Remembering feminist and atheist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton
It’s been nigh on impossible this week to compete with the tens of thousands of media reports of the US election, and the predictions of what America might look like in the coming years under the oppressive dominion of Christian extremists and their imaginary god.
So, today, rather than try to select one of a myriad of reports about crowing Christian imbeciles on the one hand, and horrified secularists, gays, non-believers, women, Latinos and Muslims et al on the other, let me remind you that it was on this day – November 12, 1815 – that Elizabeth Cady, outspoken atheist and founding mother of the feminist movement was born in Johnstown, New York.
Anxious to please her eminent father – a judge and member of Congress – in the face of his bitter loss of all five of his sons, she excelled in academic studies and horseback riding.
Barred as a young woman from college despite her lively, brilliant intellect, she married young anti-slavery agent Henry Stanton. Their 1840 honeymoon took them to the fateful World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London.
Her eyes were opened to women’s subjugation, and religion’s role in keeping women subordinate, after she and other female abolition delegates were humiliatingly curtained off from debate at clergy instigation.
At 32, the harried housewife and mother (eventually of 7) instigated and planned, with Lucretia Mott and three other women, the world’s first woman’s rights convention. The historic Seneca Falls convention met on July 19-20, 1848.
Stanton’s “shocking” suffrage plank won endorsement and galvanised women for the next 72 years. She recalled later how “the Bible was hurled at us from every side” in a history of the early movement.
Stanton entered into a lifelong working partnership with Susan B Anthony, above, founded and was first President of the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869, and served as the National American Woman Suffrage Association’s controversial first president in 1890.
Stanton wrote the 19th Amendment finally adopted in 1920 granting the vote to women. Nearly every speech Stanton wrote condemned religious dogma.
In her first letter to Anthony (April 2, 1852), she wrote:
The Church is a terrible engine of oppression, especially as concerns woman.
In her diary, she recorded that her belief was “grounded on science, common sense, and love of humanity,” not:
Fears of the torments of hell and promises of the joys of heaven.
Stanton told the 1885 National woman Suffrage Association Convention:
You may go over the world and you will find that every form of religion which has breathed upon this earth has degraded woman … I have been traveling over the old world during the last few years and have found new food for thought. What power is it that makes the Hindoo woman burn herself upon the funeral pyre of her husband? Her religion.
What holds the Turkish woman in the harem? Her religion. By what power do the Mormons perpetuate their system of polygamy? By their religion/ Man, of himself, could not do this; but when he declares, ‘Thus saith the Lord’, of course he can do it.
So long as ministers stand up and tell us Christ is the head of the church, so is man the head of woman, how are we to break the chains which have held women down through the ages? You Christian women look at the Hindoo, the Turkish, the Mormon women, and wonder how they can be held in such bondage …
Now I ask you if our religion teaches the dignity of woman? It teaches us the abominable idea of the sixth century – Augustine’s idea – that motherhood is a curse; that woman is the author of sin, and is most corrupt. Can we ever cultivate any proper sense of self-respect as long as women take such sentiments from the mouths of the priesthood?
She dedicated her last years to freeing women from superstition, writing The Woman’s Bible (1895, 1898 [buy from Amazon]). In 1898, that book was officially repudiated by the very suffrage movement Stanton had formed. The last article she wrote before her death was “An Answer to Bishop Stevens” urging people to:
Embrace truth as it is revealed today by human reason.
In The Degraded Status of Woman in the Bible, (1896) Stanton, who died in 1902, wrote:
I have endeavoured to dissipate these religious superstitions from the minds of women, and base their faith on science and reason, where I found for myself at least that peace and comfort I could never find in the Bible and the church … the less they believe, the better for their own happiness and development ….
For fifty years the women of this nation have tried to dam up this deadly stream that poisons all their lives, but thus far they have lacked the insight or courage to follow it back to its source and there strike the blow at the fountain of all tyranny, religious superstition, priestly power, and the canon law.
This week, Stanton’s “deadly stream” broke its banks, and there’s nothing we can do other than hang our heads in sorrow and disbelief and head towards the lifeboats.