Elizabeth Cady Stanton
This is an excerpt from ProLife Feminism: Yesterday and Today. The introduction was written by Mary Krane Derr.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902)
Observing her father’s upstate New York legal practice, young Elizabeth Cady Stanton resolved to overturn the laws denying women control over their economic and family lives, even their bodies. The common-law doctrine of femme couvert defined a married woman’s personhood as incorporated into
her husband’s and thus civilly dead. Stanton married an abolitionist merchant. Like Lucretia Mott and others, she became inspired by Mary Wollstonecraft and disaffected by the anti-slavery movement’s hypocritical failure to include women as equals. Out of their discontent came the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention. Even while raising her seven children, Stanton fought for “the Cause”—as an editor of the Revolution, a traveling lecturer, a leader of the National Woman Suffrage Association, coeditor (with Susan B. Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage) of the History of Woman Suffrage (Volumes I-III), and author of the controversial Woman’s Bible.
Stanton decidedly rejected the notion that maternity was women’s only creative power and that every woman had to be a mother. She exulted in her subversive vitality throughout pregnancy and labor, particularly when she had her first daughter:
I have never felt such sacredness in carrying a child as I have in the case of this one. She is the largest and most vigorous baby I have ever had, weighing 12 lbs . . . And yet my labor was short and easy . . . What refined, delicate, genteel, civilized woman would get well in so indecently short a time? Dear me, how much cruel bondage of mind and suffering of body poor women will escape when she takes the liberty of being her own physician of both body and soul!
To women-only groups, she insisted, “We must educate our daughters that maternity is grand, and that God never cursed it, and the curse, if there be any, may be rolled off.” For this she was called a “savage,” a charge she found ridiculous; among Haudenosaunee [Iroquois], childbirth was not deemed impossibly painful and debilitating. In the hope of “rolling off the curse,” Stanton addressed many subjects considered unfit for public consideration: the unfair denial of child custody to divorced women, the limits of patriarchal religion, the desirability of family planning, the suffering that the disease model of pregnancy inflicted upon mothers, and the dire economic and social conditions that compelled so many women to resort to prostitution and to such equally “degrading” (her word) practices as abortion and infanticide. As early as 1854, Stanton publicly called for women’s right to a trial by jury of their own peers in such situations. . . .
She found it “appalling to the highest degree” that “infanticide is on the increase to an extent inconceivable” not only in cities but rural areas like Androscoggin County, Maine, where “there were four hundred murders annually produced by abortion alone . . . There must be a remedy for such a crying evil as this. But where shall it be found, at least where begin, if not in the complete enfranchisement and elevation of woman?”
from the Revolution, January 29, 1868.
The remarkable mortality among natural or illegitimate children is a topic agitating the Press very largely just now . . . The system of boarding them out for slow murder . . . is alarmingly on the increase among the well-to-do….It is impossible to shut our eyes to these facts . . . Where lies the remedy?
In the independence of woman. “Give a man a right over my subsistence,” says Alexander Hamilton, “and he has right over my whole moral being.” When the world of work is open to woman, and it becomes as respectable as it is necessary to happiness for women of the higher classes, as well as others, to have some regular and profitable employment, then will woman take her true position . . .
The strongest feeling of a true woman’s nature is her love for her child; and the startling facts in the above extract, multiplying as they are on every side, warn us that all things are inverted. Objectors cry out to us who demand our rights, and the ballot to secure them, “Do not unsex yourselves.” It is against this wholesale unsexing we wage our war.
We are living to-day under a dynasty of force; the masculine element is everywhere overpowering the feminine, and crushing women and children alike beneath its feet. Let woman assert herself in all her native purity, dignity, and strength, and end this wholesale suffering and murder of helpless children. With centuries of degradation, we have so little of true womanhood, that the world has but the faintest glimmering of what a woman is or should be.
Infanticide and Prostitution
from the Revolution, February 5, 1868.
Social Evil Statistics
The annual inspection report of . . . New York City and Brooklyn, gives the number of houses of prostitution as 523 . . .
. . . The murder of children, either before or after birth, has become so frightfully prevalent that . . . were it not for immigration the white population of the United States would actually fall off . .
Scarce a day passes but some of our daily journals take note of the fearful ravages on the race, made through the crimes of Infanticide and Prostitution. For a quarter of a century, sober, thinking women have warned the nation of these thick coming dangers, and pointed to the only remedy, the education and enfranchisement of women; but men have laughed them to scorn. Let those who have made the “strong-minded” women of this generation the target for the jibes and jeers of a heedless world repent now in sackcloth and ashes, for already they suffer the retribution of their own folly at their own firesides, in their sad domestic relations. . . .
We ask our editors who pen those startling statistics to give us their views of the remedy. We believe the cause of all these abuses lies in the degradation of woman . . .
Wonder not that American women do everything in their power to avoid maternity; for, from false habits of life, dress, food, and generations of disease and abominations, it is to them a period of sickness, lassitude, disgust, agony and death.
What man would walk up to the gallows if he could avoid it? And the most hopeless aspect of this condition of things is that our Doctors of Divinity and medicine teach and believe that maternity and suffering are inseparable. So long as the Bible, through the ignorance of its expounders, makes maternity a curse, and women, through ignorance of the science of life and health find it so, we need not wonder at the multiplication of these fearful statistics. Let us no longer weep, and whine, and pray over all these abominations; but with an enlightened consciousness and religious earnestness, bring ourselves into line with God’s just, merciful, and wise laws . . .
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