Disgruntled feminists formed the Equal Rights Party in 1884 when both the Republicans and Democrats continually ignored women's concerns. Presidential candidate Belva Lockwood declared that “It is quite time that we had our own party; our own platform, and our own nominees," even if they couldn't vote for them. With the exception of the territory of Wyoming, it was against the law for women to vote in every state and territory in the union.
Woman suffrage, of course, was a central feature of the new party's platform, along with "equal and exact justice for all citizens, regardless of color, sex or nationality."
Polls showing that women are more likely than men to favor a reduction in military spending wouldn't surprise Lockwood, who called for mandatory, binding arbitration of all disputes between nations. "War is a relic of barbarism belonging to the past", she insisted.
Economic security and financial justice lead the concerns of women voters today, who might enjoy casting their ballot for the Equal Rights party's platform of increased wages, government control of transportation and communication, and an end to monopoly, "the tendency of which is to make the rich richer, and the poor poorer."
Lockwood never made it to the White House. "Reforms are slow, but they never go backwards," she reflected. "Their originators may die, but the reform will live to bless millions yet unborn."
As we approach the New York centennial of woman suffrage in 2017 with the possibility of the first woman presidential candidate of a major party, Lockwood provides a lens through which to explore the ongoing creation of democracy in our country.
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Imagine that women have the right to choose all political representatives, removing from office anyone who doesn’t make wise decisions for the future. Living in a world free from violence against them, women will not allow a man to hold office if he has violated a woman. Economically independent, they have the final say in matters of war and peace and the absolute right to their own bodies.
This is not a dream. Haudenosaunee (traditional Iroquois) women have had this authority – and more -- since long before Christopher Columbus.
While white women were the property of their husbands and considered dead in the law, Haudenosaunee women had more authority and status before Columbus than United States women have today.
Women of the Six Nation Iroquois Confederacy (the Haudenosaunee) had the responsibility for putting in place the male leaders. They had control of their own bodies and were economically independent. Rape and wife beating were rare and dealt with harshly; committing violence against a woman kept a man from becoming Chief in this egalitarian, gender-balanced society.
When women in New York State began to organize for their rights in 1848, they took their cue from the nearby Haudenosaunee communities, where women lived in the world that non-native women dreamed.
Amazingly, despite the assimilation policy of the United States, Haudenosaunee women still maintain much of this authority today.
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“I am sick of the song of suffrage”, Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote to Matilda Joslyn Gage in the 1880’s. Gage concurred. These two women had begun to think differently than Susan B. Anthony, their co-leader of the National Woman Suffrage Association, who believed the movement should concentrate on getting women the vote. We already have that right, Gage contended.
In a system based on the consent of the governed, the government just needs to protect our right to exercise citizenship, not “give” it to us.
We need to look at the larger issues, Stanton and Gage agreed. Those issues were: creating a system of cooperation, not competition; ensuring that every child born was wanted and women were the “absolute sovereigns” of their bodies; rebalancing economic disparity while gaining equal pay for women and demanding a “true” religion, one that fostered freedom and equality for all.
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A performance/scholarly dialogue between Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Portrayed and interpreted by Charles Everett Pace and Sally Roesch Wagner.
American feminism was born of the abolitionist movement, with its powerful insistence on universal equality. Before the Civil War, abolitionists and feminists, male and female, worked together for an end to slavery and a new definition of citizenship in which rights would not be limited by race or gender. During the war feminists put aside the campaign for women’s rights to join in the struggle to end slavery. But when Congress had to rewrite the Constitution to abolish enslavement and declare citizenship for the formerly enslaved, abolitionists and women’s rights activists joined together to work for universal suffrage. The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, decreed that all people born in the United States were citizens who must enjoy equal protection of the law. But for the first time, the amendment introduced the word “male” into the Constitution, defining citizens as male only. The Fifteenth Amendment gave black men the vote, but allowed the state laws barring women from voting to stand.
These measures launched the era known as Radical Reconstruction, the first experiment in interracial democracy (for men) in our history. For the first time, large numbers of African-Americans men voted and held office. Mississippi elected two black men to the Senate. But feminists like Stanton saw abolitionist support for these male-only laws and amendments as a betrayal of the movement’s longstanding commitment to full equality. A bitter controversy ensued, which resulted in Stanton and her supporters cutting their ties with their allies and forming an independent national organization to promote women’s suffrage. Supporters of the amendments, on the other hand, believed these measures were necessary to protect all African-Americans from oppression in the aftermath of slavery. They saw the enfranchisement of black men as a step toward universal suffrage, not a retreat from it.
This episode has come down to us as the feminist- abolitionist split. But the story is more complicated. What actually happened was a split within the movement for universal suffrage caused by Congress when that body forced people to take sides. Not all blacks supported the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments; not all feminists opposed them.
The point is not that one position was right and one wrong; this powerful alliance was torn-apart with both sides offering cogent arguments. The conflict raises the question of whether it’s better to allow partial reform, excluding one marginalized group, or to hold out for a complete measure. One thing we can learn from their experience is that debating who is more oppressed is a fool’s game. Advocates of the rights of African-Americans and women achieve more working together than fighting among themselves.
The Scholar/Performers: Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner
Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner received one of the first doctorates awarded in the country for work in women's studies and is a founder of one of the nation's first college women's studies programs. An Adjunct Professor in the Syracuse University Honors Program, she has taught and written about women’s history for 50 years. The Executive Director of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation, she edited The Women’s Suffrage Movement anthology for Penguin Classics, (2019). Selected as one of “21 Leaders for the 21st Century” by Women’s E-News in 2015, Dr. Wagner serves on the New York Suffrage Centennial Commission.
The Scholar/Performers: Charles Everett Pace
Charles Everett Pace is a 16-year veteran of the Great Plains Chautauqua Society, Inc., and is a founding member of The National Chautauqua Tour. He has taught at The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana and Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. Pace holds an MA/ABD in American Studies from Purdue University. The featured performer, in the role of W. E. B. Du Bois, at the 101st Annual Convention of the NAACP, he also performed at the 100th Anniversary celebration of the founding of The Crisis Magazine. Pace conducted two public diplomacy missions for the United States International Communications Agency (USICA) in 25 cities and nine countries across Africa and performed in England.
Copyright © 2017 Sally Roesch Wagner - All Rights Reserved.