Lesson Plans for Secondary Educators

Susan B. Anthony, Is It a Crime for a U.S. Citizen to Vote? 3 April 1873

High School Lesson Plan created for Voices of Democracy by Michael J. Steudeman, University of Maryland.

Click here for the VOD unit corresponding to this lesson plan.

Value for Social Studies Teachers

1) Anthony’s speech helps students understand the Constitution as a living document. She uses a variety of techniques of legal reasoning and interpretation to challenge other, exclusionary uses of the document. She bases an argument for change on an interpretation of a founding document.

2) Reconstruction is a challenging era for students to understand. Anthony’s speech captures the complexities of the Reconstruction Amendments and how they opened new avenues for disenfranchised groups to assert their rights. It also explores the interrelationship of the women’s suffragists with other movements.

3) Anthony highlights the cultural, social, and political aspects of women’s struggle for equal rights. The speech does not simply assert women’s right to vote, but also more broadly addresses the subordinate position of women within the home and in other areas of public policy.

Relevant Common Core State Standards for English/Language Arts

  • ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term or terms over the course of a text.
    • Anthony’s speech stresses the equivalency of certain words as sharing an identical meeting. For example, in para. 48, she stresses that a person born in the United States, a citizen, and a voter are synonymous terms. Her argument hinges on her audience accepting these common definitions.
  • ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.8 Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy.
    • “Is It a Crime” is an excellent case of legal reasoning from precedent and principles to present a case in a public forum. Rather than arguing that women should receive rights they do not have, instead Anthony argues that the Constitution already guarantees women the right to vote.
  • ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.8 Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.
    • Anthony heavily relies on categorical reasoning to establish rules for determining who falls within the boundaries of citizenship.
    • She also relies heavily on the ethos of particular figures—Founders, politicians, and judges—to support her case.
  • ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.1.D Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives; synthesize comments, claims, and evidence made on all sides of an issue; resolve contradictions when possible; and determine what additional information or research is required to deepen the investigation or complete the task.
    • Anthony’s citation of various, competing authorities on the interpretation of the Constitution and women’s rights creates opportunities for in-class discussion, debate, and supplemental research [see During Reading].

Ideas for Pre-Reading

  • Anthony uses multiple types of reasoning in her speech, which students should be taught in advance to prime their analysis of the text:
    • Reasoning from the ethos of well-respected Founders. Edutopia provides a list of ethos components such as reputation and authority.
    • Using categorical reasoning to reveal double standards in laws that oppress women. The Many Worlds of Logic’s discussion of universal and particular sentences provides helpful tools for analysis.
    • Making analogies between women and slaves to compare situations. Changing Minds provides a useful breakdown of analogical reasoning.
  • Students should enter the speech with a strong familiarity with the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, and their implications for women’s rights. Particularly, they should know the controversial use of “men” in the 14th The introduction to Cindy Koenig Richards’s analysis discusses how this amendment split the women’s suffrage movement.
  • Before reading, students should consider how voting relates to citizenship. Can one be a citizen without the ability to vote? Why or why not?
  • Students should also read Anthony’s letter to Elizabeth Cady Stanton and discuss what the ability to vote meant to women’s rights activists.

Important Vocabulary/Figures

  • Charles Sumner. The civil rights advocate plays an important role in Anthony’s speech. A selection from Sumner’s arguments in Roberts v. Boston can help students contextualize Anthony’s references. (Ctrl+F to locate the passage, “Obviously men are not born equal in physical strength…”)
  • The New Departure. A movement in which women cast ballots to test whether the 14th Amendment upheld women’s voting rights.
  • Privileges and Immunities. This component of the 14th Amendment provided the Federal Government authority to oppose or override state legislation that would deny particular rights to citizens.

Suggested Timeline & Objectives

Day 1: Citing Credible Predecessors

  • [Read paragraphs 1-24]
  • Students will evaluate the ethos of Anthony’s quotations from Founders and politicians.
  • Students will analyze how Anthony interprets the Constitution to make her broader argument: that women already have the right to vote.

Day 2: Gender Double Standards

  • [Read paragraphs 24-38]
  • Students will analyze Anthony’s use of categorical reasoning in her argument that women are held to a double standard in their rights and responsibilities.

Day 3: Persons, Citizens, and Voters

  • [Read paragraphs 39-66]
  • Students will analyze how Anthony employs definitional equivalency to interpret the 14th Amendment as providing women the right to vote.
  • Students will continue to evaluate the credibility of Anthony’s citations and her use of categorical reasoning.

Day 4: Wives as Slaves

  • [Read paragraphs 67-97]
  • Students will evaluate Anthony’s analogy between husband/wife and master/slave relationships to defend women’s right to vote.
  • Students will synthesize Anthony’s types of reasoning—by precedent, category, definition, and analogy—to assess her persuasiveness in 1873.

Key During Reading Passages and Discussion Prompts

  • Paragraph 2: This reference to the Declaration of Independence provides the opportunity for students to review the concept of natural rights.
  • Paragraphs 4-6: Anthony establishes her overall argument here, which the rest of the speech endeavors to prove through several types of reasoning.
  • Paragraphs 7-15: Anthony argues for equal rights for men and women through references to multiple Founders and leaders of Reconstruction. To help students meet standard 11-12.1.D, break the class into groups assigned to briefly research each of the individuals she cites for proof. Discuss with students how each figure would reinforce Anthony’s credibility. [On Day 3, students can practice the same skill in paragraphs 45-49.]
  • Paragraphs 20-24: Have students weigh Anthony’s Constitutional interpretations against the language of the document itself.
  • Paragraphs 24-25: Provide students background on Charles Sumner (see Vocabulary/Figures). Based on Anthony’s references, discuss relationships between the women’s suffrage and other Reconstruction social movements.
  • Paragraphs 26-37: Anthony uses categorical reasoning to assert that women are treated as a universal class of citizens in their responsibilities, like paying taxes. But they are held to a particular or exceptional standard when it comes to their right to vote. She makes several iterations of this argument in this passage, making this an excellent opportunity to scaffold student practice.
  • Paragraphs 39-41: These paragraphs mark an important turn in Anthony’s argument. Even if nothing she said before applied, she suggests, the 14th Amendment nullifies all previous efforts to disenfranchise women.
  • Paragraphs 42-49: In the passages that follow the introduction of 14th Amendment reasoning, have students use equal signs to trace the words that Anthony equivocates: person, citizen, and voter.
  • Paragraphs 50-52: As Anthony equivocates these terms, she also accuses her opposition of an inconsistent definition of “citizen.” Students should evaluate how Anthony’s audience might respond to the contradiction.
  • Paragraphs 53-59: Have students read Anthony’s interpretation of the 14th Amendment against the document. How does the context she provides help to prove that her interpretation is the “intended” one?
  • Paragraphs 65-66: Ask students: How does Anthony prove that it’s in everyone’s best interest to share her interpretation of the 14th Amendment?
  • Paragraphs 67-78: Students will analyze the strength of Anthony’s analogical reasoning as it applies in these passages. In connecting women’s condition to slaves, how does Anthony connect the 15th Amendment to the argument? Again, students should read this against the actual amendment.
  • The remainder of the speech draws together each type of reasoning.

Ideas for Post-Reading and Assessment

  • History’s Verdict: Anthony lost her case in the court of law. Have students review the decision written by Justice Ward Hunt sentencing Anthony to a fine for casting her vote (available in Ann D. Gordon’s The Trial of Susan B. Anthony, page 48). Then, students will follow the generic form of a legal decision to cast a new “verdict” from the standpoint of history. Evaluating the types of reasoning Anthony employed alongside contemporary standards of citizenship, students will assess whether Anthony “won” her trial in the longer term. (RI.11-12.4; RI.11-12.8; RH.11-12.8)
  • Contrasting Arguments for Suffrage: Although Anthony delivered her speech in 1872, the right of women’s suffrage was not guaranteed until the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson argued for the amendment. Students will contrast Wilson’s argument against Anthony’s. Specifically, they will assess how Wilson’s argument based on the immediate situation of World War I differs from Anthony’s appeal based on pre-existing natural rights. Which provides a stronger basis for women’s suffrage? (RI.11-12.4; RI.11-12.8; RH.11-12.8)