Her father left home and after her mother had a mental breakdown, the 12 year old Anna had to take responsibility for the rest of the family. At the age of fifteen Anna became a school teacher.
In 1886 she graduated from Boston University as a doctor, but decided to work instead for the cause of woman's suffrage. Anna was a member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union and was president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (1904-1915). She published her autobiography, The Story of a Pioneer, in 1915.
Anna Howard Shaw, who was head of the Women's Council of National Defense during the First World War, died on 2nd July, 1919.
The injustice of the criticism cut deep; I knew I had done and was doing my share for the family, and already, too, I had begun to feel the call of my career. For some reason I wanted to preach - to talk to people, to tell them things. Just why, just what, I did not yet know - but I had begun to preach in the silent woods, to stand up on stumps and address the unresponsive trees, to feel the stir of aspiration within me.
When my father had finished all he wished to say, I looked at him and answered, quietly, "Father, some day I am going to college."
I can still see his slight, ironical smile. It drove me to a second prediction. I was young enough to measure success by material results, so I added, recklessly:
"And before I die I shall be worth ten thousand dollars!"
The amount staggered me even as it dropped from my lips. It was the largest fortune my imagination could conceive, and in my heart I believed that no woman ever had possessed or would possess so much. So far as I knew, too, no woman had gone to college. But now that I had put my secret hopes into words, I was desperately determined to make those hopes come true. After I became a wage earner I lost my desire to make a fortune, but the college dream grew with the years; and though my college career seemed as remote as the most distant star, I hitched my little wagon to that star and never afterward wholly lost sight of its friendly gleam.