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Women’s Equality Day

By Sally G. McMillen


Today we celebrate Women’s Equality Day in commemoration of the certification of the 19th Amendment, granting of women’s right to vote throughout the country. Women in the United States were granted the right to vote on 26 August 1920. However, the amendment was first introduced many years earlier in 1878 due to the efforts of the nineteenth-century women suffragists.

Here are some little-known facts about four of the remarkable leaders of the suffragist movement:

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, circa 1880Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1818 – 1902)

Of the Bible, Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote, “I know no other books that so fully teach the subjection and degradation of women.” To that end, in 1895 and 1898, Stanton published her two volumes of the Woman’s Bible which highlighted scriptural passages that dealt with women and offered commentary. The publication of the Woman’s Bible caused some fracturing of the woman’s movement. While some women welcomed this publication, many others were shocked and separated themselves from Stanton.

The opening of the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments, likely written mostly by Stanton for the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention on woman’s rights, begins with the ringing phrase: “We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men and women are created equal.”

In Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s most famous essay, “Solitude of Self” (1892), which expresses thoughts that resonate then and now, she urged each woman not to lean on a man for protection or support but to achieve a sense of self and responsibility and claim “her birthright to self-sovereignty.”

Elizabeth Cady Stanton bore and raised seven children.

Lucretia Coffin Mott in 1842Lucretia Mott (1793 – 1880)

At the 1848 Seneca Falls convention it was Mott, a Quaker minister, who was the main attraction, and it was her name that enticed people to the meeting. At the time, she was one of the most famous women in America. Yet despite her open-minded, often radical ideas, she opposed the demand for woman suffrage in the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments.

So principled and ardent were Lucretia Mott and her husband James in their stance against slavery that they refused to use cotton, cane sugar, and any goods or products produced by slave labor.

So skillful a debater and so assertive in her beliefs was Lucretia Mott that when she visited President John Tyler, he told her he wanted to hand her over to debate John C. Calhoun, one of the South’s most ardent pro-slavery defenders.

Lucretia Mott and her husband James helped to found Swarthmore College. She bore six children.

Susan B. Anthony, late in lifeSusan B. Anthony (1820 -1906)

Anthony was the only one of these four women who never married. So dedicated and relentless was she in demanding woman’s rights that people dubbed her “Little Napoleon.” She occasionally expressed frustration that her fellow suffragists who were mothers could not devote themselves fully to the cause of woman’s rights as she was doing.

Anthony loved fine fashion. Thus, unlike Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucy Stone, she only reluctantly adopted the bloomer outfit that freed women from wearing corsets and the fashionable, voluminous dresses that restricted women’s freedom of movement.

Portrait of Lucy Stone, 1881.

Lucy Stone (1818 – 1893)

Lucy Stone was the first woman from Massachusetts and one of the first in the nation to earn a college degree, graduating from Oberlin Collegiate Institute in 1847 at the age of twenty-nine.

When Lucy Stone finally married in 1855 at the age of thirty-six, she and husband Henry Blackwell wrote and published a “Protest” that denounced the laws that restricted married women’s lives. A year later, she decided to keep her maiden name, arguing that since men could keep their names when married, why not women? Years later, married women who kept their maiden names were known as “Lucy Stoners.” Stone bore two children, though one died at birth.

From 1870 until her death in 1893, Stone edited and published the Woman’s Journal, the most enduring, influential nineteenth-century women’s suffrage newspaper in this country. It continued to be published (under a different name after 1917) until women finally won the right to vote in 1920.

Lucy Stone spent the first decade of her career as a lecturer for both abolition and for woman’s rights. She was a follower of William Lloyd Garrison and, like him, in the 1850s was a disunionist, urging northern states to separate from southern states in order to create a union without slavery.

In the controversy over the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of the Constitution giving black men citizenship and the right to vote, Lucy Stone supported both amendments while Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony opposed them, feeling women deserved those rights before black men.

Though Lucy Stone was one of the most famous women in America and devoted her life to fighting for woman’s rights, she does not appear in the marble statue in our nation’s Capitol which honors three nineteenth-century women suffragists: Anthony, Stanton, and Mott. Stone and her American Woman Suffrage Association (a rival to Anthony and Stanton’s National American Woman Suffrage Association) were on the wrong side of history and also virtually absent from three enormous volumes produced by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, History of Woman Suffrage, covering the nineteenth-century woman’s movement. Stanton’s daughter, Harriott, was the one to insist that the second volume include a chapter on Stone and the AWSA, or they would have been left out altogether.

Sally G. McMillen is the Mary Reynolds Babcock Professor of History at Davidson College. She is the author of Motherhood in the Old South and Southern Women: Black and White in the Old South, and Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement. She lives in Davidson, North Carolina.

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Image credits:  (1) Portrait of Lucy Stone, 1881. Painted by Ida Bothe. From Harvard University Portrait Collection, Gift of Mrs. Charles F. D. Belden, niece of Lucy Stone, to the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study in 1966. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), circa 1880. Photographer unknown. US Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. (3) Lucretia Coffin Mott (1793 – 1880), 1842. Oil on canvas by Joseph Kyle. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. (4) American civil rights leader Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), Between ca. 1890 and 1906. Photograph by Frances Benjamin Johnston. From Library of Congress. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Recent Comments

  1. Pentheus

    “I know no other books that so fully teach the subjection and degradation of women.”

    Apparently Elizabeth Stanton was unfamiliar with the story of Mary Magdalene: http://goo.gl/c42vmk

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