Writers have long attached the word “revolution” to technological innovations such as the now current e-commerce, biotech, and information “revolutions.” But when we think of “real revolutions” we are still inclined to envision guillotines, barricades, Bolsheviks, and the execution of Tsar Nicholas II and the Romanov family. Yet when one looks carefully at the Taliban rule in Afghanistan as an example, even if somewhat extreme, of the kind of patriarchy that governed orthodox Christians, Muslims, Jews, and ancient Mesopotamians reaching back for millennia and that shaped even much later secular and socialist forms of male domination, it becomes clear that the revolution of all revolutions has been the relatively recent, peaceful, and still-continuing equalization of men and women.
Whereas the Taliban prohibit women from being educated, there are now more women than men who are students in America’s four-year colleges and universities, and the proportion of women continues to rise in American law schools, medical schools, graduate schools, and the armed forces.1 The Western world is still in the midst of a profound change in gender relationships, and as more women are employed or pursuing professional careers, there has also been a new sensitivity to sexual harassment and the “gender-friendliness” of the workplace.
Of course it is partly to protect Afghan women from sexual harassment that the Taliban (like the Middle Assyrian Laws from the fifteenth to the eleventh century BCE) require women to wear head-to-toe veils or burkas and forbid them from speaking to non-family males or walking outdoors except in the company of a close male relative.2 Protection from rape and predatory males has often been one side of monopolizing the sexual life and reproductive capacity of particular women, the favored women who did not become prostitutes (who could not wear veils). As Gerda Lerner and other feminist historians have shown, similar restrictions pervaded patriarchal cultures until relatively recent times. Women were not only subordinated to males but were deprived of their own history and of any part in the creation of law, symbolic values, and the structures of meaning.3
Though a few isolated voices challenged Aristotle’s equation of women with slaves and domesticated animals,4 even the eighteenth-century Enlightenment was surprisingly silent or cautious on the question of women’s status. Rousseau, for example, did all he could to reinforce the traditional image of women.5 The true pioneers in discarding patriarchal restrictions, as in challenging all slave trading and slaveholding, were the Quakers, who recognized that hundreds of traveling women ministers could be witness to the “inner light.” But the American Revolution temporarily severed the strong Quaker transatlantic alliance and weakened the Society of Friends in the United States. Still, Quaker women took a prominent part, as Rebecca Larson puts it, in “abolition, temperance, prison reform, and women’s rights.”6
The ideals and the turbulence of the American Revolution certainly raised the expectations of some women. Thus in 1777 Lucy Knox wrote a letter expressing her love for her husband, General Henry Knox (“My dearest friend”), who had long been absent while fighting the British. After telling him of her fear that “being long accustomed to command” might make him “too haughty for mercantile matters,” Lucy concluded with the hope that “you will not consider yourself as commander in chief of your own house, but be convinced that there is such a thing as equal command.”7
The French Revolution inspired more explicit demands for gender equality, such as Olympe de Gouges’s 1791 Declaration of the Rights of Woman. But Gouges was guillotined as a royalist and in October 1793 the French government outlawed all female participation. The one towering feminist achievement of that revolutionary era was Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman, a work of 1792 that would inspire later generations. The great Quaker feminist leader Lucretia Coffin Mott, who surely equaled her friends Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in historical importance, always kept a copy of Wollstonecraft’s Vindication on the central table of her house. But the fact that Wollstonecraft had had an illegitimate daughter and known affairs with various men defiled the book in the eyes of most Victorian Anglo-Americans.
From the mid-1790s to the 1820s few writings questioned the status of women. As American states widened suffrage to include virtually all white males, they began denying the vote to free blacks and, in New Jersey, to women, who had briefly won this privilege following the Revolution. In the 1820s and for decades to come married women could not own property, make contracts, bring suits, or sit on juries. They could be legally beaten by their husbands and were required to submit to their husbands’ sexual demands. Even the aristocratic Alexis de Tocqueville, who toured America in 1831, was shocked by the immobility and restrictions placed on an American married woman, whose independence was “irrecoverably lost in the bonds of matrimony,” who “lives in the home of her husband as if it were a cloister,” and who was forbidden to step beyond “the narrow circle of domestic interests.”8 For later feminists these invisible chains would confirm Mary Wollstonecraft’s remark in her last novel, Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman (1798): “Was not the world a vast prison, and women born slaves?”
