A Celebration of Women Writers

"Chapter X." by Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902)
From: Eighty Years And More: Reminiscences 1815-1897 (1898) by Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom



THE reports of the conventions held in Seneca Falls and Rochester, N. Y., in 1848, attracted the attention of one destined to take a most important part in the new movement–Susan B. Anthony, who, for her courage and executive ability, was facetiously called by William Henry Channing, the Napoleon of our struggle. At this time she was teaching in the academy at Canajoharie, a little village in the beautiful valley of the Mohawk.

"The Woman's Declaration of Independence" issued from those conventions startled and amused her, and she laughed heartily at the novelty and presumption of the demand. But, on returning home to spend her vacation, she was surprised to find that her sober Quaker parents and sister, having attended the Rochester meetings, regarded them as very profitable and interesting, and the demands made as proper and reasonable. She was already interested in the anti-slavery and temperance reforms, was an active member of an organization called "The Daughters of Temperance," and had spoken a few times in their public meetings. But the new gospel of "Woman's Rights," found a ready response in her mind, and, from that time, her best efforts have been given to the enfranchisement of women.

As, from this time, my friend is closely connected with my narrative and will frequently appear therein, a sketch of her seems appropriate.

Lord Bacon has well said: "He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises either of virtue or mischief. Certainly the best works, and of greatest merit for the public, have proceeded from the unmarried or childless men; which, both in affection and means, have married and endowed the public."

This bit of Baconian philosophy, as alike applicable to women, was the subject, not long since, of a conversation with a remarkably gifted Englishwoman. She was absorbed in many public interests and had conscientiously resolved never to marry, lest the cares necessarily involved in matrimony should make inroads upon her time and thought, to the detriment of the public good. "Unless," said she, "some women dedicate themselves to the public service, society is robbed of needed guardians for the special wants of the weak and unfortunate. There should be, in the secular world, certain orders corresponding in a measure to the grand sisterhoods of the Catholic Church, to the members of which, as freely as to men, all offices, civic and ecclesiastical, should be open." That this ideal will be realized may be inferred from the fact that exceptional women have, in all ages, been leaders in great projects of charity and reform, and that now many stand waiting only the sanction of their century, ready for wide altruistic labors.

The world has ever had its vestal virgins, its holy women, mothers of ideas rather than of men; its Marys, as well as its Marthas, who, rather than be busy housewives, preferred to sit at the feet of divine wisdom, and ponder the mysteries of the unknown. All hail to Maria Mitchell, Harriet Hosmer, Charlotte Cushman, Alice and Phoebe Cary, Louisa Alcott, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, Frances Willard, and Clara Barton! All honor to the noble women who have devoted earnest lives to the intellectual and moral needs of mankind!

Susan B. Anthony was of sturdy New England stock, and it was at the foot of Old Greylock, South Adams, Mass., that she gave forth her first rebellious cry. There the baby steps were taken, and at the village school the first stitches were learned, and the A B C duly mastered. When five winters had passed over Susan's head, there came a time of great domestic commotion, and, in her small way, the child seized the idea that permanence is not the rule of life. The family moved to Battenville, N. Y., where Mr. Anthony became one of the wealthiest men in Washington County. Susan can still recall the stately coldness of the great house–how large the bare rooms, with their yellow-painted floors, seemed, in contrast with her own diminutiveness, and the outlook of the schoolroom where for so many years, with her brothers and sisters, she pursued her studies under private tutors.

Mr. Anthony was a stern Hicksite Quaker. In Susan's early life he objected on principle to all forms of frivolous amusement, such as music, dancing, or novel reading, while games and even pictures were regarded as meaningless luxuries. Such puritanical convictions might have easily degenerated into mere cant; but underlying all was a broad and firm basis of wholesome respect for individual freedom and a brave adherence to truth. He was a man of good business capacity, and a thorough manager of his wide and lucrative interests. He saw that compensation and not chance ruled in the commercial world, and he believed in the same just, though often severe, law in the sphere of morals. Such a man was not apt to walk humbly in the path mapped out by his religious sect. He early offended by choosing a Baptist for a wife. For this first offense he was "disowned," and, according to Quaker usage, could only be received into fellowship again by declaring himself "sorry" for his crime in full meeting. He was full of devout thankfulness for the good woman by his side, and destined to be thankful to the very end for this companion, so calm, so just, so far-seeing. He rose in meeting, and said he was "sorry" that the rules of the society were such that, in marrying the woman he loved, he had committed offense! He admitted that he was "sorry" for something, so was taken back into the body of the faithful! But his faith had begun to weaken in many minor points of discipline. His coat soon became a cause of offense and called forth another reproof from those buttoned up in conforming garments. The petty forms of Quakerism began to lose their weight with him altogether, and he was finally disowned for allowing the village youth to be taught dancing in an upper room of his dwelling. He was applied to for this favor on the ground that young men were under great temptation to drink if the lessons were given in the hotel; and, being a rigid temperance man, he readily consented, though his principles, in regard to dancing, would not allow his own sons and daughters to join in the amusement. But the society could accept no such discrimination in what it deemed sin, nor such compromise with worldly frivolity, and so Mr. Anthony was seen no more in meeting. But, in later years, in Rochester he was an attentive listener to Rev. William Henry Channing.

The effect of all this on Susan is the question of interest. No doubt she early weighed the comparative moral effects of coats cut with capes and those cut without, of purely Quaker conjugal love and that deteriorated with Baptist affection. Susan had an earnest soul and a conscience tending to morbidity; but a strong, well-balanced body and simple family life soothed her too active moral nature and gave the world, instead of a religious fanatic, a sincere, concentrated worker. Every household art was taught her by her mother, and so great was her ability that the duty demanding especial care was always given into her hands. But ever, amid school and household tasks, her day-dream was that, in time, she might be a "high-seat" Quaker. Each Sunday, up to the time of the third disobedience, Mr. Anthony went to the Quaker meeting house, some thirteen miles from home, his wife and children usually accompanying him, though, as non-members, they were rigidly excluded from all business discussions. Exclusion was very pleasant in the bright days of summer; but, on one occasion in December, decidedly unpleasant for the seven-year-old Susan. When the blinds were drawn, at the close of the religious meeting, and non-members retired, Susan sat still. Soon she saw a thin old lady with blue goggles come down from the "high seat." Approaching her, the Quakeress said softly, "Thee is not a member–thee must go out." "No; my mother told me not to go out in the cold," was the child's firm response. "Yes, but thee must go out–thee is not a member." "But my father is a member." "Thee is not a member," and Susan felt as if the spirit was moving her and soon found herself in outer coldness. Fingers and toes becoming numb, and a bright fire in a cottage over the way beckoning warmly to her, the exile from the chapel resolved to seek secular shelter. But alas! she was confronted by a huge dog, and just escaped with whole skin though capeless jacket. We may be sure there was much talk, that night, at the home fireside, and the good Baptist wife declared that no child of hers should attend meeting again till made a member. Thereafter, by request of her father, Susan became a member of the Quaker church.

Later, definite convictions took root in Miss Anthony's heart. Hers is, indeed, a sincerely religious nature. To be a simple, earnest Quaker was the aspiration of her girlhood; but she shrank from adopting the formal language and plain dress. Dark hours of conflict were spent over all this, and she interpreted her disinclination as evidence of unworthiness. Poor little Susan! As we look back with the knowledge of our later life, we translate the heart-burnings as unconscious protests against labeling your free soul, against testing your reasoning conviction of to-morrow by any shibboleth of to-day's belief. We hail this child-intuition as a prophecy of the uncompromising truthfulness of the mature woman. Susan Anthony was taught simply that she must enter into the holy of holies of her own self, meet herself, and be true to the revelation. She first found words to express her convictions in listening to Rev. William Henry Channing, whose teaching had a lasting spiritual influence on her. To-day Miss Anthony is an agnostic. As to the nature of the Godhead and of the life beyond her horizon she does not profess to know anything. Every energy of her soul is centered upon the needs of this world. To her, work is worship. She has not stood aside, shivering in the cold shadows of uncertainty, but has moved on with the whirling world, has done the good given her to do, and thus, in darkest hours, has been sustained by an unfaltering faith in the final perfection of all things. Her belief is not orthodox, but it is religious. In ancient Greece she would have been a Stoic; in the era of the Reformation, a Calvinist; in King Charles' time, a Puritan; but in this nineteenth century, by the very laws of her being, she is a Reformer.

