March 19, 2007
59, Number 23
March 19, 2007
Women’s History Month keynote celebrates Stanton’s contributions
by stacey jones
In 1892 Elizabeth Cady Stanton stood before members of the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary and the Senate Committee on Woman Suffrage to give her last speech. Stanton considered the speech, called “Solitude of Self,” her greatest. A meditation on the right of women to education, self-reliance and self-determination, Stanton summoned her own experiences with loneliness and alienation to press for the need for women to have all the means necessary to care for themselves through the vicissitudes of life.
For the 2007 Women’s History Month keynote address on March 7, essayist Vivian Gornick and publisher and poet Jan Freeman discussed and recited “Solitude of Self,” and talked about Stanton’s place in the history of women and suffrage. Freeman, the sister of Interim Department of Women’s Studies Chair Carla Freeman, discovered Stanton’s speech during a long-term recuperation from a serious injury. She found herself comforted by Stanton’s words, she said, as she “ struggled with the isolation of illness.” After she recovered, Freeman decided to publish the speech.
Gornick, the author of “The Solitude of Self: Thinking about Elizabeth Cady Stanton,” and several other memoirs read from her book and answered audience questions with Freeman.
Stanton was born in 1815 in New York. Along with her better-known friend, Susan B. Anthony, and a host of other women, Stanton advocated for women’s suffrage. She married Henry Stanton, also an abolitionist, in 1840, and, by 1859, they had seven children.
After the abolition of slavery, Stanton took a stand that would brand her a “racist” and alienate her from other advocates for suffrage. When she learned that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution would include voting rights for black men only, she spoke out vehemently against it. This, said Gornick, was the beginning of radical feminism. “She nearly sank the entire women’s movement,” with her stance, Gornick said, adding, “She basically said, ‘Either we all walk through the door or nobody walks through the door.’”
Afterward, Stanton found herself increasingly marginalized and it was this, as well as her difficult marriage and the end of the active parenting she so loved, that led her to ponder isolation. Stanton felt that “America’s ethos of self-creation not built on family” rendered people alone at the most vulnerable times of their lives, said Gornick. As such, she believed women had the right to possess the tools necessary, including education and equal protection under the law, to gird against life’s travails.
“We may have many friends, love, kindness, sympathy, and charity to smooth our pathway in everyday life, but in the tragedies and triumphs of human experience each mortal stands alone,” Stanton said in “Solitude.” “The great lesson that nature seems to teach us at all ages is self-dependence, self-protection, self-support.” Therefore, Stanton noted, “It is the height of cruelty to rob the individual of a single natural right.”
Stanton died in 1902. Thirteen years after her death, the U.S. Congress printed “Solitude of Self” and sent 10,000 copies around the world. In 1920 women received the right to vote.
Gornick and Freeman’s keynote address was in observance of National Women’s History Month, an annual celebration sponsored by the Center for Women. It was also the Department of Women’s Studies tenth annual Jessica Glasser (‘96C) Memorial Lecture.