Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Suffragettes, Abolitionists and Authors - Part II

This is another post about influential women, as listed in a book by Deborah Felder.  Although I've long ago returned the book to the library, I recorded her list and her rankings for future use here.  I've been researching them on the internet in a different order to their ranking, rather I've put them in chronological order to appreciate more about the time in which they lived.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815 - 1902) was rated 7th in 100, and I would have to agree that she rates this high. Abolitionist, women's rights activist, suffragette, temperance activist. I believe this is one of the women about whom I was supposed to write an English research paper at university when I was 16. Never mind that it was my first ever research paper (with footnotes and everything!) and that the books I brought home from the library all weighed a ton and looked dry and daunting, my uninformed impression of Stanton was that she would be dead boring. Forty years later I realise how mistaken I was (I dropped out of school rather than face that hurdle; 16 was too young for me to have a go at higher education).

Elizabeth was born in New York, the daughter of a lawyer and a politician Daniel Cady and enjoyed a formal education not often given to daughters. She was one of five daughters who lived to old age, out of eleven children born to the Cady family. Her father's sadness at her 20-year-old brother's death and a statement that he wished she was a son led her to believe he valued sons more than daughters. In spite of her excellent academic achievements she could not go to university. Elizabeth met Henry Brewster Stanton through her involvement with the abolition and temperance movements. He was a journalist, anti-slavery orator and, following their marriage, an attorney. Elizabeth required that 'promise to obey' be removed from the wedding vows as she was entering into a relationship of equals. They attended the International Abolition of Slavery Convention in London on their honeymoon. Though she took her husband's name, she refused to sign herself as Mrs. Henry B. Stanton, always insisting on her own name. Married for 47 years, because of employment, travel and finances they lived apart more often than together, though they had six children together, as part of what she called 'voluntary motherhood'; she felt that women should have control of their sexual relations and childbearing, an unusual idea in an era when women were expected to 'submit'. Though much alike in temperament, they disagreed on various issues, women's suffrage in particular; neither Elizabeth's father or husband favoured it.

Elizabeth was one of the organisers of the first women's rights convention in 1848. After initially working with Susan B. Anthony with their common involvement in temperance work, they formed a working partnership focussed on women's suffrage, in which Elizabeth wrote many of the speeches delivered by Anthony, who being single and childless was able to attend more functions. Though Elizabeth wanted to address women's rights more widely, she was persuaded to concentrate on suffrage. She and Anthony both broke with the abolistionist movement following the Civil War in that they lobbied against the ratification of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth amendments, giving the right to vote to African-American men but not to women.

In 1868 the two women formed the National Woman Suffrage Association, of which Elizabeth was president for 21 years. In her later life she travelled widely in the US and in Europe, speaking on behalf of women's rights. Her views included rights of economic opportunities, right to serve on juries and gender-neutral divorce laws. In 1892, she delivered a speech, Solitude of Self, to the Committee of the Judiciary of the US Congress. She and others wrote The Womans Bible, published in the late 1890s, to refute religious views that women should be subsurvient to their husbands. Though this book enjoyed great sales, its controversiality eventually caused the NWSA to separate itself from its ideas and, to some extent, Elizabeth. Several quotes suggest that at 80, though old, obese and bedridden, she was undaunted: "The only difference between us is, we say that these degrading ideas of woman emanated from the brain of man, while the church says that they came from God." "Our politicians are calm and complacent under our fire but the clergy jump round the moment you aim a pop gun at them 'like parched peas on a hot skillet'". "Well, if we who do see the absurdities of the old superstitions never unveil them to others, how is the world to make any progress in the theologies? I am in the sunset of life, and I feel it to be my special mission to tell people what they are not prepared to hear ..."

Forty years later, I definitely feel I did myself a grave disservice, not having studied about Elizabeth Cady Stanton. I think she might have changed my life. There are some excellent quotes from her here and here. My current favourite is

The heyday of woman's life is the shady side of fifty.


Anonymous said...

This is a great interesting and informative. Thank you!!

Beryl said...

Stanton sounds like a very complex character. One of my favorite thing to ask men used to be whether black men got the vote before women.

Carolyn said...

Another very interesting woman, way ahead of her time. She sounds very progressive for her time, much of her views would have been just about unheard of!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your wonderful blogs. I feel like you are a true
sister. Don't be too hard on yourself regarding your academic studies on women at such an early age. We grew up in an era when studies were not emphasized enough by the culture. The only thing we can do is start today--in the moments we have left.
A Late Bloomer!

Anonymous said...

I love the ending quote. This is another woman we discuss in American Literature...although i had not known much of what you wrote about her here. Mostly we touch on the Declaration of Sentiments, which took the Declaration of Independence and turned it into an ironic document on the need for equal rights.

Shelley said...

Bliss - I don't think I would have found it that interesting when I was younger, sadly. I had to live a while as a woman before I appreciated how things worked - and still didn't work.

Beryl - Did the men you asked know? I'm not sure I did. I was shocked to realise that women were given the vote after my mother was born.

Carolyn - I wonder sometimes what sort of things that seem beyond the pale now that will one day be taken for granted. Something to do with global economy or world voting perhaps?

Anonymous - I'm very pleased you like these posts. You are right that women's issues were not fully appreciated (and equal pay is still not there, though there have been some very expensive cases here in the local authorities that I think may help drive the point further home).

Terri - I do wish I could come take your class! I looked up the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments. It really was an amazing document.