For the arduous work that awaited Miss Anthony her years of young womanhood had given preparation. Her father, though a man of wealth, made it a matter of conscience to train his girls, as well as his boys, to self-support. Accordingly Susan chose the profession of teacher, and made her first essay during a summer vacation in a school her father had established for the children of his employés. Her success was so marked, not only in imparting knowledge, but also as a disciplinarian, that she followed this career steadily for fifteen years, with the exception of some months given in Philadelphia to her own training. Of the many school rebellions which she overcame, one rises before me, prominent in its ludicrous aspect. This was in the district school at Center Falls, in the year 1839. Bad reports were current there of male teachers driven out by a certain strapping lad. Rumor next told of a Quaker maiden coming to teach–a Quaker maiden of peace principles. The anticipated day and Susan arrived. She looked very meek to the barbarian of fifteen, so he soon began his antics. He was called to the platform, told to lay aside his jacket, and, thereupon, with much astonishment received from the mild Quaker maiden, with a birch rod applied calmly but with precision, an exposition of the argumentum ad hominem based on the a posteriori method of reasoning. Thus Susan departed from her principles, but not from the school.

But, before long, conflicts in the outside world disturbed our young teacher. The multiplication table and spelling book no longer enchained her thoughts; larger questions began to fill her mind. About the year 1850 Susan B. Anthony hid her ferule away. Temperance, anti-slavery, woman suffrage,–three pregnant questions,–presented themselves, demanding her consideration. Higher, ever higher, rose their appeals, until she resolved to dedicate her energy and thought to the burning needs of the hour. Owing to early experience of the disabilities of her sex, the first demand for equal rights for women found echo in Susan's heart. And, though she was in the beginning startled to hear that women had actually met in convention, and by speeches and resolutions had declared themselves man's peer in political rights, and had urged radical changes in State constitutions and the whole system of American jurisprudence; yet the most casual review convinced her that these claims were but the logical outgrowth of the fundamental theories of our republic.

At this stage of her development I met my future friend and coadjutor for the first time. How well I remember the day! George Thompson and William Lloyd Garrison having announced an anti-slavery meeting in Seneca Falls, Miss Anthony came to attend it. These gentlemen were my guests. Walking home, after the adjournment, we met Mrs. Bloomer and Miss Anthony on the corner of the street, waiting to greet us. There she stood, with her good, earnest face and genial smile, dressed in gray delaine, hat and all the same color, relieved with pale blue ribbons, the perfection of neatness and sobriety. I liked her thoroughly, and why I did not at once invite her home with me to dinner, I do not know. She accuses me of that neglect, and has never forgiven me, as she wished to see and hear all she could of our noble friends. I suppose my mind was full of what I had heard, or my coming dinner, or the probable behavior of three mischievous boys who had been busily exploring the premises while I was at the meeting.

That I had abundant cause for anxiety in regard to the philosophical experiments these young savages might try the reader will admit, when informed of some of their performances. Henry imagined himself possessed of rare powers of invention (an ancestral weakness for generations), and so made a life preserver of corks, and tested its virtues on his brother, who was about eighteen months old. Accompanied by a troop of expectant boys, the baby was drawn in his carriage to the banks of the Seneca, stripped, the string of corks tied under his arms, and set afloat in the river, the philosopher and his satellites, in a rowboat, watching the experiment. The baby, accustomed to a morning bath in a large tub, splashed about joyfully, keeping his head above water. He was as blue as indigo and as cold as a frog when rescued by his anxious mother. The next day the same victimized infant was seen, by a passing friend, seated on the chimney, on the highest peak of the house. Without alarming anyone, the friend hurried up to the housetop and rescued the child. Another time the three elder brothers entered into a conspiracy, and locked up the fourth, Theodore, in the smoke-house. Fortunately he sounded the alarm loud and clear, and was set free in safety, whereupon the three were imprisoned in a garret with two barred windows. They summarily kicked out the bars, and, sliding down on the lightning rod, betook themselves to the barn for liberty. The youngest boy, Gerrit, then only five years old, skinned his hands in the descent. This is a fair sample of the quiet happiness I enjoyed in the first years of motherhood.

It was 'mid such exhilarating scenes that Miss Anthony and I wrote addresses for temperance, anti-slavery, educational, and woman's rights conventions. Here we forged resolutions, protests, appeals, petitions, agricultural reports, and constitutional arguments; for we made it a matter of conscience to accept every invitation to speak on every question, in order to maintain woman's right to do so. To this end we took turns on the domestic watchtowers, directing amusements, settling disputes, protecting the weak against the strong, and trying to secure equal rights to all in the home as well as the nation. I can recall many a stern encounter between my friend and the young experimenter. It is pleasant to remember that he never seriously injured any of his victims, and only once came near fatally shooting himself with a pistol. The ball went through his hand; happily a brass button prevented it from penetrating his heart.

