A Celebration of Women Writers

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

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom



THE year 1876 was one of intense excitement and laborious activity throughout the country. The anticipation of the centennial birthday of the Republic, to be celebrated in Philadelphia, stirred the patriotism of the people to the highest point of enthusiasm. As each State was to be represented in the great exhibition, local pride added another element to the public interest. Then, too, everyone who could possibly afford the journey was making busy preparations to spend the Fourth of July, the natal day of the Republic, mid the scenes where the Declaration of Independence was issued in 1776, the Government inaugurated, and the first national councils were held. Those interested in women's political rights decided to make the Fourth a woman's day, and to celebrate the occasion, in their various localities, by delivering orations and reading their own declaration of rights, with dinners and picnics in the town halls or groves, as most convenient. But many from every State in the Union made their arrangements to spend the historic period in Philadelphia. Owing, also, to the large number of foreigners who came over to join in the festivities, that city was crammed to its utmost capacity. With the crowd and excessive heat, comfort was everywhere sacrificed to curiosity.

The enthusiasm throughout the country had given a fresh impulse to the lyceum bureaus. Like the ferryboats in New York harbor, running hither and thither, crossing each other's tracks, the whole list of lecturers were on the wing, flying to every town and city from San Francisco to New York. As soon as a new railroad ran through a village of five hundred inhabitants that could boast a schoolhouse, a church, or a hotel, and one enterprising man or woman, a course of lectures was at once inaugurated as a part of the winter's entertainments.

On one occasion I was invited, by mistake, to a little town to lecture the same evening when the Christy Minstrels were to perform. It was arranged, as the town had only one hall, that I should speak from seven to eight o'clock and the minstrels should have the remainder of the time. One may readily see that, with the minstrels in anticipation, a lecture on any serious question would occupy but a small place in the hearts of the people in a town where they seldom had entertainments of any kind. All the time I was speaking there was a running to and fro behind the scenes, where the minstrels were transforming themselves with paints and curly wigs into Africans, and laughing at each other's jests. As it was a warm evening, and the windows were open, the hilarity of the boys in the street added to the general din. Under such circumstances it was difficult to preserve my equilibrium. I felt like laughing at my own comical predicament, and I decided to make my address a medley of anecdotes and stories, like a string of beads, held together by a fine thread of argument and illustration. The moment the hand of the clock pointed at eight o'clock the band struck up, thus announcing that the happy hour for the minstrels had come. Those of my audience who wished to stay were offered seats at half price; those who did not, slipped out, and the crowd rushed in, soon packing the house to its utmost capacity. I stayed, and enjoyed the performance of the minstrels more than I had my own.

As the lyceum season lasted from October to June, I was late in reaching Philadelphia. Miss Anthony and Mrs. Gage had already been through the agony of finding appropriate headquarters for the National Suffrage Association. I found them pleasantly situated on the lower floor of No. 1431 Chestnut Street, with the work for the coming month clearly mapped out. As it was the year for nominating candidates for the presidency of the United States, the Republicans and Democrats were about to hold their great conventions. Hence letters were to be written to them recommending a woman suffrage plank in their platforms, and asking seats for women in the conventions, with the privilege of being heard in their own behalf. On these letters our united wisdom was concentrated, and twenty thousand copies of each were published.

Then it was thought pre-eminently proper that a Woman's Declaration of Rights should be issued. Days and nights were spent over that document. After many twists from our analytical tweezers, with a critical consideration of every word and sentence, it was at last, by a consensus of the competent, pronounced very good. Thousands were ordered to be printed, and were folded, put in envelopes, stamped, directed, and scattered. Miss Anthony, Mrs. Gage, and I worked sixteen hours, day and night, pressing everyone who came in, into the service, and late at night carrying immense bundles to be mailed. With meetings, receptions, and a succession of visitors, all of whom we plied with woman suffrage literature, we felt we had accomplished a great educational work.

Among the most enjoyable experiences at our headquarters were the frequent visits of our beloved Lucretia Mott, who used to come from her country home bringing us eggs, cold chickens, and fine Oolong tea. As she had presented us with a little black teapot that, like Mercury's mysterious pitcher of milk, filled itself for every coming guest, we often improvised luncheons with a few friends. At parting, Lucretia always made a contribution to our depleted treasury. Here we had many prolonged discussions as to the part we should take, on the Fourth of July, in the public celebration. We thought it would be fitting for us to read our Declaration of Rights immediately after that of the Fathers was read, as an impeachment of them and their male descendants for their injustice and oppression. Ours contained as many counts, and quite as important, as those against King George in 1776. Accordingly, we applied to the authorities to allow us seats on the platform and a place in the programme of the public celebration, which was to be held in the historic old Independence Hall. As General Hawley was in charge of the arrangements for the day, I wrote him as follows:

"1431 CHESTNUT STREET, July 1, 1876.


"Honored Sir: As President of the National Woman's Suffrage Association, I am authorized to ask you for tickets to the platform, at Independence Hall, for the celebration on the Fourth of July. We should like to have seats for at least one representative woman from each State. We also ask your permission to read our Declaration of Rights immediately after the reading of the Declaration of Independence of the Fathers is finished. Although these are small favors to ask as representatives of one-half of the nation, yet we shall be under great obligations to you if granted.

"Respectfully Yours,

To this I received the following reply:

"U. S. C. C. HEADQUARTERS, July 2.


" Dear Madam: I send you, with pleasure, half a dozen cards of invitation. As the platform is already crowded, it is impossible to reserve the number of seats you desire. I regret to say it is also impossible for us to make any change in the programme at this late hour. We are crowded for time to carry out what is already proposed.

"Yours Very Respectfully,
"President, U. S. C. C."

With this rebuff, Mrs. Mott and I decided that we would not accept the offered seats, but would be ready to open our own convention called for that day, at the First Unitarian church, where the Rev. William H. Furness had preached for fifty years. But some of our younger coadjutors decided that they would occupy the seats and present our Declaration of Rights. They said truly, women will be taxed to pay the expenses of this celebration, and we have as good a right to that platform and to the ears of the people as the men have, and we will be heard.

That historic Fourth of July dawned at last, one of the most oppressive days of that heated season. Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Sara Andrews Spencer, Lillie Devereux Blake, and Phoebe W. Couzins made their way through the crowds under the broiling sun of Independence Square, carrying the Woman's Declaration of Rights. This Declaration had been handsomely engrossed by one of their number, and signed by the oldest and most prominent advocates of woman's enfranchisement. Their tickets of admission proved an "open sesame" through the military barriers, and, a few moments before the opening of the ceremonies, these women found themselves within the precincts from which most of their sex were excluded.

The Declaration of 1776 was read by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, about whose family clusters so much historic fame. The moment he finished reading was determined upon as the appropriate time for the presentation of the Woman's Declaration. Not quite sure how their approach might be met, not quite certain if, at this final moment, they would be permitted to reach the presiding officer, those ladies arose and made their way down the aisle. The bustle of preparation for the Brazilian hymn covered their advance. The foreign guests and the military and civil officers who filled the space directly in front of the speaker's stand, courteously made way, while Miss Anthony, in fitting words, presented the Declaration to the presiding officer. Senator Ferry's face paled as, bowing low, with no word he received the Declaration, which thus became part of the day's proceedings. The ladies turned, scattering printed copies as they deliberately walked down the platform. On every side eager hands were outstretched, men stood on seats and asked for them, while General Hawley, thus defied and beaten in his audacious denial to women of the right to present their Declaration, shouted, "Order, order!"

Passing out, these ladies made their way to a platform, erected for the musicians, in front of Independence Hall. Here, under the shadow of Washington's statue, back of them the old bell that proclaimed "liberty to all the land and all the inhabitants thereof," they took their places, and, to a listening, applauding crowd, Miss Anthony read the Women's Declaration. During the reading of the Declaration, Mrs. Gage stood beside Miss Anthony and held an umbrella over her head, to shelter her friend from the intense heat of the noonday sun. And thus in the same hour, on opposite sides of old Independence Hall, did the men and women express their opinions on the great principles proclaimed on the natal day of the Republic. The Declaration was handsomely framed, and now hangs in the Vice President's room in the Capitol at Washington.

These heroic ladies then hurried from Independence Hall to the church, already crowded with an expectant audience, to whom they gave a full report of the morning's proceedings. The Hutchinsons of worldwide fame were present in their happiest vein, interspersing the speeches with appropriate songs and felicitous remarks. For five long hours on that hot midsummer day a crowded audience, many standing, listened with profound interest and reluctantly dispersed at last, all agreeing that it was one of the most impressive and enthusiastic meetings they had ever attended.

All through our Civil War the slaves on the Southern plantations had an abiding faith that the terrible conflict would result in freedom for their race. Just so through all the busy preparations of the Centennial, the women of the nation felt sure that the great national celebration could not pass without the concession of some new liberties to them. Hence they pressed their claims at every point, at the Fourth of July celebration in the exposition buildings, and in the Republican and Democratic nominating conventions; hoping to get a plank in the platforms of both the great political parties.

The Woman's Pavilion upon the centennial grounds was an afterthought, as theologians claim woman herself to have been. The women of the country, after having contributed nearly one hundred thousand dollars to the centennial stock, found there had been no provision made for the separate exhibition of their work. The centennial board, of which Mrs. Gillespie was president, then decided to raise funds for the erection of a separate building, to be known as the Woman's Pavilion. It covered an acre of ground, and was erected at an expense of thirty thousand dollars–a small sum in comparison with the money which had been raised by women and expended on the other buildings, not to speak of the State and national appropriations, which the taxes levied on them had largely helped to swell.

The Pavilion was no true exhibit of woman's art. Few women are, as yet, owners of the business which their industry largely makes remunerative. Cotton factories, in which thousands of women work, are owned by men. The shoe business, in some branches of which women are doing more than half the work, is under the ownership of men. Rich embroideries from India, rugs of downy softness from Turkey, the muslin of Decca, anciently known as "The Woven Wind," the pottery and majolica ware of P. Pipsen's widow, the cartridges and envelopes of Uncle Sam, Waltham watches, whose finest mechanical work is done by women, and ten thousand other industries found no place in the pavilion. Said United States Commissioner Meeker of Colorado, "Woman's work comprises three-fourths of the exposition; it is scattered through every building; take it away, and there would be no exposition."

But this pavilion rendered one good service to woman in showing her capabilities as an engineer. The boiler, which furnished the force for running its work, was under the charge of a young Canadian girl, Miss Allison, who, from childhood, had loved machinery, spending much time in the large saw and grist mills of her father, run by engines of two and three hundred horse-power, which she sometimes managed for amusement. When her name was proposed for running the pavilion machinery, it caused much opposition. It was said that the committee would, some day, find the pavilion blown to atoms; that the woman engineer would spend her time reading novels instead of watching the steam gauge; that the idea was impracticable and should not be thought of. But Miss Allison soon proved her capabilities and the falseness of these prophecies by taking her place in the engine room and managing its workings with perfect ease. Six power looms, on which women wove carpets, webbing, silks, etc., were run by this engine. At a later period the printing of The New Century for Woman, a paper published by the centennial commission in the woman's building, was done by its means. Miss Allison declared the work to be more cleanly, more pleasant, and infinitely less fatiguing than cooking over a kitchen stove. "Since I have been compelled to earn my own living," she said, "I have never been engaged in work I like so well. Teaching school is much harder, and one is not paid so well." She expressed her confidence in her ability to manage the engines of an ocean steamer, and said that there were thousands of small engines in use in various parts of the country, and no reason existed why women should not be employed to manage them,–following the profession of engineer as a regular business,–an engine requiring far less attention than is given by a nursemaid or a mother to a child.

But to have made the Woman's Pavilion grandly historic, upon its walls should have been hung the yearly protest of Harriet K. Hunt against taxation without representation; the legal papers served upon the Smith sisters when, for their refusal to pay taxes while unrepresented, their Alderney cows were seized and sold; the papers issued by the city of Worcester for the forced sale of the house and lands of Abby Kelly Foster, the veteran abolitionist, because she refused to pay taxes, giving the same reason our ancestors gave when they resisted taxation; a model of Bunker Hill monument, its foundation laid by Lafayette in 1825, but which remained unfinished nearly twenty years, until the famous German danseuse, Fanny Elssler, gave the proceeds of a public performance for that purpose. With these should have been exhibited framed copies of all the laws bearing unjustly upon women–those which rob her of her name, her earnings, her property, her children, her person; also the legal papers in the case of Susan B. Anthony, who was tried and fined for claiming her right to vote under the Fourteenth Amendment, and the decision of Mr. Justice Miller in the case of Myra Bradwell, denying national protection for woman's civil rights; and the later decision of Chief Justice Waite of the United States Supreme Court against Virginia L. Minor, denying women national protection for their political rights; decisions in favor of State rights which imperil the liberties not only of all women, but of every white man in the nation.

Woman's most fitting contributions to the Centennial Exposition would have been these protests, laws, and decisions, which show her political slavery. But all this was left for rooms outside of the centennial grounds, upon Chestnut Street, where the National Woman's Suffrage Association hoisted its flag, made its protests, and wrote the Declaration of Rights of the women of the United States.