That said, Bonnie S. Anderson, Linda Kerber, Nancy Cott, and numerous other historians of nineteenth-century American women have shown that the constraints on the virtuous mother and housewife were cushioned by a republican “cult of domesticity” that encouraged education and the highest female literacy rate in the world—to say nothing of parlor literature and friendly groups like Cincinnati’s “Semi-Colon Club,” where young Harriet Beecher mingled socially with New England professors, ministers, doctors, their wives, and single women who listened to and discussed one another’s “papers,” before dancing and consuming sandwiches, coffee, and a fine brand of madeira.9
If such mixed-couple social groups were rare, there was a broad consensus that the virtue and stability of a republic would depend on the kind of mothers who could raise presidents like Washington. Many women came to feel they had a supreme republican mission. Several historical changes made this possible, among them progressive mother-centered theories of child-rearing; the disappearance of the home as a household of industry; and the emergence of the middle-class home as a “haven in a heartless world” that would provide refuge and serenity for exhausted husbands while also training sons for competition and upward mobility.
As it happened, this “cult of domesticity” proved to be an invincible barrier to nineteenth-century feminists even if they borrowed the notion that women were morally superior to men, less dominated by sexual and violent impulses, and thus better prepared to use politics as a way of purifying and reforming society. By emphasizing motherhood, the ideal of domesticity widened the gender differences symbolized by pregnancy, birthing, breast feeding, child care, and menstruation, pointing to women’s relative incapacities outside the home. And in the long era before effective birth control, some of the boldest feminists, such as Angelina Grimké Weld and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, were incapacitated for long periods by motherhood, a fact that deeply troubled the younger Susan B. Anthony, who was single and often hostile to “baby-making.”
Ironically, even Stanton expressed anguish after her second daughter and sixth child, Harriot, was born in 1856; at age forty-one she longed to burst free from mothering chores and join Anthony in traveling and canvassing on the open road.10 The two women established a famously close friendship and working relationship that lasted until 1902 when Stanton died. But as the Civil War approached there was little that feminists could accomplish in the short run, and as Harriot grew up and became Harriot Stanton Blatch, she would be the one who would actually achieve American woman suffrage in 1920, long after her mother and Anthony had passed away. As we have seen in our own era, full gender equality is a revolution that requires many generations.11
Bonnie S. Anderson’s Joyous Greetings is the only work I know of that puts the first crucial stage of the woman’s movement—1824 to 1860—within the complex transatlantic context required for any full or even adequate understanding.12 From Eleanor Flexner’s classic Century of Struggle: The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States13 to Ken Burns and Paul Barnes’s 1999 documentary film Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, historians have emphasized the isolation of the US, seemingly cut off from Europe and even from the Revolutions of 1848 (not mentioned by Flexner). The book and film versions of Not for Ourselves Alone refer to revolutionary events in nine European cities in 1848 but far from seeing any influential connections, stress that the Seneca Falls Convention “signaled the start of a revolution that would have more lasting consequences than any of the others.”14
Yet, as Anderson shows, it was the news that revolutionary France had outlawed colonial slavery that heartened American abolitionists and that “energized Mott, who had been silent on women’s rights for much of the 1840s,” to make the European revolutions a theme of her lecture of May 9, 1848, to the American Anti-Slavery Association in New York (“When we look abroad and see what is now being done in other lands, when we see human freedom engaging the attention of the nations of the earth, we may take courage”). And it was this optimism generated by revolutionary Europe that inspired Mott on July 13 to renew contact after eight years with the depressed Elizabeth Cady Stanton in Seneca Falls, New York, and immediately plan with her, with Mott’s sister, and with two other Quaker women the famous women’s rights convention of the following week. Nor does that convention seem quite so highly exceptional when we learn that in the previous month Joseph Hume had moved in Parliament that all women householders be given the vote, a motion supported by Benjamin Disraeli but nevertheless defeated. In 1848 American attention was so glued to Europe’s “springtime of nations” that New York City held a festival on March 25, featuring fourteen addresses in four languages as well as a day-long parade down Broadway. The New York Herald arranged in April for special shipments by steamship of copies of La Presse from Paris. Only slowly did the news of the bloody “June Days” and later repression begin to set in.
Bonnie Anderson, a professor of history at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, has done extensive research in French, German, English, and American sources that show that by 1847 there were hundreds of feminists in both Europe and America. By “feminists” she means women who knew they were not innately inferior to men and believed they should not be subordinate to them in any way. Anderson has chosen twenty “core women” and twenty-one others “on the periphery of the core group,” including women born in France, England, the United States, German states, Poland, Hungary, Finland, Ireland, and Scotland. What is truly remarkable is the way these women interacted as editors, public speakers, founders of magazines, letter writers, and immigrants. Anne Knight, for example, the English Quaker founder of the Sheffield Female Political Association, worked closely in Paris with Jeanne Deroin, one of the radical heroines of Anderson’s book, whom we first meet in 1851 with Pauline Roland in the stone cell of a medieval prison for women, writing letters to their “sisters” abroad.
Many of the women on Anderson’s list knew Ernestine Rose, the Polish-born daughter of a rabbi who renounced Judaism as she moved from Berlin, Paris, and London to the United States, where among other activities she translated feminist works written in French and German. Unlike the later suffragists, Rose envisioned a “radical and universal” reformation:
It is not the mere perfecting of a progress already in motion, a detail of some established plan, but it is an epochal movement—the emancipation of a class, the redemption of half the world, and a conforming re-organization of all social, political, and industrial interests and institutions.
Unfortunately, perhaps, feminism usually began as “a detail of some established plan.” In Europe it began in the 1820s as an offshoot of Owenite and then Saint-Simonian socialism (named after the Englishman Robert Owen and the Frenchman Comte de Saint-Simon). In the United States feminism emerged in a far more religious form from the temperance and antislavery movements, though such figures as Lydia Maria Child, the Grimké sisters, Abby Kelley, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton became increasingly secular in their outlook. Following the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Elizabeth W. McClintock wrote a long letter to the Seneca Falls Courier in response to a hostile sermon they had heard that invoked the Bible:
No reform has ever been started but the Bible, falsely interpreted, has opposed it. Wine-drinking was proved to be right by the Bible. Slavery was proved to be an institution of the Bible…. Capital punishment is taught in the Bible…. Why, the self-styled christians of our day have fought in and supported the unjust and cruel Mexican war, and have long held men, women, and children in bondage. Oft-times, when no conclusive arguments can be brought to bear upon a subject, a cry of “infidelity” is raised, that the mind of the public may be prejudiced against it…. The wicked Jews made God the author of all their wars and calamities. They claimed for themselves His peculiar guidance.15
Radical women began changing the nature of Anglo-American reforms in the mid-1820s, when Elizabeth Cady was nine and Susan B. Anthony four. In 1824 Elizabeth Coltman Heyrick, an English Quaker, published an explosive pamphlet, Immediate, Not Gradual Abolition; or, An Inquiry into the Shortest, Safest, and Most Effectual Means of Getting Rid of West Indian Slavery. In America the Quaker abolitionist Benjamin Lundy reprinted this pamphlet in his newspaper, The Genius of Universal Emancipation, and by the early 1830s “immediatism” had become the ideal and slogan for most British and American abolitionists.16
In 1824 an Irish socialist named Anna Wheeler, who had joined a Saint-Simonian commune in Normandy, persuaded another socialist, William Thompson, to write Appeal of One Half the Human Race, Women, Against the Pretensions of the Other Half, Men, To Retain Them in Political, and Thence in Civil and Domestic Slavery, which was published the next year. Attacking James Mill’s arguments for excluding women from political rights, Wheeler and Thompson maintained that marriage converted a woman into “the literal unequivocal slave of the man who may be styled her husband.”17 Indeed, this tract insisted that married white women were worse off than West Indian slaves since in addition to being owned outright, they were “forced to feign love for their masters.” Only socialism, it appeared, could liberate women from being forced to submit to men’s “caprice of command” (Anna and William would have been shocked if they could have seen the sexual powers exercised later by the autocratic socialist John Humphrey Noyes in his famous Oneida Community).
It was also in 1824 that the wealthy Scot and Owenite socialist Frances Wright began traveling with General Lafayette on his triumphal tour of the United States, visiting the elderly Jefferson and Madison and advocating the emancipation of women as well as slaves. With the aid of Andrew Jackson, Wright bought a tract of land in the western Tennessee wilderness, named it Nashoba, and then purchased a group of slaves with the bold intent of showing by experiment that the blacks could earn the cost of their freedom in five years while also “amalgamating” with white settlers. This sexual freedom, coupled with public whippings of alleged criminals and Wright’s long absence and later “infidel” lectures and writings, contributed to a popular image of “that Jezebel beast of a woman.” After Nashoba expired in 1830, “Fanny Wright,” as she was known, succeeded in “colonizing” about thirty of the blacks in Haiti, but her bold radicalism provided the enemies of feminism with much ammunition.18
If there were hazards for feminism in becoming an adjunct of socialism or English Chartism—and when the chips were down, P.J. Proudhon and the Chartists discarded woman’s rights as a juvenile, bourgeois, or irrelevant cause—there were similar dangers in relying on male abolitionists. Yet in America hundreds of female abolitionists made the discovery well-summarized by Mary Kelley: “in striving to strike [the slave’s] irons off, we found most surely that we were manacled ourselves.” As we have seen, Wollstonecraft made use of the slave analogy, which is rooted in the Bible, the Iliad, the Odyssey, and other ancient literature and law.
The Anglo-American abolitionist movements gave women an unprecedented opportunity to gather and sign petitions; to found their own essentially political and often interracial organizations; to collect funds; to write tracts, pamphlets, and novels; and to engage in public lecturing.19 The African-American Maria W. Stewart was apparently the first woman of any color to address mixed audiences of men and women.20 To a Boston audience she stressed in 1832 that the condition of free black women, who were kept by racial prejudice from rising above the rank of servants, was “but little better” than that of Southern slaves.
The first white women to follow Stewart’s example were the famous Grimké sisters, Sarah and Angelina, who were born and brought up on a large South Carolina plantation before they moved north to Philadelphia and became Quaker converts. What made them famous, or infamous in the eyes of most Northern clergy, was their willingness to challenge even the radical Hicksite Quaker restrictions by lecturing to sexually and racially mixed audiences on the sinfulness of slavery, which they knew firsthand, as well as the need to recognize women’s equal rights. Angelina, who would later marry the great abolitionist Theodore Weld, inflamed the South in 1836 with her book An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South, and two years later became the first woman ever to speak to an American legislative body as she urged a committee of the Massachusetts legislature to accept the right of women to petition. In the same year her sister published a pioneering feminist work, Letters on the Equality of Sexes and the Condition of Women.
But this mixing of races and genders, which became public at the 1838 Second Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women in Philadelphia, provoked a government-sanctioned riot. As the Philadelphia police and fire department remained in willed paralysis, a mob of thousands burned the recently constructed Pennsylvania Hall to the ground and threw piles of abolitionist papers into the Delaware River in a claimed reenactment of the Boston Tea Party.
There were many reasons for the tragic division of the American antislavery movement in 1840. Arthur and Lewis Tappan, wealthy partners in the largest silk-jobbing firm in the country, had, during the early 1830s, moved from supporting various religious philanthropies, such as the distribution of tracts and campaigning for the strict observance of the Sabbath, as in their native New England, to organized abolitionism. It was Arthur Tappan who paid for William Lloyd Garrison’s release in 1830 from a Baltimore jail, who then helped finance Garrison’s Liberator and his first trip to England to forge ties with the triumphant English abolitionists, and who helped to launch the American Anti-Slavery Society late in 1833, becoming its first president.
