The One with the Dynamic Duo

I’ve always liked Susan B. Anthony. Not that I knew her personally or anything. She be close to 200, and I’m not nearly that old (though sometimes it feels like I am). By “liked,” I mean she always fascinated me. She’d be on my list of  Five People Living or Dead I’d Want to Have Dinner With.

Susan B. Anthony is recognized as the grandmother of the suffrage movement here in the US (something that sounds really bad, but was very good). She gets a lot of attention in history books and PBS documentaries. She even has her own (much-maligned) coin. Yet, if I may paraphrase John Donne, no woman is an island. Anthony had a partner in crime for more than 50 years, a woman we don’t often hear much about: Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

I am thinking about Susan B. and Elizabeth C. because on this day in 1848 the first Women’s Rights Convention was held in Seneca Falls, NY. Stanton and four women organized the convention, which the newspapers debased with glee, calling the women “sexless old maids” and that equal rights would “demoralize and degrade [women] from their high sphere and noble destiny…and prove a monstrous injury to all mankind.” Although Stanton and Anthony didn’t meet until 3 years after that convention, their lives are inexorably intertwined. They’re like gin and tonic. The Captain and Tennille. Nutella and bliss. You get the picture.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony

Though if I’m being perfectly honest, I think about them every day. (Does that sound weird?) Each morning when I sit down at the computer, click on the folder that contains my novel in progress, and wait for it to load, as I have for the better part of a decade, I send a little salute to their perseverance and determination. Because they, too, got up every day and stepped into the arena, as Theodore Roosevelt said. Stanton went to her desk overlooking Van Cleef Lake and penned yet another letter to another congressman who likely tore it up without response. Anthony got on another train to deliver another speech in the hopes of  changing the minds of a group of men who had a vested interest in the status quo.

Over the years when I’ve been disheartened that a literary agent couldn’t bother to send even a rejection letter, or I get an unfriendly comment on an article, I think of Stanton and Anthony. They kept going when Anthony faced such angry mobs at a lecture in Albany, New York, that the mayor had to sit next to her with a revolver on his lap so she could speak. They pressed on when a man going toe-to-toe with Stanton said that his wife had presented him with eight children, which was a far better life’s work than exercising the right to vote. They didn’t give up when, during the Civil War, one-by-one Congress repealed all of the small victories granted in the Married Woman’s Property Act.

Sometimes writing a novel feels like a battle — an uphill one at that — but through Stanton and Anthony, I gain perspective. Imagine spending your whole life, day in and day out, working toward a goal you would never realize. During that first convention, Stanton sensed that gaining the right to vote would be a long time coming. “We are sowing winter wheat and won’t be alive to see the spring harvest.” She was right. It would take seventy-two years until the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified granting women suffrage in 1920. In the end, it entailed acts of civil disobedience including picket lines, marches and hunger strikes by thousands of women. But for the rest of  their lives, Stanton and Anthony chipped away at the establishment. Anthony died in 1906 and Stanton in 1902. Neither lived long enough to enjoy the right they helped secure for American women.

Whenever I get impatient or frustrated, they remind me to persevere to the spring harvest.

Who inspires you to persevere? 

To salute everyone who steps into the arena and gives it their all every day, I’m offering my short collection of essays The Subway Chronicles: More Scenes from Life in New York free for Kindle users, now through Sunday. Click, download and enjoy! If you don’t have a Kindle, you can also access the book through the Kindle app on your computer, phone or tablet.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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19 comments

  1. I walk Miles in Brompton Cemetery and we pass Emmeline Pankhurst’s grave. All were amazing women. I like your attitude about this. If they could keep going so should we. Hope the novel is coming along and stay positive (at least 50% of the time).

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      1. I tried leaving a comment earlier, but I’m having internet connection problems this morning. I love that Newton quote and you made me smile. It’s rare that someone quotes part of my novel to me. Thanks for the pick me up this morning.

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      2. I’ve always found that Newton quote to be so poignant. It’s true of every discovery, every invention, every person really. I loved that you used it in your book.

        Sorry you’ve been having internet connection problems along with the comment problems! Technology! Hope it’s all resolved soon.

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      3. I think it’s wonderful that Newton was so gracious. So many “great” people weren’t. No worries about the technology. I should be writing anyway 😉

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  2. Oh I wish I could Like this post twice, I like it so much. What a wonderful reminder, not just of how we must keep on keeping on with the writing, but also of these two Great Ladies who selflessly gave so much for all of us who came after.
    Awesome post, Jackie.

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  3. Your posts are always so meticulously written Jackie. Elizabeth C. and Susan B. would surely feel immense pride if they knew that in the future there would be women like you reminding the rest of us about what they did to get us here. They’d probably also be appalled at the reactionary male politicians that are continuing their crusade to limit women’s rights. I’m not sure who inspires me, but lately, I feel immense admiration for Edie Windsor.

    Hey, cool download! It was still available when I tried for it. Thanks!

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    1. Thank you for the kind words. Absolutely, Edie Windsor is on my list of women who inspire me to persevere in the face of adversity.
      I hope you like the essays! Let me know which one is your favorite.

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  4. Wow, Jackie! I needed to read this today, as I can relate to the WIP-query battle. You put this into such great perspective. And, ironically, I’m currently reading the novel, Glow, and am at the part where I’m introduced to Miss Bartleby, who goes OFF on her brother about having had to “earn” the right to vote. You’re so right: we owe so much to these two REMARKABLE women. I think I, too, will reflect on them each time I experience my writing frustrations. Thank you for the gift, Jackie.

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    1. I’m glad this post resonated with you, Melissa! I always think of how much courage it must have taken Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to keep going when they ran into dead end after dead end. I try to bring that courage to my work every day. (Try, try. 🙂 )

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