You would never have noticed, up in the visitor's gallery, the tall, thin, blue-eyed 61-year-old woman who peered down on the House floor to see final congressional action on a bill about coinage.
"It's not something I'd die in a ditch about," said Susan B. Anthony II, namesake and grandniece of the illustrious suffragist. Still, the decision to portray Susan B. Anthony on one side of the new dollar coin (with the American Eagle's moon landing on the other) is an honor of uncommon luster, and a pretty total reversal of the general contempt in which women were once held when they demanded to vote.
"Of course Aunt Susan used to say that "Failure is impossible," said the niece. It was years after her death that women finally got to vote in American elections. And although she has now been dead for 72 years, she is the first women (except the somewhat mythical Miss Liberty) ever to appear on coins, the first female ever to be struck by Uncle Sam.
Rep. Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio) said it will be a few months before the dollars get into production and said the picture of Anthony may undergo some changes - the present portrait is only an approximation, she said.
"Well," said the niece, "they have idealized and dewarted and deAmthonized my aunt, so that she looks practically like Miss Liberty." The niece favors somethings stockier, more massive within the hawkish Anthony nose, more like Susan B. herself. Whatever else people said they never thought she looked like Miss Liberty.
"She been a ghost in my life," said the niece and it took many years to exercise her or more charitably, come to terms with her.
For if failure was inconceivable to the first Susan B. it was a steady presence in the life of the second.
"Sometimes," said the niece, "it seemed to me I had been rejected by one and all. Bounced by three husbands threatened with deportation.
"And bounced from radio during the McCarthy years, and maybe the cruelest rejection of all bounced from the convent when I was a postulant."
She once wrote a bock about the omnipresence of Susan B. Anthony in her own life, called "The Ghost in My Life," and her publisher excitedly prefaced it with the note that it was written by "a thrice-divorced adulteress."
Whatever one's mental picture of a thrice-divorced adulteress may be, Susan B. Anthony probably is not going to fit it. Not with her gray hair, regal bearing and aquiline nose.
She does not blame the famous aunt, dead before the namesake was born, for her own wretched years of alcoholism and "the morals of a mink," but all the same it was a royal pain to have the noble aunt forever held over her as an example and a reproach.
When she was a girl, she thought her aunt Susan B. was married to Uncle Sam. Two mythical figures, perhaps equally ponderous. Once somebody said, "Why, she is like her greataunt," and the yound Susan reflected that in that case. "The old prune could not be as bad as I imagined her." It was only years later that she finally came to respect the drive and the self-lessness of her aunt.
She was hooked on booze before she got out of college and, not to split hairs about it, led what seemed to the surface to be a disreputable life. She was a reporter for The Washington Star for a couple of years and had the various husbands and wound up in New York with men she couldn't quite remember the next morning and had an enlarged liver by the time most heavy boozers are thinking vaguely about tapering down.
She would have died, she said (one of her lovers came close to solving all her problems with a knife) if she had not found a fellowship with fellow alcoholics.
That, she said, was very wonderful. Always, she said, her heart had gone out to good causes like racial justice and freedom from poverty.
But of cource she never quite got it all together, and along the way she picked up a reputation for being a pinlo.
"Hi, Susan," hollered old John Fox, the respected White House reporter for The Star, when he was accompanying President Truman on a trip to Florida, "you still a Commie."
At the time it was not so funny, because Susan was working for a Florida paper, and had been barred from an important military base on security grounds. Truman insisted she be allowed in to cover his visit, but the jocular comment about "still a Commie" could not have been worse-timed.
"I was never a Communist," she said yesterday, and said at the time, but in those days almost anybody who ever expressed an interest in social justice was fair game.
"I once went to the FBI," she said, "to give a clear explanation of all my associations. I do not think I did right in doing so, but at the time it seemed to be a way to help my husband.
"It is always a mistake to do things for the wrong reasons. When I was still a girl, some Republicans in a local election asked me to lend my name - they wanted my uant's name, of course - to some slate.
"I was about to do it, flattered at the attention, but fortunately a rabbi warned me about throwing weight to causes I didn't really know much about." She atoned for that temptation by becoming and remaining a Democrat.
"Years after I recovered from alcohoism, I had no personal god. Felt no need for one."
At one point in her life, to escape subpoenas during the great Red Scare, she became a British subject like her husband, a Jamaica planter who raised allspice.
This complicated her life even further, after their divorce, and she through prolonged hassles to get her citisenship restored.
The wear and tear along the years was getting to her more than she knew. In 1960, she had a religious conversion to Christianity in a dingy brown bedroom in San Diego.
"Among the things I would die in a ditch for, she said with a somewhate merry and mocking look in her eyes - she had said the Susan B. Anthony dollar was not really die-in-a-ditchworthy -" is the certrality and validity of my conversion to Christianity. I didn't come to it by intellect, and I know nothing could ever argue me out of it.
"I'm not talking about and torture or giving myself any airs - who knows how one will behave in a real test - but the Catholic faith (she is a Roman Catholic) is one of the few things I like to think I'd never renounce, even under the severest tests.
Anthony had been very interested in religion for years (she had a doctorate in theology from a Catholic seminary) before she applied to become a nun, and when she was "bounced out" after a few months, it left her devastated.
"I was very tactless," she said, accepting the failure as hers. A friend of hers said the novice mistress may not have understood that as an alcoholic Susan Anthony already had been dealt almost mortal blows and did not need her spirit broken further. In any case, it never worked out, at least not the way Susan had hoped.
"You know, once when it looked as if I might be deported, for loss of my citizenship, it was suggested to me that it might help to get a lot of affidavits from people showing how gungho I was against communism, and to show I was all in favor of our position in Vietnam.
"And I thought, well, even if that would help, it wasn't true.
"Sometimes I think recovered alcoholics come soonre to profound meditation than others - for them, it's a survival measure.
"I think things are gifts. I think I recovered from alcoholism as a gift, not because of willpower or virtue or good sense. So I am very grateful.
"The things I knocked myself out for - my writing, my vocation as a nun - have never worked out, but a thing I never really wanted - lecturing to groups - has rained down on me without my even asking. I never sent out announcements or brochures, for example, saying I would lecture or hold retreats. A man I have great faith in told me maybe I am not the best judge of what I can do best."
The crux of her life is of course, internal, though she has traveled 150,000 miles in the past two years conducting retreats and making talks, about women and alcohol and the spiritual life.
"The stone that the builders rejected," she once said with a delighted irony - of her own life and her own choices in it.Things started coming together in a way astonished her.
"My old alocholism, my old interest in feminism, my interest in a religious vocation - I certainly never dreamed these could possibly come together in any important way, but they have. All the failures . . ."
For her the great wheel seems to have turned so that things that were a loss have been a gain, and things that were a gain were not really so important.
She certainly never foresaw she would snorkle.
Now snorkeling is a big thing with her.
She never foresaw would walk hours on the beach of Deerfield, Fla. (where she now lives) praying as she moves along.
"Even the woman who once told me in her house that she hated my guts - 'I hate your guts.Get out' were her words - because I suggested to her that she had problems as great as her husband's - even she came around and told me it was the greatest service anyone ever did her.
"Once after a lecture, in which I had touched on so many terrible things in my life, a man came up and said, 'You sound like one happy lady."