By CRAIG D'OOGE
When first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton visited the Library of Congress on Feb. 16, she was shown an array of items from the collections. One item in particular especially caught her eye. In fact, she liked it so much, she requested a copy.
It was a letter dated Feb. 8, 1896, from Susan B. Anthony to Adelaide Johnson, a sculptor. Johnson had written to Anthony telling of the widespread condemnation she had suffered as a result of her unorthodox marriage ceremony. A woman had performed the service. And the husband took his wife's last name.
Anthony's reaction was characteristically blunt. She wrote, "The man must be next door to an idiot when he says a marriage ceremony performed by a woman is immoral." She notes that no one ever questions the morality of a Quaker marriage, which has neither a priest nor a magistrate to sanction it. "I am glad you were married by a woman," she wrote, "and I am glad that for the first time in the history of marriages of our woman's rights women, one man has at last been found to give up his own name cheerfully and accept that of the woman he married."
According to John McDonough of the Manuscript Division, the Library's Susan B. Anthony Collection is small. There are only about 500 items. Most of the letters are addressed to Rachel Foster Avery and contain the details of Anthony's extensive lecture tours, her finances and the National Woman Suffrage Association and the later National American Woman Suffrage Association. There are six scrapbooks of newspaper clippings assembled by Anthony's sister. The 25 pocket-sized diaries in the collection contain little personal reflection, mostly notations about appointments and the weather. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln is briefly mentioned. Clearly, this was a woman with other things on her mind.
"Susan B. Anthony was not so much the writer as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, her close associate," said McDonough. "But she had the fire."
It was Stanton who first persuaded Susan B. Anthony to join the women's rights movement in 1851. They were a formidable and effective pair. A good friend of theirs, Theodore Tilton, once remarked, "It has been sometimes suspected that Mrs. Stanton and Miss Anthony are two distinct persons, united by a cartilage like the Siamese twins, but in the absence of any medical or other scientific proof of this hypothesis, I remain of the opinion that, like Liberty and Union, they are 'one and inseparable.'"
But small as the Susan B. Anthony Collection may be, the Library of Congress Manuscript Division remains a major resource for the study of women's history. Especially important are the papers of the Blackwell Family, Carrie Chapman Catt and the aforementioned National American Woman Suffrage Association, which should see a lot of use during this year, the 75th anniversary of the passage of the constitutional amendment that gave women the right to vote.
There are more than 65,000 items in the "Suffrage Archives," as they are known. The published index to this collection notes that in box No. 8 of the records of the National American Woman Suffrage Association there is a letter from someone named S.H.M. Clinton. Perhaps the first lady would like to see this one on her next visit.
Craig D'Ooge is the media director of the Library's Public Affairs Office.