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Profile: Susan B. Anthony

Posted by jase on November 12, 2009

susanbanthonySusan Brownell Anthony (February 15, 1820 – March 13, 1906) was a prominent American civil rights leader who played a pivotal role in the 19th century women’s rights movement to introduce women’s suffrage into the United States. She traveled the United States and Europe, and gave 75 to 100 speeches every year on women’s rights for 45 years.

Susan B. Anthony was born and raised in West Grove, near Adams, Massachusetts. She was the second oldest of seven children, Guelma Penn (1818), Susan Brownell (1820), Hannah E. (1821), Daniel Read (1824), Mary Stafford (1827), Eliza Tefft (1832), and Jacob Merritt (1834), born to Daniel Anthony and Lucy Read. One brother, publisher Daniel Read Anthony, would become active in the anti-slavery movement in Kansas, while a sister, Mary Stafford Anthony, became a teacher and a woman’s rights activist. Anthony remained close to her sisters throughout her life.

In 1849, at age 29, Anthony quit teaching and moved to the family farm in Rochester, New York. She began to take part in conventions and gatherings related to the temperance movement. In Rochester, she attended the local Unitarian Church and began to distance herself from the Quakers, in part because she had frequently witnessed instances of hypocritical behavior such as the use of alcohol amongst Quaker preachers. As she got older, Anthony continued to move further away from organized religion in general, and she was later chastised by various Christian religious groups for displaying irreligious tendencies.

In her youth, Anthony was very self-conscious of her looks and speaking abilities. She long resisted public speaking for fear she would not be sufficiently eloquent. Despite these insecurities, she became a renowned public presence, eventually helping to lead the women’s movement.

Early social activism

In the era before the American Civil War, Anthony took a prominent role in the New York anti-slavery and temperance movements. In 1836, at age 16, Susan collected two boxes of petitions opposing slavery, in response to the gag rule prohibiting such petitions in the House of Representatives.  In 1849, at age 29, she became secretary for the Daughters of Temperance, which gave her a forum to speak out against alcohol abuse, and served as the beginning of Anthony’s movement towards the public limelight.

On January 1, 1868, Anthony first published a weekly journal entitled The Revolution. Printed in New York City, its motto was: “The true republic — men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less.” Anthony worked as the publisher and business manager, while Elizabeth Cady Stanton acted as editor. The main thrust of The Revolution was to promote women’s and African-Americans’ right to suffrage, but it also discussed issues of equal pay for equal work, more liberal divorce laws and the church’s position on women’s issues. The journal was backed by independently wealthy George Francis Train, who provided $600 in starting funds.

Though she never married, Anthony published her views about sexuality in marriage, holding that a woman should be allowed to refuse sex with her husband; the American woman had no legal recourse at that time against rape by her husband. Anthony spoke very little on the subject of abortion. Of primary importance to Anthony was the granting to woman the right to her own body which she saw as an essential element for the prevention of unwanted pregnancies, using abstinence as the method. In The Revolution, Anthony wrote in 1869 about the subject, arguing that instead of merely attempting to pass a law against abortion, the root cause must also be addressed. Simply passing an anti-abortion law would, she wrote, “be only mowing off the top of the noxious weed, while the root remains.” Anthony continued: “Guilty? Yes, no matter what the motive, love of ease, or a desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed. It will burden her conscience in life, it will burden her soul in death; but oh! thrice guilty is he who, for selfish gratification, heedless of her prayers, indifferent to her fate, drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime.”

American Equal Rights Association

In 1869, long-time friends Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony found themselves, for the first time, on opposing sides of a debate. The American Equal Rights Association (AERA), which had originally fought for both blacks’ and women’s right to suffrage, voted to support the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, granting suffrage to black men, but not women. Anthony questioned why women should support this amendment when black men were not continuing to show support for women’s voting rights. Partially as a result of the decision by the AERA, Anthony soon thereafter devoted herself almost exclusively to the agitation for women’s rights.