To many thoughtful people it seemed captious and unreasonable for women to complain of injustice in this free land, amidst such universal rejoicings. When the majority of women are seemingly happy, it is natural to suppose that the discontent of the minority is the result of their unfortunate individual idiosyncrasies, and not of adverse influences in established conditions. But the history of the world shows that the vast majority, in every generation, passively accept the conditions into which they are born, while those who demanded larger liberties are ever a small, ostracized minority, whose claims are ridiculed and ignored. From our standpoint we would honor any Chinese woman who claimed the right to her feet and powers of locomotion; the Hindoo widows who refused to ascend the funeral pyre of their husbands; the Turkish women who threw off their masks and veils and left the harem; the Mormon women who abjured their faith and demanded monogamic relations. Why not equally honor the intelligent minority of American women who protest against the artificial disabilities by which their freedom is limited and their development arrested? That only a few, under any circumstances, protest against the injustice of long-established laws and customs, does not disprove the fact of the oppressions, while the satisfaction of the many, if real, only proves their apathy and deeper degradation. That a majority of the women of the United States accept, without protest, the disabilities which grow out of their disfranchisement is simply an evidence of their ignorance and cowardice, while the minority who demand a higher political status clearly prove their superior intelligence and wisdom.

At the close of the Forty-seventh Congress we made two new demands: First, for a special committee to consider all questions in regard to the civil and political rights of women. We naturally asked the question, As Congress has a special committee on the rights of Indians, why not on those of women? Are not women, as a factor in civilization, of more importance than Indians? Secondly, we asked for a room in the Capitol, where our committee could meet, undisturbed, whenever they saw fit. Though these points were debated a long time, our demands were acceded to at last. We now have our special committee, and our room, with "Woman Suffrage" in gilt letters, over the door. In our struggles to achieve this, while our champion, the senior Senator from Massachusetts, stood up bravely in the discussion, the opposition not only ridiculed the special demand, but all attempts to secure the civil and political rights of women. As an example of the arguments of the opposition, I give what the Senator from Missouri said. It is a fair specimen of all that was produced on that side of the debate. Mr. Vest's poetical flights are most inspiring:

"The Senate now has forty-one committees, with a small army of messengers and clerks, one-half of whom, without exaggeration, are literally without employment. I shall not pretend to specify the committees of this body which have not one single bill, resolution, or proposition of any sort pending before them, and have not had for months. But, Mr. President, out of all committees without business, and habitually without business, in this body, there is one that, beyond any question, could take jurisdiction of this matter and do it ample justice. I refer to that most respectable and antique institution, the Committee on Revolutionary Claims. For thirty years it has been without business. For thirty long years the placid surface of that parliamentary sea has been without one single ripple. If the Senator from Massachusetts desires a tribunal for a calm, judicial equilibrium and examination–a tribunal far from the 'madding crowd's ignoble strife'–a tribunal eminently respectable, dignified and unique; why not send this question to the committee on Revolutionary Claims? It is eminently proper that this subject should go to that committee because, if there is any revolutionary claim in this country, it is that of woman suffrage. (Laughter.) It revolutionizes society; it revolutionizes religion; it revolutionizes the Constitution and laws; and it revolutionizes the opinions of those so old-fashioned among us as to believe that the legitimate and proper sphere of woman is the family circle, as wife and mother, and not as politician and voter–those of us who are proud to believe that

"Woman's noblest station is retreat:
Her fairest virtues fly from public sight;
Domestic worth–that shuns too strong a light.

"Before that Committee on Revolutionary Claims why could not this most revolutionary of all claims receive immediate and ample attention? More than that, as I said before, if there is any tribunal that could give undivided time and dignified attention, is it not this committee? If there is one peaceful haven of rest, never disturbed by any profane bill or resolution of any sort, it is the Committee on Revolutionary Claims. It is, in parliamentary life, described by that ecstatic verse in Watts' hymn–

"There shall I bathe my wearied soul
  In seas of endless rest,
And not one wave of trouble roll
  Across my peaceful breast.

"By all natural laws, stagnation breeds disease and death, and what could stir up this most venerable and respectable institution more than an application of the strong-minded, with short hair and shorter skirts, invading its dignified realm and elucidating all the excellences of female suffrage. Moreover, if these ladies could ever succeed in the providence of God in obtaining a report from that committee, it would end this question forever; for the public at large and myself included, in view of that miracle of female blandishment and female influence, would surrender at once, and female suffrage would become constitutional and lawful. Sir, I insist upon it that, in deference to this committee, in deference to the fact that it needs this sort of regimen and medicine, this whole subject should be so referred."

This give a very fair idea of the character of the arguments produced by our opponents, from the inauguration of the movement. But, as there are no arguments in a republican government in favor of an aristocracy of sex, ridicule was really the only available weapon. After declaring "that no just government can be formed without the consent of the governed," "that taxation without representation is tyranny," it is difficult to see on what basis one-half the people are disfranchised.


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

This chapter has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.
Initial text entry and proof-reading of this chapter were the work of volunteer
Sally Drake.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom