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Katharine Susan Anthony was suffragist, feminist, pacifist, socialist, and author of feminist and psychological biographies of famous women. Born in Arkansas, she lived and worked as a successful author in Greenwich Village, New York, for more than fifty-five years. She lived a life that was quiet, productive, and not within the parameters of what was considered a typical American woman’s experience.
Katharine Anthony was born in Roseville (Logan County) in 1877. She was the third of four children born to Ernest Augustus Anthony and Susan Cathey Anthony. When Roseville’s economy declined, the family moved first to Paris (Logan County) and later to Fort Smith (Sebastian County). Anthony attended public schools in Fort Smith and taught elementary school in the same school district. Because she lived with her parents, she was able to save enough money to finance a year of study in Germany, where she attended universities in Freiberg and Heidelberg. In 1905, she received a Ph.B. (bachelor of philosophy) degree from the University of Chicago, and in 1907, Anthony left Arkansas to teach at Wellesley College in Boston, Massachusetts. Not content with teaching, she soon moved to Greenwich Village in New York City and began her writing career.
In her first book, Mothers Who Must Earn (1914), Anthony used her skill to wage war against the abuse of women and children as laborers. With the prospect of enfranchisement on the horizon, she wrote of the life of feminist Margaret Fuller. Anthony’s next two biographies, Catherine the Great (1925) and Queen Elizabeth (1929), were very successful. With a less feminist voice, Anthony wrote biographies of Marie Antoinette, Louisa May Alcott, Charles and Mary Lamb, and Dolly Madison. Her later works include a comprehensive biography of her distant relative Susan B. Anthony, and her last biography was about American revolutionary Mercy Otis Warren.
Among Anthony’s friends and colleagues were the Bolshevik and first female ambassador of the Soviet Union, Alexandra Kollontay; Swiss psychiatrist, free thinker, and feminist August Forel; social reformer, labor leader, author, and editor Helen Marot; German feminist and socialist Clara Zetkin; authors Hannah and Matthew Josephson; American historians Charles and Mary Beard; and social reformer Edith Abbott. A member of the New York–based Heterodoxy Club, an organization of unconventional and “progressive” men and women, Anthony socialized with the political and artistic elite of the city.
Anthony never married, although she raised and supported several children who were “adopted” by her partner, Elizabeth Irwin. Anthony was eighty-eight when she died in 1965. Her choice of biographical subjects and her adaptive writing style indicate that she was a pragmatist as much as she was a feminist, pacifist, and socialist. She combined her idealism with reality and was able to mold a life that suited her while enabling her to hold onto the Eastern urban lifestyle that she loved.
For additional information:Francis, Eleanor Mapes. “Arkansas Lives: Katharine Susan Anthony.” Arkansas Libraries 38 (Fall 1981): 31–36
Lockwood, Madeline. “A Literary Arkansan Finds A Future in the Past.” Arkansas Gazette. May 28, 1961, p. 2E.
Morgan, Frances. “Katharine Susan Anthony: A Feminist Biographer’s Private Motivations and Public Voice.” MA thesis, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, 1998.
Sherwood, Diana. “Arkansas Biographer Retains International Recognition.” Arkansas Democrat. May 8, 1949, p. 2.
Simonson, Anna. “Feminisme Oblige: Katharine Susan Anthony and the Birth of Modern Feminist Biography, 1877–1929.” PhD diss., City University of New York, 2017.
Frances MorganButler Center for Arkansas Studies
Last Updated 3/4/2019
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