On November 18, 1872, Anthony was arrested by a U.S. Deputy Marshal for voting illegally in the 1872 Presidential Election two weeks earlier. She had written to Stanton on the night of the election that she had “positively voted the Republican ticket – straight…”. She was tried and convicted seven months later, despite the stirring and eloquent presentation of her arguments that the recently adopted Fourteenth Amendment, which guaranteed to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” the privileges of citizenship, and which contained no gender qualification, gave women the constitutional right to vote in federal elections. The sentence was a fine, but not imprisonment; and true to her word in court, she never paid the penalty for the rest of her life. The trial gave Anthony the opportunity to spread her arguments to a wider audience than ever before.

National suffrage organizations

In 1869, Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton founded the National Women’s Suffrage Association (NWSA), an organization dedicated to gaining women’s suffrage. Anthony was vice-president-at-large of the NWSA from the date of its organization until 1892, when she became president.

In the early years of the NWSA, Anthony made many attempts to unite women in the labor movement with the suffragist cause, but with little success. She and Stanton were delegates at the 1868 convention of the National Labor Union. However, Anthony inadvertently alienated the labor movement not only because suffrage was seen as a concern for middle-class rather than working-class women, but because she openly encouraged women to achieve economic independence by entering the printing trades, where male workers were on strike at the time. Anthony was later expelled from the National Labor Union over this controversy.
Susan B. Anthony, who died 14 years before passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, was honored as the first real (non-allegorical) American woman on circulating U.S. coinage with her appearance on the Susan B. Anthony dollar. The coin, approximately the size of a U.S. quarter, was minted for only four years, 1979, 1980, 1981, and 1999. Anthony dollars were minted for circulation at the Philadelphia and Denver mints for all four years, and at the San Francisco mint for the first three production years.

Posted in Historic Figures, History, Inspiring Stories, Profiles, Women | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

How to Lead a Focused Life

Posted by jase on June 30, 2009

With so many things now demanding our attention — emails, Web sites, BlackBerry alerts, incoming text messages, Twitter tweets, Facebook updates, blogs, stock updates, and old- fashioned meetings and phone calls — many of us…

What was I saying? Right: Many of us fret about losing our train of thought. “Life,” says Winifred Gallagher, “is the sum of what you focus on.” In “Rapt,” she concentrates on what science has to tell us about the mind’s capacities for paying attention.

Some people, she explains, are badly prone to distraction and need to be treated for attention deficit disorder. Others, like increasing numbers of us multitaskers, are merely plagued by bad habits and technology overload, darting from one mental activity to the next. So what can we do to recover the sustained focus that fosters creativity and quality?

Ms. Gallagher has some answers, but first she helps us to understand the problem better. Mental attention, she notes, is selective. Like a flashlight beam, we aim our consciousness on but a thin slice of what surrounds us. At a party, for instance, we hear only one voice among many until another voice speaks our name and our attention suddenly shifts.

Some clever experiments show just how inattentive we are to most of what we experience. Daniel Simons, at the University of Illinois, working with Christopher Chabris, asked viewers to watch people tossing a basketball around, some wearing a black shirt, others a white, and to count the number black-shirt tosses. Amazingly, half of the viewers, focusing on their toss counting, failed to notice that someone had sauntered through the middle of the scene wearing a gorilla suit.

Another experiment, measuring “change blindness,” asked each of its participants to give directions to a construction worker. Half failed to notice that, after an obstruction passed between them, blocking the view, another worker wearing different clothes had taken the first construction worker’s place. The costs of shifting attention can entail coping delays, too, which helps explain the association between cellphone use and accidents in both real-life driving and laboratory traffic simulations.

What to do? To expand our capacity for focused attention, Ms. Gallagher suggests choosing activities “that push you so close to the edge of your competence that they demand your absolute focus.” She cites Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, at Claremont Graduate University, who argues that between the anxiety of being overwhelmed (and stressed) and the apathy of being underwhelmed (and bored) lies a zone of engagement in which people experience “flow.” He arrived at the flow concept after studying artists who spent hour after hour painting or sculpting, working as if nothing else mattered.

Such intense focus, Ms. Gallagher says, is central to “peak” or “optimal” experience. She also touts meditation: It calms the body, she says, soothes the spirit and shifts focus away from the past or future so that we can “pay rapt attention to the present and experience true reality.” She quotes a meditation proponent who talks about achieving “a state of pure attention that occurs before thinking.”

