Anna Elizabeth Dickinson: first woman to give a political address to U.S. Congress

Anna Elizabeth Dickinson

“This very young man who twirls his moustache in embryo, announces magnificently then, ‘Save me from ever marrying a strong-minded woman,’ and, looking at the style of young men who are educated to say so, one might devoutly answer, ‘Save the strong-minded woman from ever marrying you.’”

Anna Elizabeth Dickinson was only five tall tall, frail, with short dark hair and expressive eyes and fiery in personality and demeanor. Mark Twain described her as one who “talks fast, uses no notes what ever, never hesitates for a word, always gets the right word in the right place, and has the most perfect confidence in herself. Indeed, her sentences are remarkably smoothly-woven and felicitous. Her vim, her energy, her determined look, her tremendous earnestness, would compel the respect and the attention of an audience.”

She was born in to a family of ardent abolitionists, in to a home that was a stop on the Underground Railroad, and to a father who died when she was two years old from a heart attack after giving a speech against slavery. Anna took on his passion for social causes at a young age. She published a piece about an abolitionist school teacher in Kentucky who was being abused when she was just 14 years old. And then she began work in her mid teens as a teacher to help support her mother who was raising five children on her own.

But becoming a public speaker is where she began to make a big impact. Pushed by local abolitionists and suffrage leaders, Anna started giving public speeches. Her style of speech included sarcasm and ridicule, as with ease she could put down hecklers. And though she often suffered from throat issues, she persisted to speak. In 1863 when she was 21 years old, she became the first woman to give a political address to the U.S. Congress.