But the fervently religious Tappan brothers also harbored doubts over Garrison’s vague religious beliefs and commitments, doubts that turned into alarm when Garrison denounced America’s churches and clergy, attacked the authenticity of the Sabbath, and even repudiated government and all politics, including the duty to vote, on the grounds that government, like slavery, relied ultimately on physical force. Lewis Tappan and other abolitionists who had mobilized an impressive antislavery petition campaign to Congress insisted that “the woman question” was merely the precipitating occasion, not the underlying cause, of the great division of the American Anti-Slavery Society in May 1840. Lewis Tappan told Theodore Weld that the real issue was Garrison’s desire “to make an experiment upon the public”by foisting a host of radical issues upon the society.21
But if Garrison weakened the po-tential appeal of abolitionism by adopting the perfectionist views of such prominent thinkers as John Humphrey Noyes and Henry Clarke Wright, thus challenging the central beliefs and values of most Northerners, he also favored gender equality and, unlike the Tappans, had no misgivings about allying himself with Unitarians and Hicksite Quakers. He was thus able to bring from Boston to New York a large boatload of women as well as men for the May 1840 meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Even at the 1839 meeting the Tappans and the separate political abolitionists, who were founding the Liberty Party, were disillusioned by the victory of “Boston heresies” when James G. Birney called for a condemnation of the “No-Government” and “Non-Resistance” philosophies and was defeated.
By 1840 plans supported by the Tappans were already afoot to found a rival American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, on the British model, barring women from the vote. The crucial test at the May 1840 meeting came when the Garrisonians elected the radical feminist Abby Kelley to the business committee by a vote of 557 to 451. In the eyes of Lewis Tappan, who thereupon resigned, it was highly immoral for a lady to sit be-hind closed doors with miscellaneous gentlemen. Moreover, Abby Kelley’s movement for woman’s rights would, he believed, inevitably alienate many potential supporters of slave emancipation. The veteran Quaker abolitionist and poet John Greenleaf Whittier seemed to agree when he wrote in a half-humorous vein after the meeting:
I am getting rather off from woman’s rights…. This last exploit of my good friend Abby in blowing up the Amer. A. Slavery Society is too much for me. Abolition women…. Think of the conduct of Mrs. Adam—how Delilah shaved Samson—how Helen got up the Trojan War—and last but not least this affair of Abby’s and the society.
In an influential book of 1976, the historian Ronald G. Walters presented strong arguments against the view, endorsed even by Garrison, that this schism seriously weakened the antislavery cause. 22 After years of reflecting on Walters’s argument, I have changed my mind and have concluded that he was wrong. Without becoming immersed in details, I’m impressed by the fact that it was a united if diverse movement in Britain, including thousands of women, that achieved the abolition of colonial slavery and ex-slave “apprenticeship” at remarkably early dates. A united movement in America might have done much more to build on the Supreme Court’s Amistad decision of 1841—which set free the rebels on a Spanish-owned slave ship—and to prevent or delay the annexation of Texas as a slave state, and perhaps even to curb or modify some of the proslavery actions that followed. Besides, the linkage of American abolitionism and feminism also led in 1840 to what Anderson calls “a decisive defeat for the supporters of women’s rights” at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London.
American abolitionists elected seven female delegates to the convention, including Lucretia Mott; the young bride Elizabeth Cady Stanton accompanied her delegate husband, Henry. The British leaders of the eminent British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society refused to accept the American women’s credentials and consigned them to the role of nonvoting spectators in a roped-off chamber of Freemasons Hall. Although the occasion allowed British and American feminists to fraternize, and the outraged Mott and Stanton talked about holding a woman’s rights convention sometime in the future, Anderson compares the setback to the one suffered by French feminists with the collapse of Saint-Simonianism in 1834. It is surely significant that the American antislavery women never held a fourth convention of their own.
