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Communications spotlight battle for right to vote

Pictured are Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

This year marks the centennial of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. It is also the centennial year for the National League of Women Voters. The League of Women Voter of Chautauqua County has compiled a series of articles commemorating the brave suffragist who’s dedication gave women the right to vote. The following article is a series of letters between Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. This article highlights their struggles with the movement.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony left us a picture of their personal struggles in letters. Stanton, wife and mother of seven, had a lawyer husband who was often away promoting abolition. Anthony, unmarried and not a confident writer, traveled a grueling campaign trail. Their words in the following excerpts from their letters reveal tensions between their personal lives, their dependence on each other and their commitment to social reform.

Stanton, April 2, 1852: “Oh, Susan! Susan! Susan! You must manage to spend a week with me before the Rochester convention, for I am afraid I cannot attend it; I have so much with these boys on my hands. But I will write a letter [in her bid for President of the WCTU which she lost]. How much I do long to be free of housekeeping and children, so as to have some time to read, and think, and write. But it may be well for me to understand all the trials of woman’s lot, that I may more eloquently proclaim them when the time comes.”

Stanton, June 20, 1853: “Say not one word to me about another convention. I forbid you to ask me to send one thought or one line to any convention, any paper, or any individual; for I swear by all the saints that whilst I am nursing this baby I will not be tormented with suffering humanity. … My ceaseless cares begin to wear upon my spirit. I feel it in my innermost soul, and am resolved to seek some relief. Therefore, I say adieu to the public for a time, for I must give all my moments and my thoughts to my children.”

Stanton, Dec. 1, 1853: “Can you get any acute lawyer…sufficiently interested in our movement to look up just eight laws concerning us – the very worst in all the code? I can generalize and philosophize easily enough of myself; but the details of the particular laws I need, I have not time to look up. You see, while I am about the house, surrounded by my children, washing dishes, baking, sewing, etc., I can think up many points, but I cannot search books, for my hands as well as my brains would be necessary for that work. … Men who can, when they wish to write a document, shut themselves up for days with their thoughts and their books, know little of what difficulties a woman must surmount to get off a tolerable production.”

Stanton, Jan. 20, 1854: “My address is not nearly finished, but if I sit up nights, it shall be done in time. I fear, however, that it may not suit the committee, for it does not suit me. But make no arrangements with reference to my coming to Rochester, for I cannot say when I can come, or even if I may come at all. Yesterday one of the boys shot an arrow into my baby’s eye.The eye is safe, but oh! my fright when I saw the blood come and the organ swell, and witnessed her suffering! What an escape! Imagine if I had been in Rochester when this happened! Then, to-day, my nurse has gone home with a felon [abscess] her finger. So you can see how I am bound here.”

Stanton, Sept. 10, 1855: “… I passed through a terrible scourging when last at my father’s. I cannot tell you how deep the iron entered my soul. I never felt more keenly the degradation of my sex. To think that all in me of which my father would have felt a proper pride had I been a man, is deeply mortifying to him because I am a woman. That thought has stung me to a fierce decision — to speak as soon as I can do myself credit. But the pressure on me just now is too great. Henry [her husband] sides with my friends, who oppose me in all that is dearest to my heart. They are not willing that I should write even on the woman question. But I will both write and speak.”

Anthony, Sept. 29,1857: “Mrs. Stanton, I have very weak moments, and long to lay my weary head somewhere and nestle my full soul close to that of another in full sympathy. I sometimes fear that I too shall faint by the wayside, and drop out of the ranks of the faithful few…I feel alone…Had three weeks of cold hard labor among the people not yet initiated into the principles of true freedom. I returned home the 19th Sept. Found company there, and company came and came. Our folks were in the midst of a heavy Peach harvest, my mother was very feeble, the Hibernian unskilled, my wardrobe in need of repair, my brain and body in need of rest.

For a week I was in such a home whirl. On Friday the 25th I left for the Progressive Friends Meeting. Arrived Saturday A.M… Oh Mrs. Stanton how my soul longs to see you in the great Battle field. When will the time come? You say in two or three years. God and the Angles keep you safe from all hindrances and keep you from all mountain barriers. If you come not to the rescue, who shall?”

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