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Lynn Sherr
Lynn Sherr
Failure is Impossible:  Susan B. Anthony in Her Own Words
ISBN: 0812927184
Failure is Impossible: Susan B. Anthony in Her Own Words
The author discussed her book Failure Is Impossible: Susan B. Anthony In Her Own Words, published by Times Books. Marking the 175th anniversary of Ms. Anthony's birth and the 75th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote, the book depicts the most famous suffragist through her own written and spoken words. "We (women) now have nearly equality of rights everywhere. They let us work everywhere, but only give us half pay," she wrote in the 1800s. More responsible than anyone for getting women the vote, she also dealt with many issues still crucial to women today: equal opportunity, political representation, domestic violence, child rearing, and financial autonomy. Ms. Anthony crisscrossed the country to give speeches and lead rallies well into her eighties.
Failure is Impossible: Susan B. Anthony in Her Own Words
Program Air Date: March 5, 1995

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Lynn Sherr, where did you get the title of your book "Failure Is Impossible?"
LYNN SHERR (Author, "Failure Is Impossible"): From Susan B. Anthony herself, which is where almost everything in the book comes from. In 1906 she was 86 years old. We did not yet have the right to vote, and she was attending a suffrage meeting here in Washington, D.C. It was her birthday celebration. February 15, her birthday, was always celebrated by the suffrage groups. In fact, President Theodore Roosevelt sent greetings to that particular meeting. She was quite frail at the time. She stood up and she looked around the room and she acknowledged that there was not yet the right to vote for women, and she said, "But with all the help with people like we have in this room, failure is impossible." That was her last public statement. One month later she was dead. That was 1906. The women in the suffrage movement and the men took that phrase "failure is impossible" and made it their motto. It took another 14 years, but we finally got the 19th Amendment, and that became the symbol of Susan B. Anthony.
LAMB: You say she was always photographed from the side. For what reason?
SHERR: She had a bad right eye. Her right eye she had some problems with in childhood. We might refer to it as a wandering eye today. It has a medical name. She had some surgery which made it even worse, and she had a touch of vanity to her. One of the things I discovered about this woman is that she just wasn't this prim, proper, uptight lady we think of or this very dour profile on the one dollar coin. She had great personality, and she was quite vain about that wandering eye. You will almost never see a front-on photograph of her. She always would turn her head, and that's why we have all those profile pictures of her.
LAMB: Did she ever marry?
SHERR: She never married. There's quite a lot of evidence from her diaries, from her letters that she was courted a lot as a young woman, and you can practically see her fluttering her eyelashes and braiding up her hair. One entry in the diary, she goes off in a carriage ride with a gentleman -- this is in about 1830 or 1840, I guess. She talks about suitors, but nobody ever quite made the grade. As she grew older and grew greatly respected and very famous for all of her work in women's rights and suffrage, reporters -- and she was always being interviewed -- reporters would always ask her, "Why did you never marry, Miss Anthony?" She'd change the answer all the time, but it was generally things like, "Well, nobody wanted to marry somebody with views, and I always had views." Another time she said, "The ones I liked never liked me, and the ones who liked me I didn't like." Very contemporary feelings, right? My favorite answer she gave was to Nellie Bly, the great journalist. Nellie Bly interviewed Susan B. Anthony in 1896, I think it was, and said, "Miss Anthony, why did you never marry?" She said, "Well, when I was a young woman, if you married wealthy, then you became a doll. If you married poor, you were a drudge." She said, "Think of it. I would have been either a doll or a drudge all my life. Think of it."
LAMB: Inside flap, what would you call this? A photograph?
SHERR: It's a photograph of a stained-glass window. I'm proud of that. That's the frontispiece in the book. That is a color photograph of a section of a stained-glass window. That was the very first memorial to Susan B. Anthony after she died. She died in 1906. That was in 1907, and it was the AME, the African-American church in Rochester. She was very close to the black community there always for all of her life. Of course, she was an abolitionist. That was the first memorial put up to her, very beautiful window, still there.
LAMB: Where was she born?
SHERR: She was born in Adams, Mass., the upper left-hand corner of Massachusetts in the Berkshires. Her house is still standing. It's a private house now, so you can't go in and visit, but what you can visit, which I visited which was fabulous, is the Quaker meeting house where she and her family worshipped. It's not open for worship anymore, but you can take a little tour. It's this beautiful, very honest, very direct building, and you walk in there and you understand immediately where it came from, because there's a real sense of holiness, if you will, and there's a real sense of equality. It was in that meeting house that she learned that women were equal to men, because the Quakers always said women and men are equal, and she had an aunt who preached there. There were no other religions where women could preach, but right there she got it.
LAMB: There is a Quaker meeting house at the Hoover presidential library. The thing I remember -- I can't remember if it's true; set me straight if I'm wrong -- is that the women sat on one side and the men sat on the other. So there was a division.
SHERR: There was a division but it was perfectly equal, and, as I say, Susan B. Anthony's aunt preached. She grew up in a situation where her aunt was preacher. You couldn't find that in other religions in this country. The Quakers not only believed in the equality of men and women, they absolutely did not tolerate the evil practice of slavery. So these were two things that were just part of her nature, and she got them from the time she was a child.
LAMB: Was she a Quaker?
SHERR: She was a Quaker. She attended church most of her life. She wound up going to the Unitarian church in Rochester. When their family moved to Rochester in 1845, I think it was, her father, who was a very liberal Quaker, split with some of the Rochester Quakers because they were not liberal enough for him and because they did not believe in abolishing slavery, so he and some other Quakers wound up splitting and she attended the Unitarian church there for the rest of her life. She went to church because she liked to hear the sermons. She was not an orthodox religious person. At the big suffrage meetings they had in Washington here every January, hundreds of women, she always had to be reminded to call for the opening prayer, and she would say, "That's because as a Quaker I'm used to praying in silence." She didn't believe in reading prayers. She didn't talk about God a lot. What she talked about was humanity.
