From their onsets, suffragists and abolitionists shared many of the same values, so what caused the movements to split apart?
Susan B. Anthony (Wikimedia Commons)
The reformer mind was accustomed to dealing in abstractions, not specifics. -- Christine Stansell, The Feminist Promise
In those circles where radicals and progressives debate the history of their various struggles, the late 19th-century split between the nascent feminist and early civil rights movement is much mourned. Briefly, abolition was the primary cause of Northern reformers in the years leading up to the Civil War. The women's rights advocates who would push for suffrage, from Seneca Valley on, generally started out as abolitionists and temperance activists. It is not to say that Woman's Rights -- as was the phrase of the day -- was not on the table. But the abomination of slavery, especially in the wake of the Civil War, tended to blot out all other causes.
After the War, with abolition achieved, the movement turned to broadening the franchise. It was generally agreed. among the reformers, that universal emancipation -- for black men and all women -- was the ideal. But the old abolitionists split on the matter of timetables. On one side you had activists like Julia Ward Howe, Antoinette Brown, Lucy Stone and ultimately Frederick Douglass, who favored the enfranchisement of black men as a first step. On the other side stood Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who argued that the incrementalism was bankrupt and that the franchise should be expanded to include black men as well as black and white women.
The subsequent fight destroyed the old antebellum alliance and eventually sent both movements into a (short) dark age. Anthony and Stanton, the leaders of the revolution, would eventually make common cause Southern racists. Meanwhile, the reformers would soon find that, in the Deep South, the constitutional assurance for black men meant nothing in the face of white terror. Black leaders like Booker T. Washington would eventually go so far as to effectively surrender all claim to the franchise. (At least temporarily.)
The Great Schism has echoed down through the ages, and it haunts any talk of gender and race on the left. Not to put my commenters on blast, but here is a typical rendering:
It's one of the great embarrassments of first-wave American feminism that so many supporters of women's suffrage turned against the 15th amendment, using the grossest racial politics, too. I've never felt the same way about Susan B Anthony since I learned of her opposition to black suffrage.
That's basically the rendition I was treated to in college debates under the flag pole, or on the steps of Douglass where nascent leftists, like yours truly, deployed arcane formulas to determine who had the most privilege, who could pile up the most layers of jeopardy. The sense was that if one could be born a half-Native American, half-African-American lesbian, who'd done a bid on the reservation, or in the projects, some mystical ascension awaited.
But I digress.
As it happens, our great creation myth did not match the history. From Stansell's The Feminist Promise:
The break has long been described as between a group committed to the freedpeople's cause and a racist, all-white Stanton-Anthony faction, but the judgment is facile and ignores the facts.
For sure, Stansell has a critique. She does not shirk from outlining the racism which plagued the movement from the postbellum years on.The pattern begins in the years right after the War with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony campaiging for women's suffrage with the scandalous George Train, under the slogan "Woman first and negro last." Stanton dubbed Train, "the most wonderful man of the century," and frustrated by the stonewalling of women's suffrage began a a long pattern of justifying women's rights through bigotry:
Think of Patrick and Sambo and Hans and Yung Tung who do not know the difference between a monarchy and a republic, who never read the Declaration of Independence, or Webster's spelling book, making laws for Lydia Marie Child, Lucretia Mott or Fanny Kemble.
It got worse. By the dawn of of the 20th century, Anthony and Stanton were openly courting avowed white supremacists like Belle Kearney. 1903 found the old stalwart abolitionist, Anthony, in New Orleans at the National Association of Women's Suffrage Association's convention, enduring a rousing rendition of Dixie, and tolerating Kearney's "semi-barbaric denunciations of blacks."
By that point, some of the most ardent suffrage activists were outright racists like Rebecca Felton, who fervently supported lynching, and Kate Gordon who eventually abandoned the suffrage movement because a national amendment would threaten white supremacy. "State sovereignty and white supremacy are inextricably linked," said Gordon. Kearney argued that "the enfranchisement of women would insure immediate and durable white supremacy."
