Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: A Friendship That Changed the World
Penny Colman (Juvenile Biography)
On a spring day in May of 1851—following an antislavery meeting in Seneca Falls, New York—Amelia Bloomer made a simple introduction that would alter the way that women were viewed, treated, and legally recognized. It was on a street corner where Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton met and would begin a 51-year friendship that would survive religious differences, geographical distances, legislative setbacks, societal obstacles, and personal obligations. Elizabeth, a gifted writer, and Susan, an adept organizer, were on the forefront of the women’s reform movement and would not only travel throughout the nation to end slavery, but would lead the charge in fighting for the rights of women to receive a higher education, to divorce, to own property, to earn equal pay, and to vote. Together, these women amassed ardent supporters, as well as bitter detractors. They suffered financially, physically, and emotionally but they remained as committed to their friendship as to their cause.
Colman’s research is exhaustive and extensive. Rather than begin her book with Susan and Elizabeth’s initial meeting, she explores each of their childhoods and upbringing, allowing readers to get a more complete picture as to how these two very different women would eventually be drawn together through a common cause. What I enjoyed was being able to go beyond the history in order to understand each woman’s unique motivation that set them on their shared trajectory. In Elizabeth’s case, it was her desire to offer consolation to her father after the death of his son. Her desire to bring him comfort by being “all my brother was” made her realize just how limited and exclusive her options were. Also, since her father was a judge and his office adjoined their home, Elizabeth was privy to numerous conversations dealing with the law and its negative impact on women, especially married women. In Susan’s case, it was her family’s plummet into bankruptcy and watching her personal items being auctioned off that left an indelible mark on her. Her need to earn money and help pay off family debts thrust her into the world of teaching, where she immersed herself in the issues of the day: temperance, slavery, and the fate of the country. With so many personal details taken from diary entries, letters, journals, biographies, and autobiographies, Colman enables readers to not only value these women as historical figures, but to also connect with them on a personal level. Their struggle was extraordinary and their impact immeasurable.
Before Elizabeth’s 87th birthday (which she would never get to celebrate), she received a letter from her dearest Susan. The letter read, “If is fifty-one years since we first met and we have been busy through every one of them, stirring up the world to recognize the right of women. . . . We little dreamed when we began this contest . . .that half a century later we would be compelled to leave the finish of the battle to another generation of women. But our hearts are filled with joy to know that they enter upon this task equipped with a college education, with business experience, with the freely admitted right to speak in public—all of which were denied to women fifty years ago. . . . These strong, courageous, capable, young women will take our place and complete our work. There is an army of them where we were but a handful.”
In an age where social media influencers, fashion and beauty bloggers, and reality stars fight for the attention and devotion of our young girls, it is important to remind them that it wasn’t that long ago when women were considered “members of the state” and not recognized as citizens of the United States. Women were denied rights, choices, and privileges that were eventually given to freed male slaves. Susan and Elizabeth were trailblazers and pioneers who made it possible for women to have a seat at the table…to have a voice in the discussion. They weren’t just reformers, activists, and suffragists, they were crusaders, soldiers, and warriors. Before our young girls and women put on a soccer jersey, sit down to choose their college, or review a ballot before an upcoming election, they need to remember that these choices are possible because of an introduction between two women who were outside enjoying a pretty spring day in New York.
*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com
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