LAMB: Do you have any idea where the word "suffrage" comes from?
SHERR: You know, I need to look it up. I can't believe -- I did look it up once and I couldn't figure out the derivation. I think it's Latin and it's one of those words that unfortunately is not known in modern times. I've seen it misspelled too often "sufferage." It's not about suffering; it is simply about the right to vote.
LAMB: The next page you have this, which is another Susan B. Anthony ...
SHERR: I love this. This is an engraving from a newspaper. I believe it was an Atlanta newspaper. It's taken from a photograph of her in her 50s, so that would be about 1870, 1871. What I love about it is that you do see the characteristic Anthony -- the glasses, the hair pulled back -- but I think she has a very nice expression there. I mentioned before, she was famous. Her picture was in papers all over the country, the headlines. She was identified as Susan B. in the headlines.
LAMB: On the next page, "This book is for the Hilford men."
SHERR: They're my stepsons.
LAMB: "Jeffrey, Andrew" -- I can't see that one.
SHERR: And James.
LAMB: "With love." Why did you dedicate it to them?
SHERR: Because I love them very much and because the next generation is where the hope is to get rid of all the prejudices between men, women, people of color, people not of color. You name it. They're the hope of the future, and they're very special to me.
LAMB: How old are they?
SHERR: They're grown. They're 33, 31, 28.
LAMB: How long have they been your stepsons?
SHERR: They have been my stepsons for 15 years now.
LAMB: And where is home for you?
SHERR: Home is originally New York -- home is not originally New York. You see, I've become such a New Yorker. Home is New York; home is originally Philadelphia. Do you remember years ago there was a thing called megalopolis? There was talk of when the whole East Coast would be unified. That's my life. Home is megalopolis. I was born in Philadelphia, I grew up there, I went to college in Boston, I live in New York, and I do an awful lot of work out of Washington, so I'm really up and down the East Coast.
LAMB: What's your job now?
SHERR: I'm with ABC News, "20/20." I'm a correspondent with our news magazine program, and because my roots are really politics and so much reporting that I did was political, every two years I do politics as well, so I do all the exitpolling analysis on primary nights and on election nights and I'm on the floor at the conventions.
LAMB: When did you first get interested in Susan B. Anthony?
SHERR: That began when I was a reporter at the Associated Press late 60s, early 70s. There was this burgeoning new thing which was then called the woman's liberation front. I don't want to tell you we've mellowed, but we have mellowed. Anyway, I was a reporter sent out to cover a lot of those early meetings, and I started covering them and realized I was writing "they" this and "they" that, "they" the other, and I suddenly realized it wasn't they, it was I, and I got involved. As I got involved both as a reporter and as a woman, I also was struck by the fact that this exciting new field of women's rights was to me new, different, exciting. I truly believed we had invented this. I truly believed we were the first ones to think about equal pay, to think about sex discrimination. Then I started reading a few history books, because in college, in high school, in grammar school I learned almost nothing about women's history. I suddenly discovered there were all these women that had come become, and, to my mind, the brightest star of all was Susan B. Anthony. She just got there first with everything. She said it all first. She did it at a time when it was much, much more difficult to stand up against the entrenched philosophies of society, so she became my hero and I decided she was a great inspiration and I wanted to do something for her.
LAMB: When did you start doing something for her?
SHERR: This book was either written in a year or in 25 years, depending on your point of view. Since I think I discovered her about 1970, in a way I've been collecting string for all those years. In fact, I started it a little over a year ago, and I wanted it to come out in time for her birthday. Her birthday is Feb. 15, and 1995 is the 175th anniversary of Susan B. Anthony's birthday. The goal was to try to bring her alive, particularly for the generations that don't know much about her and to point out that she is utterly relevant to our lives today.
LAMB: This is a paperback. Was it a hardback at one point?
SHERR: No, that was an original paperback.
LAMB: And what is it?
SHERR: "Susan B. Anthony Slept Here: A Guide to American Women's Landmarks" is a book I did. It came out in June of 94. I did it with a coauthor, Jurate Kazickas. What that is, is a state-by-state guide to all the places in America where women made history. We called it "Susan B. Anthony Slept Here" because she is the one who traveled all over the country in search of the right to vote, and we found all these places where she slept. All up and down the East Coast you see all these taverns that say "George Washington slept here," and we decided it was time to find out where all the women made history, so that is a way to tour the country, either from your armchair or from your car or train or plane, and visit Calamity Jane's grave, Jane Addams' Hull House in Chicago. Here in Washington Mary McLeod Bethune lived here. There are wonderful statues, houses, things you can visit that are not in most tour guides.
LAMB: In your company does a woman have equal chance with a man?
SHERR: I think women have a lot more equal chance than they ever did in the past. Certainly, on the air there appears to be much less discrimination in that area. I think we still have some problems in the management area. There just are not enough women. I understand the tracking situation, that you need to be prepared for a job in order to move into it, and Cap Cities ABC has been wonderful in this area. In terms of training people, there are mentoring programs to get women into positions of power, so I think there are great changes coming.
LAMB: Do you mentor anyone?
SHERR: Through a private program I'm now mentoring someone, a young woman who's a radio news reporter out in Pittsburgh, and it's very fulfilling to me.
LAMB: How did you get into that?
SHERR: Somebody asked me to do it, and it's a volunteer thing and I'm enjoying it. I guess the real answer is that informally I mentor many, many dozens of young women at ABC News. There's a constant stream in and out of my office looking for help and asking for advice, and I'm very happy to be in a situation where I can give advice and I'm very happy to be in a company where there are places for them to go.
LAMB: Does anybody dispute your point that she started it all?