By 1915 (after Anthony's death) NAWSA, founded by an abolitionist, friends of Frederick Douglass had thoroughly absorbed the rhetoric of white supremacists:
In Germany, German men governed German women; in France, French men did the same, "but in this country, American women are governed by every kind of man under the light of the sun," complained Anna Howard Shaw, successor to Anthony as NAWSA president.
How did a movement once rooted in the principles of abolition come to be associated with white nationalists?
I think one way of looking at this -- among many others -- is to not look at the movement post-1865, but post-1835, when abolitionist women, like Anthony and Stanton, were subject to unbridled sexism among their allies and enemies alike. In antebellum America, for a woman to speak before a promiscuous audience--that is to say an audience of mixed-gender--was to invite charges of prostitution. To travel, unescorted, as some reformers did was to increase the risk of accusation. To take these actions in opposition to the Southern Slave Society--an ostensibly divine institution deeply entwined with theories of family--and "Woman's Rights" was nigh blasphemous. And the penalties for doing such were not theoretical:
...the spread of women's rights thought fueled anti-abolitionist fires. Sexual imagery conflated the two causes: It was "old maids" and "nigger-lovers" who made up the female societies. Rhetorical violence in newspapers and pamphlets fed mob violence....Women were not exempt. In 1835 in Boston, a crowd of several thousand threatened members of the BFASS [Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society] who were thought to be hiding a visiting British abolitionist in there meeting rooms...
Afterward, Maria Weston Chapman, a leading member....could not walk in the streets of her own city without passerby and shop clerks hurling abuse at her. The Boston women noted acidly the double standard that divided acceptable female behavior from activity that as reviled. They were all involved in several reform causes...."No one said then, 'women had better stay home.'" Doing the same thing on behalf of the slaves, though, was another matter bringing threats bordering on lethal.
Stansell doesn't say this, but I have to believe that the prospect of rape often hung in the background.
Nor were threats of sexism strictly the province of the foes of women abolitionists. Sarah Grimke -- who credited abolition with helping awaken her to the persistent oppression of women -- was denounced by her abolitionist allies for daring to publicly raise the cause of women's rights alongside abolition. After thugs in Philadelphia broke up a meeting of one of the Anti-Slavery Societies, The Colored American (a black newspaper) took the opportunity to warn black women in the abolitionist movement away from the Grimkes, and toward the work of hearth and home:
Colored females from education, are more especially deficient in fulfilling their appropriate duties, and in redeeming the character and carrying forward the interests of their oppressed and injured people. As wives, as mothers and as daughters, they are too inert not sufficiently self-sacrificing.
In 1840, the World Anti-Slavery Convention -- the first of its kind -- refused to seat the eight American women delegates. Evidently this humiliation was insufficient. The conveners then made the women observe the deliberations from behind a curtain. Elizabeth Cady Stanton--barely 25--was there, and as was her wont, fuming righteously:
When we consider that Lady Byron, Anna Jameson, Mary Howitt, Mrs. Hugo Reid, Elizabeth Fry, Amelia Opie, Ann Green Phillips, Lucretia Mott, and many remarkable women, speakers and leaders in the Society of Friends, were all compelled to listen in silence to the masculine platitudes on woman's sphere, one may form some idea of the indignation of unprejudiced friends...
Judging from my own feelings, the women on both sides of the Atlantic must have been humiliated and chagrined, except as these feelings were outweighed by contempt for the shallow reasoning of their opponents, and their comical pose and gestures in some of the intensely earnest flights of their imagination.
What do we make of all of this? Stansell argues that the two tragically misread the politics of the day:
Why did the suffragists lose women's suffrage? The question has dominated scholarship about the postwar years? But one can also ask, really, why did they ever think they could win. From any angle the prospect was faint.
Whereas black male suffrage had actual political support, women's suffrage did not.From the Republican Party view, black male suffrage was a singular boon--a weapon which advantaged the loyalist, and hurt the defeated Confederates. The math of women's suffrage--which would double the black vote and the Southern white vote--was decidedly different.
And yet, I find myself in sympathy both Stanton and Anthony. They were not latter day Geraldine Ferraros, or white supremacists like Kearney or Felton. On the contrary, the two spent much of their early careers very much devoted to the cause of black people, and took their share of abuse for it. When the goal -- abolition -- was achieved, they hoped for some reciprocity. It did not come. "When I think of all the wrongs that been heaped upon womankind, " wrote Stanton. "I am ashamed that I am not forever in a condition of chronic wrath."
Frankly, given the sort of gender bigotry that women abolitionist faced, I'm a little surprised that more didn't take the absolutist path. I also don't think too much should be made of associations. They offer context, but they aren't the story. There's also the model of Frederick Douglass, who after splitting bitterly with Stanton and Anthony reconciled with them both, singling out Stanton, in particular, for making him a "Woman's Rights Man." The day Douglass died, he attended a suffrage conference where he was saluted by Anthony and her compatriots.
And finally there is my own personal bias. The other day I was reading over Robert E. Lee's famous quote about slavery...
In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence.
...and I found myself filled with rage and contempt. It is moral cowardice, a willingness to not merely abide by a great evil -- but to actually profit from it -- that really grates.
I think of Lee utterly quitting on the great moral question of his day, and still enjoying a place of honor in this country, and I am baffled. Then I think of Stanton and Anthony, misstepping, but always pushing, always agitating, always expanding, and I feel a strong kinship. I don't need my personal pantheon to be clean. But I need it to be filled with warriors.
As always, I invite the professionals to fill in the gaps here -- both in terms of actual facts and context.
“Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage.”
Last Sunday the host of a popular news show asked me what it meant to lose my body. The host was broadcasting from Washington, D.C., and I was seated in a remote studio on the Far West Side of Manhattan. A satellite closed the miles between us, but no machinery could close the gap between her world and the world for which I had been summoned to speak. When the host asked me about my body, her face faded from the screen, and was replaced by a scroll of words, written by me earlier that week.
The host read these words for the audience, and when she finished she turned to the subject of my body, although she did not mention it specifically. But by now I am accustomed to intelligent people asking about the condition of my body without realizing the nature of their request. Specifically, the host wished to know why I felt that white America’s progress, or rather the progress of those Americans who believe that they are white, was built on looting and violence. Hearing this, I felt an old and indistinct sadness well up in me. The answer to this question is the record of the believers themselves. The answer is American history.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
In 1992, the neuroscientist Richard Davidson got a challenge from the Dalai Lama. By that point, he’d spent his career asking why people respond to, in his words, “life’s slings and arrows” in different ways. Why are some people more resilient than others in the face of tragedy? And is resilience something you can gain through practice?
The Dalai Lama had a different question for Davidson when he visited the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader at his residence in Dharamsala, India. “He said: ‘You’ve been using the tools of modern neuroscience to study depression, and anxiety, and fear. Why can’t you use those same tools to study kindness and compassion?’ … I did not have a very good answer. I said it was hard.”
New data shows that students whose parents make less money pursue more “useful” subjects, such as math or physics.
In 1780, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife, Abigail, in which he laid out his plans for what his children and grandchildren would devote their lives to. Having himself taken the time to master “Politicks and War,” two revolutionary necessities, Adams hoped his children would go into disciplines that promoted nation-building, such as “mathematicks,” “navigation,” and “commerce.” His plan was that in turn, those practical subjects would give his children’s children room “to study painting, poetry, musick, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelaine.”
Two-hundred and thirty-five years later, this progression—“from warriors to dilettantes,” in the words of the literary scholar Geoffrey Galt Harpham—plays out much as Adams hoped it would: Once financial concerns have been covered by their parents, children have more latitude to study less pragmatic things in school. Kim Weeden, a sociologist at Cornell, looked at National Center for Education Statistics data for me after I asked her about this phenomenon, and her analysis revealed that, yes, the amount of money a college student’s parents make does correlate with what that person studies. Kids from lower-income families tend toward “useful” majors, such as computer science, math, and physics. Those whose parents make more money flock to history, English, and performing arts.
Most adults can’t remember much of what happened to them before age 3 or so. What happens to the memories formed in those earliest years?
My first memory is of the day my brother was born: November 14, 1991. I can remember my father driving my grandparents and me over to the hospital in Highland Park, Illinois, that night to see my newborn brother. I can remember being taken to my mother’s hospital room, and going to gaze upon my only sibling in his bedside cot. But mostly, I remember what was on the television. It was the final two minutes of a Thomas the Tank Engine episode. I can even remember the precise story: “Percy Takes the Plunge,” which feels appropriate, given that I too was about to recklessly throw myself into the adventure of being a big brother.
In sentimental moments, I’m tempted to say my brother’s birth is my first memory because it was the first thing in my life worth remembering. There could be a sliver of truth to that: Research into the formation and retention of our earliest memories suggests that people’s memories often begin with significant personal events, and the birth of a sibling is a textbook example. But it was also good timing. Most people’s first memories date to when they were about 3.5 years old, and that was my age, almost to the day, when my brother was born.
Gentrification is pushing long-term residents out of urban neighborhoods. Can collective land ownership keep prices down permanently?
AUSTIN, Tex.—Not long ago, inner cities were riddled with crime and blight and affluent white residents high-tailed it to the suburbs, seeking better schools, safer streets, and, in some cases, fewer minority neighbors.
But today, as affluent white residents return to center cities, people who have lived there for years are finding they can’t afford to stay.
Take the case of the capital city of Texas, where parts of East Austin, right next to downtown, are in the process of becoming whiter, and hip restaurants, coffee shops, and even a barcatering to bicyclists are opening. Much of Austin’s minority population, meanwhile, is priced out, and so they’re moving to far-out suburbs such as Pflugerville and Round Rock, where rents are affordable and commutes are long.
The singer’s violent revenge fantasy was intended to provoke outrage, and to get people to talk about her. It succeeds on both counts.
Of all the scandalized reactions to Rihanna’s music video for “Bitch Better Have My Money,” my favorite comes, as is not surprising for this sort of thing, from the Daily Mail. Labelling herself in the headline as a “concerned parent” (a term to transport one to the days of Tipper Gore’s crusade against lyrics if there ever was one), Sarah Vine opens her column by talking at length about how so very, very reluctant she was to watch Rihanna’s new clip. Then she basically goes frame-by-frame through the video, recounting her horror at what unfolds. “By the time it had finished, I wondered whether I ought not to report [Rihanna] to the police,” Vine writes. “Charges: pornography, incitement to violence, racial hatred.”
For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?
1. Youngstown, U.S.A.
The end of work is still just a futuristic concept for most of the United States, but it is something like a moment in history for Youngstown, Ohio, one its residents can cite with precision: September 19, 1977.
For much of the 20th century, Youngstown’s steel mills delivered such great prosperity that the city was a model of the American dream, boasting a median income and a homeownership rate that were among the nation’s highest. But as manufacturing shifted abroad after World War II, Youngstown steel suffered, and on that gray September afternoon in 1977, Youngstown Sheet and Tube announced the shuttering of its Campbell Works mill. Within five years, the city lost 50,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in manufacturing wages. The effect was so severe that a term was coined to describe the fallout: regional depression.
The unwillingness of the former secretary of state to take questions from the press contrasts sharply with Jeb Bush’s marked affinity for public disclosure.
Howard Kurtz reported on Sunday night that the Hillary Clinton campaign has decided to open itself to more press interviews. Kurtz quoted the campaign’s communications director, Jennifer Palmieri: “By not doing national interviews until now, Palmieri concedes, ‘we’re sacrificing the coverage. We’re paying a price for it.’”
Meanwhile Jeb Bush chatted July 2 with the conservative website, the Daily Caller. The Daily Caller interview broke an unusually protracted no-interview period for Bush. It had been more than two weeks since he appeared on the Tonight show with Jimmy Fallon. Bush spoke that same day, June 17, to Sean Hannity’s radio show and ABC News. Five days earlier, he’d spoken to Germany’s Der Spiegel—altogether, five interviews in the month of June. That brought his total, since the beginning of February, to 39, according to the Bush campaign.*