Different cultures have different takes on the rights of both genders; however, in 19th century America, women did not have many rights. They were considered the “weaker sex” and inferior to males both physically and mentally. Women were supposed to confine their activities to taking care of a the home for their husbands and children. Married women could not legally own anything as ownership of all possessions reverted to their husbands. A lady could not travel without a male escort and certainly could not give a speech in public. It goes without saying that at this time, women could not vote. Into this society, two women came together and through their work and friendship were able to break through these boundaries.
Susan Brownell Anthony was born on February 15, 1820 to a family of Quakers. In her family, girls were educated and valued the same as boys. This was in contrast to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was born November 15, 1812 to a upper class family where her brothers were given opportunities she was not. As the two women got older, the inequities in the society were driven home. Susan became a teacher and was routinely paid one quarter of the salary she would have received as a man. Elizabeth married and began having children. As many women after found out, as much as she loved her children and being a mother, it could be extremely isolating. Especially at that time, since the medical risks of pregnancy were higher at that time due to lack of adequate medical care. Edicate also dictated that a lady in the later stages of pregnancy did not show herself, leaving Elizabeth homebound and alone.
Despite these obstacles, both women became active in the antislavery and temperance movements. They met in 1851 at an antislavery meeting in Seneca Falls, New York. Amelia Bloomer, a woman’s rights proponent who became famous by wearing “bloomer pants” instead of dresses, introduced the two women. Elizabeth described the meeting later by saying, ““There she [Susan] stood with her good, earnest face and genial smile, dressed in gray delaine, hat and all the same color, relieved with pale blue ribbons, the perfection of neatness and sobriety. I liked her thoroughly, and why I did not at once invite her home with me to dinner, I do not know.” The two were fast friends.
Together they made a formidable team. Susan had a flare for organization and managing details, while Elizabeth had the overarching vision. Soon after their meeting, the two launched The Revolution, a newspaper promoting the national women’s suffrage movement. Susan traveled and gave the speeches, as Elizabeth could not travel with her growing family. Elizabeth did most of the writing, and authored books, pamphlets and many of the speeches Susan gave. In 1869, the two formed the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA). According to Anna Howard Shaw, “She [Miss Anthony] often said that Mrs. Stanton was the brains of the new association, while she herself was merely its hands and feet; but in truth the two women worked marvelously together, for Mrs. Stanton was a master of words and could write and speak to perfection of the things Susan B. Anthony saw and felt but could not herself express.”
The two worked together for 51 years for rights for women. Elizabeth died in 1902 and Susan in 1904, but they had not yet seen full women’s suffrage. Some of the western states had allowed women to vote, but the Constitutional amendment allowing it would not pass until 1920. They had to hand the fight over to the next generation of suffragettes. In 1902, near the end of Elizabeth’s life, Susan wrote to her friend. “It is fifty-one years since we first met, and we have been busy through every one of them, stirring up the world to recognize the rights of women. We little dreamed when we began this contest, optimistic with the hope and buoyancy of youth, that half a century later we would be compelled to leave the finish of the battle to another generation of women. But our hearts are filled with joy to know that they enter upon this task equipped with a college education, with business experience, with the fully admitted right to speak in public—all of which were denied to women fifty years ago. They have practically one point to gain—the suffrage; we had all.”
Sources available on request