Two Women Pioneers: Susan B. Anthony & Eliza Daniel Stewart
Susan B. Anthony
The Late 19th century Women's Movements
Two Most Compelling Constitution Amendments of the Progressive Era – Women Rocked!
(Imaginary Q & A sessions with two women leaders from the late 19th century. They are visiting a high school history classroom in 2010.)
(This work was created based on information found in the Knowledge Product’s lecture on “The Bill of Rights & Additional Amendments” created in 1987 and the Teaching Company’s lecture on “A History of the U.S. Economy in the Twentieth Century” by Timothy Taylor.)
Moderator: We’re honored to have two figures of the women’s movements. Their tireless efforts led to the most compelling constitution Amendments during the 1910s. You may ask any questions regarding their efforts, challenges, and triumphs. You did your homework. You should be ready to raise your hand. The first guest is Ms Susan B. Anthony.
Susan B. Anthony: Thank you for the introduction. I have to tell you right away. I died in 1906. The Constitution Amendment that I worked for all of my adult life was not ratified until 1920. So, I didn’t live long enough to see it happen. But, I was hopeful that women would eventually be given the right to vote in America.
Student #1: Ms Anthony, I know of you from my stamp and coin collections. You must have been a very influential woman in our history.
Anthony: All those accolades are very nice. I feel humbled by this type of distinction. But, I didn’t do it alone. I had many capable supporters and comrades. One other name that you must know is Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She and I went through thick and thin. At times, we had our own disagreements, but we brought the issue of women’s rights to the forefront. Women’s right to vote was one of several key equal rights issues that we fought for.
Student #2: How did you get involved in the movement in the first place? Was it difficult at first?
Anthony: The official birth of the Women’s movement took place in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. I did not attend the conference at that time, but I was drawn to the idea that women should be united to demand equality with men. In 1852, I was introduced to Elizabeth Cady Stanton in New York. We hit it off, and I became very active. I dedicated my life for Women’s Suffrage and other equality issues. In those days, some men and even women thought that we were out of our minds for suggesting that women should vote in the election. Most men thought that women had no business getting involved in politics. They were threatened by our demands, in other words. This may explain why it took so long for America to amend the constitution to grant women the right to vote. Counting from the first women’s convention in Seneca Falls, it took 72 years.
Student #3: Ms Anthony, you mentioned that you had a disagreement with your comrade, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. What was the disagreement about?
Anthony: After the Civil War, the Radical Republican Congress passed three constitution amendments over the objections of all defeated southern states. One Amendment in particular shocked most of us. The 15th amendment said that newly freed African-American men would be able to vote. I have nothing against the African-American male. I was taken aback that the 15th Amendment specified the race and ignored the gender. I was offended by the wording of the Amendment. Then, there came another women’s organization. This group accepted the 15th Amendment. So, during the 1870s and the 1880s, there were two women’s organizations in America, fighting for Women’s suffrage. Then, in 1890, the idea of a merger came about. I was not totally happy with this other group, but for the sake of increasing our political power, I suggested the merger. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, on the other hand, didn’t want the merger. She thought that the other group was too lame. So, that was our disagreement. I managed to talk her into accepting the merger, though. The new organization was called the National American Women’s Suffrage Association. I served as the president for four years.
Student 4: Will you tell us why the other group was lame to Mrs. Stanton?
Anthony: Well, our original group, the National Woman’s Suffrage Association was not just focusing on suffrage. We were pushing for all kinds of other equally important women’s rights issues such as equal pay for equal work and the right to divorce an abusive husband easier, etc. We felt that women’s suffrage would empower women in our society so that women could fight for their rights in a political sphere. The suffrage per se was seen as a stepping stone to a greater equality for both sexes. The other group called the American Woman’s Suffrage Association was milder in their demand. They wanted to focus on the suffrage issue alone so as not to ruffle the feather. Mrs. Stanton was more liberal than those ladies in the other group.
Student 5: I read somewhere that you were arrested once for trying to vote. Will you tell us about the incident?
Anthony: Be glad to. I followed the spirit of the 14th Amendment which guaranteed citizenship and equal protection for everyone naturally born in America. Immigrants, too, could attain citizenship, and their rights would be guaranteed just the same. So, I felt I had the right to vote in the presidential election of 1872. I was quickly arrested, and newspapers all over the country had a field day. In today’s term, it was a great publicity stunt. My trial was well covered, and I was able to increase the awareness for women’s right to vote in America.
Student 6: So, what happened? Were you convicted? Did you serve time in prison?
Anthony: Yes, I was found guilty, but never spent a day in prison. My sentence was a fine. I did not pay, though. (laughing)
Student 7: What were the main factors in amending the constitution to let women vote in 1920?
Anthony: I was dead in 1906, but I watched the event from heaven. I think that American participation in World War I had much to do with it. Very progressive President Wilson announced in 1917 that America must fight in Europe to make the world safe for democracy. Women were up in arms when they heard it. Democracy? America had not granted women the right to vote. America was far from being democratic. The real irony is that President Wilson won the reelection in 1916 because he kept America out of World War I that began in July 1914. He received much support from the far western states where women had been enfranchised in the presidential election. SO, for your information, the 19th Amendment mandated that universal women suffrage be given to all 48 states in the Union.
Moderator: Thank you, Ms. Anthony. You’re an inspiration to millions of women throughout the world today. Your legacy lives on. By the way, I have your $1 coins at home.
Next we’ll have Ms Eliza Daniel Stewart. She was also fighting for women’s rights. Let’s welcome her. (Applause)
Eliza Daniel Stewart: Thank you for your warm welcome. Ms. Anthony is a tough act to follow. She and I lived through the same era in America. I died in 1908, two years after her death. While she represented Women’s Rights issues, I fought for Temperance in America. I imagine that a hand or two will go up, asking what that is. Sure enough, there’s a hand. Yes, young lady.
Student #1: Back then, when you were around, it meant no drinking, right?
Stewart: Not quite. Initially, the word ‘temperance’ meant a moderation in the consumption of alcohol. In America, temperance has a long history. People were offended when they saw men getting drunk in public places. The total ban of alcohol came much later. We all need to know the difference between the two.
Student #2: Then, how did your movement lead to the Constitution Amendment in 1919, prohibiting all alcohol in America? I heard it was a disaster.
Stewart: Yes, it was. But, it is important to know why the Amendment passed. It had the support of the American people. Now, to answer your question, I must give you the background of what I did. In 1872, I urged wives of "drunkards" to sue alcohol dealers. I was the first proponent of what are now known as server liability laws. The next year I organized the first Women's Temperance League. In 1874 I took part in establishing the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). From there, the movement got its momentum. I died in 1908. By then, the movement heated up, and many conservative Protestant Christians wanted to ban alcohol altogether in America. It was a huge fiasco, as you mentioned. The government couldn’t enforce the law. By making the act of drinking alcohol illegal, many people were drawn to illegal drinking, thinking that it was a cool thing to do. In 1933, President FDR’s congress repealed the Prohibition. Words like ‘moonshine, bootlegging, and speakeasy’ were created during those so called dry 13 years in America.
Student #3: Why was drinking deemed so bad particularly by women in those days?
Stewart: In those days, American women lived under so-called Victorian mores. Women had to lead a conservative and pure way of life. We hardly ever showed our skin in public. Drinking and smoking in public for women were considered scandalous. Men, on the other hand, worked on the average, 60 hours a week. When they came home, they seemed to want to get drunk. Or, they went to a nearby saloon right after work to get drunk. Domestic violence was almost always associated with drunkenness. City crimes such as prostitution and gambling were taking place in saloons. We, women, felt that the alcohol contributed to our misery at home.
Student #4: Were men drinking that much in those days?
Stewart: Oh yes. Half the population drank alcohol; half didn’t. And, you may guess that ‘half’ meant lots of men. The half that did drink averaged two hard drinks and two beers a day. That’s a lot more per person on the average than the folks living in 2009.
Student #5: Well, my immediate reaction is that the total ban on alcohol would have been really difficult if people were drinking that much already. It seems rather ridiculous to go ‘cold turkey’ all at once in 1919. What I’m saying is that the Prohibition was both unrealistic and unreasonable.
Stewart: A very good point. To answer your question, I have to explain what was going on in America in the 1900s. You see, the Protestant wing of the Temperance Movement initially wanted to stop excessive drinking among people. They didn’t mean that everyone should go cold turkey. But, their message was not taken seriously by immigrants from Italy and Eastern Europe. They had an old world tradition of drinking alcohol, and they weren’t about to change their ways. Up against this resistance from recent immigrants, the Protestant Temperance Movement got militant. They created an anti saloon league and destroyed liquor bottles in saloons. The State of Kansas even banned saloon establishments altogether. If you watch the movie, Elmer Gantry, you will see the saloon destruction scene. Anyway, the American Medical Association, too, supported the ban on alcohol for health reasons. By the time the Constitution Amendment was ratified, half the states in the Union had already passed the Prohibition. The 18th Amendment made the other half dry.
Student #6 So, do you regret that the movement went so far as the Prohibition and failed?
Stewart: No, not at all. Although the Prohibition experiment failed miserably, it showed that we, women, could influence the policy decisions of the entire nation. The Temperance movement gave women the cause to be united. We learned to exercise our power even before universal women suffrage was granted to us in 1920. I was proud to be leading the movement when drunkenness was rampant. Our voice against excessive consumption of alcohol was needed during that time. The failure of the Prohibition taught us a lesson. We have learned from it. Thank you.