The 5 Best Books on Susan B. Anthony

Essential Books on Susan B. Anthony

susan b anthony books

There are numerous books on Susan B. Anthony, and it comes with good reason, she was an American social reformer and women’s rights activist who played a pivotal role in the women’s suffrage movement.

“Sooner or later we all discover that the important moments in life are not the advertised ones, not the birthdays, the graduations, the weddings, not the great goals achieved. The real milestones are less prepossessing. They come to the door of memory unannounced, stray dogs that amble in, sniff around a bit and simply never leave. Our lives are measured by these,” she remarked.

In order to get to the bottom of what inspired one of history’s most consequential figures to the heights of societal contribution, we’ve compiled a list of the 5 best books on Susan B. Anthony.

Failure is Impossible by Lynn Sherr

Failure Is Impossible brings together – for the first time – a wide-ranging, spirited collection of Susan B. Anthony’s speeches, letters, and quotes, linked by contemporary reports and Lynn Sherr’s insightful biographical commentary. By allowing the legendary suffragist to speak for herself, Sherr brushes the dust off of the Susan B. Anthony icon, introducing a new generation to the brave, brilliant, funny, and, most of all, prescient woman she really was.

Susan B. Anthony: A Biography by Kathleen Barry

This hallmark among books on Susan B. Anthony traces the life of a feminist icon, bringing new depth to our understanding of her influence on the course of women’s history. Beginning with her humble Quaker childhood in rural Massachusetts, taking readers through her late twenties when she left a secure teaching position to pursue activism, and ultimately tracing her evolution into a champion of women’s rights, this biography offers an in-depth look at the ways Anthony’s life experiences shaped who she would become.

Drawing on countless letters, diaries, and other documents, Kathleen Barry provides new interpretations of Anthony’s relationship with feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and illuminating insights on Anthony’s views of men, marriage, and children. She paints a vivid picture of the political, economic, and cultural milieu of 19th-century America. And, above all, she brings a very real Susan B. Anthony to life. Here we find a powerful portrait of this most singular woman – who she was, what she felt, and how she thought.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony by Penny Colman

In the Spring of 1851, two women met on a street corner in Seneca Falls, New York – Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a thirty-five-year-old mother of four boys, and Susan B. Anthony, a thirty-one-year-old, unmarried, former school teacher. Immediately drawn to each other, they formed an everlasting and legendary friendship. Together they challenged entrenched beliefs, customs, and laws that oppressed women and spearheaded the fight to gain legal rights, including the right to vote despite fierce opposition, daunting conditions, scandalous entanglements, and betrayal by their friends and allies.

The Myth of Seneca Falls by Lisa Tetrault

The story of how the women’s rights movement began at the Seneca Falls convention of 1848 is a cherished American myth. The standard account credits founders such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott with defining and then leading the campaign for women’s suffrage. In her provocative new history, Lisa Tetrault demonstrates that Stanton, Anthony, and their peers gradually created and popularized this origins story during the second half of the nineteenth century in response to internal movement dynamics as well as the racial politics of memory after the Civil War.

The founding mythology that coalesced in their speeches and writings – most notably Stanton and Anthony’s History of Woman Suffrage – provided younger activists with the vital resource of a usable past for the ongoing struggle, and it helped consolidate Stanton and Anthony’s leadership against challenges from the grassroots and rival suffragists.

As Tetrault shows, while this mythology has narrowed our understanding of the early efforts to champion women’s rights, the myth of Seneca Falls itself became an influential factor in the suffrage movement. And along the way, its authors amassed the first archive of feminism and literally invented the modern discipline of women’s history.

The Women’s Suffrage Movement; edited by Sally Roesch Wagner

Comprised of historical texts spanning two centuries, The Women’s Suffrage Movement is a comprehensive and singular volume with a distinctive focus on incorporating race, class, and gender, and illuminating minority voices. This one-of-a-kind intersectional anthology features the writings of the most well-known suffragists, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, alongside accounts of those often overlooked because of their race, from Native American women to African American suffragists like Ida B. Wells and the three Forten sisters.

At a time of enormous political and social upheaval, there could be no more important book than one that recognizes a group of exemplary women – in their own words – as they paved the way for future generations. The editor and introducer, Sally Roesch Wagner, is a pre-eminent scholar of the diverse backbone of the women’s suffrage movement, the founding director of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation, and serves on the New York State Women’s Suffrage Commission.


If you enjoyed this guide to essential books on Susan B. Anthony, check out our list of The 5 Best Books on Ruth Bader Ginsburg!