Address by Elizabeth Cady Stanton on Woman's Rights
The manuscript of an address Elizabeth Cady Stanton delivered after the conventions of 1848 was handed down to her daughters, who gave it to SBA, who in turn deposited it in the Library of Congress. Writing to her daughters, Stanton called it her "first speech," one "delivered several times immediately after the first Woman's Rights Convention." She spoke on two occasions, at least: in September at Waterloo and on 6 October to the Congregational Friends at Farmington.
Between 1848 and 1850, Elizabeth Cady Stanton turned to this address as a source for short articles, and then she lost track of the manuscript. Emma Robinson Coe borrowed it, according to Susan B. Anthony's notations on a cover sheet, probably when she visited Stanton in the fall of 1851. It was back in Stanton's possession by 1866, when Theodore Tilton saw the "old and tattered" manuscript while he interviewed Stanton for a biography. He understood this to be "the first 'set speech' which Mrs. Stanton ever delivered," one that she "repeated at several places in the interior of the State of New York, during the first months that followed the first convention."
However, since 1870, on the basis of a title page printed by Robert J. Johnston, the same speech with modifications has been identified as the address Elizabeth Cady Stanton delivered to the conventions in Seneca Falls and Rochester. There are obstacles to accepting that identification. First, there is no evidence that Stanton made any speech at the Rochester convention, let alone one of this length. Second, no contemporary report of Seneca Falls noted a major speech by Stanton, though small parts of the address might match her several contributions to the meeting. Finally, Lucretia Mott, present at both conventions, referred to Stanton's speech in September at Waterloo as "thy maiden speech." Johnston's publication is more likely an artifact of 1870 than a document of 1848.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton is no doubt implicated in the publication of the Address of Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Delivered at Seneca Falls & Rochester, N.Y., July 19th & Aug. 2d, 1848 in 1870. Though the title page might reflect a printer's misunderstanding about events, someone carefully adjusted the text to eliminate the scene set in the opening paragraphs and convert to present tense all references to the conventions and their demands. It is unlikely that Robert Johnston issued an unauthorized text; he knew Stanton well, as an officer of the American Equal Rights Association and printer of the Revolution. Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Amy Post collaborated on other pamphlets he issued in 1870 to celebrate two decades of woman's rights agitation. But if Stanton created the Address, she neither quoted from nor referred readers to it in histories of the conventions that she wrote after 1870.
The text published here is based upon the manuscript. In the numbered endnotes, major differences in the later, published text of 1870 are noted. (Lucretia Mott to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 3 October 1848, in Ann D. Gordon et al., eds., The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony [New Brunswick, N.J., 1997], 1:126; Benjamin F. Gue, Diary of Benjamin F. Gue in Rural New York and Pioneer Iowa, 1847-1856, ed. Earle D. Ross [Ames, Ia., 1962], 40; Theodore Tilton, "Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton," in James Parton, et al., Eminent Women of the Age [Hartford, Conn., 1868], 332–61; Susan B. Anthony to Mary P. Hallowell, 11 April 1867, P. G. Holland and A. D. Gordon, eds., Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, microfilm edition, 12:118-21; Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, History of Woman Suffrage [New York, 1881], 1:69.)
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As published in the
Selected Papers, Volume 1
©1997 Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Ladies and gentlemen, when invited some weeks ago to address you I proposed to a gentleman of this village to review our report of the Seneca Falls convention and give his objections to our Declaration, resolutions and proceedings to serve me as a text on which to found an address for this evening "the gentleman did so, but his review was so laconic that there was the same difficulty in replying to it as we found in replying to a recent sermon preached at Seneca Falls—there was nothing of it.
Should that gentleman be present this evening and feel disposed to give any of his objections to our movement, we will be most happy to answer him.1
I should feel exceedingly diffident to appear before you wholly unused as I am to public speaking, were I not nerved by a sense of right and duty—did I not feel that the time had fully come for the question of woman's wrongs to be laid before the public—did I not believe that woman herself must do this work—for woman alone can understand the height and the depth, the length and the breadth of her own degradation and woe. Man cannot speak for us—because he has been educated to believe that we differ from him so materially, that he cannot judge of our thoughts, feelings and opinions by his own. Moral beings can only judge of others by themselves—the moment they give a different nature to any of their own kind they utterly fail. The drunkard was hopelessly lost until it was discovered that he was governed by the same laws of mind as the sober man. Then with what magic power, by kindness and love, was he raised from the slough of despond and placed rejoicing on high land. Let a man once settle the question that woman does not think and feel like himself and he may as well undertake to judge of the amount of intellect and sensation of any of the animal creation as of woman's nature. He can know but little with certainty, and that but by observation.
Among the many important questions which have been brought before the public, there is none that more vitally affects the whole human family than that which is technically termed Woman's rights.2 Every allusion to the degraded and inferior position occupied by woman all over the world, has ever been met by scorn and abuse. From the man of highest mental cultivation, to the most degraded wretch who staggers in the streets do we hear ridicule and coarse jests, freely bestowed upon those who dare assert that woman stands by the side of man—his equal, placed here by her God to enjoy with him the beautiful earth, which is her home as it is his—having the same sense of right and wrong and looking to the same Being for guidance and support. So long has man exercised a tyranny over her injurious to himself and benumbing to her faculties, that but few can nerve themselves against the storm, and so long has the chain been about her that however galling it may be she knows not there is a remedy.
The present social, civil and religious condition of women is a subject too vast to be brought within the limits of one short lecture. Suffice it to say for the present, that wherever we turn the history of woman is sad and drear and dark, without any alleviating circumstances, nothing from which we can draw consolation. As the nations of the earth emerge from a state of barbarism, the sphere of woman gradually becomes wider but not even under what is thought to be the full blaze of the sun of civilization is it what God designed it to be. In every country and clime does man assume the responsibility of marking out the path for her to tread,—in every country does he regard her as a being inferior to himself and one whom he is to guide and controul. From the Arabian Kerek whose wife is obliged to steal from her Husband to supply the necessities of life,—from the Mahometan who forbids pigs dogs women and other impure animals to enter a mosque, and does not allow a fool, madman or women to proclaim the hour of prayer,—from the German who complacently smokes his meerschaum while his wife, yoked with the ox draws the plough through its furrow,—from the delectable gentleman who thinks an inferior style of conversation adapted to women—to the legislator who considers her incapable of saying what laws shall govern her, is this same feeling manifested.3 In all eastern countries she is a mere slave bought and sold at pleasure. There are many differences in habits, manners, and customs, among the heathen nations of the old world, but there is little change for the better in woman's lot—she is either the drudge of man to perform all the hard labour of the field and the menial duties of the hut, tent, or house, or she is the idol of his lust the mere creature of his ever varying whims and will. Truly has she herself said in her best estate,
I am a slave, a favoured slave
At best to share his pleasure and seem very blest,
When weary of these fleeting charms and me,
There yawns the sack and yonder rolls the sea,
What! am I then a toy for dotards play
To wear but till the gilding frets away?4
In christian countries, boasting a more advanced state of civilization and refinement, woman still holds a position infinitely inferior to man. In France the Salic law5 tells much although it is said that woman there has ever had great influence in all political revolutions. In England she seems to have advanced a little— There she has a right to the throne, and is allowed to hold some other offices and some women have a right to vote too— But in the United States of America6 woman has no right either to hold office, nor to the elective franchise, we stand at this moment, unrepresented in this government—our rights and interests wholly overlooked.
Let us now glance at some of the popular objections to this whole question. There is a class of men who believe in the natural inborn, inbred superiority both in body and mind and their full complete Heaven descended right to lord it over the fish of the sea, the fowl of the air, the beast of the field7 and last tho' not least the immortal being called woman. I would recommend this class to the attentive perusal of their Bibles—to historical research, to foreign travel—to a closer observation of the manifestations of mind about them and to an humble comparison of themselves with such women as Catharine of Russia, Elizabeth of England distinguished for their statesmanlike qualities, Harriet Martineau and Madame de Stael for their literary attainments, or Caroline Herschel and Mary Summerville for their scientific researches, or for physical equality to that whole nation of famous women the Amazones.8 We seldom find this class of objectors among liberally educated persons, who have had the advantage of observing their race in different countries, climes, and under different phases, but barbarians tho' they be in entertaining such an opinion—they must be met and fairly vanquished.
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1 The revised text published in 1870 (referred to hereafter as 1870) omits the first two paragraphs of the manuscript text.
2 Elizabeth Cady Stanton published paragraphs 4–6 as "Woman," Lily, January 1850, and the Address to the Women of the State of New York, from the Yearly Meeting of Congregational Friends at Waterloo, in June 1850, opened with variants of this and the next paragraph. Stanton served on the committee to draft the address, along with Charles Lenox Remond, Eliab W. Capron, and Lydia Ann Jenkins. (Holland and Gordon, Papers, microfilm, 6:1032, 1056-65.)
3 Elizabeth Cady Stanton's chief source for historical and cross-cultural information about women in this sentence and throughout the speech was the two volume History of the Condition of Women, in Various Ages and Nations, published in 1835 by Lydia Maria Child. Child's work supplied examples as well for Sarah Grimke, Letters on the Equality of the Sexes. Both the Kerek and Mohammedan examples are in Child's volume about women of Asia and Africa (1:41, 68). Stanton may have coined the image of a German couple, though Grimke attributes similar behavior to a number of nationalities (42-43). Child viewed European society more positively: it "differs from that of Asiatic nations or savage tribes in the comparative equality of labor between the sexes; if poor women are obliged to work hard, poor men are so likewise; they do not, like Orientals, sit in idleness, while women perform nearly all the drudgery" (2:181). (Lydia Maria Child, The History of the Condition of Women, in Various Ages and Nations, 2 vols. [Boston, 1835] and Sarah M. Grimke, Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Woman [1838; reprint, New York, 1970]).
4 On the title page of Child's History of the Condition of Women, from Lord Byron, "The Corsair," the first two lines are found in canto 2, pt. 14, and the last four in canto 3, pt. 8. Neither author copied Byron's lines precisely. The "sack" alludes to purging the harem by tossing an unwanted woman into the Bosphorus in a sack.
5 By the Salic law, females were excluded from the line of succession to the throne of France.
6 Inserted here in 1870: "in a republic based on the theory that no just government can be formed without the consent of the governed . . . ."
7 Genesis 1:28.
8 This standard list of capable women can be found in both Child and Grimke. Monarchs in Russia and England, Catherine II or Catherine the Great (1729-1796) ruled from 1762 to her death, and Elizabeth I (1533-1603) ruled from 1558 to 1603. In the field of letters, Harriet Martineau (1802-1876), a British writer and ardent abolitionist, visited the United States from 1834 to 1836 and, under the influence of the Grimke sisters, became an advocate of woman's rights. Germaine de Stael (1766-1817), a French writer and leader of an intellectual and political salon, went into exile during Napoleon's reign. British astronomers, Caroline Lucretia Herschel (1750-1848) and Mary Fairfax Somerville (1780-1872) were honored for their discoveries by the Royal Astronomical Society. For evidence of women's physical potential, the most popular example was the Amazons, a tribe of warrior women in antiquity who fought the Greeks.