Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony

Overview

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were two heroic women who vastly bettered the lives of a majority of American citizens. For more than fifty years they led the public battle to secure for women the most basic civil rights and helped establish a movement that would revolutionize American society. Yet despite the importance of their work and they impact they made on our history, a century and a half later, they have been almost forgotten.

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Overview

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were two heroic women who vastly bettered the lives of a majority of American citizens. For more than fifty years they led the public battle to secure for women the most basic civil rights and helped establish a movement that would revolutionize American society. Yet despite the importance of their work and they impact they made on our history, a century and a half later, they have been almost forgotten.

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
When Paul Barnes suggested that Elizabeth Cady Stanton be included in the film portraits of notable Americans that Ken Burns was planning to make, Burns barely recognized the name. Marginally more familiar was that of Susan B. Anthony, Stanton's comrade-in-arms in the struggle for women's suffrage. But as this book--the companion volume to the documentary that will appear this fall on PBS--splendidly reveals, theirs is the story not merely of two remarkable 19th-century women but of a major political movement, the end of which has yet to be written. This dual biography of the pair by the historian Ward emphasizes the impossibility of treating either one in isolation from the other. Anthony's grasp of the practical complemented Stanton's philosophical imagination--as Stanton wrote, "entirely one are we." Ward restores Stanton to her proper place alongside Anthony in the history of the women's movement and sensitively handles the more problematic elements of their political positions, especially in regard to their resistance to the enfranchisement of former male slaves before the vote was extended to women of any color. Additionally, there are essays by prominent women historians, including a provocative discussion of Stanton's contemporary reputation by Ellen Carol DuBois, and the wealth of illustrations that we have come to expect from Burns and his associates. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Since most Americans are cynical about the promise of electoral reform, it is hard for us to fathom the franchise as a source of power. But it has not always been this way, writes award-winning historian and biographer Ward First Class Temperament. This book, a companion to a documentary film by Burns and Paul Barnes, tells the story of the century-long struggle for woman suffrage. The book centers around the movement's earliest leaders, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Brilliantly chronicled, their tireless 50-year campaign for the right to vote is set in the context of other social movements, from abolition to temperance to economic justice. Political differences--Anthony's determined single-issue focus and Cady Stanton's more holistic and radical politics--are made tangible; readers can almost feel the heat of the pair's debates. Yet throughout, their friendship and mutual respect are palpable. Ward is to be commended for crafting a document that blends personal detail with political theory. The text is accompanied by 150 illustrations and excerpts from speeches delivered by both women. A valuable addition to all academic and public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/99.]--Eleanor J. Bader, Brooklyn, NY Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A look at the friendship of two extraordinary women, leaders of the first wave of feminism, which produced women's suffrage. Designed as the companion to a Burns (television's The Civil War, Baseball) and Ward (The West, 1996, etc.) film scheduled for a fall showing on PBS, this volume focuses on the remarkable 50-year partnership between Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. It was Stanton who launched the fight for women's rights with the 1848 Declaration of Sentiments at Seneca Falls, N.Y., and Anthony who focused on getting the vote as the issue that would give women the most leverage in gaining the economic, religious, legal, and moral independence espoused in the now famous document. Stanton, a dumpling of a woman with seven children, supplied "the philosophy and rhetoric"; Anthony, angular and a so-called spinster all her life, the "facts and statistics." Together, with many others, including Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Lucy Stone, and Frederick Douglass, they fought year after year, speech after speech, polemic after polemic to free American women from subjugation to the fathers, husbands, and sons in their lives. Some of the battles were ugly: although the first wave of feminism was closely allied with abolition (and also temperance), both Stanton and Anthony opposed the 15th Amendment giving newly freed black men the vote, asserting that women (i.e., educated white women) deserved it more. Both Stanton and Anthony spent years criss-crossing the country, giving speeches urging women to free themselves from male domination, Anthony pounding on the issue of suffrage, Stanton on what would later be called consciousness-raising. They died years short of the 1920constitutional amendment that would give women the vote, but they left behind women like Carrie Chapman Catt and Alice Paul, who would push it through. Heads up for those who think the women's movement started with a bra burning in Atlantic City. (150 color and b&w photos) (Book-of-the-Month/History Book club selection)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375405600
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/28/1999
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 7.97 (w) x 10.27 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Meet the Author

Geoffrey C. Ward is the author of 11 books and has written for numerous documentary films. He lives in New York City.

Ken Burns, founder of Florentine Films, is a director, producer, and writer who has been making documentaries for more than 15 years. He lives in Walpole, New Hampshire.

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Read an Excerpt

On the evening of November 12, 1895, passersby on Thirty-ninth Street on Manhattan's West Side noticed something still thought unusual even in New York: large groups of well-dressed women hurrying along the street, unaccompanied by men. They were converging on the big yellow-brick Metropolitan Opera House at the corner of Broadway. "Parties of women . . . without escorts, women unaccustomed to being out that way," a reporter for the New York Times noted, found safety in numbers: "One woman said as she entered the Opera House with her party, 'I feel just as though I belonged to a shoal of fishes.' "

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.

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