Critics scathingly called the statue depicting three suffragettes the “Three Ladies in a Bathtub.”
The three American suffragettes comprising the 7.5 ton Portrait Monument are Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony, who led the great political battle for the right to vote in the United States of America.
However, the government had abandoned the statue in the Capitol basement before returning it to the rotunda in 1997.
“It took a special act of Congress, passed at the urging of the women’s groups, who believed the pioneer suffragettes deserved better than the capitol basement,” says the Louise Schiavone in her article, “Even in stone, suffragettes cause a stir on Capitol Hill.”
The statue had been installed in the rotunda in 1921, but an all-male Congress removed it; a shameful act regarding what Joan Meacham, co-chair of The Women’s Suffrage Campaign, describes as “The greatest bloodless revolution in the history of the country.”
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The Beginning of Women’s Suffrage in America
The American Women’s suffrage movement began in 1848, (although English activists did not follow the example of the American women until 1876).
Lizbeth Goodman in her chapter, “Gender and drama, text and performance,” says:
“The struggle for the vote for women was fought for many years in the United States alongside the Civil Rights Movement. Sojourner Truth’s words were often cited as a parallel between the situation of women and African-Americans in their disfranchized status: ‘if colored men get their rights and not colored women theirs, you see (sic) the colored men will be masters over the women and it will be just as bad as it was before.'”
Sojourner Truth was the illiterate African-American woman whose passionate cry “Ain’t I a Woman” was later taken up by such great writers as Alice Walker and Maya Angelou.
The two movements fought alongside each other for many years.
The Father who Wanted a Son
When we consider Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s early life, and the issues she had to confront, it seems fitting that she became a pioneer for women’s rights. She was born in Johnstown, New York, in 1815 and A&E TV Network’s website “bio” records that her lawyer father had wanted a son. This must have had a profound effect on the young daughter, because it compelled her to try to excel in all traditionally-male areas of expertise.
Young Elizabeth received her education at Johnstown Academy, Troy Female Seminary. She had a cousin who was also an activist, Gerrit Smith, and visits to his home influenced her views.
In 1840, Elizabeth Cady Stanton met Henry Stanton and agreed to marry him, but she insisted that the minister omit the word “obey” from the marriage oath. In view of the time in which she lived, this was a momentous stand for a woman to take, and it is to the credit of her husband that he agreed. The couple became parents to seven children, yet still she managed to pursue her energetic activist philosophy.
The Seneca Falls Conference, 1848
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and fellow-activist, Lucretia Mott, were both involved in the movement to abolish slavery. However, Lucretia Mott had been forbidden to speak at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London because she was a woman – even though she was an official delegate.
The two women called the Conference at Seneca Falls to address issues of women’s rights, as set out by Paul Halsall in his article “The Declaration of Sentiments:“
“The Declaration of the Seneca Falls Convention, using the model of the US Declaration of Independence, forthrightly demanded that the rights of women as right-bearing individuals be acknowledged and respected by society. It was signed by sixty-eight women and thirty-two men.”
An Alliance with Susan B. Anthony
In the 1850s, Elizabeth Cady Stanton met Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) and the two women co-founded the National Woman Suffrage Association (later to become the League of Women Voters.) In 1868, they worked on a militant weekly paper called Revolution.
American government officials continued to thwart their efforts to improve women’s rights. The Nineteenth Amendment, popularly knowns as the “Anthony Amendment,” calling for equal rights for women in respect of voting, hit a brick wall.
Lizbeth Goodmans says:
“In 1878 however, the Anthony amendment was blocked and at every subsequent Congressional Session right up until the 26 August 1920, when the Amendment was finally ratified.”
Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment in June, 1919 and was finally ratified on 18 August 1920. This is the wording of the Amendment as set in “Women’s Fight for the Vote” on the website “Exploring Constitutional Conflicts.”
“Section 1: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Section 2: Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
Fearless and Uncompromising
Elizabeth Cady Stanton is an incredible icon, not only for her intense commitment to her causes, but for the wide range of issues she addressed. Occasionally, her beliefs even upset other suffragettes, less free-thinking, or maybe just less courageous, than she was.
Stanton campaigned for the right for women to ride bicycles.
She criticised the Bible and organised religion for their part in the oppression of women, and with her daughter Harriet Stanton Blatch, she wrote “The Woman’s Bible.” She also wrote a history of the suffragette movement with Susan B. Anthony.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was both fearless and uncompromising – and women the world over owe her a great debt of gratitude.