Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Ladies of Seneca Falls by Miriam Gurko

Mrs. Cady-Stanton and Miss Anthony
It's quite possible that I might be difficult to live (unlike before), now that I've read a completely fascinating account of the 19th Century women's movement.  Oh sure, I'd heard of Susan B. Anthony. And knew she had something to do with women's suffrage. (And of course, we banking professionals are all too well-aware of the nifty silver dollar done in her honor.) But just ask me about this amazing Quaker-feminist-speaker-writer who never even lived to see the 19th amendment passed. We all have those people we can't wait to meet in heaven...Jesus (of course), our grandparents, Buddha, and so on. Well, Miss Anthony is in my top five. Elizabeth Cady Stanton would be there as well; although, I dare say I might be a bit intimidated by her. Simply put, my greatest question to these courageous women would be: How far do you think we've come? They might just turn around and tell me, "Look, here are the things you still need to do."

To encapsulate how this book affected me in a blog is impossible, but here are a few thoughts to summarize:

  • It took 72 years from the first organized women's convention to grant legal authority for women to vote. 72 years! Trivia: When was the 19th Amendment passed, allowing women to vote? Hint - It wasn't terribly long ago (in a historical sense). The answer: 1920.  Although, women have been paying taxes since...uh, we landed on Plymouth Rock perhaps?  Interesting. Does anyone recall a little saying that went something like "taxation without representation"? I believe the book points out how a few feminine property owners, such as Susan Anthony's sister, Mary, would pay her taxes along with a note stating "Paying Under Protest." 
  • The masculine consensus was that women were too frail or didn't have the capacity to make such decisions. And a populace women's vote could be the detriment of the country!  Obviously, this argument is flawed at many levels. Most women weren't allowed an education. But so what if a woman wasn't educated? If a man wasn't educated or intelligent, was he not allowed to vote? Of course he was.  (I didn't come up with this argument - one of the great minds at the convention at Seneca Falls argued this point.) As for the capability for women to learn?  We must give thanks to our Quaker brothers and sisters for being the predecessors of equality in this particular issue. If they had not brought up female and male to be educated equally, who knows where women would be today? This issue continues to boggle my mind. Even today's classroom, don't girls mature more quickly than boys? Couldn't society see this in the 19th century? Most recently I read an editorial in the WSJ from Thomas Spence How to Raise Boys Who Read . Instead of creating these dumbed-down grossology version of novels, shouldn't we be holding them accountable to learn at a certain level? (Let's say the same level as our female student? Tee-hee. Issue aside - the article is worth reading.) Anyway - I was thinking how the 1800's culture would read the title to Spence's article as such a paradox! 
  • In general Quakers led the cause in the education of females; however, there were a few brave non-Quaker women to buck the issue of education and demand more than elementary schooling, i.e., Lucy Stone and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The great men of our country (and they were great in many other ways) argued that the Bible commands women to be subservient to their husbands. A few great women, the aforementioned, could not and would not accept this. So, they needed to learn Greek and Latin to translate the original text of the Bible. Of course, they were called heretics and much worse, for that matter, but eventually, they came to prove their position upon equal standing as men. And guess what? There were many, many men that believed in what they had to say.
  • I'm getting a bit windy, aren't I?  Okay, I'll try to be succinct, but these points are worth reading. (Oh, maybe you should just read this book...I'm just barely touching the surface.) The Civil War actually was a setback to the movement.  Almost all of the women felt their contributions to the War would earn them "points" in the eyes of the government. When the the black man was allowed the vote, surely women would be allowed to vote as well. Not so much. Susan B. Anthony was the only one to predict this. The Republic felt that women needed to put their selfish wishes on the back burner. It was the negro's time. It couldn't be done all at once.  Where did this leave the black woman? Ask Sojourner Truth - one of the few Black Abolitionist Women. It set them further back than anyone could imagine.
  • Beyond suffrage, what were the other issues of the women's movement? If women owned property, it went to her husband. If they divorced, the husband gained custody of the children. Women couldn't sign a contract. If a woman was beaten by a drunk husband, she had no civil rights. If she was raped by her husband, she had no civil rights. If the woman worked outside the home, all earnings went to her husband. And of course, the education of women for any of the fields open to men has been a long and arduous journey.
  • Issues of abolition and temperance ran parallel to women's rights in the 19th century. Would you believe these issues actually hampered the women's right movement? I alluded the Civil War setting back the women's movement above. But temperance? Well, there were two major entities who absolutely did not want women to get the vote; politicians and the alcohol industry. Politicians didn't want women taking note of the corruption - and cleaning up their machine. And the alcohol industry saw women as the ultimate  victims of alcohol abuse. So, put those two factors at work and the result? 72 years of fighting for the vote.
I've been trying to decide, where does this leave us today? Obviously, women have all the possibilities as men in terms of education and career paths. Susan and Elizabeth are smiling down at that. But I think a few of us are not carrying on the fire of the women's movement. Women's pay is not equal for the same job uniformly across industries. And surveys show that the majority of childcare and household chores are still carried out by the woman even if both are working full-time. This is NOT freedom. (Is this the collective psyche that girls are the natural caretakers? Whatever!) I love taking care of my family - so should my husband. Anyway, I think there is some work to do. I'm going to start by making my daughter and son read this great work by Miriam Gurko. And I'll end this rant with a quote from Susan B. Anthony:

"Oh, if I could but live another century and see the fruition of all the work for women! There is so much yet to be done."-  Susan B. Anthony 

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