If such ideas sound a bit mystical, Ms. Gallagher offers simpler ones. Pause to savor life’s delicious moments. Cultivate willpower. (Experiments confirm that self-control is like a muscle: It gets stronger with each effort.) And, most obviously, separate yourself from distractions. “Aware of our limited focusing capacity,” Ms. Gallagher says, “I take pains to ensure that electronic media and machines aren’t in charge of mine.”

Good advice. To preserve my own mind from electronic takeover, I spend an hour alone each afternoon, without a computer or phone, in a local coffee shop, and I ask my assistant to forward messages from my public email address only near the end of each day. I’ve noticed that I prefer long plane rides to shorter ones, thanks to the extra time for uninterrupted thinking or reading. A University of Michigan research team led by Marc Berman recently observed that students who took an hour-long walk in the serenity of the Ann Arbor Arboretum, rather than through downtown Ann Arbor, showed an increased capacity for attention.

It is good to increase your capacity for attention, as Ms. Gallagher argues, but is it true that life is the sum of what you focus on? Actually, there is much more to our mental life. Researchers are finding more and more evidence that our minds also operate beneath our conscious awareness. As neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux has said: “Consciousness is a small part of what the brain does.” Experiments reveal that we all have both “explicit” (conscious) and “implicit” (unconscious) memories, attitudes and perceptions — each mediated by distinct brain areas. To take but one example: Patients whose brain damage has destroyed their sight may still display implicit “blindsight,” by slipping a card into a mail slot that they cannot consciously see.

Thinking without conscious awareness can be primed, too. In a recently published experiment, Yale psychologist John Bargh, working with Lawrence Williams, found that people holding a warm rather than iced coffee mug are more likely to perceive another person as “warm,” or friendly. In an earlier study, he and his colleagues asked people to complete a sentence containing words such as old, wise and retired. Soon after, the researchers observed these people walking more slowly to the elevator than others who had not been primed with aging-related words.

“Rapt” is a fascinating discussion of how consciousness works, and Ms. Gallagher offers much helpful advice on how to lead a “focused life.” We should remember, though, that there is a realm where the mind functions not only beyond the reach of chirruping cellphones, BlackBerrys and laptops but also beneath our own awareness.

Posted in Daily Good, Healthy Living, Inspiring Stories | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Darius Goes West: The Vehicle

Posted by jase on June 22, 2009

Film Synopsis

Where would you go if you’d never been away from home? What would you do if you didn’t have much time left? DARIUS WENT WEST! Meet 15-year-old Darius Weems from Athens, Georgia, who was born with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), the most common fatal genetic disorder to affect children worldwide. In 1999, he watched his beloved older brother, Mario, pass away from the same disease at age 19. Soon after, Darius lost use of the muscles in his legs and had to begin using a wheelchair.

A group of Darius’ college-age friends decided there was no need for his quality of life to disintegrate along with his muscles. In the summer of 2005, they rented a wheelchair-accessible RV and took Darius, who had never seen mountains, the ocean or even crossed a state line, on the adventure of a lifetime. The ultimate goal of their 7,000-mile cross-country journey was to reach Los Angeles and convince MTV’s hit show “Pimp My Ride” to customize Darius’ wheelchair. Along the way, they evaluated wheelchair accessibility in America, celebrated the 15th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and raised awareness of DMD—particularly among a generation not familiar with Jerry Lewis. They also found joy, brotherhood and the knowledge that life, even when imperfect, is always worth the ride.

The Philosophy Behind this Film

This documentary is designed to entertain as well as educate the masses about DMD by telling a story through the lens of friendship. In addition to hilarious footage from this all-male road trip, Darius Goes West features personal stories from two other families affected by DMD, as well as an in-depth interview with a medical expert discussing promising new research that offers hope for treatment and possibly even a cure.

This film focuses on ability, not disability. Darius Weems is no DMD poster child. He’s a typical teenager who wakes up grouchy and curses on occasion. But audiences love his sense of humor and his megawatt smile. And instead of feeling sorry for Darius because he is terminally ill, viewers share his excitement as he discovers America.

We know—and Darius knows—that DMD won’t be cured in his lifetime. Nevertheless, Darius took a road trip to raise awareness of his disease in hopes of benefiting those with DMD who follow in his foot- steps—and to prove that life has no limits, even for those in a wheelchair.

Posted in Causes, Inspiring Stories, Medical, Society | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »