Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Today in Suffragette History —> On November 12, 1815, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, spokesperson for the rights of women, was born in Johnstown, New York. Stanton formulated the philosophical basis of the woman suffrage movement, blazing a trail many feared to follow.

Stanton’s verbal brilliance combined with the organizational ability and mental focus of her lifelong collaborator Susan B. Anthony made the two women a formidable resource to the early cause.

Although Stanton served as president of the “radical” National Woman Suffrage Association and its successor the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), she found it Increasingly difficult to maintain her leadership role. Interestingly, her agenda was far more radical than that of many younger, more conservative feminists.

Stanton’s belief that organized religion subjugated women alienated some supporters. In The Woman’s Bible, she brought considerable notoriety upon herself by criticizing the treatment of women in the Old Testament.

“The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world…wherever we turn, the history of woman is sad and dark, without any alleviating circumstances, nothing from which we can draw consolation.”
~ Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “Declaration of Sentiments.”

Sources: Library of Congress

Pictured: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, seated, and Susan B. Anthony, standing.
Pictured: Draft of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s “Woman’s Bible” circa 1895

#Suffragette #Feminism #ElizabethCadyStanton

Lilith

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In Jewish folklore, Lilith was thought to be Adam’s first wife in Eden. She refused to be subservient to him and left the garden. She “coupled” with the archangel Samael and became a demon of the night.

(John Collier painting)

#FolkloreThursday #Lilith #JewishFolklore

Most Admired: Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935)

She is best known today for her short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a semi-autobiographical account of a severe bout of postpartum psychosis. She was a Utopian Feminist (women’s suffrage as well as women’s economic independence) and a prominent sociologist, novelist, writer of short-stories, non-fiction and poetry. Her book “Women and Economics : A Study of the Economic Relation Between Men and Women as a Factor in Social Evolution,” was published in 1898 and considered by many her greatest work. Her contention was that humans were the only species in which women were dependent upon the male for survival. They paid for this dependence through domestic services of “sex functions”. Here belief that this awkward distribution of power within the sex roles were detrimental to both genders. Her novel “Herland” published in 1915 is a utopian novel describing an isolated society entirely of women who reproduced asexually and thus had an idea social order – free of war, conflict and domination. Perhaps her greatest literary achievement was self-publishing a magazine, “The Forerunner”, for seven years (1909-1916), she wrote the entirety of every issue – editorials, critical articles, book reviews, essays, poems, stories, and six serialized novels including “Herland” and the sequel “With Her In Ourland.”

She married twice, separating from her first husband in 1888 and finally divorcing 1894. She bore one child with her first husband, Katherine. She married her second husband in 1900 and they remained happily married until 1934 when he died of a sudden cerebral hemorrhage. In 1932 she learned she had incurable breast cancer. She was an advocate for the right-to-die and thus on August 17th, 1935 she committed suicide by taking an overdose of chloroform. Both her autobiography and suicide note stated she “chose chloroform over cancer.” One of her more famous quotes comes from her suicide note…

“Human life consists in mutual service. No grief, pain, misfortune, or broken heart, is excuse for cutting off one’s life while any power of service remains. But when all usefulness is over, when one is assured of an unavoidable and imminent death, it is the simplest of human rights to choose a quick and easy death in place of a slow and horrible one.”
~ Charlotte Perkins Gilman

“There is no female mind. The brain is not an organ of sex. Might as well speak of a female liver.”

Most Admired: Virginia Woolf

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Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

Adeline Virginia Woolf is well known as one of the major literary figures of the twentieth century. The English author, novelist, essayist, biographer, feminist, publisher and writer of short stories is best known for her novels “Mrs. Dalloway,” “To The Lighthouse,” “Orlando,” and her book length essay, “A Room Of One’s Own.” From this essay she is often quoted, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

She began writing professionally in 1900 with an article about Haworth, the home of the Bronte family for the Times Literary Supplement. Her first novel “The Voyage Out” was published in 1915 by her half-brother. She would go on to publish novels and essays as an intellectual to both critical and popular success. Much of her work was self-published through the Hogarth Press. Her work was often criticized for its narrow portrayal of the upper middle class intellectuals and lacked anything of ethical or emotional relevance for the common reader. She is often criticized as well for being perceived as an anti-Semite despite the fact she was happily married to a Jewish man and condemned Christianity as self-righteous egotism and in a letter to her friend Ethel Smyth, “my Jew has more religion in one toe nail—more human love, in one hair.” Additionally her distaste for fascism and its ties to anti-Semitism is quite plainly spelled out in her book, “Three Guineas.” Her final work, “Between the Acts,” aptly expresses some of her main themes : transformation of life through art, sexual ambivalence, and the flux of time throughout one’s life at the same time being a deterioration and renewal.

Throughout her life Virginia suffered from several “breakdowns” as a result of having symptoms that conform to bipolar disorder, the first occurring by the sudden death of her mother when she was thirteen. Her most significant episode occurred after the death of her father in 1904 and was in turn briefly institutionalized after her first suicide attempt. Modern scholars have suggested her recurring depressive periods were a result of sexual abuse both her and her sister were subjected to by her half-brothers. She vividly recounts this in an autobiographical essay, “A Sketch of the Past,” which can be now read in “Moments of Being” a collection of posthumously-published autobiographical essays. She wrote of the event, “I can remember the feel of his hands going under my clothes; going firmly and steadily lower and lower, I remember how I hoped that he would stop; how I stiffened and wriggled as his hand approached my private parts. But he did not stop.”

Throughout her life she struggled with periodic mood swings and associated illnesses. Though this often affected her social life, her literary career and productivity continued with very few breaks. After the completion of “Between the Acts” she fell into a deep depression. The onset of World War II and the destruction of her London home in the bombing only deepened it. On March 28th, 1941 she filled the pockets of her overcoat with stones and drowned herself in the River Ouse which runs through the counties of West and East Sussex near her home. In her last note to her husband she wrote :

“Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier ’til this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that – everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.”
~ Virginia Woolf

Most Admired: Mary Wollstonecraft

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Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)

Mary Wollstonecraft was an eighteenth century English writer, philosopher and advocate of women’s rights. She wrote novels, treatises, a travel narrative, a history of the French Revolution, a conduct book, and a children’s book. She is best known for her 1792 book, “A Vindication of the Rights of Women.” Through it she argues that women are not naturally inferior to men, but appear so simply because they lack the education. She posits both men and women should be treated as rational beings and bring about a social order founded on reason. Today she is regarded as one of the founding feminist philosophers and her unconventional life is also cited as a fundamental influence among certain feminists.
A few of her quotes summarize some of her beliefs much more adequately than I could ever attempt :

“I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.”

“If we revert to history, we shall find that the women who have distinguished themselves have neither been the most beautiful nor the most gentle of their sex.”

“It is vain to expect virtue from women till they are in some degree independent of men.”

“My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their fascinating graces, and viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood, unable to stand alone.”
“Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.”

“It is time to effect a revolution in female manners – time to restore to them their lost dignity – and make them, as a part of the human species, labour by reforming themselves to reform the world. It is time to separate unchangeable morals from local manners.”

“Love from its very nature must be transitory. To seek for a secret that would render it constant would be as wild a search as for the philosopher’s stone or the grand panacea: and the discovery would be equally useless, or rather pernicious to mankind. The most holy band of society is friendship.”
~ Mary Wollstonecraft

Most Admired: Simone de Beauvoir

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Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986)

Simone-Ernestine-Lucie-Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir was a French existentialist philosopher, intellectual, feminist and social theorist. She did not consider herself a philosopher, however her contributions to existential feminist thought firmly enshrines her legacy as one. In her lifetime she wrote novels, essays, biographies, a multi-volume autobiography, including articles/essays on philosophy, politics, and social issues. She is best remembered for her treatise “The Second Sex,” a highly detailed analysis of women’s oppression and as it relates and influences contemporary feminism. She is also known for her two metaphysical novels “She Came to Stay” and “The Mandarins,” but by far best known or renown for “The Second Sex.”

Simone de Beauvoir was born in Paris and studied mathematics and philosophy at the Institut Catholique and literature/languages at the Institut Sainte-Marie. She then went on to study philosophy at the Sorbonne. Afterwards while completing her practice teaching requirements she first met Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Claude Lévi-Strauss. While studying for her agrégation in philosophy (a highly competitive postgraduate civil service examination which serves as a national ranking of students for some position in the public education system) she met fellow students Jean-Paul Sartre, Paul Nizan, and René Maheu. The jury narrowly awarded Sartre first place over Beauvoir. She was twenty-one at the time and the youngest ever to pass the exam.

In June 1949 “The Second Sex” was published in France. She argues that men made women the “Other” in society by putting a false and constructed mystery around them. Therefore men used this as their excuse not to understand women, their problems and most importantly not to help them. She went on to argue that men stereotyped women and used it to organize society into a patriarchy. As an existentialist she believed, “l’existence précède l’essence” (existence precedes essence), there by one is not born a woman, but becomes one. It is the social construction of woman that she identifies as fundamental to woman oppression. She went on to argue that even Mary Wollstonecraft considered men to be the ideal to which women should aspire and that this belief limited women’s success by maintaining that perception. She vigorously argued that for feminism to move forward this assumption must be set aside. Thus Beauvoir aseerted that women are as capable of choice as man, and therefore can ellect to elevate themselves and move beyond the position which they have been resigned and reach a position in which they take responsibility for oneself and the world, where one can choose one’s freedom.

A long quote and a few short quotes :

“Art, literature, and philosophy are attempts to found the world anew on a human freedom: that of the creator; to foster such an aim, one must first unequivocally posit oneself as a freedom. The restrictions that education and custom impose on a woman limit her grasp of the universe…Indeed, for one to become a creator, it is not enough to be cultivated, that is, to make going to shows and meeting people part of one’s life; culture must be apprehended through the free movement of a transcendence; the spirit with all its riches must project itself in an empty sky that is its to fill; but if a thousand fine bonds tie it to the earth, its surge is broken. The girl today can certainly go out alone, stroll in the Tuileries; but I have already said how hostile the street is: eyes everywhere, hands waiting: if she wanders absentmindedly, her thoughts elsewhere, if she lights a cigarette in a cafe, if she goes to the cinema alone, an unpleasant incident can quickly occur; she must inspire respect by the way she dresses and behaves: this concern rivets her to the ground and self. “Her wings are clipped.” At eighteen, T.E. Lawrence went on a grand tour through France by bicycle; a young girl would never be permitted to take on such an adventure…Yet such experiences have an inestimable impact: this is how an individual in the headiness of freedom and discovery learns to look at the entire world as his fief…[The girl] may feel alone within the world: she never stands up in front of it, unique and sovereign.”

“One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, and compassion”

“A man attaches himself to woman — not to enjoy her, but to enjoy himself.”

“Man is defined as a human being and a woman as a female – whenever she behaves as a human being she is said to imitate the male.”

“Society, being codified by man, decrees that woman is inferior; she can do away with this inferiority only by destroying the male’s superiority.”

“The word love has by no means the same sense for both sexes, and this is one cause of the serious misunderstandings that divide them.”

“Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with absolute truth.”

“One is not born a genius, one becomes a genius; and the feminine situation has up to the present rendered this becoming practically impossible.”
~ Simone de Beauvoir