March 18, 2007

International Women's Day, a little late. . .

I saw the movie Amazing Grace today, and while the movie illustrated the persuasive power of great speakers (as described at Bert Decker's blog), it also reminded me of the women's movement.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, the foremothers of the women's rights movement, were abolitionists first, along with Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone and other early advocates for women's right to vote. In fact, together with her abolitionist husband, Elizabeth Cady Stanton attended the 1840 World's Anti-Slavery Convention in London - on their honeymoon. When all woman delegates were denied seats at the convention, the seeds were planted for a convention on women's rights.

The Seneca Falls Convention was held in 1848, where Stanton's "Declaration of Sentiments" (modeled on the Declaration of Independence) was first presented. While Susan B. Anthony and others in the suffragist movement preferred to focus on voting rights for women, Stanton went on to fight many battles over divorce law, property rights and employment rights for women.

From her address to Congress in 1892:

"The isolation of every human soul and the necessity of self-dependence must give each individual the right to choose his own surroundings. The strongest reason for giving woman all the opportunities for higher education, for the full development of her faculties, her forces of mind and body; for giving her the most enlarged freedom of thought and action; a complete emancipation from all forms of bondage, of custom, dependence, superstition; from all the crippling influences of fear--is the solitude and personal responsibility of her own individual life.

The strongest reason why we ask for woman a voice in the government under which she lives; in the religion she is asked to believe; equality in social life, where she is the chief factor; a place in the trades and professions, where she may earn her bread, is because of her birthright to self-sovereignty; because, as an individual, she must rely on herself. . ."

Sadly, neither Anthony nor Stanton lived to see their work come to fruition when the 19th Amendment was finally ratified on August 26, 1920. (I was happy to discover that Wilberforce did manage to see slavery abolished after many long years of struggle.)

Only one participant in the Seneca Falls Convention was still alive at the time the amendment was passed; at the age of 81, Charlotte Woodward cast her first vote.

By the way, Stanton was considered a gifted and powerful speaker; her father, who had disinherited her when she became an activist, eventually "relented and even made suggestions about how to form my arguments before the New York legislature," according to Stanton.

Amazing Grace was moving and inspiring, and in reminding me of these long-forgotten women pioneers, even more so. I'm a little late to honor International Women's Day, which was celebrated on March 8, but hey, I'd like to celebrate this every day. :-)

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