A Celebration of Women Writers

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

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom



IN 1867 the proposition to extend the suffrage to women and to colored men was submitted to the people of the State of Kansas, and, among other Eastern speakers, I was invited to make a campaign through the State. As the fall elections were pending, there was great excitement everywhere. Suffrage for colored men was a Republican measure, which the press and politicians of that party advocated with enthusiasm.

As woman suffrage was not a party question, we hoped that all parties would favor the measure; that we might, at last, have one green spot on earth where women could enjoy full liberty as citizens of the United States. Accordingly, in July, Miss Anthony and I started, with high hopes of a most successful trip, and, after an uneventful journey of one thousand five hundred miles, we reached the sacred soil where John Brown and his sons had helped to fight the battles that made Kansas a free State.

Lucy Stone, Mr. Blackwell, and Olympia Brown had preceded us and opened the campaign with large meetings in all the chief cities. Miss Anthony and I did the same. Then it was decided that, as we were to go to the very borders of the State, where there were no railroads, we must take carriages, and economize our forces by taking different routes. I was escorted by ex-Governor Charles Robinson. We had a low, easy carriage, drawn by two mules, in which we stored about a bushel of tracts, two valises, a pail for watering the mules, a basket of apples, crackers, and other such refreshments as we could purchase on the way. Some things were suspended underneath the carriage, some packed on behind, and some under the seat and at our feet. It required great skill to compress the necessary baggage into the allotted space. As we went to the very verge of civilization, wherever two dozen voters could be assembled, we had a taste of pioneer life. We spoke in log cabins, in depots, unfinished schoolhouses, churches, hotels, barns, and in the open air.

I spoke in a large mill one night. A solitary tallow candle shone over my head like a halo of glory; a few lanterns around the outskirts of the audience made the darkness perceptible; but all I could see of my audience was the whites of their eyes in the dim distance. People came from twenty miles around to these meetings, held either in the morning, afternoon, or evening, as was most convenient.

As the regular State election was to take place in the coming November, the interest increased from week to week, until the excitement of the people knew no bounds. There were speakers for and against every proposition before the people. This involved frequent debates on all the general principles of government, and thus a great educational work was accomplished, which is one of the advantages of our frequent elections.

The friends of woman suffrage were doomed to disappointment. Those in the East, on whom they relied for influence through the liberal newspapers, were silent, and we learned, afterward, that they used what influence they had to keep the abolitionists and Republicans of the State silent, as they feared the discussion of the woman question would jeopardize the enfranchisement of the black man. However, we worked untiringly and hopefully, not seeing through the game of the politicians until nearly the end of the canvass, when we saw that our only chance was in getting the Democratic vote. Accordingly, George Francis Train, then a most effective and popular speaker, was invited into the State to see what could be done to win the Democracy. He soon turned the tide, strengthened the weak-kneed Republicans and abolitionists, and secured a large Democratic vote.

For three months we labored diligently, day after day, enduring all manner of discomforts in traveling, eating, and sleeping. As there were no roads or guideposts, we often lost our way. In going through cañons and fording streams it was often so dark that the Governor was obliged to walk ahead to find the way, taking off his coat so that I could see his white shirt and slowly drive after him. Though seemingly calm and cool, I had a great dread of these night adventures, as I was in constant fear of being upset on some hill and rolled into the water. The Governor often complimented me on my courage, when I was fully aware of being tempest-tossed with anxiety. I am naturally very timid, but, being silent under strong emotions of either pleasure or pain, I am credited with being courageous in the hour of danger.

For days, sometimes, we could find nothing at a public table that we could eat. Then passing through a little settlement we could buy dried herring, crackers, gum arabic, and slippery elm; the latter, we were told, was very nutritious. We frequently sat down to a table with bacon floating in grease, coffee without milk, sweetened with sorghum, and bread or hot biscuit, green with soda, while vegetables and fruit were seldom seen. Our nights were miserable, owing to the general opinion among pioneers that a certain species of insect must necessarily perambulate the beds in a young civilization. One night, after traveling over prairies all day, eating nothing but what our larder provided, we saw a light in a cottage in the distance which seemed to beckon to us. Arriving, we asked the usual question,–if we could get a night's lodging,–to which the response was inevitably a hearty, hospitable "Yes." One survey of the premises showed me what to look for in the way of midnight companionship, so I said to the Governor, "I will resign in your favor the comforts provided for me to-night, and sleep in the carriage, as you do so often." I persisted against all the earnest persuasions of our host, and in due time I was ensconced for the night, and all about the house was silent.

I had just fallen into a gentle slumber, when a chorus of pronounced grunts and a spasmodic shaking of the carriage revealed to me the fact that I was surrounded by those long-nosed black pigs, so celebrated for their courage and pertinacity. They had discovered that the iron steps of the carriage made most satisfactory scratching posts, and each one was struggling for his turn. This scratching suggested fleas. Alas! thought I, before morning I shall be devoured. I was mortally tired and sleepy, but I reached for the whip and plied it lazily from side to side; but I soon found nothing but a constant and most vigorous application of the whip could hold them at bay one moment. I had heard that this type of pig was very combative when thwarted in its desires, and they seemed in such sore need of relief that I thought there was danger of their jumping into the carriage and attacking me. This thought was more terrifying than that of the fleas, so I decided to go to sleep and let them alone to scratch at their pleasure. I had a sad night of it, and never tried the carriage again, though I had many equally miserable experiences within four walls.

After one of these border meetings we stopped another night with a family of two bachelor brothers and two spinster sisters. The home consisted of one large room, not yet lathed and plastered. The furniture included a cooking stove, two double beds in remote corners, a table, a bureau, a washstand, and six wooden chairs. As it was late, there was no fire in the stove and no suggestion of supper, so the Governor and I ate apples and chewed slippery elm before retiring to dream of comfortable beds and well-spread tables in the near future.

The brothers resigned their bed to me just as it was. I had noticed that there was no ceremonious changing of bed linen under such circumstances, so I had learn to nip all fastidious notions of individual cleanliness in the bud, and to accept the inevitable. When the time arrived for retiring, the Governor and the brothers went out to make astronomical observations or smoke, as the case might be, while the sisters and I made our evening toilet, and disposed ourselves in the allotted corners. That done, the stalwart sons of Adam made their beds with skins and blankets on the floor. When all was still and darkness reigned, I reviewed the situation with a heavy heart, seeing that I was bound to remain a prisoner in the corner all night, come what might. I had just congratulated myself on my power of adaptability to circumstances, when I suddenly started with an emphatic "What is that?" A voice from the corner asked, "Is your bed comfortable?" "Oh, yes," I replied, "but I thought I felt a mouse run over my head." "Well," said the voice from the corner, "I should not wonder. I have heard such squeaking from that corner during the past week that I told sister there must be a mouse nest in that bed." A confession she probably would not have made unless half asleep. This announcement was greeted with suppressed laughter from the floor. But it was no laughing matter to me. Alas! what a prospect–to have mice running over one all night. But there was no escape. The sisters did not offer to make any explorations, and, in my fatigue costume, I could not light a candle and make any on my own account. The house did not afford an armchair in which I could sit up. I could not lie on the floor, and the other bed was occupied. Fortunately, I was very tired and soon fell asleep. What the mice did the remainder of the night I never knew, so deep were my slumbers. But, as my features were intact, and my facial expression as benign as usual next morning, I inferred that their gambols had been most innocently and decorously conducted. These are samples of many similar experiences which we encountered during the three months of those eventful travels.

Heretofore my idea had been that pioneer life was a period of romantic freedom. When the long, white-covered wagons, bound for the far West, passed by, I thought of the novelty of a six-month's journey through the bright spring and summer days in a house on wheels, meals under shady trees and beside babbling brooks, sleeping in the open air, and finding a home, at last, where land was cheap, the soil rich and deep, and where the grains, vegetables, fruit, and flowers grew bountifully with but little toil. But a few months of pioneer life permanently darkened my rosy ideal of the white-covered wagon, the charming picnics by the way, and the paradise at last. I found many of these adventurers in unfinished houses and racked with malaria; in one case I saw a family of eight, all ill with chills and fever. The house was half a mile from the spring water on which they depended and from which those best able, from day to day, carried the needed elixir to others suffering with the usual thirst. Their narrations of all the trials of the long journey were indeed heartrending.

In one case a family of twelve left their comfortable farm in Illinois, much against the earnest protests of the mother; she having ten children, the youngest a baby then in her arms. All their earthly possessions were stored in three wagons, and the farm, which the mother owned was sold before they commenced their long and perilous journey. There was no reason for going except that the husband had the Western fever. They were doing well in Illinois, on a large farm within two miles of a village, but he had visions of a bonanza near the setting sun. Accordingly they started. At the end of one month the baby died. A piece of wood from the cradle was all they had to mark its lonely resting place. With sad hearts they went on, and, in a few weeks, with grief for her child, her old home, her kindred and friends, the mother also died. She, too, was left alone on the far-off prairies, and the sad pageant moved on. Another child soon shared the same fate, and then a span of horses died, and one wagon, with all the things they could most easily spare, was abandoned. Arrived at their destination none of the golden dreams was realized. The expensive journey, the struggles in starting under new circumstances, and the loss of the mother's thrift and management, made the father so discouraged and reckless that much of his property was wasted, and his earthly career was soon ended. Through the heroic energy and good management of the eldest daughter, the little patrimony, in time, was doubled, and the children well brought up and educated in the rudiments of learning, so that all became respectable members of society. Her advice to all young people is, if you are comfortably established in the East, stay there. There is no royal road to wealth and ease, even in the Western States!

In spite of the discomforts we suffered in the Kansas campaign, I was glad of the experience. It gave me added self-respect to know that I could endure such hardships and fatigue with a great degree of cheerfulness. The Governor and I often laughed heartily, as we patiently chewed our gum arabic and slippery elm, to think on what a gentle stimulus we were accomplishing such wonderful feats as orators and travelers. It was fortunate our intense enthusiasm for the subject gave us all the necessary inspiration, as the supplies we gathered by the way were by no means sufficiently invigorating for prolonged propagandism.

I enjoyed these daily drives over the vast prairies, listening to the Governor's descriptions of the early days when the "bushwackers and jayhawkers" made their raids on the inhabitants of the young free State. The courage and endurance of the women, surrounded by dangers and discomforts, surpassed all description. I count it a great privilege to have made the acquaintance of so many noble women and men who had passed through such scenes and conquered such difficulties. They seemed to live in an atmosphere altogether beyond their surroundings. Many educated families from New England, disappointed in not finding the much talked of bonanzas, were living in log cabins, in solitary places, miles from any neighbors. But I found Emerson, Parker, Holmes, Hawthorne, Whittier, and Lowell on their bookshelves to gladden their leisure hours.

Miss Anthony and I often comforted ourselves mid adverse winds with memories of the short time we spent under Mother Bickerdyke's hospitable roof at Salina. There we had clean, comfortable beds, delicious viands, and everything was exquisitely neat. She entertained us with her reminiscences of the War. With great self-denial she had served her country in camp and hospital, and was with Sherman's army in that wonderful march to the sea, and here we found her on the outpost of civilization, determined to start what Kansas most needed–a good hotel. But alas! it was too good for that latitude and proved a financial failure. It was, to us, an oasis in the desert, where we would gladly have lingered if the opposition would have come to us for conversion. But, as we had to carry the gospel of woman's equality into the highways and hedges, we left dear Mother Bickerdyke with profound regret. The seed sown in Kansas in 1867 is now bearing its legitimate fruits. There was not a county in the State where meetings were not held or tracts scattered with a generous hand. If the friends of our cause in the East had been true and had done for woman what they did for the colored man, I believe both propositions would have been carried; but with a narrow policy, playing off one against the other, both were defeated. A policy of injustice always bears its own legitimate fruit in failure.

However, women learned one important lesson–namely, that it is impossible for the best of men to understand women's feelings or the humiliation of their position. When they asked us to be silent on our question during the War, and labor for the emancipation of the slave, we did so, and gave five years to his emancipation and enfranchisement. To this proposition my friend, Susan B. Anthony, never consented, but was compelled to yield because no one stood with her. I was convinced, at the time, that it was the true policy. I am now equally sure that it was a blunder, and, ever since, I have taken my beloved Susan's judgment against the world. I have always found that, when we see eye to eye, we are sure to be right, and when we pull together we are strong. After we discuss any point together and fully agree, our faith in our united judgment is immovable and no amount of ridicule and opposition has the slightest influence, come from what quarter it may.

Together we withstood the Republicans and abolitionists, when, a second time, they made us the most solemn promise of earnest labor for our enfranchisement, when the slaves were safe beyond a peradventure. They never redeemed their promise made during the War, hence, when they urged us to silence in the Kansas campaign, we would not for a moment entertain the proposition. The women generally awoke to their duty to themselves. They had been deceived once and could not be again. If the leaders of the Republican and abolition camps could deceive us, whom could we trust?

Again we were urged to be silent on our rights, when the proposition to take the word "white" out of the New York Constitution was submitted to a vote of the people of the State, or, rather, to one-half the people, as women had no voice in the matter. Again we said "No, no, gentlemen! if the 'white' comes out of the Constitution, let the 'male' come out also. Women have stood with the negro, thus far, on equal ground as ostracized classes, outside the political paradise; and now, when the door is open, it is but fair that we both should enter and enjoy all the fruits of citizenship. Heretofore ranked with idiots, lunatics, and criminals in the Constitution, the negro has been the only respectable compeer we had; so pray do not separate us now for another twenty years, ere the constitutional door will again be opened."

We were persistently urged to give all our efforts to get the word "white" out, and thus secure the enfranchisement of the colored man, as that, they said, would prepare the way for us to follow. Several editors threatened that, unless we did so, their papers should henceforth do their best to defeat every measure we proposed. But we were deaf alike to persuasion and threats, thinking it wiser to labor for women, constituting, as they did, half the people of the State, rather than for a small number of colored men; who, viewing all things from the same standpoint as white men, would be an added power against us.

The question settled in Kansas, we returned, with George Francis Train, to New York. He offered to pay all the expenses of the journey and meetings in all the chief cities on the way, and see that we were fully and well reported in their respective journals. After prolonged consultation Miss Anthony and I thought best to accept the offer and we did so. Most of our friends though it a grave blunder, but the result proved otherwise. Mr. Train was then in his prime–a large, fine-looking man, a gentleman in dress and manner, neither smoking, chewing, drinking, nor gormandizing. He was an effective speaker and actor, as one of his speeches, which he illustrated, imitating the poor wife at the washtub and the drunken husband reeling in, fully showed. He gave his audience charcoal sketches of everyday life rather than argument. He always pleased popular audiences, and even the most fastidious were amused with his caricatures. As the newspapers gave several columns to our meetings at every point through all the States, the agitation was wide-spread and of great value. To be sure our friends, on all sides, fell off, and those especially who wished us to be silent on the question of woman's rights, declared "the cause too sacred to be advocated by such a charlatan as George Francis Train." We thought otherwise, as the accession of Mr. Train increased the agitation twofold. If these fastidious ladies and gentlemen had come out to Kansas and occupied the ground and provided "the sinews of war," there would have been no field for Mr. Train's labors, and we should have accepted their services. But, as the ground was unoccupied, he had, at least, the right of a reform "squatter" to cultivate the cardinal virtues and reap a moral harvest wherever he could.

Reaching New York, Mr. Train made it possible for us to establish a newspaper, which gave another impetus to our movement. The Revolution, published by Susan B. Anthony and edited by Parker Pillsbury and myself, lived two years and a half and was then consolidated with the New York Christian Enquirer, edited by the Rev. Henry Bellows, D. D. I regard the brief period in which I edited the Revolution as one of the happiest of my life, and I may add the most useful. In looking over the editorials I find but one that I sincerely regret, and that was a retort on Mr. Garrison, written under great provocation, but not by me, which circumstances, at the time, forbade me to disown. Considering the pressure brought to bear on Miss Anthony and myself, I feel now that our patience and forbearance with our enemies in their malignant attacks on our good name, which we never answered, were indeed marvelous.

We said at all times and on all other subjects just what we thought, and advertised nothing that we did not believe in. No advertisements of quack remedies appeared in our columns. One of our clerks once published a bread powder advertisement, which I did not see until the paper appeared; so, in the next number, I said, editorially, what I thought of it. I was alone in the office, one day, when a man blustered in. "Who," said he, "runs this concern?" "You will find the names of the editors and publishers," I replied, "on the editorial page." "Are you one of them?" "I am," I replied. "Well, do you know that I agreed to pay twenty dollars to have that bread powder advertised for one month, and then you condemn it editorially?" "I have nothing to do with the advertising; Miss Anthony pays me to say what I think." "Have you any more thoughts to publish on that bread powder?" "Oh, yes," I replied, "I have not exhausted the subject yet." "Then," said he, "I will have the advertisement taken out. What is there to pay for the one insertion?" "Oh, nothing," I replied, "as the editorial probably did you more injury than the advertisement did you good." On leaving, with prophetic vision, he said, "I prophesy a short life for this paper; the business world is based on quackery, and you cannot live without it." With melancholy certainty, I replied, "I fear you are right."


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

This chapter has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom