Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) led the movement for women's rights in the nineteenth century. The documents in this mini-edition focus on the first decade of their collaboration, from 1851 until 1861, when they honed their skills as reformers in New York State. These primary historical sources are pertinent to the study of women, American politics, New York State, and antebellum reform movements.
The selection of sources--letters, speeches, announcements to the public, and petitions to lawmakers--conveys the aspirations for political equality and the hard work of social change that defined the early woman's rights movement. Through their experience in New York, during the decade before the Civil War, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton learned how to mobilize women into a political force pursuing changes in the law. They laid the foundation for their emergence onto the national stage after the war as preeminent advocates of woman's rights, especially her right to vote.
The texts in Travels for Reform create a continuous story of reform and also divide easily into four sections, or chapters, reflecting shifts in the principal focus of reform pursued by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. In the decade before the Civil War, Anthony traveled as an agent for the Women's New York State Temperance Society, the New York Woman's Rights Committee, and the American Anti-Slavery Society. In the last years before the war, her work intensified, and in a whirlwind of travel and work, she conducted overlapping campaigns against slavery and for woman's rights. Although Stanton rarely traveled in this decade, the same shifts in emphasis are evident in her thought and writing too. Each chapter opens with a short essay to set the scene and introduce themes and concepts in the documents within that section.
Travels for Reform includes historical documents presented as both graphic images and live transcripts of the originals, as well as explanatory notes, a selective biographical dictionary, bibliography, and maps.
Travel was the heart of the reformer's work in the nineteenth century, and for her willingness to canvass New York county by county, year after year before the Civil War, Susan B. Anthony won recognition as one of the best practitioners of the reformer's craft. In the decade 1852 to 1861, Elizabeth Cady Stanton contributed to the woman's rights movement principally from home, where she combined writing the most influential arguments for human equality with raising her children and running a household.
When she first met Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1851, Susan B. Anthony was thirty-one years old and already retired from school teaching. While she managed her parents' farm just outside the city of Rochester, New York, she also got to know the extensive community of reformers concentrated there. Her acquaintances included the fugitive slave, black abolitionist, and newspaper editor Frederick Douglass; organizers of Rochester's own convention of 1848 for woman's rights; early proponents of spiritualism; dissident Quakers who founded the Congregational (later Progressive) Friends movement; and radical abolitionists in the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society. But Anthony also collaborated with a more traditional community of moral reformers, notably in the women's temperance movement.
In 1851 Elizabeth Cady Stanton, nearing her thirty-sixth birthday, lived in Seneca Falls, New York, with her husband Henry B. Stanton, an antislavery lawyer then serving in the state senate, and their four sons. (Two daughters and one more son were born by 1859.) Anthony surely knew Stanton's name before they met. After convening the first woman's rights meeting in July 1848, Stanton joined Rochester's women at the subsequent convention in August and corresponded with friends of the Anthony family. In 1849 Stanton began to write for Amelia Bloomer's temperance newspaper, the Lily, and Anthony read that paper. Already Elizabeth Cady Stanton was known for her elegant and forceful articulation of women's need for individual rights. The leading antislavery journals, which reported woman's rights activism with favor, published her writings as the movement spread to other states.
Stanton and Anthony met because of their shared interest in the movements to abolish slavery and restrict liquor, and their conviction that women's political views should be heard. They knew how reformers worked: reach people, convert them to new ideas, and lead them into action. The story of their organizing of women, told in these documents, followed the usual routines: circulating newspapers and pamphlets, speaking in countless small towns, initiating local groups to carry on the education, and bombarding the state legislature with petitions.
Recommended Citation: The Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, ed. Ann D. Gordon, et al. (Columbia, S.C.: Model Editions Partnership, 1999). Electronic version. http://adh.sc.edu/sa/saessay.html [Accessed (supply date here)]
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