Despite the “joyous” revival of international feminism from 1848 to the mid-1850s, one can see in the tensions of 1840 a conflict over the relative unimportance of feminism compared to abolitionism which would much later lead Stanton and Anthony to adopt shockingly racist language and arguments, and even form coalitions with racists when they felt betrayed by male abolitionists who failed to fight for the inclusion of female rights in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Wendell Phillips expressed the male abolitionists’ position when he insisted, “‘One question at a time.’ This is the negro’s hour.” In response, Stanton and Anthony denounced the Fifteenth Amendment for establishing “an aristocracy of sex on this continent.” Stanton wrote:
Think of Patrick and Sambo and Hans and Yung Tung, who do not know the difference between a monarchy and a republic, who cannot read the Declaration of Independence or Webster’s spelling book, making laws for…the daughters of Adams and Jefferson…women of wealth and education…. Shall American statesmen, claiming to be liberal, so amend their constitutions as to make their wives and mothers the political inferiors of unlettered and unwashed ditch-diggers, bootblacks, butchers and barbers, fresh from the slave plantations of the South…to establish an aristocracy based on sex alone?
Stanton and Anthony further alienated themselves from Charles Sumner, Phillips, Garrison, Horace Greeley, and Frederick Douglass and other blacks by allying themselves with George Francis Train, a wartime copperhead, racist, and millionaire who financed their newspaper The Revolution, and who took joy in crying out “nigger, nigger, nigger” as he tried to help Stanton and Anthony win woman’s suffrage in Kansas by opposing the enfranchisement of blacks. This development was especially painful to Frederick Douglass, who had attended the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 and whose eloquent support had helped to gain passage of the controversial demand for woman’s suffrage.
As if in imitation of the 1840 abolitionists, the post-Civil War feminists divided into two hostile groups, pitting Stanton and Anthony against Lucy Stone and such well-known abolitionists as Julia Ward Howe. According to Anderson, the vision of full equality and international cooperation gave way to more isolated and nationalistic efforts to win suffrage state by state. Before 1900, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and Idaho had granted women full suffrage, and in 1911 the new Progressive device of public initiative—conferring the right to change legislation by demand—brought triumph to the cause in Oregon. 23 In 1915, however, New York defeated the measure after a major feminist campaign.
The documentary film by Ken Burns and Paul Barnes aired on TV last year and the accompanying book by Geoffrey C. Ward and Burns are much needed efforts to inform the general public about the early stages of the feminist movement, encapsulated in the long lives and remarkable partnership of Stanton and Anthony.24 The authors are well-known for their documentary films and books on the Civil War and baseball. Clearly the background sounds of a guitar, violin, chirping birds, and a piano playing “Rally Round the Flag” cannot match the roll of Civil War drums, the crunch of marching troops, and the rumble of cannons as the viewer moves from Bull Run to Appomattox. But despite some petty criticisms and complaints of boredom I have heard from a few historians and editors, Burns and Barnes are masters at bringing still photos to life on a television screen and having significant passages from letters, diaries, and proclamations read aloud in a moving way. I can well empathize with their frustration in not being able to find a single photograph in which the grim-faced Susan B. Anthony smiles or even shows a trace of happiness.25
For a documentary on the feminist revolution, whether in print or film, the key document is the “Declaration of Sentiments,” written by Stanton and four of her colleagues, and followed by eleven resolutions that were also adopted by the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. While the film conveys accurately the nature of the “Declaration” and resolutions, there can be no substitute for reading the full texts, which are included in the book and which should be required reading for all high school students in America, especially males.
Previous reform groups had used Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence as a model for expressing their rights and grievances, but Stanton (who seems to have been the principal author) could not have been more imaginative and eloquent in moving from the “self-evident” truth “that all men and women are created equal” to the “long train of abuses” illustrating the fact that “the history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her.” And in truth Jefferson’s indictments of George III for extending southwestward the laws and jurisdiction of Québec, for exciting “domestic insurrection among us” (i.e., Lord Dunmore’s proclamation in Virginia that he would free any slaves who joined his ranks), and for imperiling “our frontiers” with “the merciless Indian savages,” pale when compared with the women’s indictments of male rule. For example,
He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice….
He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead.
He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns….
