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Remembering feminist and atheist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton

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.

susan-b-anthony-10-bill

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.

18 responses to “Remembering feminist and atheist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton”

  1. Newspaniard says:

    An extremely brave woman. I speculate that if she were born today she would show equal contempt for today’s purveyors of religious nonsense. Thanks for this, Barry. I was in ignorance.

  2. Broga says:

    Excellent article about admirable women. The struggle goes on and we know at its heart the religious certainties are hollow. They can only be sustained by fantasy and a refusal to think. Thus they remain ever vulnerable.

  3. John the Drunkard says:

    I think if people remembered her enough to line up and put ‘I Voted!’ stickers on HER headstone, this might be a very different day.

  4. 1859 says:

    Thanks for this Barry – I’d heard the name ‘Stanton’ but not of her importance. Articles like this remind us just how long and continuous these struggles are. Man can so easily slip back into irrationality despite being surrounded by all the digital gizmos of the age. My own forlorn (naive) hope is that the genie of reason and secular ideas have well and truly ‘escaped the bottle’, and when this ‘Horror-Clown’ in the white House starts to re-invigorate all the prejudices against minorities etc., there will be one hell of a backlash that could see serious social unrest in the land of the free.

  5. The anti-democratic Horror Clowns are out on the streets of the USA, protesting against the inauguration as president of the wondrous Trump. Personally, I cannot help but feel that it would be best if the national guard could open fire on them. Violence is one of the few things these highly sinister, flag-burning, anti-American trash are likely to understand. After all, violence is a universal language understood by all–even the most dense.

  6. barriejohn says:

    A thought-provoking article. More female freethinkers are mentioned here, with some delicious quotes:

    http://www.wws-gb.freeuk.com/

    I’ve always wondered why it has been thought appropriate to denigrate people with the epithet “pansy” – signifying “weakling” – when that delightful little flower survives the harshest winters and still produces its cheerful blooms in abundance every spring. Truly symbolic of freethinkers surviving the darkness of the cold, superstitious night before blossoming once again.

  7. Cali Ron says:

    MFR: You advocate for the murder of citizens exercising their constitutionally guaranteed rights while spewing bile at anyone who doesn’t share your political ideology. You epitomize what’s wrong with mankind-lack of compassion and understanding for your fellow man. What a sad world this would be if all people shared your contempt for each other. You have certainly embraced Trump’s message of hate and intolerance.

    The first entry in this link summarizes what us “vile” liberals in California (who overwhelmingly voted against Trump) feel and why.

    http://johnpavlovitz.com/page/2/

  8. Peter Sykes says:

    Cali Ron:
    Perfect response – cheers!

  9. Cali Ron says:

    Apologies for the previous comment being off topic, have been meaning to post that link for a couple days now.

    You can add Trump to the bevy of power hungry, democratically challenged, authoritarian rulers today like Putin, Erdogan, Duterte and Bashar al-Assad to name a few who will use religion to further their agendas while making the world a more dangerous place for the rest of us.

  10. Peter Sykes says:

    Barriejohn:

    Thanks for that link. I’am compiling a quote file of sceptical quotes. Females are sadly under represented.

  11. Cali Ron says:

    Thanks Peter.

  12. barriejohn says:

    I always assume that the majority of the comments posted by MFR (surely not female!) are meant to be ironic. Am I not correct?

    Speaking of irony, more than one person has had success in gathering support for efforts to “end women’s suffrage”, though I suspect that this fact is common knowledge to most readers of this blog.

    https://youtu.be/c1J8uX9_-Bg

  13. Angela_K says:

    Cali Ron. Thanks for that excellent link, it certainly is “Stuff that needs to be said” And, a great reply to MFR who is often unhinged with comments.

  14. Cali Ron says:

    barriejohn: Amusing video, but also disturbing. Those were college students so you think they’d know the difference between suffering and the suffrage movement, but I’d wager that most Americans (same for the English?) don’t know the difference. The world needs better education, not religious indoctrination.

    Angel K: Thank you.

  15. Peter Sykes says:

    Some Stanton quotes:

    “I view it as one of the greatest crimes to shadow the minds of the young with these gloomy superstitions, and with fears of the unknown and the unknowable to poison all their joy in life.” – Elizabeth Cady Stanton

    “All through the centuries, scholars and scientists have been imprisoned, tortured and burned alive for some discovery which seemed to conflict with a petty text of Scripture. Surely the immutable laws of the universe can teach more impressive and exalted lessons than the holy books of all the religions on earth.” – Elizabeth Cady Stanton

    “Throughout this protracted and disgraceful assault on American womanhood, the clergy baptized each new insult and act of injustice in the name of the Christian religion, and uniformly asked God’s blessing on proceedings that would have put to shame an assembly of Hottentots.” – Elizabeth Cady Stanton

    “The bible and church have been the greatest stumbling block in the way of women’s emancipation.” – Elizabeth C. Stanton

    “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?” – Elizabeth Cady Stanton

  16. Peter Sykes says:

    barriejohn:
    Re MFR.
    “Verbal, dramatic, and situational irony are often used for emphasis in the assertion of a truth.” – Wikipedia
    I’m not sure MFR has any “truths”.

  17. Well, this year has produced two miracles so far: Brexit, Trump. I wonder what wonders the next year will bring?
    *
    “The very pride that makes us condemn failings from which we think we are exempt leads us to despise good qualities we do not possess”.

    “Single minded people do not please for long”.

    “No people are more often wrong than those who cannot bear to be”.

    “The biggest disadvantage of a penetrating intellect is not failure to reach the goal, but going beyond it”.

    “Certain flaws of character, if displayed to advantage, shine brighter than virtue itself”.

    “Certain good qualities are like the senses: people entirely lacking in them can neither perceive nor comprehend them”.

    “To be ridiculous is more dishonouring than dishonour itself”.

    “Obstinacy comes from limited intelligence, and we do not readily believe what is beyond our field of vision”.

    “True eloquence consists in saying all that is required and only what is required”.

    “There are people whose defects become them, and others who are ill served by their good qualities”.

    “It is easier to be wise for others than for oneself”.

    “As the stamp of great minds is to suggest much in few words, so, contrariwise, little minds have the gift of talking a great deal and saying nothing”.

    (12 ‘deranged’ maxims by La Rochefoucauld, published in 1665. There are 629 others, which I shall post tomorrow)

  18. Oh, here’s another maxim by La Rochefoucauld: “To be known well things must be known in detail, but as detail is almost infinite, our knowledge is always superficial and imperfect”. Time for another pink gin. Cheers.