When I transform into Susan B. Anthony, I do it thoughtfully, with the intention of authenticity. I’m not putting on a costume. I’m mindfully transforming into and honoring her. Any part of me must be removed from sight, so that what appears to the audience is a woman of the past. I remove my wedding ring. Because there’s a permanent indentation on that finger, I replace it with another ring. I find a locket pin to wear at my neck and inside, I place a photo of Susan’s mother. Susan remembered her mother as a kindly soul who advised her to go and do all the good you can.
I wear black stockings, bloomers and cracked, broken-in shoes that I found in a thrift store. I like to imagine how many pairs of shoes Susan went through on her travels. She sometimes trekked on foot when there was no other transportation available. I do as well, but I have the benefit of the Skechers. How her feet must have hurt!
I don the dress and under it a hoop skirt. The final step is hair. I put on the wig. I am diligent in tucking any bit of my own hair under it. I want my audience to suspend their disbelief and, if even for a moment, think they are with Susan. I imagine her standing upon a soap box so she can be seen and heard.
Am I truly ready to portray a great orator? Will I be able to do her justice?
On my first school visit, I faced a fourth-grade classroom. I was a bit apprehensive, as I’ve geared my talk toward middle and high school. I spoke in a small, crowded classroom and realized realize that if I talked at these children for thirty minutes, I’d lose them. So, I sprinkled questions throughout and saw that, for the most part, I had their attention. hen I openrf the floor for questions, they ask things like:
What are the names of your brothers and sisters?
What kind of shoes are you wearing?
Amused, I lifted my skirt to show them my shoes. I told them the names of my siblings: Daniel, Merritt, Mary, Guelma and Hannah and how close we were, bound together by the strongest ties of affection.
I anticipated middle and high school students and adults presenting more of a challenge. I was sure they’d ask questions that I might not be able to answer. I have so much information about Susan swirling in my head, I find it difficult to retrieve it at times. My grandson calls it the “forgetting locker” in my brain. Sometimes I cannot find the key.
Where are you buried?
Where are your journals now?
What year was the 14th Amendment passed?
What was the nature of your relationship with Elizabeth Cady Stanton? Was is more than just friendship?
The questions prompted additional research and review of my notes; this bolstered my connection with Susan.
In February 1906, a month before she died, Susan delivered her final speech at the annual National American Woman’s Suffrage Association. Her physician had warned her to take better care of herself, as several years earlier she’d suffered a stroke. But she decided it was better to “die in harness.” Though ill and weary, she reminded NAWSA members that the day of enfranchisement was at hand— “Failure is Impossible.” This was delivered to thunderous applause.
This message, to the women who would carry on her mission, reflected her unflagging optimism.
In 1878, Susan had submitted a proposed amendment to the US Constitution. It took forty-two years for it to be ratified. In each performance, I experience a depth of emotion, and tears well up when I recite the words of the 19th Amendment.
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged
by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Susan passed away by the time the amendment was passed. And when she was close to death, she revealed her only regret.
“I had more than sixty years of hard struggle for a little liberty, and then to die without it seemed so cruel. However, I like to think that my dream of making my life count for something was realized.”
Susan and I have been a team for more than two years. Each time I stand in front of a group, I feel more and more like Susan and less like Linda. The friend who initially invited me to portray Susan, recently said that I was channeling her. If even in a small way, I am very grateful.
“It was that hope, which hoped on when others saw nothing to hope for; that splendid optimism which never knew despair . . . that tenacity of purpose which never permitted her to deflect ever so little from the main purpose of her life, which combined to make her greater than others. – Carrie Chapman Catt, Founder of the League of Women Voters
It began with a question, and I said “yes.”
Linda McKenney is a personal wellness coach, motivational speaker, writer and storyteller. She is published in Silver Birch Press, 101 Word Short Stories, The Survivor’s Review, The Rush, Fiftiness, Number One 2017 and Helen: A Literary Magazine. Linda also posts at Susanbanthony.live.