Anna Howard Shaw

American physician and activist (1847-1919)

Anna Howard Shaw (February 14, 1847 – July 2, 1919) was a leader of the women's suffrage movement in the United States. She was also a physician and one of the first ordained female Methodist ministers in the United States.


  • Time was when woman worked in the home, with her weaving, her sewing, her candle making. All that has been changed, and she can no longer regulate her own conditions and her own hours of labor. She has been driven in o the market, with no voice in the laws, and powerless to defend herself.
  • There is no death for such as she. There are no last words of love. The ages to come will revere her name. Unnumbered generations of the children of men shall rise up to call her blessed. Her words, her work, and her character will go on to brighten the pathway and bless the lives of all peoples. That which seems death to our unseeing eyes is to her translation. Her work will not be finished, nor will her last word be spoken while there remains a wrong to be righted, or a fettered life to be freed in all the earth...We have followed her leadership until we stand upon the mount of vision where she today leaves us. The promised land lies just before us. It is for us to go forward and take possession...Already the call to advance is heard along the line, and one devoted young follower writes: “There are hundreds of us now, her followers, who will try to keep up the work she so nobly began and brought so nearly to completion. We will work the harder to try to compensate the world for her loss.”

"Suffrage for Women" (August 25, 1909)

  • If a democracy is a government by the people, and if a republic is a representative democracy, then there is no such thing in our country except in the four states where both men and women elect their representatives. In all the other states government is by an aristocracy of sex, for there can be neither republic nor democracy where one fraction of the people governs another fraction.
  • The value of the movement does not depend upon whether it is voted up or voted down; its importance depends on whether it is fundamentally right or not, and the heart of the human race is bound to be ultimately fundamentally right.
  • To the frequent objection that women are not fitted for the suffrage, I answer that they are better fitted for it than any class of men in this country have been at the time that the suffrage was given to them. The negro, the laboring man, the Revolutionary soldiers at the time of their enfranchisement showed only a small proportion who could read and write.
  • A democracy does not rest on force. It never did and it never will. Rather does it rest on the education of its people for righteousness, which Carlyle declared was a democracy’s only hope.
  • Democracy stands for three things: the right of every human being to earn an honest living, the right of the individual to reach his highest development, and the right of the individual to serve the community in citizenship. Woman should have her chance at each one of these aspects of democracy, and the ballot will gain the chance for her. If a thousand years without the ballot has made her only the “lovely, incapable” creature that she is declared to be, then by all means let us see what the ballot can do for her. Doing creates fitness.
  • The ideals of democracy of to-morrow will apply the principles of democracy of to-day, and to-morrow there is bound to come the true representative democracy wherein every member of society has his and her part.

45th Annual National Association of Woman Suffrage Association Convention, Washington DC

  • By some objectors women are supposed to be unfit to vote because they are hysterical and emotional and of course men would not like to have emotion enter into a political campaign. They want to cut out all emotion and so they would like to cut us out. I had heard so much about our emotionalism that I went to the last Democratic national convention, held at Baltimore, to observe the calm repose of the male politicians. I saw some men take a picture of one gentleman whom they wanted elected and it was so big they had to walk sidewise as they carried it forward; they were followed by hundreds of other men screaming and yelling, shouting and singing the “Houn’ Dawg”; then, when there was a lull, another set of men would start forward under another man’s picture, not to be outdone by the “Houn’ Dawg” melody, whooping and howling still louder. I saw men jump up on the seats and throw their hats in the air and shout: “What’s the matter with Champ Clark?” Then, when those hats came down, other men would kick them back into the air, shouting at the top of their voices: “He’s all right!!” Then I heard others howling for “Underwood, Underwood, first, last and all the time!!” No hysteria about it — just patriotic loyalty, splendid manly devotion to principle. And so they went on and on until 5 o’clock in the morning — the whole night long. I saw men jump up on their seats and jump down again and run around in a ring. I saw two men run towards another man to hug him both at once and they split his coat up the middle of his back and sent him spinning around like a wheel. All this with the perfect poise of the legal male mind in politics!
  • I have been to many women’s conventions in my day but I never saw a woman leap up on a chair and take off her bonnet and toss it up in the air and shout: “What’s the matter with” somebody. I never saw a woman knock another woman’s bonnet off her head as she screamed: “She’s all right!” I never heard a body of women whooping and yelling for five minutes when somebody’s name was mentioned in the convention. But we are willing to admit that we are emotional. I have actually seen women stand up and wave their handkerchiefs. I have even seen them take hold of hands and sing, “Blest be the tie that binds.” Nobody denies that women are excitable. Still, when I hear how emotional and how excitable we are, I cannot help seeing in my mind’s eye the fine repose and dignity of this Baltimore and other political conventions I have attended!

Quotes about Anna Howard Shaw

  • as Dr. Anna Howard Shaw said of Sacagawea at the National American Woman's Suffrage Association in 1905: "Forerunner of civilization, great leader of men, patient and motherly woman, we bow our hearts to do you honor!... May we the daughters of an alien race... learn the lessons of calm endurance, of patient persistence and unfaltering courage exemplified in your life, in our efforts to lead men through the Pass of justice, which goes over the mountains of prejudice and conservatism to the broad land of the perfect freedom of a true republic; one in which men and women together shall in perfect equality solve the problems of a nation that knows no caste, no race, no sex in opportunity, in responsibility or in justice! May 'the eternal womanly' ever lead us on!
    • Paula Gunn Allen The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions (1986)
  • Brave women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony had been the early pioneers, facing abuse and ridicule, violence and even arrests for attempting to vote. Later, women like Dr. Anna Howard Shaw and Carrie Chapman Catt headed the National American Women's Suffrage Association, which struggled against "the lethargy of women and the opposition of men." But by 1916 a younger, bolder and more militant group emerged, which was dissatisfied with the slower process of winning suffrage, state by state, and fought for a constitutional amendment.
  • Interestingly, Anna Howard Shaw, a much more conservative woman's rights leader than Stanton and a Protestant minister, echoed Elizabeth Cady Stanton's attack on interpreting the Bible as literal truth.
  • (Was it true, as some historians of the movement maintain, that the National American’s president, Dr. Anna Shaw, was “suspicious” of unusual activity in the ranks?) AP: No, I don’t think she was. She came down to Washington frequently and spoke at our meetings, and she walked at the head of our 1913 procession. But I think we did make the mistake perhaps of spending too much time and energy just on the campaign. We didn’t take enough time, probably, to go and explain to all the leaders why we thought [the federal amendment] was something that could be accomplished. You see, the National American took the position—not Miss Anthony, but the later people—that suffrage was something that didn’t exist anywhere in the world, and therefore we would have to go more slowly and have endless state referendums to indoctrinate the men of the country.
  • She was so able, so zealous, so utterly given to her cause that I had always had genuine admiration for her. Now I found her a most warm-hearted and human person, as well as delightfully salty in her bristling against men and their ways.
  • "I hate a lukewarm person," she declared when I persisted in balancing arguments. She did; she had never known for a moment in her life the frustration, the perplexities of lukewarmness.
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