Anna Howard Shaw, an example of the modern Renaissance woman, was always a tomboy. Born in the United Kingdom, she immigrated to the United States and spent her toddler years in Massachusetts and the rest of her youth in Michigan. Throughout her adolescence, she was immersed in the responsibilities of older men on her rural home while the men were in absentia from her family’s farm. She assimilated many agricultural skills in order to care for the rest of her family. Later, Shaw began teaching school while the men in her family were in combat in the Civil War in order to pay her family’s taxes and provide for them. In her adulthood, Shaw found her passion in the call to preach the word of God. In high school, she was recognized by people that assisted her stride to ordination: Reverend Marianna Thompson, who inspired her educational drive, Lucy Foot, a high school teacher who saw her potential, and Dr. Peck, a man seeking a female to ordain within the Methodist Ministry. Her recent passion was frowned upon by her relatives, friends, and peers and her family held her to an ultimatum: they would pay for her college education if she ceased preaching. Despite her lack of support, she attended the Methodist school Albion College where she spent three years earning income by lecturing.
Later, she began preaching more sermons and graduated from the Theological Seminary at Boston University in 1878 as the only woman in her class. On Cape Cod, she was troubled with the disadvantages of being a woman: lower income, higher rents, and lack of employment opportunity. Despite these difficulties, she persevered and became one of the first ordained female Methodist ministers in the United States. She then reverted back to Boston University, where she, while speaking out for the political rights of women, earned a medical degree to become a physician in 1886. Shaw then rose in ranks in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) soon after her MD.
As she fought to reduce the consumption of alcohol among women, Shaw lost interest and found intrigue in the suffrage movement. Slowly, she became increasingly involved in the Massachusetts Suffrage Association, conducting lectures for her movement. Her efforts within the Massachusetts Suffrage Association and, later, the American Woman Suffrage Association, served as the catalyst for her social growth in influence. Shortly after, Shaw met with Susan B. Anthony and was encouraged to join the Nation Woman Suffrage Association, which eventually allowed for the integration of two major powers in the fight for women’s suffrage: the AWSA and the NWSA. Through unifying these associations, Shaw contributed strength in the suffrage movement and was able to lead the NAWSA for eleven years until her resignation.
Though she continued to strive for women’s suffrage, NAWSA members were inspired by the success of England’s militant suffragettes and began to picket the White House. Experiencing inner turmoil with her opposition to violent tactics, Shaw saw fit to resign her position as president. She remained resilient to her faith in her principles during a time of chaos, exhibiting her dedication to her cause which outweighed her hunger for power. Shaw then became the head of the Women’s Committee of the United States Council of National Defense during World War I and was the first woman to earn the Distinguished Service Medal. Throughout the rest of her life, she lectured for suffrage until her passing of pneumonia at the age of 72.