SHERR: If anybody is going to dispute it, I would be astounded because they would have to prove to me someone else got there first. Now, there were other women in specific areas. Susan B. Anthony would be the first to tell you that other women got there first. What she did was pull it together and become the leader. She was known as "the general," and in one of my chapters I refer to her as "General Anthony" because she was able to take all these things that happened and focus them. She understood that for all the things that women were trying to get, none of them was as critical as the vote, because no matter what we got in the legislatures, no matter what happened, it could all be voted out by the very same men that had voted it in the first time. She understood women needed the vote in order to get and keep all the rights they ever wanted to have.
LAMB: When did she start?
SHERR: She got involved around 1850. She started out doing abolition work, which kept going for a while, anti-slavery. She was a temperance worker. She was against alcohol, and that was a very big movement at the time. It sounds silly today, but alcohol was just not regulated. Every other shop on a block was a liquor store. Many, many men would get drunk all the time, abuse their wives, abuse their children, abandon them. Susan B. Anthony was a reformer by nature, and so she took out after alcohol, and it was while she was lecturing about alcohol, she discovered the real problem was that women needed a purse of their own in order to deal with the problems that were affecting them. That's what turned her to women's rights.

Now, most people have heard of the Seneca Falls convention, the historic 1848, the very first women's rights convention in up-state New York. Susan B. Anthony was not at that convention. That was called by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. They got there first on that. But when she found out about it and when she met Stanton and Mott and when she got involved, she was just in there with all four feet. I mean, she just got it, got the message, took up the cause and went from there and led the movement quite brilliantly for more than 50 years.
LAMB: You show at the beginning of -- which chapter is this?
SHERR: That's Chapter 4, which I call "What Do Women Want?"
LAMB: Who are those three women?
SHERR: On the left with the curly hair is Elizabeth Cady Stanton -- she was about four years older -- in the middle is Anthony, and on the right is Lucretia Mott, the great Quaker preacher, abolitionist, women's rights worker. Three truly extraordinary women, and that monument is, of course, called the Suffrage Monument. It's in the crypt at the Capitol, and I like the idea of people walking by and waving to them, saying thank you, because they did an awful lot for us.
LAMB: Do you happen to have any idea how long it's been over there?
SHERR: Yes, it was put there -- we can look it up in that book for sure. I think it was right after the amendment was passed, so it was about 1921. It was the first statue in the Capitol sculpted by a woman, Adelaide Johnson, of women for women, and it's a very, very special marker in that regard.
LAMB: You mention that Rochester was her home for a while, and you also have a chapter in here with a picture of another Rochester resident, and there was a suggestion made that they ought to be a presidential and vice-presidential ticket.
SHERR: That's Frederick Douglass, the very distinguished ex-slave. The Anthony family moved to Rochester in 1845. Frederick Douglass had just moved there himself. Frederick Douglass published his anti -- slavery newspaper, the North Star, from Rochester. He was a very close friend of Susan's father, Daniel Anthony, and every Sunday at the Anthony family farm all the famous abolitionists in the country would gather, including Frederick Douglass, to talk about ways to abolish slavery. I think of it that Susan B. Anthony had the equivalent of a Sunday morning TV talk show in her backyard every single week. These were the most important people in the country talking about the hottest issues in the country, and that's where she learned about it. Frederick Douglass remained a lifelong friend. They did have a bit of a rift in the middle there, but they patched that up. When he died, the very last thing he did the day that he died was to attend a suffrage meeting here in Washington, D.C., and Susan B. Anthony delivered a eulogy at his funeral.
LAMB: If a woman lived in 1850 like she did, what rights did she have?
SHERR: Almost none. It was a miserable time to be a woman in America.
LAMB: Could you vote?
SHERR: You couldn't vote. Let me start with married women. Married women had it worse than single women, believe it or not. There were no rights for married women because everybody was governed by a law called Blackstone's Old English Common Law, which said, "The husband and the wife are one, and that one is the husband." Wives were property. You could not own property, you could not sue or be sued, you could not keep money that earned yourself, you could not get custody of your children, you could not ask for a divorce, and if you ran away, because frequently men were so abusive then that women would run away, the husband was entitled to grab you back and beat you. That was legal.

Now, single women could not get a college education. There were no institutes of higher education at that point. Oberlin was just about to get started. You couldn't be an ordained minister if you were a woman, you couldn't be a licensed lawyer or doctor, you certainly couldn't be a member of Congress, you couldn't be a mayor, and, of course, you couldn't vote for any of these things. For all this bias, there was no bias in the taxation laws, so you couldn't do any of the things I just said, but you did have to pay taxes if you were single and owned property. So it was just awful, and this is what she saw and wanted to change.
LAMB: How did she do it? Give us as much as you want of the techniques she used.
SHERR: One of the first things she did -- this is amazing, but she was single all of her life and yet she was one of the first to lobby for property rights, legal rights for married women. She went in the dead of winter through 54 of the 60 counties in New York state with a petition to get people to sign for a married women's property rights law that would be presented to the New York State legislature. It was just incredible. You know how cold it is in upstate New York, and she did the whole thing. She went around, she would speak, she would cajole, she would beg, she would lecture, and she and Mrs. Stanton got that law passed in New York. Having finished that, they went on to other things. A few years later the law was rescinded by the same men that had voted it in, which was proof of the fact that women needed the vote in order to get anything to stay. So she went around, she traveled, she lectured. Later she traveled all over this country and went to Europe three times in search of the right to vote for women.
LAMB: But why did people follow her? What was the attraction?
SHERR: She was a wonderful speaker. She was very persuasive. A lot of people didn't agree with her -- in fact, the majority. Does it surprise you to learn that not only the majority of men, the majority of women did not want the right to vote, and yet they found her so charming that they would listen to her. Obviously some people figured out that, of course, women are equal and, of course, women should have the right to vote. All she was saying was utter common sense. She had a wonderful, wonderful manner, and after about a decade or so of utter ridicule, of being caricatured in cartoons, of being burned in effigy once, of having eggs thrown at her, it turned out that people all thought she was quite wonderful, and even if they didn't agree with her they had great respect for her.