It is often said, by those who know Miss Anthony best, that she has been my good angel, always pushing and goading me to work, and that but for her pertinacity I should never have accomplished the little I have. On the other hand it has been said that I forged the thunderbolts and she fired them. Perhaps all this is, in a measure, true. With the cares of a large family I might, in time, like too many women, have become wholly absorbed in a narrow family selfishness, had not my friend been continually exploring new fields for missionary labors. Her description of a body of men on any platform, complacently deciding questions in which woman had an equal interest, without an equal voice, readily roused me to a determination to throw a firebrand into the midst of their assembly.

Thus, whenever I saw that stately Quaker girl coming across my lawn, I knew that some happy convocation of the sons of Adam was to be set by the ears, by one of our appeals or resolutions. The little portmanteau, stuffed with facts, was opened, and there we had what the Rev. John Smith and Hon. Richard Roe had said: false interpretations of Bible texts, the statistics of women robbed of their property, shut out of some college, half paid for their work, the reports of some disgraceful trial; injustice enough to turn any woman's thoughts from stockings and puddings. Then we would get out our pens and write articles for papers, or a petition to the legislature; indite letters to the faithful, here and there; stir up the women in Ohio, Pennsylvania, or Massachusetts; call on The Lily, The Una, The Liberator, The Standard to remember our wrongs as well as those of the slave. We never met without issuing a pronunciamento on some question. In thought and sympathy we were one, and in the division of labor we exactly complimented each other. In writing we did better work than either could alone. While she is slow and analytic in composition, I am rapid and synthetic. I am the better writer, 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 through the storms of long years; arguments that no one has answered. Our speeches may be considered the united product of our two brains.

So entirely one are we that, in all our associations, ever side by side on the same platform, not one feeling of envy or jealousy has ever shadowed our lives. We have indulged freely in criticism of each other when alone, and hotly contended whenever we have differed, but in our friendship of years there has never been the break of one hour. To the world we always seem to agree and uniformly reflect each other. Like husband and wife, each has the feeling that we must have no differences in public. Thus united, at an early day we began to survey the state and nation, the future field of our labors. We read, with critical eyes, the proceedings of Congress and legislatures, of general assemblies and synods, of conferences and conventions, and discovered that, in all alike, the existence of women was entirely ignored.

Night after night, by an old-fashioned fireplace, we plotted and planned the coming agitation; how, when, and where each entering wedge could be driven, by which women might be recognized and their rights secured. Speedily the State was aflame with disturbances in temperance and teachers' conventions, and the press heralded the news far and near that women delegates had suddenly appeared, demanding admission in men's conventions; that their rights had been hotly contested session after session, by liberal men on the one side, the clergy and learned professors on the other; an overwhelming majority rejecting the women with terrible anathemas and denunciations. Such battles were fought over and over in the chief cities of many of the Northern States, until the bigotry of men in all the reforms and professions was thoroughly exposed. Every right achieved, to enter a college, to study a profession, to labor in some new industry, or to advocate a reform measure was contended for inch by inch.

Many of those enjoying all these blessings now complacently say, "If these pioneers in reform had only pressed their measures more judiciously, in a more lady-like manner, in more choice language, with a more deferential attitude, the gentlemen could not have behaved so rudely." I give, in these pages, enough of the characteristics of these women, of the sentiments they expressed, of their education, ancestry, and position to show that no power could have met the prejudice and bigotry of that period more successfully than they did who so bravely and persistently fought and conquered them.

Miss Anthony first carried her flag of rebellion into the State conventions of teachers, and there fought, almost single-handed, the battle for equality. At the close of the first decade she had compelled conservatism to yield its ground so far as to permit women to participate in all debates, deliver essays, vote, and hold honored positions as officers. She labored as sincerely in the temperance movement, until convinced that woman's moral power amounted to little as a civil agent, until backed by ballot and coined into State law. She still never loses an occasion to defend co-education and prohibition, and solves every difficulty with the refrain, "woman suffrage," as persistent as the "never more" of Poe's raven.


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom