(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 731 words.)