A Celebration of Women Writers

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

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom



THE four years following the centennial were busy, happy ones, of varied interests and employments, public and private. Sons and daughters graduating from college, bringing troops of young friends to visit us; the usual matrimonial entanglements, with all their promises of celestial bliss intertwined with earthly doubts and fears; weddings, voyages to Europe, business ventures–in this whirl of plans and projects our heads, hearts, and hands were fully occupied. Seven boys and girls dancing round the fireside, buoyant with all life's joys opening before them, are enough to keep the most apathetic parents on the watch-towers by day and anxious even in dreamland by night. My spare time, if it can be said that I ever had any, was given during these days to social festivities. The inevitable dinners, teas, picnics, and dances with country neighbors, all came round in quick succession. We lived, at this time, at Tenafly, New Jersey, not far from the publisher of the Sun, Isaac W. England, who also had seven boys and girls as full of frolic as our own. Mrs. England and I entered into all their games with equal zest. The youngest thought half the fun was to see our enthusiasm in "blindman's bluff," "fox and geese," and "bean bags." It thrills me with delight, even now, to see these games!

Mr. England was the soul of hospitality. He was never more happy than when his house was crowded with guests, and his larder with all the delicacies of the season. Though he and Mr. Stanton were both connected with that dignified journal, the New York Sun, yet they often joined in the general hilarity. I laugh, as I write, at the memory of all the frolics we had on the blue hills of Jersey.

In addition to the domestic cares which a large family involved, Mrs. Gage, Miss Anthony, and I were already busy collecting material for "The History of Woman Suffrage." This required no end of correspondence. Then my lecturing trips were still a part of the annual programme. Washington conventions, too, with calls, appeals, resolutions, speeches and hearings before the Committees of Congress and State legislatures, all these came round in the year's proceedings as regularly as pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving, plum pudding for Christmas, and patriotism for Washington's birthday. Those who speak for glory or philanthropy are always in demand for college commencements and Fourth of July orations, hence much of Miss Anthony's eloquence, as well as my own, was utilized in this way.

On October 18, 1880, I had an impromptu dinner party. Elizabeth Boynton Harbert, May Wright Thompson (now Sewall), Phoebe W. Couzins, and Arethusa Forbes, returning from a Boston convention, all by chance met under my roof. We had a very merry time talking over the incidents of the convention, Boston proprieties, and the general situation. As I gave them many early reminiscences, they asked if I had kept a diary. "No," I said, "not a pen scratch of the past have I except what might be gathered from many family letters." They urged me to begin a diary at once; so I promised I would on my coming birthday.

My great grief that day was that we were putting in a new range, and had made no preparations for dinner. This completely upset the presiding genius of my culinary department, as she could not give us the bounteous feast she knew was expected on such occasions. I, as usual, when there was any lack in the viands, tried to be as brilliant as possible in conversation; discussing Nirvana, Karma, reincarnation, and thus turning attention from the evanescent things of earth to the joys of a life to come,–not an easy feat to perform with strong-minded women,–but, in parting, they seemed happy and refreshed, and all promised to come again.

But we shall never meet there again, as the old, familiar oaks and the majestic chestnut trees have passed into other hands. Strange lovers now whisper their vows of faith and trust under the tree where a most charming wedding ceremony–that of my daughter Margaret–was solemnized one bright October day. All Nature seemed to do her utmost to heighten the beauty of the occasion. The verdure was brilliant with autumnal tints, the hazy noonday sun lent a peculiar softness to every shadow–even the birds and insects were hushed to silence. As the wedding march rose soft and clear, two stately ushers led the way; then a group of Vassar classmates, gayly decked in silks of different colors, followed by the bride and groom. An immense Saint Bernard dog, on his own account brought up the rear, keeping time with measured tread. He took his seat in full view, watching, alternately, the officiating clergyman, the bride and groom, and guests, as if to say: "What does all this mean?" No one behaved with more propriety and no one looked more radiant than he, with a ray of sunlight on his beautiful coat of long hair, his bright brass collar, and his wonderful head. Bruno did not live to see the old home broken up, but sleeps peacefully there, under the chestnut trees, and fills a large place in many of our pleasant memories.

On November 12, 1880, I was sixty-five years old, and, pursuant to my promise, I then began my diary. It was a bright, sunny day, but the frost king was at work; all my grand old trees, that stood like sentinels, to mark the boundary of my domain, were stripped of their foliage, and their brilliant colors had faded into a uniform brown; but the evergreens and the tall, prim cedars held their own, and, when covered with snow, their exquisite beauty brought tears to my eyes. One need never be lonely mid beautiful trees.

My thoughts were with my absent children–Harriot in France, Theodore in Germany, Margaret with her husband and brother Gerrit, halfway across the continent, and Bob still in college. I spent the day writing letters and walking up and down the piazza, and enjoyed, from my windows, a glorious sunset. Alone, on birthdays or holidays, one is very apt to indulge in sad retrospections. The thought of how much more I might have done for the perfect development of my children than I had accomplished, depressed me. I thought of all the blunders in my own life and in their education. Little has been said of the responsibilities of parental life; accordingly little or nothing has been done. I had such visions of parental duties that day that I came to the conclusion that parents never could pay the debt they owe their children for bringing them into this world of suffering, unless they can insure them sound minds in sound bodies, and enough of the good things of this life to enable them to live without a continual struggle for the necessaries of existence. I have no sympathy with the old idea that children owe parents a debt of gratitude for the simple fact of existence, generally conferred without thought and merely for their own pleasure. How seldom we hear of any high or holy preparation for the office of parenthood! Here, in the most momentous act of life, all is left to chance. Men and women, intelligent and prudent in all other directions, seem to exercise no forethought here, but hand down their individual and family idiosyncrasies in the most reckless manner.

On November 13 the New York Tribune announced the death of Lucretia Mott, eighty-eight years old. Having known her in the flush of life, when all her faculties were at their zenith, and in the repose of age, when her powers began to wane, her withdrawal from among us seemed as beautiful and natural as the changing foliage, from summer to autumn, of some grand old oak I have watched and loved.

The arrival of Miss Anthony and Mrs. Gage, on November 20, banished all family matters from my mind. What planning, now, for volumes, chapters, footnotes, margins, appendices, paper, and type; of engravings, title, preface, and introduction! I had never thought that the publication of a book required the consideration of such endless details. We stood appalled before the mass of material, growing higher and higher with every mail, and the thought of all the reading involved made us feel as if our lifework lay before us. Six weeks of steady labor all day, and often until midnight, made no visible decrease in the pile of documents. However, before the end of the month we had our arrangements all made with publishers and engravers, and six chapters in print. When we began to correct proof we felt as if something was accomplished. Thus we worked through the winter and far into the spring, with no change except the Washington Convention and an occasional evening meeting in New York city. We had frequent visits from friends whom we were glad to see. Hither came Edward M. Davis, Sarah Pugh, Adeline Thompson, Frederick Cabot of Boston, Dr. William F. Channing, and sweet little Clara Spence, who recited for us some of the most beautiful selections in her repertoire.

In addition we had numberless letters from friends and foes, some praising and some condemning our proposed undertaking, and, though much alone, we were kept in touch with the outside world. But so conflicting was the tone of the letters that, if we had not taken a very fair gauge of ourselves and our advisers, we should have abandoned our project and buried all the valuable material collected, to sleep in pine boxes forever.

At this time I received a very amusing letter from the Rev. Robert Collyer, on "literary righteousness," quizzing me for using one of his anecdotes in my sketch of Lucretia Mott, without giving him credit. I laughed him to scorn, that he should have thought it was my duty to have done so. I told him plainly that he belonged to a class of "white male citizens," who had robbed me of all civil and political rights; of property, children, and personal freedom; and now it ill became him to call me to account for using one of his little anecdotes that, ten to one, he had cribbed from some woman. I told him that I considered his whole class as fair game for literary pilfering. That women had been taxed to build colleges to educate men, and if we could pick up a literary crumb that had fallen from their feasts, we surely had a right to it. Moreover, I told him that man's duty in the world was to work, to dig and delve for jewels, real and ideal, and lay them at woman's feet, for her to use as she might see fit; that he should feel highly complimented, instead of complaining, that he had written something I thought worth using. He answered like the nobleman he is; susceptible of taking in a new idea. He admitted that, in view of the shortcomings of his entire sex, he had not one word to say in the way of accusation, but lay prostrate at my feet in sackcloth and ashes, wondering that he had not taken my view of the case in starting.

Only twice in my life have I been accused of quoting without giving due credit. The other case was that of Matilda Joslyn Gage. I had, on two or three occasions, used a motto of hers in autograph books, just as I had sentiments from Longfellow, Lowell, Shakespeare, Moses, or Paul. In long lyceum trips innumerable autograph books met one at every turn, in the cars, depots, on the platform, at the hotel and in the omnibus. "A sentiment, please," cry half a dozen voices. One writes hastily different sentiments for each. In this way I unfortunately used a pet sentiment of Matilda's. So, here and now, I say to my autograph admirers, from New York to San Francisco, whenever you see "There is a word sweeter than Mother, Home, or Heaven–that word is Liberty," remember it belongs to Matilda Joslyn Gage. I hope, now, that Robert and Matilda will say, in their posthumous works, that I made the amende honorable, as I always strive to do when friends feel they have not been fairly treated.

In May, 1881, the first volume of our History appeared; it was an octavo, containing 871 pages, with good paper, good print, handsome engravings, and nicely bound. I welcomed it with the same feeling of love and tenderness as I did my firstborn. I took the same pleasure in hearing it praised and felt the same mortification in hearing it criticised. The most hearty welcome it received was from Rev. William Henry Channing. He wrote us that it was as interesting and fascinating as a novel. He gave it a most flattering notice in one of the London papers. John W. Forney, too, wrote a good review and sent a friendly letter. Mayo W. Hazeltine, one of the ablest critics in this country, in the New York Sun, also gave it a very careful and complimentary review. In fact, we received far more praise and less blame than we anticipated. We began the second volume in June. In reading over the material concerning woman's work in the War, I felt how little our labors are appreciated. Who can sum up all the ills the women of a nation suffer from war? They have all of the misery and none of the glory; nothing to mitigate their weary waiting and watching for the loved ones who will return no more.

In the spring of 1881, to vary the monotony of the work on the history, we decided to hold a series of conventions through the New England States. We began during the Anniversary week in Boston, and had several crowded, enthusiastic meetings in Tremont Temple. In addition to our suffrage meetings, I spoke before the Free Religious, Moral Education, and Heredity associations. All our speakers stayed at the Parker House, and we had a very pleasant time visiting together in our leisure hours. We were received by Governor Long, at the State House. He made a short speech, in favor of woman suffrage, in reply to Mrs. Hooker. We also called on the Mayor, at the City Hall, and went through Jordan & Marsh's great mercantile establishment, where the clerks are chiefly young girls, who are well fed and housed, and have pleasant rooms, with a good library, where they sit and read in the evening. We went through the Sherborn Reformatory Prison for Women, managed entirely by women. We found it clean and comfortable, more like a pleasant home than a place of punishment.

Mrs. Robinson, Miss Anthony, and I were invited to dine with the Bird Club. No woman, other than I, had ever had that honor before. I dined with them in 1870, escorted by "Warrington" of the Springfield Republican and Edwin Morton. There I met Frank Sanborn for the first time. Frank Bird held about the same place in political life in Massachusetts, that Thurlow Weed did in the State of New York for forty years. In the evening we had a crowded reception at the home of Mrs. Fenno Tudor, who occupied a fine old residence facing the Common, where we met a large gathering of Boston reformers. On Decoration Day, May 30, we went to Providence, where I was the guest of Dr. William F. Channing. We had a very successful convention there. Senator Anthony and ex-Governor Sprague were in the audience and expressed great pleasure, afterward, in all they had heard. I preached in Rev. Frederick Hinckley's church the previous Sunday afternoon.

From Providence I hurried home, to meet my son Theodore and his bride, who had just landed from France. We decorated our house and grounds with Chinese lanterns and national flags for their reception. As we had not time to send to New York for bunting, our flags–French and American–were all made of bright red and blue cambric. The effect was fine when they arrived; but, unfortunately, there came up a heavy thunderstorm in the night and so drenched our beautiful flags that they became colorless rags. My little maid announced to me early in the morning that "the French and Americans had had a great battle during the night and that the piazza was covered with blood." This was startling news to one just awakening from a sound sleep. "Why, Emma!" I said, "what do you mean?" "Why," she replied, "the rain has washed all the color out of our flags, and the piazza is covered with red and blue streams of water." As the morning sun appeared in all its glory, chasing the dark clouds away, our decorations did indeed look pale and limp, and were promptly removed.

I was happily surprised with my tall, stately daughter, Marguerite Berry. A fine-looking girl of twenty, straight, strong, and sound, modest and pleasing. She can walk miles, sketches from nature with great skill and rapidity, and speaks three languages. I had always said to my sons: "When you marry, choose a woman with a spine and sound teeth; remember the teeth show the condition of the bones in the rest of the body." So, when Theodore introduced his wife to me, he said, "You see I have followed your advice; her spine is as straight as it should be, and every tooth in her head as sound as ivory." This reminds me of a young man who used to put my stoves up for the winter. He told me one day that he thought of getting married. "Well," I said, "above all things get a wife with a spine and sound teeth." Stove pipe in hand he turned to me with a look of surprise, and said: "Do they ever come without spines?"

In July, 1881, sitting under the trees, Miss Anthony and I read and discussed Wendell Phillips' magnificent speech before the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Harvard College. This society had often talked of inviting him, but was afraid of his radical utterances. At last, hoping that years might have modified his opinions and somewhat softened his speech, an invitation was given. The elite of Boston, the presidents and college professors from far and near, were there. A great audience of the wise, the learned, the distinguished in State and Church assembled. Such a conservative audience, it was supposed, would surely hold this radical in check. Alas! they were all doomed, for once, to hear the naked truth, on every vital question of the day. Thinking this might be his only opportunity to rouse some liberal thought in conservative minds, he struck the keynote of every reform; defended labor strikes, the Nihilists of Russia, prohibition, woman suffrage, and demanded reformation in our prisons, courts of justice, and halls of legislation. On the woman question, he said:

"Social science affirms that woman's place in society marks the level of civilization. From its twilight in Greece, through the Italian worship of the Virgin, the dreams of chivalry, the justice of the civil law, and the equality of French society, we trace her gradual recognition, while our common law, as Lord Brougham confessed, was, with relation to women, the opprobrium of the age of Christianity. For forty years earnest men and women, working noiselessly, have washed away the opprobrium, the statute books of thirty States have been remodeled, and woman stands, to-day, almost face to face with her last claim–the ballot. It has been a weary and thankless, though successful struggle. But if there be any refuge from that ghastly curse, the vice of great cities, before which social science stands palsied and dumb, it is in this more equal recognition of women.

"If, in this critical battle for universal suffrage, our fathers' noblest legacy to us and the greatest trust God leaves in our hands, there be any weapon, which, once taken from the armory, will make victory certain, it will be as it has been in art, literature, and society, summoning woman into the political arena. The literary class, until within half a dozen years, has taken no note of this great uprising; only to fling every obstacle in its way.

"The first glimpse we get of Saxon blood in history is that line of Tacitus in his 'Germany,' which reads, 'In all grave matters they consult their women.' Years hence, when robust Saxon sense has flung away Jewish superstition and Eastern prejudice, and put under its foot fastidious scholarship and squeamish fashion, some second Tacitus from the valley of the Mississippi will answer to him of the Seven Hills: 'In all grave questions, we consult our women.'

"If the Alps, piled in cold and silence, be the emblem of despotism, we joyfully take the ever restless ocean for ours, only pure because never still. To be as good as our fathers, we must be better. They silenced their fears and subdued their prejudices, inaugurating free speech and equality with no precedent on the file. Let us rise to their level, crush appetite, and prohibit temptation if it rots great cities; intrench labor in sufficient bulwarks against that wealth which, without the tenfold strength of modern incorporations, wrecked the Grecian and Roman states; and, with a sterner effort still, summon woman into civil life, as re-enforcement to our laboring ranks, in the effort to make our civilization a success. Sit not like the figure on our silver coin, looking ever backward.

"'New occasions teach new duties,
  Time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must upward still and onward,
  Who would keep abreast of truth.
Lo ! before us gleam her watch fires–
  We ourselves must pilgrims be,
Launch our Mayflower, and steer boldly
  Through the desperate winter sea,
Nor attempt the future's portal
  With the past's blood-rusted key.'"

That Harvard speech in the face of fashion, bigotry, and conservatism–so liberal, so eloquent, so brave–is a model for every young man, who, like the orator, would devote his talents to the best interests of the race, rather than to his personal ambition for mere worldly success.

Toward the end of October, Miss Anthony returned, after a rest of two months, and we commenced work again on the second volume of the History. November 2 being election day, the Republican carriage, decorated with flags and evergreens, came to the door for voters. As I owned the house and paid the taxes, and as none of the white males was home, I suggested that I might go down and do the voting, whereupon the gentlemen who represented the Republican committee urged me, most cordially, to do so. Accompanied by my faithful friend, Miss Anthony, we stepped into the carriage and went to the poll, held in the hotel where I usually went to pay taxes. When we entered the room it was crowded with men. I was introduced to the inspectors by Charles Everett, one of our leading citizens, who said: "Mrs. Stanton is here, gentlemen, for the purpose of voting. As she is a taxpayer, of sound mind, and of legal age, I see no reason why she should not exercise this right of citizenship."

The inspectors were thunderstruck. I think they were afraid that I was about to capture the ballot box. One placed his arms round it, with one hand close over the aperture where the ballots were slipped in, and said, with mingled surprise and pity, "Oh, no, madam! Men only are allowed to vote." I then explained to him that, in accordance with the Constitution of New Jersey, women had voted in New Jersey down to 1801, when they were forbidden the further exercise of the right by an arbitrary act of the legislature, and, by a recent amendment to the national Constitution, Congress had declared that "all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside" and are entitled to vote. I told them that I wished to cast my vote, as a citizen of the United States, for the candidates for United States offices. Two of the inspectors sat down and pulled their hats over their eyes, whether from shame or ignorance I do not know. The other held on to the box, and said "I know nothing about the Constitutions, State or national. I never read either; but I do know that in New Jersey, women have not voted in my day, and I cannot accept your ballot." So I laid my ballot in his hand, saying that I had the same right to vote that any man present had, and on him must rest the responsibility of denying me my rights of citizenship.

All through the winter Miss Anthony and I worked diligently on the History. My daughter Harriot came from Europe in February, determined that I should return with her, as she had not finished her studies. To expedite my task on the History she seized the laboring oar, prepared the last chapter and corrected the proof as opportunity offered. As the children were scattered to the four points of the compass and my husband spent the winter in the city, we decided to lease our house and all take a holiday. We spent a month in New York city, busy on the History to the last hour, with occasional intervals of receiving and visiting friends. As I dreaded the voyage, the days flew by too fast for my pleasure.


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 volunteers
Sally Drake and Patricia Heil.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom