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Stanton and Anthony were close ...
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Stanton and Anthony were close friends, partners, and allies, but judging from their backgrounds they would seem an unlikely pair. Stanton was born into the prominent Livingston clan in New York, grew up wealthy, educated, and sociable, married and had a large family of her own. Anthony, raised in a devout Quaker environment, worked to support herself her whole life, elected to remain single, and devoted herself to progressive causes, initially Temperance, then Abolition. They were nearly total opposites in their personalities and attributes, yet complemented each other's strengths perfectly. Stanton was a gifted writer and radical thinker, full of fervor and radical ideas but pinned down by her reponsibilities as wife and mother, while Anthony, a tireless and single-minded tactician, was eager for action, undaunted by the terrible difficulties she faced. As Stanton put it, "I forged the thunderbolts, she fired them."
The relationship between these two extraordinary women and its effect on the development of the suffrage movement are richly depicted by Ward and Burns, and in the accompanying essays by Ellen Carol Dubois, Ann D. Gordon, and Martha Saxton. We also see Stanton and Anthony's interactions with major figures of the time, from Frederick Douglass and John Brown to Lucretia Mott and Victoria Woodhull. Enhanced by a wonderful array of black-and-white and color illustrations, Not For Ourselves Alone is a vivid and inspiring portrait of two of the most fascinating, and important, characters in American history.
The women who crowded the sidewalk, pushed their way into the lobby, and began to move toward their seats in the lofty, glittering interior -- more than three thousand of them, along with only a handful of men -- had not turned out merely to hear music. They had come to attend a historic event, a great "Reunion of Pioneers and Friends of Woman's Progress," and the boxes that framed the stage in front of them were festooned with flowers and banners belonging to women's organizations: the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, in white with gold letters; the Professional Woman's League, all in gold; the Woman's Press Club, in violet, yellow, and white; the Republican Woman's Club, in patriotic red, white, and blue. At center stage stood three ornately carved chairs, the back and arms of each wound with red roses. Behind the chair in the center was a vast oval of white chrysanthemums with the name Stanton picked out in crimson immortelles.
It was the eightieth birthday of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the woman who had launched the women's-rights movement in 1848 and had helped lead it ever since. Its celebration was to be the central theme of the evening, and when four sisters named Parke began playing a cornet fanfare and the guest of honor started to make her stately way onstage, a diminutive but corpulent figure in black, leaning on a cane with one hand and clinging with the other to the arm of her son Theodore, the entire audience rose to flutter handkerchiefs in tribute. Stanton was nearly blind now and very frail, but as she carefully took her seat and composed herself amid the flowers, one woman in the crowd thought she looked, "with her majestic face crowned with its beautiful white hair, like a queen upon her throne."
The official hostess for the evening sat at Stanton's left: Mrs. Mary Lowe Dickinson was president of the Woman's National Council of the United States, which claimed 700,000 members all across the country. But sitting at Stanton's right hand, as she had sat for better than forty years, was her close friend and strongest ally, Susan B. Anthony. She was herself seventy-five years old that fall but still routinely working harder than women half her age. In the first seven months of the year alone she had traveled to thirteen states to speak. Then, while addressing a crowd at Lakeside, Ohio, in late July, she had collapsed onstage with what may have been a small stroke -- "the whole of me coming to a sudden standstill," she remembered, "like a clap of thunder under a clear sky." She was the best-known woman in America, and as she recuperated, reporters from all over the country kept a death watch outside the house; one Chicago paper telegraphed its man on the scene: "50,000 words if still living, no limit if dead." Anthony had chafed under the enforced rest -- "do-nothingness," she called it -- and it had taken her nearly three months to get back on her feet. But onstage at the Metropolitan Opera House, she now seemed to one reporter "as erect and alert as ever" as, one by one, younger women, many of whom she had helped train for leadership, rose to recount the progress that women had made in the fields of religion, education, and philanthropy since she and Stanton had begun their work.
The birthday celebration for her old friend had been Anthony's brainchild, but she had been careful to remain behind the scenes until now -- not wanting the evening to seem merely "a mutual admiration affair," she said -- and the National American Woman Suffrage Association, of which she was president, was just one of several sponsors. But the symbolism of seeing the two trailblazers sitting side by side was not lost on the audience. "Together they have trodden the flinty stones," said a message from Clara Barton; "together they opened the way for all womanhood through all time."
The two women could not have been more different. Stanton had been born to wealth and comfort, and was for many years the housebound mother of seven. She was witty and hospitable, fond of good food and fine clothes, an enthusiastic devotee of afternoon naps.
But she was also an uncompromising revolutionary -- a "many idead woman," her daughter Harriot Stanton Blatch proudly called her -- for whom winning the vote was always just one item on a comprehensive agenda aimed at improving the status of all women in every area of life.
Anthony was a Quaker farmer's daughter who had chosen early not to marry; alone among the earliest advocates of woman suffrage, she had remained self-supporting all her life. She was plainspoken, disciplined, single-minded, but she had learned to be a canny tactician as well, willing to tack to the left or to the right if by so doing she could steer the woman-suffrage movement closer to its goal. Though she never held public office and would not live to cast a legal vote, she had already become the nation's first great woman politician, "Aunt Susan" to a whole generation of young women.
Stanton herself had once tried to explain the nature of their partnership. "I am the better writer," she said, "[and] she the better critic. She supplied the facts and statistics, I the philosophy and rhetoric, and together we have made arguments that have stood unshaken by the storms of . . . long years; arguments that no man has answered. Our speeches may be considered the united product of our two brains. So entirely one are we that . . . not one feeling of envy or jealousy has ever shadowed our lives."Their arguments had indeed proved unassailable, and they had determined early on that they should always stand together: "To the world we always seem to agree and uniformly reflect each other," Stanton wrote. "Like husband and wife, each has the feeling that we must have no differences in public." But behind the scenes, the real story was more complicated -- and more interesting -- filled with instances of love and loyalty, envy and betrayal; raising larger questions of principle and compromise, means and ends, and the meaning of independence itself.
Finally, it was time to hear from the guest of honor. Mrs. Dickinson introduced her as "the Mother of the heart-life stirring in us all." The crowd rose once again, a sea of waving handkerchiefs. Only Stanton's obvious frailty returned them to their seats; no one wanted to force her to stand too long.
Women in the front rows saw that there were tears in her eyes. "I thank you all very much for the tributes of love, respect, and gratitude," she said, her rich voice penetrating to the farthest balcony. "I am well aware that these demonstrations are not so much tributes to me as an individual as to the great idea that I represent -- the enfranchisement of women."
She was too weak to remain on her feet, she said. A younger colleague would read her remarks for her. She started for her chair, then turned to the audience again, a smile playing across her lips: "Before I sit down I want to say one word to the men who are present. I fear you think the 'new woman' is going to wipe you off the planet, but be not afraid. All who have mothers, sisters, wives or sweethearts will be very well looked after."
Then she sat and listened along with the audience as her words were read aloud. While she was never one to discourage praise and had heard precious little of it in recent years, she was too impatient to bask in it for long. Nor did she want to waste valuable time saying predictable things about votes for women, the cause with which she'd been most clearly identified since 1848: the vote was coming, she was sure, though she would not live to see it. "I cannot work in the same old ruts any longer," she'd recently told a friend. "I have said all I have to say on the subject of suffrage." And she saw little point in further belaboring the discredited notion that women must confine themselves to "woman's sphere" -- being daughters and wives and mothers and nothing else. "That ground," she wrote, "has been traveled over so often there is not a single tree nor flower nor blade of grass to be found anywhere."
For Elizabeth Cady Stanton there was always more interesting, more important work to do, and even on this self-consciously sentimental occasion, meant to bring women of many opinions together, she could not resist challenging her listeners. If women were to continue on the path of progress, she said, Christianity itself needed to be reformed:
Nothing that has ever emanated from the brain of man is too sacred to be revised and corrected. Our National Constitution has been amended fifteen times, our English system of jurisprudence has been essentially modified in the interest of woman to keep pace with advancing civilization. And now the time has come to amend and modify the canon laws, prayer-books, liturgies and Bibles. . . . Woman's imperative duty at this hour is to demand a thorough revision of creeds and codes, Scriptures and constitutions.
Anthony sat quietly as Stanton's words were read out to the increasingly restive audience. She was privately disappointed that Stanton had not rested her case "after describing the wonderful advances made in state, church, society and home, instead of going on to single out the church and declare it to be especially slow in accepting the doctrine of equality of women." Criticism of the churches would unnecessarily alienate many of the women present, she thought, and would provide still another distraction from her lifelong effort to win the vote, which she believed would arm all women everywhere with the weapon they needed to transform the country and the world.
But Anthony was accustomed to such embarrassments -- Stanton could never be kept for long from expressing what she believed to be essential truths about woman's condition, no matter whom they might offend. The next day Anthony journeyed uptown to Stanton's West Side apartment, where an artist was waiting to make a plaster cast of her hand linked with that of her great friend. Cast in bronze, it was meant to be still another symbol of one of the most fateful friendships in American history.
Posted May 4, 2001