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.
FEMA Director Craig Fugate on why the Katrina response failed, why it’s important to talk about “survivors” instead of “victims,” and why citizens can’t just wait for the government to save them in a huge disaster
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of The Beautiful Struggle and the forthcoming Between the World and Me.
The man who made computers personal was a genius and a jerk. A new documentary wonders whether his legacy can accommodate both realities.
An iPhone is a machine much like any other: motherboard, modem, microphone, microchip, battery, wires of gold and silver and copper twisting and snaking, the whole assembly arranged under a piece of glass whose surface—coated with an oxide of indium and tin to make it electrically conductive—sparks to life at the touch of a warm-blooded finger. But an iPhone, too, is much more than a machine. The neat ecosystem that hums under its heat-activated glass holds grocery lists and photos and games and jokes and news and books and music and secrets and the voices of loved ones and, quite possibly, every text you’ve ever exchanged with your best friend. Thought, memory, empathy, the stuff we sometimes shorthand as “the soul”: There it all is, zapping through metal whose curves and coils were designed to be held in a human hand.
In continuing to tinker with the universe she built eight years after it ended, J.K. Rowling might be falling into the same trap as Star Wars’s George Lucas.
September 1st, 2015 marked a curious footnote in Harry Potter marginalia: According to the series’s elaborate timeline, rarely referenced in the books themselves, it was the day James S. Potter, Harry’s eldest son, started school at Hogwarts. It’s not an event directly written about in the books, nor one of particular importance, but their creator, J.K. Rowling, dutifully took to Twitter to announce what amounts to footnote details: that James was sorted into House Gryffindor, just like his father, to the disappointment of Teddy Lupin, Harry’s godson, apparently a Hufflepuff.
It’s not earth-shattering information that Harry’s kid would end up in the same house his father was in, and the Harry Potter series’s insistence on sorting all of its characters into four broad personality quadrants largely based on their family names has always struggled to stand up to scrutiny. Still, Rowling’s tweet prompted much garment-rending among the books’ devoted fans. Can a tweet really amount to a piece of canonical information for a book? There isn’t much harm in Rowling providing these little embellishments years after her books were published, but even idle tinkering can be a dangerous path to take, with the obvious example being the insistent tweaks wrought by George Lucas on his Star Wars series.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
When Kenneth Jarecke photographed an Iraqi man burned alive, he thought it would change the way Americans saw the Gulf War. But the media wouldn’t run the picture.
The Iraqi soldier died attempting to pull himself up over the dashboard of his truck. The flames engulfed his vehicle and incinerated his body, turning him to dusty ash and blackened bone. In a photograph taken soon afterward, the soldier’s hand reaches out of the shattered windshield, which frames his face and chest. The colors and textures of his hand and shoulders look like those of the scorched and rusted metal around him. Fire has destroyed most of his features, leaving behind a skeletal face, fixed in a final rictus. He stares without eyes.
On February 28, 1991, Kenneth Jarecke stood in front of the charred man, parked amid the carbonized bodies of his fellow soldiers, and photographed him. At one point, before he died this dramatic mid-retreat death, the soldier had had a name. He’d fought in Saddam Hussein’s army and had a rank and an assignment and a unit. He might have been devoted to the dictator who sent him to occupy Kuwait and fight the Americans. Or he might have been an unlucky young man with no prospects, recruited off the streets of Baghdad.
According to Franklin, what mattered in business was humility, restraint, and discipline. But today’s Type-A MBAs would find him qualified for little more than a career in middle management.
When he retired from the printing business at the age of 42, Benjamin Franklin set his sights on becoming what he called a “Man of Leisure.” To modern ears, that title might suggest Franklin aimed to spend his autumn years sleeping in or stopping by the tavern, but to colonial contemporaries, it would have intimated aristocratic pretension. A “Man of Leisure” was typically a member of the landed elite, someone who spent his days fox hunting and affecting boredom. He didn’t have to work for a living, and, frankly, he wouldn’t dream of doing so.
Having worked as a successful shopkeeper with a keen eye for investments, Franklin had earned his leisure, but rather than cultivate the fine arts of indolence, retirement, he said, was “time for doing something useful.” Hence, the many activities of Franklin’s retirement: scientist, statesman, and sage, as well as one-man civic society for the city of Philadelphia. His post-employment accomplishments earned him the sobriquet of “The First American” in his own lifetime, and yet, for succeeding generations, the endeavor that was considered his most “useful” was the working life he left behind when he embarked on a life of leisure.
I traveled to every country on earth. In some cases, the adventure started before I could get there.
Last summer, my Royal Air Maroc flight from Casablanca landed at Malabo International Airport in Equatorial Guinea, and I completed a 50-year mission: I had officially, and legally, visited every recognized country on earth.
This means 196 countries: the 193 members of the United Nations, plus Taiwan, Vatican City, and Kosovo, which are not members but are, to varying degrees, recognized as independent countries by other international actors.
In five decades of traveling, I’ve crossed countries by rickshaw, pedicab, bus, car, minivan, and bush taxi; a handful by train (Italy, Switzerland, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, and Greece); two by riverboat (Gabon and Germany); Norway by coastal steamer; Gambia and the Amazonian parts of Peru and Ecuador by motorized canoe; and half of Burma by motor scooter. I rode completely around Jamaica on a motorcycle and Nauru on a bicycle. I’ve also crossed three small countries on foot (Vatican City, San Marino, and Liechtenstein), and parts of others by horse, camel, elephant, llama, and donkey. I confess that I have not visited every one of the 7,107 islands in the Philippine archipelago or most of the more than 17,000 islands constituting Indonesia, but I’ve made my share of risky voyages on the rickety inter-island rustbuckets you read about in the back pages of the Times under headlines like “Ship Sinks in Sulu Sea, 400 Presumed Lost.”
Some people see threats even when none are present. Strangely, it can make them more creative.
For much of his life, Isaac Newton seemed like he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. In 1693, the collapse finally arrived: After not sleeping for five days straight, Newton sent letters accusing his friends of conspiring against him. He was refraining from publishing books, he said at one point that year, “for fear that disputes and controversies may be raised against me by ignoramuses.”
Newton was, by many accounts, highly neurotic. Brilliant, but neurotic nonetheless. He was prone to depressive jags, mistrust, and angry outbursts.
Unfortunately, his genius might have been rooted in his maladjustments. His mental state led him to brood over past mistakes, and eventually, a breakthrough would dawn. “I keep the subject constantly before me,” he once said, “and wait till the first dawnings open slowly, by little and little, into a full and clear light.”
A tattooed, profanity-loving Lutheran pastor believes young people are drawn to Jesus, tradition, and brokenness.
“When Christians really critique me for using salty language, I literally don’t give a shit.”
This is what it’s like to talk to Nadia Bolz-Weber, the tattooed Lutheran pastor, former addict, and head of a Denver church that’s 250 members strong. She’s frank and charming, and yes, she tends to cuss—colorful words pepper her new book, Accidental Saints. But she also doesn’t put a lot of stock in her own schtick.
“Oh, here’s this tattooed pastor who is a recovering alcoholic who used to be a stand-up comic—that’s interesting for like five minutes,” she said. “The fact that people want to hear from me—that, I really feel, has less to do with me and more to do with a Zeitgeist issue.”
Climate change means the end of our world, but the beginning of another—one with a new set of species and ecosystems.
A few years ago in a lab in Panama, Klaus Winter tried to conjure the future. A plant physiologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, he planted seedlings of 10 tropical tree species in small, geodesic greenhouses. Some he allowed to grow in the kind of environment they were used to out in the forest, around 79 degrees Fahrenheit. Others, he subjected to uncomfortably high temperatures. Still others, unbearably high temperatures—up to a daily average temperature of 95 degrees and a peak of 102 degrees. That’s about as hot as Earth has ever been.
It’s also the kind of environment tropical trees have a good chance of living in by the end of this century, thanks to climate change. Winter wanted to see how they would do.
What do Google's trippy neural network-generated images tell us about the human mind?
When a collection of artificial brains at Google began generating psychedelic images from otherwise ordinary photos, engineers compared what they saw to dreamscapes. They named their image-generation technique Inceptionism and called the code used to power it Deep Dream.
But many of the people who saw the images reacted the same way: These things didn’t come from a dream world. They came from an acid trip.
The computer-made images feature scrolls of color, swirling lines, stretched faces, floating eyeballs, and uneasy waves of shadow and light. The machines seemed to be hallucinating, and in a way that appeared uncannily human.
The idea behind the project was to test the extent to which a neural network had learned to recognize various animals and landscapes by asking the computer to describe what it saw. So, instead of just showing a computer a picture of a tree and saying, "tell me what this is," engineers would show the computer an image and say, "enhance whatever it is you see."