On this date in 1815, writer, women’s rights activist and suffragist Elizabeth Cady was born in Johnstown, New York. She married abolitionist Henry Stanton, and together they had seven children.
Mrs. Stanton died October 26, 1902 (aged 86), in New York City. It would be almost fifty years after her death that the 19th Amendment was finally incorporated into the U.S. Constitution. She had written the text of it with her lifelong friend and partner in activism, Susan B. Anthony. The 19th amendment reads simply:
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
It is…interesting that I never heard of Elizabeth Cady Stanton once during my public school education. It was all Susan B. Anthony this and Susan B. Anthony that—and yet Susan B. Anthony herself said about Stanton that “she forged the thunderbolts, and I fired them.” For her part, Mrs. Stanton said of Miss Anthony:
“We never met without issuing a pronunciamento on some question. In thought and sympathy we are one, and in the division of labor we exactly complemented each other. In writing we did better work than either could alone. While she is slow and analytical in composition, I am rapid and synthetic. I am the better writer, she the better critic. She supplies the facts and statistics, I the philosophy and rhetoric, and, together, we have made arguments that have stood unshaken through the storms of long years–arguments that no one has answered. Our speeches may be considered the united product of our two brains.”
It’s not just me, either. The Palace has just conducted a highly science-like research project: a formal survey of a nationally representative sample (some of my friends, ranging in age from 15-65), using only the most advanced polling technology (text messaging). Fig. 1 below is a copy (paste) of the highly science-like survey.
Hi! Can you help with some research for a piece I’m writing?
Off the top of your head and without asking anyone or looking it up,
(1) do you know who Susan B. Anthony is?
(2) do you know who Elizabeth Cady Stanton is?
The collected data is charted below in Fig. 2.
Eight of nine respondents knew of Susan B. Anthony. Only three knew of Elizabeth Cady Stanton (and frankly, knowing my friends, they probably all cheated and Googled her, then lied about it. After all, I keep only the most scandalous, wicked and depraved company.)
In her day, Stanton was as infamous as Anthony. They were self-described 50-50 partners in their activism, and the two shared a close, lifelong friendship. What might account for this manifestly unjust discrepancy in their infamy?
It will not surprise Loyal Readers™ that The Palace has a working hypothesis for why this is so. Although both women were raised Christian and became openly agnostic, only Mrs. Stanton relentlessly attacked religion as a source of women’s oppression. Miss Anthony, on the other hand, kept her mouth shut on that particular topic.
At CFI’s last Women in Secularism conference, I heard Susan Jacoby speak on “Why the Lost History of Secular Women Matters Today,” and Jennifer Michael Hecht on “The History of Atheism, Feminism, and the Science of Brains.” Both touched on the theme of women activists, scholars and writers throughout history who had a profound, world-changing influence, and were quickly written out of historical narratives in favor of highlighting (admittedly deserving) men. This turns out to be especially true of nonbelieving or unorthodox women. Atheist men are also erased from historical narratives in favor of believers.
We can’t have kids learning from history textbooks about people who point to religion as the source of the world’s ills now, can we? Obviously the United States cannot commemorate the co-author of the 19th Amendment on a dollar coin: I mean it’s terrible enough that Stanton was a feminist. But a godless feminist? And a fierce one at that? HORRIFYING! Why, it might give kids the idea that their parents and priests are 100% full of shit about gods (and about women, for that matter). Even though godlessness is foundational to the makers of American history, particularly with respect to both the abolitionist and women’s suffrage movements, please don’t tell the children. We would much prefer that they conflate patriotism with godbothering: it makes for much better capitalists and/or cannon fodder. Don’t you think?
BREAKING NEWS: Religion poisons everything. Including American history.
Anyway! Today we will be having a godless soiree in The Palace Bar to toast the women’s rights activism of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Naturally, we will be serving Thunderbolt cocktails. (It must be noted here that although she was an ardent abolitionist, her views on race were…
problematic terrible and wrongheaded and we will not be toasting to that.)
You can read Stanton’s New York Times obituary, including thoughts from Susan B. Anthony, here.
Enjoy a few quotes from Mrs. Stanton along with your refreshing beverage!
The bible and the church have been the greatest stumbling block in the way of women’s emancipation.
Truth is the only safe ground to stand on.
The happiest people I have known have been those who gave themselves no concern about their own souls, but did their uttermost to mitigate the miseries of others.
When women understand that governments and religions are human inventions; that Bibles, prayer-books, catechisms, and encyclical letters are all emanations from the brains of man, they will no longer be oppressed by the injunctions that come to them with the divine authority of ‘Thus sayeth the Lord.’
Woman’s degradation is in mans idea of his sexual rights. Our religion, laws, customs, are all founded on the belief that woman was made for man.
The heyday of woman’s life is the shady side of fifty.
Now I ask you if our religion teaches the dignity of woman? It teaches us the abominable idea of the sixth century–Augustine’s idea–that motherhood is a curse; that woman is the author of sin, and is most corrupt. Can we ever cultivate any proper sense of self-respect as long as women take such sentiments from the mouths of the priesthood?