Dear X and Y,
I took part in a feminist book club here on my University’s Campus. Main reason being I do not know a lot about the women’s suffrage movement, it was a free club, and it included a free book! I learned a lot and they had extra books so I asked to have a copy to give to you since you seem to have an interest in women’s history.
Freedoms are assumed. We assume we have our freedoms, that they were won long ago and they cannot be taken away. What I think will become clear, is that not everyone has the same freedoms, they were not won as long ago as we thought, and that they can be taken away. Reading about the feminist movement provides a great insight into how these freedoms were won, but also liberty in general. Because if we do not believe in liberty for everyone, then we really do not believe in liberty at all. And going forward, it is important to realize that these victories were not inevitable, people had to fight for them. “History is shaped by those who swim with the tide as well as those who swim against it, stemming the tide of injustice. Tho choose not to act is the worst possible action. There are no innocent bystanders to history. In action ensures that injustice will continue in your name” (pg 489).
This is a cumbersome book to get through, at times. The format it follows is, with each section, is an introduction to that time. These are great to read and have a lot of information but are followed by the source documents. These documents are extremely important, but can vary in its reading because they were written so long ago. I encourage you to read all of them, but I found some far more valuable than others. The following are by far my favorite and if you get bored with some of the documents or do not want to read it straight through, jump to these:
The Remnant of the Five Nations by Matilda Joslyn Gage (Page 13)
The Matriarchate, or Mother-Age by Elizabeth Cady Stanton (Page 22)
Angelina Grimke’s address to the Massachusetts Legislature 1838 (Page 72)
Declaration of Sentiments adopted at Seneca Falls convention 1848 (Page 75)
The Times that Try Men’s Souls by Maria Weston Chapman (Page 78)
Ernestine Rose’s speech to the 1851 National Woman’s Rights Convention (Page 95)
Lucy Stone’s comments at the 1852 National Women’s Rights Convention (Page 108)
Women’s Rights Catechism by Matilda Joslyn Gage (Page 262)
“The Truth Shall Make You Free” speech by Victoria C. Woodhull (Page 264)
Matilda Joslyn Gage’s description of the NWSA 1876 Centennial protest (Page 276)
Susan B Anthony’s speech during The Woman’s Bible debate in 1895 (Page 365)
The Woman’s Bible Introduction by Elizabeth Cady Stanton (Page 367)
The forward, introduction, and chapter one (pages xv through 13) is also very informative regarding the general movement and the men and women who took part.
An important lesson, I think, within this book is that women did not gain the right to vote in 1920, they regained it. The Iroquis nation, a native American confederation of tribes, banded together and wrote an impressive constitution hundreds of years before Europeans even made it to America that allowed women to vote and held that the family will follow the woman’s line. Many colonies even allowed women to vote. Dutch colonies at the time allowed women to vote and, when England conquered the colony New Amsterdam (they renamed it “New York”), they took women’s right to vote. So when the United States offered Native American citizenship, like the Indian Citizenship Act, allowing Indian’s to become US citizens, many refused because it would mean half their population would lose that right. So I guess I am just saying that no one “gives” you your rights – you always have them. They are inherent to each person, it is up to others to take them away. Founding Mother, Abigail Adams, begged the Founding Fathers to not forget the women, in writing the constitution because, as she warned, “We are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by laws in which we have no voice or representation when they impeached the government for its treatment of women (on July 4, 1876) declaring they had “greater cause for discontent, rebellion and revolution, than the men of 1776”.
Another important lesson, in my opinion, is that in the fight for liberty, at every step, there are people fighting. Choosing to stand up for more liberty. And these gains in liberty (the revolutionary war, Civil War, anti-segregation, the women’s suffrage movement, etc) would not have just happened. It is not something that will work itself out without individuals choosing to stand up and fight for something. Complacency never changed history – it only delayed it. So, regardless of the cause, it is important to voice what you believe in and debate it. If you are wrong regarding something, admit it, adjust it, and reassert. We all have the ability to make a stand for what we believe in and this book shows how we can do it and when it takes to do it.
“For what is life without liberty, and what is liberty without equality of rights?…Humanity recognizes no sex; virtue recognizes no sex; mind recognizes no sex; life and death, pleasure and pain, happiness and misery, recognizes no sex” Ernestine Rose (pg 96-97)
Wagner, S. R., & Steinem, G. (2019). The Women’s Suffrage Movement. New York, NY: Penguin Books.