyn Gage, Lillie Devereaux Blake, Phoebe Couzins & Sara Spencer also found tickets.

They had been planning for the Centennial for months, from an office on Chestnut Street that Anthony had leased -- as an unmarried woman she was the only one in the group who could sign the contract.

From that office Matilda Joslyn Gage drafted a Declaration of Rights.

Not a Declaration of Sentiments, as the 1848 Seneca Falls manifesto was called, but Rights. Plus Articles of Impeachment of the all-male government.

Sara Spencer calligraphed a grand version for presentation to the government, signed by the National's leadership.

They printed thousands of copies of the text for distribution. 👇(from @smithsoniannpg via Ann Lewis Collection)

On July 4, 1876, the official program commenced in Philadelphia. It was unbearably hot.

The women hadn’t identified the precise cue for their action, but as Richard Henry Lee of Virginia read the 1776 Declaration of Independence, Susan B Anthony knew the moment had arrived.

Lee, a Confederate veteran, was a direct descendant of a signer of the Declaration of Independence. A traitor to his country was welcome and honored at the Centennial, but not women who had campaigned ceaselessly for the Union.

“Now is our time,” Anthony announced.

They walked boldly down the center aisle, ascended the stage, and handed a 3-foot scroll wrapped in ribbons to Vice President Thomas Ferry.

“I present to you a Declaration of Rights from the women citizens of the United States," said Anthony. He bowed and accepted the scroll.

The women turned, descended the rostrum, and as they made their way through the crowd they handed out printed copies of the Declaration of Rights. Men stood on their chairs to grasp for them.

The emcee cried “Order! Order!” and begged the conductor to strike up the band.

A crowd gathered outside the main event as Susan B stood in the shadow of a statue of George Washington and read the entire document aloud. Then the suffragists made their way to a nearby church, where the pews were packed and the speeches continued for five hours.

The day before, the women had asked one last time for a place on the program. In refusing again, the chairman of the Centennial presciently noted that if the women spoke, “It would be the event of the day--the topic of discussion to the exclusion of all else.”

The New York Tribune called their stunt "A very discourteous interruption; it prefigures new forms of violence and disregard of order which may accompany the participation of women in active partisan politics.” 🔥🔥🔥

The St. Louis Dispatch of July 13, 1876 was more sympathetic: “If perseverance is to be awarded, the agitators of the woman question will yet carry off the prize they seek. Death alone can silence such women as Susan B. Anthony and Cady Stanton...

"...their teachings will live after them and unite others of their sex into strong bands of sisterhood in a common cause.

"It is safe to say, if events march on in the same direction they have since the calling of the first National Woman’s Convention, another centennial will see woman in the halls of legislation throughout the land, and so far as we are concerned we have no objection, so long as she behaves herself.”


Daily Suffragist




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Daily Suffragist, “July 4, 1876,” Daily Suffragist, accessed February 29, 2024, https://dailysuffragist.omeka.net/items/show/434.

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