by Jeanne Gehret


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The more I “listen” to my characters, the more convinced I am that Susan B. Anthony was a Type One on the enneagram. This character portrait is often called the Reformer Perfectionist. I am greatly indebted to Anita Plat-Kuiken, my co-aothor on this blogpost series, for her enneagram summaries. Anita has based her Type One descriptions on Bea Chestnut’s Complete Guide to the Enneagram. In turn, I have pulled all quotes from Susan’s authorized biography1. If you missed the series introduction last week, be sure to look back to my previous post, which briefly explains the basics of the enneagram.

Black and white photo of woman with hair pulled back
At age 48, Susan B. Anthony already exhibited many characteristics of Type One.

Susan B. Anthony as Type One

In my experience of studying her since 1990, Susan B Anthony appears to be an almost perfect example of a Type One. People with this enneagram number are honest, hardworking, dependable, practical, conscientious, responsible, improvement-oriented, and self-controlled. Out of their idealism, they exert great effort to improve the world around them, often inspiring others along the way. 

Susan’s sense of responsibility showed itself many times in her role as leader. Before the Civil War, she chaired the American Antislavery Society’s lecture circuit. When many of the scheduled speakers failed to appear for their engagements, she fulfilled all those commitments herself. (137ff)

Type One’s inner critic

Ones have a strong inner critic and tend to see the world as black and white. You don’t need to tell a One if they’ve done something wrong… they already know.  They can suppress their personal needs and desires and can feel anger or guilt over their impulses or behaviors that they judge as wrong. When unaware, they can be resentful, rigid, judgmental, nonadaptable, and overly critical of themselves and others.

Susan demonstrated this inclination during her teenage years when she attended a strict Quaker academy. Schoolmistress Deborah Moulson harshly reprimanded her students for such offenses as not addressing each other as thee and thou and for being too “mirthful.” Taking these criticisms to heart, Susan felt tremendous guilt, especially one time when she rushed up the stairs to cry after receiving Miss Moulson’s tirade on improperly dotting an i. On that occasion, she wrote in her diary, “Indeed I do consider myself such a bad creature that I cannot see any who seems worse.” P. 29

Given this habit of perfectionism, then, it’s no wonder that Susan regularly took colleagues in the antislavery and women’s rights movements to task. She wanted everyone to be and do their best. When a colleague gave a stirring speech entitled “Fair Play for Women,” Susan wrote him privately scolding him for using the word man to refer to humankind. (172)

There is debate about whether people are born with their number, or acquire their number through experiences.  Most likely, it’s both a predisposition and a way of defining meaning from events beginning in childhood.  This is not to say the early experiences necessitated the particular meaning derived by the individual, but just to say the person made meaning through the enneagram lens they used. 

Childhood responsibility in Type One

With this in mind, we expect to find evidence that a One’s childhood included a call to be “adult-like” before they were ready and to give up on spontaneity and play. Not surprisingly, Susan demonstrated this characteristic when she was twelve. That year, her mother boarded a dozen brickmakers and some factory hands who were helping to build a new house and add to her father’s factory. During this time her mother was pregnant and then gave birth. Susan and her two sisters did all the work, submitting the meals and lunchpails for their mother’s inspection. (p. 19)

Type Ones are motivated by the push and pull of their deepest desire in tension with their deepest fear. The enneagram One desires integrity, accuracy, and to be right while at the same time fearing to be wrong, imperfect, or bad. This interplay creates a recognizable vice (or passion, in enneagram speak), of ‘anger’ that results from their constant level of irritation that the world isn’t as it should be. 

This tendency in herself may have been at the forefront of Susan’s mind in a letter soon after her father’s death. In a letter to her brother, she wrote:

“We are so wont to utter criticisms and to keep silence about the things we approve. I wish we might be as faithful in expressing our likes as our dislikes, and not leave our loved ones to take it for granted that their good acts are noted and appreciated and vastly outnumber those we criticize.” 242

Ones’ actions may be motivated by their hostility toward the imperfect way things are and their attempt to force things to conform to their idea of how things should be.  Their anger can also show up as resentment.  Because Ones are conscious of “good” and “bad,” this hostility and resentment toward the situation is usually directed towards themselves, not onto others, lest that appear “bad.”

Driving herself hard

As a Type One, Susan may have fought against this tendency by driving herself hard before calling others to tasks. As president of numerous suffrage associations, her role involved a constant round of asking people to give speeches, canvass for petitions, manage publicity, address mail, and a host of other responsibilities. She led by example. Here, one of her colleagues gives a tongue-in-cheek summary of her activities:

Is there work among you for Susan to do? . . . At present, she has only the Anti-Slavery cause for New York, the ‘Woman’s Rights Movement’ for the world, the Sunday evening lectures for Rochester and other lecturing of her own . . . private cares and home affairs and the various et ceteras of “womanity.” These are about all so far as appears, to occupy her seven days of twenty-four hours each . . . . Do pity and procure work for her if it be possible.” 105

Ones who wake up realize that driving self and others is not the only way of existing in the world (perhaps there are choices!). They find themselves growing in the virtue of serenity. In other words, they gain the ability to take time for pleasant experiences, spontaneity, and playfulness. They learn to embody the wisdom of the Serenity Prayer: “I can change what can be changed, accept what cannot be changed, and have wisdom to know the difference.”

Finding balance as a One

Susan achieved balance in her busy life through frequent visits with people she loved and taking time to see the sights. At her peak, she gave at least a hundred speeches a year, traveling extensively to do so. These trips often included visits to friends and family. Often, she mentioned plays and musical performances she had enjoyed. Travels in Colorado and Great Britain brought her much joy. She kept in touch with her wide circle of relatives, friends, and family, celebrating birthdays and other special occasions.

It is from within this circle of love and appreciation that she uttered her most famous words at her birthday a month before her death. Facing a theater full of beloved comrades at the National Suffrage Association, she extended her hands to them and said, “With such women consecrating their lives, failure is impossible.” 1409

Numerous sources have cited Nelson Mandela, Michelle Obama, and Martin Luther King Jr. as enneagram Type Ones. As one of the greatest champions of racial and gender equity in the United States, it seems fitting to add Susan B. Anthony to this distinguished list.

1Ida Husted Harper, Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony. Salem, NH: Ayer Company, 1983 edition.

One Comment

  1. Carol Crossed November 5, 2023 at 10:35 am - Reply

    While I know little about the enneagram this analysis is intriguing and seems accurate from the sources used.
    I like the way Susan appears to weave together her work and family connections…appearing to balance responsibilities.
    But again, they are responsibilities. It seemed most tasks fell into that category. I wonder if her planting raspberries and making pie (or was it peaches?)
    were done out of creativity or service?

    Anyway, this has made me want to learn more about the enneagram.
    Carol Crossed

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