Asking me to pick my favorite heroine is like asking me to select my favorite dessert, impossible. Every March, I read at least one biography about an important woman. This year I am celebrating Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
To some extent she has been “lost” in the history of the women’s movement, but to me, she was the first woman to try to “have it all”. Married for over 40 years, she kept her name, removed “obey” from her vows, raised seven children, savored motherhood, cooking and housekeeping; while being an ardent feminist and abolitionist.
She was one of the first to recognize that women’s rights were human rights. In her time, married women had no rights to property, children, wages, birth control, or their bodies; they were, simply, property. Elizabeth Cady Stanton likened their status to that of an unpaid prostitute.
Stanton’s Achilles heel was that she could see too far. She proposed that women be able to vote, to work in all professions, receive equal pay for equal work, be entitled to their earnings, own property, be able to divorce, and retain custody of their children. She believed in interracial marriage.
Stanton also understood that women can’t really have it all and must rely other women for support. She relied on her dearest friend, the committed and tireless, Susan B. Anthony. Stanton was the brains and Anthony outspoken advocate who gave speeches when Stanton, burdened by motherhood, could not. Anthony traveled more than anyone else to rally support for the woman’s right to vote.
In the longstanding strategy of pitting disenfranchised groups against each other, the crafters of the 14th and 15th amendments would not give women the right to vote, despite the unremitting support by suffragettes for abolition. Sojourner Truth, another personal favorite, refused to fall for that game and insisted that the 14th and 15th amendments include women.
This betrayal by male abolitionists propelled Elizabeth Cady Stanton to even think even more radically. She published the women’s bible which advocated, among other things, use of the 2nd creation story in Genesis (where men and women are created equally in God’s image), that God was androgynous and omitted passages where women’s role was servitude. This was too much for her colleagues and she was voted out of the suffragette organization that she created.
Why? Her views are common sense today.
I had simple lessons in my own career. At most meetings, I could be able to see the solution quickly; I would propose it and be ignored. Finally, at the end of a 2-hour meeting, someone would make the same recommendation, the participants would hail him as a genius. I would leave frustrated and incensed that I was ignored. One member of my team eventually explained to me that the meeting participants had to go through their own process before they could understand my solution. I just thought too quickly. People just had to think through things at their own pace before they could even hear what was said.
I thought hours in advance, Stanton thought centuries ahead.
Over time, Stanton has begun to emerge from the shadow of Susan B. Anthony. Today most of her ideas are the laws of the land. But we still have a way to go, the $10 bill redesign to include her and other prominent figures in women’s history was cancelled due to the popularity of a Broadway show.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.