He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments, and from those she is permitted to follow, she receives but a scanty remuneration….
He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education, all colleges being closed against her….
He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.
The feminists acknowledged that “we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule,” but vowed to “use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object,” from tracts, agents, and petitions to “a series of Conventions embracing every part of the country.”
The early Euro-American feminist movement, from the 1820s through the 1850s, presented a direct challenge to the most deeply rooted and ancient form of human inequality and exploitation. Subordinating one half of the world’s population, this inequality was so deep, from the domestic to the state level, that it seemed invisible and “natural” to most women as well as men. Thus while all the essential feminist demands and arguments had been made by the 1840s if not earlier, and while hundreds of activists in America, Britain, France, and the Germanic states shared a cheering sense of like-mindedness and what Bonnie Anderson calls “joyous greetings,” they failed to provide any institutional continuity of the kind achieved, for example, by the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. Feminism suffered in Europe from the failure of various forms of socialism and in the United States from the Civil War and continuing racial divide.26 Probably because it attacked male privileges that seemed so “natural,” no other revolutionary cause has been so frequently subject to ridicule and mockery.
Because it challenges our very understanding of “nature,” then, feminism is a revolution with many stages. The Declaration of 1848 stood half-way between 1776 and the winning of woman’s suffrage in America in 1920. Another seventy-two years brings us to 1992, by which time women had made enormous gains in higher education, the professions, and the labor force in general largely thanks to the renewal of feminist demands in the late 1960s and 1970s, accompanied by affirmative action and laws prohibiting discrimination based on sex and race. By 2064, after another seventy-two years, one hopes that something approaching full equality will be spreading from the United States and the most “developed” nations to much of the rest of the world, perhaps even Afghanistan.27
October 5, 2000
William T. Vollmann, “Across the Divide: What Do the Afghan Peo-ple Think of the Taliban?” The New Yorker, May 15, 2000, pp. 58-73. ↩
Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (Oxford University Press, 1986). I won’t try to speculate on the origins of female subordination or women’s apparent complicity in accepting and transmitting such a patriarchal system from generation to generation. “There is not a single society known,” Lerner observes, “where women-as-a-group have decision-making power over men or where they define the rules of sexual conduct or control marriage exchanges” (p. 30). I think Lerner is right in linking prehistoric patriarchal power over women with the enslavement of war captives, but this is necessarily speculative. The modern achievements of women from the Olympics to physics clearly disprove all theories of innate inferiority. What now seems so striking is the lateness of effective feminism and the continuing depth and power of male resistance. ↩
Linda K. Kerber, Toward an Intellectual History of Women: Essays by Linda K. Kerber (University of North Carolina Press, 1997), p. 48. ↩
Rebecca Larson, Daughters of Light: Quaker Women Preaching and Prophesying in the Colonies and Abroad, 1700-1775 (Knopf, 1999), pp. 94, 182, 185, 292-295, 302-303; David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770-1823 (Oxford University Press, 1999; originally published 1975), pp. 213-254. Unfortunately, in the nineteenth century Quaker leaders became more conservative and often rebuked Friends who joined with outsiders in radical antislavery activities. The “Hicksite Quakers,” following the schism led by Elias Hicks in the late 1820s, were more active in the struggles for women’s rights and slave emancipation. ↩
The Boisterous Sea of Liberty: A Documentary History of America from Discovery to the Civil War, edited by David Brion Davis and Steven Mintz (Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 195-196. ↩
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, edited by Phillips Bradley, translated by Henry Reeve (2 vols., Vintage, 1945, 1948), Vol. 2, p. 212. ↩
Joan D. Hedrick, Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life (Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 82-85. ↩
To Susan Anthony’s dismay, Stanton actually had one more son in 1859, at age forty-three. ↩
See Ellen Carol DuBois’s biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s remarkable daughter, Harriot Stanton Blatch and the Winning of Woman Suffrage (Yale University Press, 1997). When editing her mother’s papers, Harriot made no effort to hide her mother’s anguish over Harriot’s apparently unplanned and unwanted birth. ↩
