Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Lori D. Ginzberg's "Elizabeth Cady Stanton"

Lori D. Ginzberg is professor of history and women’s studies at Pennsylvania State University. She has written several books on women’s history, including Untidy Origins: A Story of Woman’s Rights in Antebellum New York.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Elizabeth Cady Stanton: An American Life, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Elizabeth Cady Stanton: An American Life places the reader just where Stanton herself would have wanted: smack in the middle of a controversy she had just, with characteristic hubris, provoked. Specifically, we are in New York City in the anxious spring of 1860 (a few days later, Abraham Lincoln would be nominated for president), at the Tenth National Woman's Rights Convention. Many issues vexed reformers, but for Stanton this seemed the perfect time to throw the "bombshell" of divorce reform into the clamor about women's rights she had helped ignite at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. Stanton was, in her time, a dangerous radical, who threatened men's control over politics, the stability of marriage, and the sanctity of religion. The controversy on page 99 reminds us that she was willing to appall even her closest allies with her own "settled maxim" "that the existing public sentiment on any subject is wrong," and to remind them that, in countless ways, women had been denied the "pursuit of happiness" that was their right as American citizens.

Brilliant, self-righteous, charismatic, intimidating, and charming, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the founding philosopher of the American movement for woman's rights. Although she is associated with the demand for woman suffrage, she was always searching for, and finding, yet another "one true cause" of women's degradation and she could hardly contain her glee at her own radicalism: "My feeling," Stanton informed her friend Susan B. Anthony at seventy five, "is to tone up rather than down." For eighty seven years, she did exactly that, happily "hurling my thunder" at opponents and friends alike. This biography, while deeply critical of the impact Stanton's racism and elitism on her legacy, acknowledges that women's rights are ordinary, commonsense ideas in large part because of her life work.
Learn more about Elizabeth Cady Stanton: An American Life at the publisher's website, and visit Lori D. Ginzberg's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue