The Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum in Adams, Massachusetts tells the story of one of America’s greatest suffragist—offering a self-guided tour that winds up in the “legacy room,” where an entire wall is dedicated to an obscure and controversial claim: namely that the celebrated feminist heroine was a committed opponent of abortion rights.
The primary documentary evidence is scant: “…a few diary entries; a newspaper editorial; and the fact that her short-lived feminist newspaper, the Revolution, declined advertisements for ‘quack medicines’ including abortifacients. From that thin gruel, the museum makes a feast,” notes Graham.
Yet historians, like Ann Gordon, who edited the six-volume Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, insist that pro-life activists have “got almost nothing to hang it on.” But that hasn’t stopped them from creating and disseminating their own set of alternative facts.
As far-right conservatives have done, and continue to do on many fronts, the pro-life movement has sought to reinforce their fantastical version of history through “books, articles, campus outreach, and institutions like the birthplace museum,” says Graham, and “their success shows just how quickly motivated forces can change the image of a major historical figure—and how tempting it can be to paint an earlier era as a reflection of our own.”