I generally use “woman’s movement” and “woman’s rights,” the phrases used in the nineteenth century, instead of the plural “women’s.” ↩
Harvard University Press, 1959. ↩
The few sentences in Ward’s book on the Revolutions of 1848 (pp. 38-39) are used simply as a buildup to the Seneca Falls Convention. An uninformed reader would think that it was purely coincidental that the Seneca Falls Convention occurred in 1848. Because Ward and Burns present Stanton and Anthony as the initiators of the feminist revolution, they ignore many crucial people and events preceding 1848—in America as well as Europe, though the book does include a short and helpful essay by Martha Saxton that deals with Abigail Adams, Mary Wollstonecraft, Lydia Maria Child, and Frances Wright. ↩
The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Volume I: In the School of Anti-Slavery, 1840-1866, edited by Ann D. Gordon (Rutgers University Press, 1997), pp. 89-90. This collection, coupled with Ann Gordon’s Volume II: Against an Aristocracy of Sex, 1866 to 1873 (Rutgers University Press, 2000), will be indispensable for future studies of American feminism. ↩
See my essay “The Emergence of Immediatism in British and American Antislavery Thought,” in Davis, From Homicide to Slavery: Studies in American Culture (Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 238-257. Heyrick’s influential pamphlet was first published anonymously. ↩
Although Thompson was presented as the author, since in 1825 works by males were taken far more seriously, Anderson stresses that “Wheeler inspired Thompson to write down what she had ‘so often and so well stated in conversation, and under feigned names in such of the periodical publications of the day as would tolerate such a theme.”‘ ↩
Nevertheless, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony read Wright’s last book in 1848 and used her attractive portrait for the frontispiece of their 1881 History of Woman Suffrage (Anderson, Joyous Greetings, pp. 79-80, 164). Since Owen attacked the degradation and exploitation of women, his socialist journal, the Crisis, had considerable influence on such central figures as Harriet Martineau, Ernestine Rose and her husband, William, and John Stuart Mill and his wife, Harriet Taylor. ↩
For the crucial role of women in the antislavery movement, see Julie Roy Jeffrey, The Great Silent Army of Abolitionism: Ordinary Women in the Antislavery Movement (University of North Carolina Press, 1998), which won an award as a runner-up for the Frederick Douglass Book Prize in 1999. For a new and extremely useful collection of documents, coupled with a long and authoritative introduction, see Kathryn Kish Sklar, Women’s Rights Emerges Within the Antislavery Movement, 1830-1870 (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000). ↩
Maria W. Stewart is not listed in Ward and Burns’s index, but she is well known to historians, and two of her lectures appear in The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay (Norton, 1997), pp. 201-207. ↩
Henry Mayer, All On Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery (St. Martin’s, 1998), p. 282. ↩
Walters, The Antislavery Appeal: American Abolitionism after 1830 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976). Walters even contends that the movement was strengthened by division and a greater range of choices. ↩
For an extremely insightful and up-to-date account of the long struggle that led to the Nineteenth Amendment of 1920, which extended suffrage to women in America one year after England had taken similar action, see DuBois, Harriot Stanton Blatch. ↩
As a historian, and more or less familiar with school textbooks, I found it amazing to hear Burns say that he and Barnes had never heard of Elizabeth Cady Stanton until Barnes read a biography shortly before they decided to make this film. ↩
Anthony’s letters in Ann D. Gordon’s first two published volumes of a planned six-volume set, Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, portray a personality entirely different from the stiff, grim, and almost frightening photographs. Anthony either hated cameras or could not adjust to them. ↩
In 1867 Stanton and Anthony kept appealing to Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth as well as to the racist millionaire George F. Train (“God bless you . Yes, with your help we shall triumph”). Selected Papers, Vol. 2, pp. 11-12, 47, 95. ↩
A recent portion of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer depicted the ghastly condition of women in contemporary India, where brides are sometimes tortured and murdered for providing inadequate dowries, and where millions of pregnant women seek cheap and crudely administered tests, with the intention of aborting any female fetus, since the parenting and marrying off of daughters is viewed as an intolerable burden. ↩