I’ve always liked Susan B. Anthony. Not that I knew her personally or anything. She be close to 200, and I’m not nearly that old (though sometimes it feels like I am). By “liked,” I mean she always fascinated me. She’d be on my list of Five People Living or Dead I’d Want to Have Dinner With.
Susan B. Anthony is recognized as the grandmother of the suffrage movement here in the US (something that sounds really bad, but was very good). She gets a lot of attention in history books and PBS documentaries. She even has her own (much-maligned) coin. Yet, if I may paraphrase John Donne, no woman is an island. Anthony had a partner in crime for more than 50 years, a woman we don’t often hear much about: Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
I am thinking about Susan B. and Elizabeth C. because on this day in 1848 the first Women’s Rights Convention was held in Seneca Falls, NY. Stanton and four women organized the convention, which the newspapers debased with glee, calling the women “sexless old maids” and that equal rights would “demoralize and degrade [women] from their high sphere and noble destiny…and prove a monstrous injury to all mankind.” Although Stanton and Anthony didn’t meet until 3 years after that convention, their lives are inexorably intertwined. They’re like gin and tonic. The Captain and Tennille. Nutella and bliss. You get the picture.
Though if I’m being perfectly honest, I think about them every day. (Does that sound weird?) Each morning when I sit down at the computer, click on the folder that contains my novel in progress, and wait for it to load, as I have for the better part of a decade, I send a little salute to their perseverance and determination. Because they, too, got up every day and stepped into the arena, as Theodore Roosevelt said. Stanton went to her desk overlooking Van Cleef Lake and penned yet another letter to another congressman who likely tore it up without response. Anthony got on another train to deliver another speech in the hopes of changing the minds of a group of men who had a vested interest in the status quo.
Over the years when I’ve been disheartened that a literary agent couldn’t bother to send even a rejection letter, or I get an unfriendly comment on an article, I think of Stanton and Anthony. They kept going when Anthony faced such angry mobs at a lecture in Albany, New York, that the mayor had to sit next to her with a revolver on his lap so she could speak. They pressed on when a man going toe-to-toe with Stanton said that his wife had presented him with eight children, which was a far better life’s work than exercising the right to vote. They didn’t give up when, during the Civil War, one-by-one Congress repealed all of the small victories granted in the Married Woman’s Property Act.
Sometimes writing a novel feels like a battle — an uphill one at that — but through Stanton and Anthony, I gain perspective. Imagine spending your whole life, day in and day out, working toward a goal you would never realize. During that first convention, Stanton sensed that gaining the right to vote would be a long time coming. “We are sowing winter wheat and won’t be alive to see the spring harvest.” She was right. It would take seventy-two years until the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified granting women suffrage in 1920. In the end, it entailed acts of civil disobedience including picket lines, marches and hunger strikes by thousands of women. But for the rest of their lives, Stanton and Anthony chipped away at the establishment. Anthony died in 1906 and Stanton in 1902. Neither lived long enough to enjoy the right they helped secure for American women.
Whenever I get impatient or frustrated, they remind me to persevere to the spring harvest.
Who inspires you to persevere?
To salute everyone who steps into the arena and gives it their all every day, I’m offering my short collection of essays The Subway Chronicles: More Scenes from Life in New York free for Kindle users, now through Sunday. Click, download and enjoy! If you don’t have a Kindle, you can also access the book through the Kindle app on your computer, phone or tablet.
Have a great weekend, everyone!