LAMB: "Except for the fact that Susan B. Anthony was a Republican, she was perfect," signed Geraldine Ferraro on the back of your book. How big a Republican was she?
SHERR: Of course, she was born a Republican, and that had to do with the politics of the time. That was the party of Lincoln, that was the sort of liberal party at the time, but Susan B. Anthony always said that she would belong to no party except for that party which supported woman's suffrage, so she tended towards Republicanism. Of course, she never had the right to vote, so it didn't matter what party she would have belonged to or worked for. But she said, "No, you can't belong to any party. You've got to go with the party that supports us." Her feelings on trade all came from her father, which were essentially Republican positions at the time, but basically what she wanted was rights for women, and that's the only kind of party that she would support.
LAMB: You say that she was a friend of Rutherford B. Hayes's wife because she kept booze out of the White House. How close were they?
SHERR: First of all, she knew every president after Lincoln, met with every single president after Lincoln, met with them in the White House. She addressed every Congress after 1869. If you go to the Library of Congress, you open up her scrapbooks, these wonderful scrapbooks that she kept, you will find in there a folded up seating chart of all the members of Congress. She knew how to do this. So the women by definition were her friends. She liked Mrs. Hayes because of her temperance work, and she would correspond with her regularly. She wrote everybody. Anybody that she thought could help the cause she would write. So she was pals with all of them.
LAMB: If we followed you around in pursuit of all the stuff you've got in this book, where would we find you going over the last couple years?
SHERR: I started out with the plan of going to the several dozen libraries in this country that have the original letters, diaries, scrapbooks and correspondence of Susan B. Anthony. I was prepared to do that. I did some of it at the New York Public Library. I did some of it at the Bancroft Library in California. What I wound up discovering, to my great joy, is that all the papers, or most of them, of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are now on microfilm, and I wound up purchasing 45 reels of microfilm and a small microfilm reader and doing the research at home,which was absolutely a gift. It's very exciting that somebody has done this. There's something called the Stanton-Anthony project, and through a federal grant they went and got all this material together. It's a wonderful contribution to academia, and the fact that it exists on microfilm and this microfilm is now available at libraries all over the country makes it much easier for other people to go. This is a relatively new project. I was greatly aided by it, and I give them a lot of credit in the book. But other than that, I would have had to go around and read all the original sources at every library in the country.
LAMB: If you don't mind me asking, how much did it cost to buy 45 reels?
SHERR: It was a little over $3,000, and I'll let you in on a little secret. Actually, I think my alma mater is not going to be happy about this. I thought at first, it's a lot of money. It's quite a lot of money. I understand that microfilm has to be expensive and it's very labor-intensive getting all this done, and instantly when I heard the price I hung up the phone and I said, "No, I can't possibly do that." Then I sat there and I did the math and I realized how long it was going to take me and how much money it would cost to go to the libraries, so I thought, I'm going to do it. Then I thought, I'm going to do it, and then when I'm all done I'm going to donate it to my college, and I will get a tax deduction and I will save a little money and I will have done a wonderful thing. Well, here's the dirty little secret: I'll never part with this microfilm. I love having it, I love reading it, and hang the expense, you know. It was a very worthwhile investment.
LAMB: What's your alma mater?
SHERR: I went to Wellesley. So, Wellesley, I'm sorry but I'll give you something else. I love having this microfilm because every now and then I just want to go through and read an old letter, and looking at somebody else's diaries you are peering over their shoulder, reading their mail. Don't we all love reading each other's mail? So I love doing that.
LAMB: The technique you used, italicized Lynn Sherr words and then ...
SHERR: There are two typefaces in the book, and as I point out, the words in italics are mostly mine. What I've done is a narrative linking together all the work. First, at the beginning of each chapter, I've done not necessarily a photograph of her but an artifact from her time, so, for example, in that chapter, this is her autographed message. Susan B. Anthony's autograph was marketed about as aggressively as modern baseball cars, she was such a star. This is the message she used to write all the time. It says, "Complete equality, civil and political, is and has been the one demand of yours sincerely, Susan B. Anthony." That was her autograph message, so I put that it there.

Then I do an italics type, my introduction to the chapter, which explains what this chapter is about, and then in the other typeface are her words. The book is full of quotes from her diaries, from her newspaper interviews, from her letters, so that people can see exactly what she said, with a little bit of a sense of what her handwriting looked like from time to time. But it's her words that I found important, the idea that she said all these things. We sort of think we have to keep reinventing the wheel, and the truth is she said a lot of it first and if we just go back there we can get a lot of words of wisdom as to how to deal with things we confront today,
LAMB: You say there are five biographies of her. Your favorite?
SHERR: My favorite is the original. It's a little tainted because it was written while she was alive and it was written with her approval, so there is a touch of "Madam certainly approved of this." On the other hand, this is a three-volume biography written by somebody called Ida Husted Harper, published, the first two volumes, in 1899 and the third was published posthumously. What's wonderful about it is it's written in that language of the time. It's a little flowery. Ida Husted Harper was a great journalist. My only problem with it is she tried to clean up Susan B. Anthony too much. She tried to sort of "polite" her up, if you will. For instance, I found in the Harper biography she writes that Susan B. was at a sermon, and Susan B. Anthony was desperately opposed to the practice of lynching. It was one of her causes later in life. She was at a sermon, and she writes in her diary, "The preacher spoke about this, that and the other, but he didn't talk about lynching and I was mad and I told him so. I waited and then told him so." I looked up the original. All she wrote was, "I told him so." She never said, "I waited and then told him so." So Mrs. Harper tended to sort of clean her up, and the truth was I like her plain and simple and that's why I wanted to go back to the original source, not to use the words that were fixed up by somebody else.
LAMB: Where are the scrapbooks?
SHERR: Library of Congress.
LAMB: The scrapbooks would have been microfilmed?
SHERR: The scrapbooks are on Library of Congress microfilm as well as some parts of them are on this. I bought a lot of microfilm. The Library of Congress has six reels of the -- actually it's more than six, maybe it's six -- Anthony scrapbooks on microfilm, and they also have six reels of her papers that they own on microfilm, so with all of this you can get a very complete picture. But I also saw the scrapbooks in person, which is fun because then you really get a sense of her cutting and pasting these articles. She put all the articles about herself in there, even the bad ones. This woman had a great sense of history.
LAMB: Times Books published this. When did you first make that contact and what was the reaction? Whose idea was it?
SHERR: It was my idea. Times Books was also the publisher of "Susan B. Anthony Slept Here," so they were my publisher. After we had turned that book in and waiting for it to come out, I realized I wanted to do something on Susan B. herself. As I say, I wanted not to let this 175th year of her birth -- and, by the way, this of course is also the 75th anniversary of the right to vote. I just felt this was too important a year not to do another book, so I came up with the idea of doing it in her own words. I wrote them the proposal and, I must tell you, I gave it to my agent, we sold the book within two weeks, and Times Books just snapped it up. Ann Godoff, who is the editor, who bought it, and she's a wonderful editor. I was just thrilled, just thrilled.
LAMB: What are your expectations?
SHERR: Expectations. I'd rather do hopes. My hope is that people will read the book and understand. This woman has a lot to teach us. This woman was more than just a crazy old spinster who ran around in bloomers campaigning for the right to vote. This woman was a feeling, caring, vibrant, funny, creative individual who speaks to us today and not only, by the way, about women's issues. She has wonderful things to say about tabloid journalism, hated tabloid journalism. Back in 1893, "get the murders off the front page" is what she said. She's just so wise. I also hope that a new generation will discover her, because I'd like to see her brought back into our lives. I want people to take the quotes and use them. I want them to use them in speeches, use them in everyday life. She's too important for us to forget about.
LAMB: Died in 1906. Any sound recordings of her voice?
SHERR: No, nothing at all unfortunately. There's no motion picture of her that I've ever heard of. Many photographs. She posed quite a lot. As I say, she was very famous. She was interviewed all the time. You would have had her on this program for her books and on everything you do. You would have had her time and time again because her opinion was always sought no matter what the issue was. An interview with Susan B. Anthony could make a reporter's career. That's how famous she was. But, no motion pictures, no voice recordings, which makes me extremely sad. What we do have is her house in Rochester, which you can visit, which is a wonderful museum preserving much of her life. We do have the artifacts there, her glasses, which I have in the book, and her wonderful traveling satchel. Oh, good, you found the glasses. Those are her trademark glasses.
LAMB: Where did you get these?
SHERR: They are in the house in Rochester. Can we show the satchel? I just love the photograph. I actually love the satchel itself. I refer to her because of all her travels as the original frequent flyer, and this little case is one of the cases she used to travel all over the world in search of the right to vote.
LAMB: And where is this?
SHERR: That's also in Rochester, in her bedroom in the very bed where she died in 1906, and that house is really kind of like a shrine because it's where so much of the suffrage activity took place.
LAMB: As long as we're talking about clothes.
SHERR: Oh, this is a great story. That's a red shawl. You can't see it's red because it's in black and white. We only have one color picture in the book. It would have been way too expensive. That shawl, which is red, has a great story. It was her trademark shawl. She always wore a red shawl, and once she was leading one of the suffrage meetings here in Washington, D.C., and I believe this was in the 90s. She was in her 70s. She was very famous, very well-respected. She decided to wear a black shawl or a white shawl, a different-colored shawl for that particular suffrage meeting, and she walked into the room and the reporters in the front row of the suffrage meeting laid down their pencils and sent her a note that said, "Miss Anthony, we will not take notes until you put on your red shawl." It had become a symbol of her, and she very playfully sent back to the hotel, got the red shawl, put it on, and the reporters took up their pens. So she really had a wonderful relationship with them, and that shawl was very special.
LAMB: In the beginning you take a rather strong position in favor of what her whole effort was all about. Do you get concerned that you might be stepping over the journalism line?
SHERR: I don't think there is any controversy over supporting the right for women to have the vote. I think that that is something that we can all agree on. The controversy might be on why people don't vote, because once you realize what the struggle was, I find it astounding that anybody could not vote. In terms of women's rights, no, I believe that feminism means that women are people and women are equal, and that's what women's rights are all about.
LAMB: Are there issues that a woman's movement or some group would take up that you would avoid getting involved in because it would be stepping over the line?
SHERR: Oh, I think there are plenty. I'm not going take positions on the controversial issues, certainly not publicly. As a reporter I care a lot that I maintain not necessarily objectivity, because I don't think any of us can be objective. I can be fair, but I don't think that my opinions are important to know on a very wide range of issues and I'm just not going to talk about them because that's not what's important. What's important is that I can cover something fairly.
LAMB: You have a colleague by the name of John Stossel, who has come out very strongly as a conservative when it comes to regulation. What do you think of that idea? He's gotten written up a lot.
SHERR: It's not what I do. I do something different, and I'm not going to attack or defend John. John can take very good care of himself. My position is that I don't think there is anything controversial about the areas of women's rights that I support or the subjects that I support, and I will continue to speak out for them.
LAMB: Back then would it be controversial as a journalist to take up the cause?
SHERR: No, you know, they had more leeway than we do now. They all took positions. You read some of those reports from the 19th century and they were so biased. They were always expressing pro or con the person that they were covering without it being labeled commentary or analysis, so I think they had a lot more leeway and they went way too far. They were allowed to support all sorts of causes. In a way I'm jealous. It would be fun. It sounds corny, Brian, but I truly believe that what we are here for is to tell the truth, and I like to bring the truth to my viewers and readers, and I think they trust me for that.
LAMB: Philadelphia, Boston, New York, Washington -- where did you go to school besides Wellesley?
SHERR: I went to public schools in the Philadelphia area.
LAMB: When did you first get interested in journalism?
SHERR: When I was about 2 probably. Brenda Starr -- that was my only role model. I had to take a comic book role model because there were very few real women doing what I wanted to do.
LAMB: When did it really kick in where you really got serious about it?
SHERR: I published a little family newspaper when I was in about 6th grade. I had a little printing set, made a little family newspaper. I always worked on the papers at school, and then in college I knew that's what I was going to do. I started out with magazines for a while. I was with Conde Nast Publications, and then I was with the Associated Press for a long time, loved being in print. Then went from there to local television in New York and then public television and then ABC. It's been a fairly straight path, but none of the jobs I had existed before I got there. Everything that I did was kind of invented once I was there, which, I'm sorry to say, may or may not be available to young people today. I think it was very much part of our generation that things were changing all the time. I didn't want to be a television reporter when I was a kid because television didn't exist. The news was not important, certainly not for women, but it all changed.
LAMB: What did your parents do when you were growing up?
SHERR: My father was a lawyer and a camp owner and a professional basketball player. My father was an original Philadelphia Warrior.
LAMB: What was his name?
SHERR: Lou Sherr, Red Sherr.
LAMB: Is he still alive?
SHERR: No, he died some time ago. He was quite a fabulous man and a big basketball star, and here's something I will tell you that I just love. My father played for a variety of different leagues before he was a Warrior, and this was in the late 20s, early 30s. I have on my desk at the office a program from a basketball game from 1929. My father was playing on one team -- Red Sherr, star guy -- against the other team, and they played at something called the St. Nicholas Arena in New York, which was 66th Street east of Broadway. It's exactly where my office is today, so my father played basketball exactly in my office. I just love that. I think it's wonderful.
LAMB: How about your mom? Is she still alive?
SHERR: No, my mother died a year and a half ago. She worked outside the home before she had my sister and me and then worked with my father with the camps and with various projects that he did. But she was a more traditional, quite wonderful, fabulous, very loving person.
LAMB: What would she think of this?
SHERR: She would love it. She loved "Susan B. Anthony Slept Here." She loved the work I was doing on that. She was very proud of everything I did, and she was also an extraordinary woman. As she grew older she kept learning every year, and she would have read that and she would have absolutely loved it.
LAMB: What was the controversy over bloomers, and what are they?
SHERR: I don't know what the controversy was. Obviously I know what it is, but I make a comparison. Women in those days, in the mid -- 1800s, had to wear the most constricting clothing in the history of the world -- these waist cinchers and crinolines and horrible shoes. You couldn't move in these things, so dress reform was a big issue in the mid -- 1800s. Bloomers were these very full pantaloons, if you will, and they showed not a bit of ankle. They went all the way down to the ankle, and frequently there was a little short skirt worn on top. They were not very attractive. They were kind of an ugly version of culottes that we wear today. Well, Susan B. Anthony finally got hooked into trying them in 1852 or something like that. She only wore them for two years, but she suffered such ridicule -- and most of the women did -- she never put them on again. I'd make a comparison that we had the same problem in the 70s when some of us tried to wear trousers to the office. I don't know what it is about women's legs, but we're either not supposed to show them or we're not supposed to cover them up. It got very confusing. She finally gave it up and went back to dresses, but it's been estimated that only about 100 women in the country ever wore bloomers. Isn't that interesting, because we think of it as a much larger group, but they suffered so much for it that the idea just went away.
LAMB: When did women in this country have the first opportunity to vote anywhere?
SHERR: 1869 -- if you're talking about presidential elections.
LAMB: Anything -- school board, states, all that.
SHERR: It was earlier. Let me start with Wyoming. Wyoming was the first then -- territory, later state, to grant women the vote, and that was 1869. They could vote on everything.
LAMB: Why did they do it?
SHERR: Susan B. Anthony thought that the reason was because they were much more progressive, and the men of the West just understood things better. Non -- sense. They did it for the Chamber of Commerce reason. They thought it would attract more people. But who cares what the motivation was, right? They did it. Then there were three other states. Colorado, Utah and Idaho came rather quickly after that. By the time she died, those four states had the right to vote for women. Now, other states had suffrage in varying degrees. You could vote for mayor in one town. In one community you could vote municipal elections, school board in some places. They were very different kinds of laws, and it all began around the 60s.
LAMB: When was the first amendment suggested to change the Constitution to allow women to vote?
SHERR: The first formal proposal of the amendment for woman's suffrage was 1878. At the time it was the proposed 16th amendment to the Constitution. By the time we finally got it, virtually unchanged, it was the 19th amendment. Income tax came before, Prohibition came before, and direct vote for Senate came before. Direct vote for Senate is fine. When you think about income tax and you think about Prohibition, better we should have had woman's suffrage sooner.
LAMB: What were the men saying as to why they were opposed to it?
SHERR: It's just extraordinary. The men were saying things like, "Women are too emotional to vote. It will disrupt the family. Why can't women just tell their husbands or brothers or fathers or sons how to vote? The men should vote for the women." In the Senate they were extraordinary. There were a lot of wimp friends of woman's suffrage, but there were these men who were opposed to it, the senators. They were very polite, but one stood up and said, "The trouble with women having the vote is they'll then get involved in politics, and that means sometimes going to caucuses, some of which are held at night. Women are not suited for nighttime caucuses." Women said the same things. Women essentially said, "We don't want to be taken off our pedestal. We like being protected. We do not want to have to bother with this." Everybody said, "It's going to lead to divorce, it's going to lead to too many independent women," this kind of thing.
LAMB: Is there a male hero out there who stepped up early and said ...
SHERR: There is a male hero. There are a number of them, by the way, Susan B. Anthony's father, I think, being the prime mover in that regard. He realized women needed the vote long before Susan B. Anthony herself did. There was a senator named Senator Palmer, and Senator Palmer, who was from Michigan, I believe, introduced in 1855, made a speech on the floor in favor of woman's suffrage that was just magnificent, and the women loved it so much they had it reprinted and mailed it all over the country, so they had many, many friends. But they had so many enemies. For example, Grover Cleveland, after he was president, in the late 1800s wrote an article in the Ladies' Home Journal about how terrible this new movement was and what an awful thing it was doing to the women and to the marriages of the country -- excuse me, the year was 1905 -- and he pointed out that it had a dangerous undermining effect on the characters of wives and mothers.

He felt that a good wife was "a woman who loves her husband and her country with no desire to run either." He also said, "The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world," meaning women should be content to be wives and mothers. That's all they should do. Susan B. Anthony was livid. She got interviewed by a reporter in Rochester who came knocking on her door, "Miss Anthony, Miss Anthony" -- it's just like we do today, right? Quick response. She said, "This is nonsense. What does he know about what women want." Then she said, "Mr. Cleveland remarks that the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.' That would be all right if you could keep the boys in the cradle always."

She was so quick. One of my favorite lines that she used to combat this nonsense was -- Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York newspaper, said to her quite early in the game, "You want the right to vote. Do you understand that the ballot and the bullet go together? Are you prepared to fight if you have the right to vote?" She said, "Absolutely, Mr. Greeley, the same way you fought in the last war, at the end of a goose quill." All he had done was write editorials with his goose -- quill pen, so she came right back at him.
LAMB: Which president led the charge along the way to get women the right to vote?
SHERR: None, absolutely none while she was alive.
LAMB: Did anybody ever?
SHERR: Ultimately it was Woodrow Wilson who was president when we got the right to vote, and he just finally caved in because of Alice Paul and other women who were much more militant. There were protests. They demonstrated outside the White House for weeks on end, and finally he was just worn down.
LAMB: Was there ever any violence over this issue?
SHERR: There was violence after Susan B. Anthony was long gone. The National Woman's Party -- there's that building just off to the side of the Capitol called the National Woman's Party headquarters. It's also known as the Sewall-Belmont mansion. That's where they had their headquarters. Alice Paul was a woman who was a generation after Susan B. Anthony -- more than one generation -- and she learned how the English suffrage leaders, the Pankhursts and those ladies did it. They were much more militant, and the women in this country suffered for it. They were jailed; they were force -- fed. It was quite horrible what they did to some of those women. Susan B. Anthony never suffered any real violence in that regard.
LAMB: What did you study at Wellesley?
SHERR: I majored in Greek.
LAMB: And then what?
SHERR: I majored in Greek because it was fun, by the way. I knew I wanted to be a reporter, and I didn't want to take all the English courses that I would have had to take to be an English major, so I discovered that I could have a very large English course and I could major in Greek, which was just fabulous fun and wonderful for language, so I majored in classical Greek.
LAMB: This is a dangerous question, but were you there when Mrs. Clinton was?
SHERR: A couple years ahead of her.
LAMB: So you left school, and then what?
SHERR: While I was in college I had won a wonderful contest that Mademoiselle magazine did called the Guest Editor Contest. It was kind of like an internship program, and you did something for the magazine and you won and you were assigned to an editor. I was called a guest editor and I worked for the magazine and it was a great introduction. So I went back to Conde Nast after I graduated. You know why I went back there? Partly because I was loyal, partly because I couldn't get a job anywhere. Those were the days when -- it was 1963 -- I would go around and do interviews in New York, and at Time magazine and at Newsweek and at the New York Times they would say, "Well, you're a girl. You could be on the clip desk." At the New York Times we couldn't even do that. If you were a boy, you got hired as a junior writer. There just were not jobs for young women in those days, so I went to the women's magazines because it was a place to go. Ultimately, two years later I wound up at the Associated Press, which was where I was for about eight years, which was a great place to learn.
LAMB: When you applied for the job at the Associated Press was there any discussion about you being a woman?
SHERR: None whatsoever, absolutely none. Now, there were problems and AP wound up having a class-action suit after I left that was settled after I left, but I did not feel discrimination while I was there. Some people did.
LAMB: What about in television? What took so long?
SHERR: What took so long is that the people running the business, who were all men, didn't believe women had credibility and didn't believe they had to do anything about it. We proved them wrong, but it took the law once again. I will also tell you that when I was hired, my first job in television was at Channel 2 in New York, the local WCBS -- TV, and they had seen something I had written and I had gotten written up. I'd had an exclusive interview with Yevtushenko, the Soviet poet, and gotten some terrific stuff. I had been written up, and there was a photograph of me, and I got a call saying they wanted to talk to me about a writing job at Channel 2, and I said, "That's all very nice, but I like my own byline, and if I'm going to be on television, I should be a correspondent. Call me back when you're auditioning." They said, "Fine." Called me back a couple of months later. Pia Lindstrom, who was then a reporter and making a big name for herself and done wonderfully, was pregnant and was leaving and they were only auditioning other blondes for the job. This is how women started in television. I only found this out when I did my audition and I looked at the other audition people and everybody was a blonde female. Anyway, I got the job, so I will tell you that I got my job in television because I'm a blonde, no question about it. I like to think I kept it for other reasons, but television has always been a casting problem, so they want a blonde this, a green that, a purple that, a curly -- haired this, a straight -- haired that, an ethnic one of these. I think it's particularly true with local news. I think it's too bad. It was the way that we got started. Then it took law -- suits for the networks and the stations to really open up. Then when they discovered not only did we have credibility but the ratings were going up when some of us were on the air, they realized maybe it was a good thing to have us.
LAMB: On the back of your book you have endorsements from Leslie Stahl and Diane Sawyer and Ellen Goodman and Ellen Chesler. Who is she?
SHERR: Ellen wrote the biography of Margaret Sanger, a wonderful biography.
LAMB: Did you have any plan with this endorsement? Was that your idea, all those?
SHERR: You know how it works. A lot of them are my friends. Geraldine Ferraro, who wrote the wonderful blurb at the top, I covered Geraldine Ferraro's vice-presidential campaign, a historic time. The publisher sends things out, and you get what comes in. Some of them don't come in in time for the deadline, some do, so it's largely hit or miss, but people said wonderful things about the book. What really pleases me about the blurbs, because they are women who are my friends and whom I do respect, is all of these women called me up to say, "I learned so much from your book. I didn't know that about Susan B. Anthony." To a great extent, what I'm trying desperately to do is to reintroduce this woman to the world and make people understand. She's part of our lives and ought to be part of our lives. So I'm very proud to have those folks with those endorsements.
LAMB: Where do you put the experience of writing this book on the satisfaction scale compared to what you do in television?
SHERR: What a good question. I love my job in television, I love being at ABC, I love being at "20/20," and I love the impact that a story can have. I did a piece a couple months ago, a whole hour on anorexia, on a woman out in Victoria, British Columbia, who's treating anorexics very, very successfully. We've had the highest audience response of any piece that's ever been done at ABC News, and I believe we have saved lives with this piece, so there's no way to touch that. There's no way to come near it, but I will tell you that television is indeed a collaborative medium and my anorexia piece, like all my pieces at ABC, was done with a producer. That was done with a very talented producer and an editor and a camera person, everybody. This book is mine, and it is very satisfying to be able to pick something up and hold it between two covers. This book was really exactly the book I wanted to write. I made almost no compromises in putting this book together, and my editor encouraged me. It just worked out fine, so that's a great satisfaction too.
LAMB: You say the U.S. government has five times attempted to keep Susan B. Anthony's name in front of the public. Here's the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin.
SHERR: The most recent, yes.
LAMB: What are those five times and what happened to them?
SHERR: Well, let's see. I guess that's the statue in the crypt, the Suffrage Monument that we talked about before. There are two stamps, both of which are long out of date. Her house is a National Historic Landmark in Rochester, and we've got the coin, so the government has tried. The government knows that Susan B. Anthony was a very important person. The problem is, of course, the stamps are out of date. Who needs a 2-cent or I think it's a 50-cent stamp right now? Who knows, we may need a 50-cent stamp some day. The house is great. The house is a landmark and should be visited. The monument you can go visit, but the coin was just badly marketed. What they should have done to make that coin work was make it a different shape. It's too much like the quarter. Or they should have pulled all the paper money, which would have forced people to use it.
LAMB: Do you have any of the coins?
SHERR: Oh, I have lots of the coins. By the way, you can get them now. They have all been warehoused except that they are now using them in train stations and post offices as change in vending machines. A lot of people now come into my office and they want to trade me the coins for dollar bills because they know that I'll take them. They just don't want to have them because they're too much like a quarter. They're afraid they're going to spend it.
LAMB: When you travel around and are interviewed about this, what's the top thing that people want to talk about?
SHERR: People want to know about her love life. Was she married? Did she have any beaux? It happened in her day, too. One of the interviews that she did with one of the many reporters said, "Miss Anthony, are you married?" She said, "The man who sent you here couldn't understand that a woman might want to remain single." So people ask about that. Incidentally, just for the record, I found no evidence of any romantic relationship with a man or with a woman. She had many, many close female friends, but there's no evidence. She really was devoted to her work.
LAMB: Didn't like outdoor statues.
SHERR: She was so humble. She was perfectly aware of how famous and important she was, but she was very humble. It was suggested that there be a statue of her, and she said, "No, certainly not one out of doors. I never liked the idea of a woman's statue being out of doors, particularly in the rain. She must get all wet and cold." So unfortunately everybody listened. There's no public outdoor statue of Susan B. today.
LAMB: You've got a line I want to ask about: "Today's new sensitive man wouldn't surprise Susan B. Anthony at all." Where have you found these sensitive men?
SHERR: They're around. Back in the 70s we used to use this phrase that went, "Women's liberation is men's liberation too," and we thought we were terribly clever. I thought whoever said it had invented it. I think it was Gloria Steinem. It turns out Susan B. Anthony understood that as well. She was the one who was saying back in the 1800s, "Once we get women to their full equality and independence, then men will be freer also, and families will be better off when men can stay home and do more of the child rearing." We think we just invented this notion in the 90s. She knew it back then.
LAMB: When she was 63 years old, first breakfast in bed; 67, first time she went to the beach; 75, first time she had truffles; 78, football. How did you find out all that, and why so late?
SHERR: I did a very thorough research job. I just picked things up from all over the place. Don't you love that she went to her first football game at the age of 78? Why so late? Because she was busy doing the world's work, women's work, Brian. She had to get out and get us the vote. I loved the football game, though. There she is in Chicago in 1898 at her very first football game, and of course, as usual, reporters came up afterwards and said, "Tell us, what did you think of the football game?" Her answer was, "I didn't think much of it." First she said, "Why don't they kick the ball? It's called football."
LAMB: In the end, why did they pass the amendment? What was the reason?
SHERR: Because there was no reason not to, because there was overwhelming support and many states already had it and there was too much pressure. Because it was the only way to go.
LAMB: The National Woman Suffrage Association became what?
SHERR: League of Women Voters. The group that got us the right to vote then turned into the group that teaches us how to use the vote.
LAMB: The title of the book is "Failure Is Impossible," and our guest has been Lynn Sherr. Thank you very much.
SHERR: Thank you, Brian.

Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1995. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.