With their suffrage proposals triumphant in only four western states when they died, Stanton, Anthony, and Gage nevertheless suffused the first three volumes of their history with their ebullience, with their unswerving belief in the justice of their cause, and with their informed high purpose, producing an élan that marked subsequent volumes as well. While they were confident of their own high principles, their advocacy of woman suffrage, as the work amply documents, was plagued nevertheless by the criticisms and indifference of society-at-large, crippled by personal animosities and organizational frictions among suffragists, and wracked by conflicts between suffragist priorities and those of other feminists and reformers. Yet despite the density and tedium of some of its inclusions, the tome of History of Woman Suffrage conveys frank good sense, as if with distant vision the suffragists had assumed the stance of future generations asking why, given the obvious justice of universalizing the vote for women, its attainment required so many years of struggle.
History of Woman Suffrage is more than a painstaking assemblage of speeches, journal excerpts, documents, legislative activities, and organizational vicissitudes. The first volumes, chiefly the handiwork of Stanton and Anthony, which they completed in 1886, are thus rich in historical context designed to deepen the suffragist movement’s self-awareness. To this end, volume 1 traces the origins of suffrage reform within broader ranges of feminist reformism, discernible by the late eighteenth century and reaching an early pinnacle at the Women’s Rights Convention assembled in Seneca Falls on July 19, 1848. During these years, as part of the expansive democratic sentiments that were affecting much of American society—most apparently during the presidency of Andrew Jackson—women’s rights advocates promulgated a comprehensive challenge to traditional and predominantly male social values. In their thrust toward winning equality, they demanded legal reevaluations of marriage, divorce, and birth control, as well as reassessments of property rights for women. They were a principal force behind temperance movements and a vigorous adjunct to the increasingly vocal and influential antislavery movements of the 1850’s. Within this wide spectrum, the demands for suffrage advanced by women such as Stanton, Anthony, Gage, and others became the key to achieving most other feminist objectives.
Because the authors-editors of History of Woman Suffrage recognized their own place within this environment of general reform, they were mindful of the importance of other feminist leaders whose principal goals did not center on the suffrage issue. For this reason, Stanton and Anthony respected, by inclusion, references to the writings and speeches of the great British feminists Mary Wollstonecraft and Harriet Martineau, as well as foremost Americans such as Lucretia Mott, Sarah and Angelina Grimké, Margaret Fuller, Francis Wright, Lydia Child, and Carrie Chapman Catt. They also addressed the concerns of dozens of other figures less well known to later generations, such as Martha C. Wright, Eliza W. Farnham, Mariana W....
(The entire section contains 731 words.)
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- Critical Essays