History, History Column

Suffrage & The Woman’s Bible

In 1895 Democrat Grover Cleveland was in the White House; the US Supreme Court ruled that the Sherman Anti-trust Act applied only to monopolies involved in interstate commerce, and the Populist Party collapsed.  Cuban insurgents revolted against Spanish rule, American women rode bicycles, and suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton published part one of The Woman’s Bible.  Stanton, born in 1815, had been advocating for women’s rights since before the Civil War.

“From the inauguration of the movement for woman’s emancipation the Bible has been used to hold her in the ‘divinely ordained sphere,’ prescribed in the Old and New Testaments,” Stanton age 80 wrote.  “The canon and civil law; church and state; priests and legislators; all political parties and religious denominations have alike taught that woman was made after man, of man, and for man, an inferior being, subject to man.  Creeds, codes, Scripture and statutes are all based on this idea.  The fashions, forms, ceremonies and customs of society, church ordinances and discipline all grow out of this idea.”

“If from this hour we cheerfully and honestly abandon all sectional prejudice and distrust, and determine, with manly confidence in one another, to work out harmoniously the achievements of national destiny,” President Cleveland said in his first inaugural address, “we shall deserve to realize all the benefits which our happy form of government can bestow.”  After years of struggle, suffragists had little to show.

In July 1848 Elizabeth Cady Stanton, together with Quaker Lucretia Mott assembled more than 300 men and women in Seneca Falls, New York to discuss the women’s Declaration of Rights and Sentiments.  Stanton, the primary author, was desperate for reform.  As a young woman Stanton was denied a university education: “He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education – all colleges being closed against her.”  As a married woman she was denied entry to a British antislavery convention.

Formerly enslaved black males achieved the right to vote in 1870.  Amendment 15, Section 1 of the Bill of Rights: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.”  Women remained without, beginning with the 1868 passage of the 14th Amendment’s privileges or immunities clause.

“No reform has ever been started but the Bible, falsely interpreted, has opposed it,” Stanton explained.  Two of the grievances listed in the women’s Declaration of Rights and Sentiments related to Scriptures.  Stanton, unlike cohorts Susan B. Anthony and Carrie Chapman Catt, defined the woman’s dilemma broadly.

“So perverted is the religious element in her nature that with faith and works she is the chief support of the church and clergy; the very powers that make her emancipation impossible,” Stanton wrote.  “When in the early part of the Nineteenth Century, women began to protest their civil and political degradation they were referred to the Bible for an answer.  When they protested against the unequal position in the church, they were referred to the Bible for an answer.  This led to a…critical study of the Scriptures.”

“All reforms are interdependent, and that whatever is done to establish one principle on a solid basis, strengthens all,” Stanton said.  “Reformers who are always compromising have not yet grasped the idea that truth is the only safe ground to stand upon.”

“We have many women abundantly endowed with capabilities to understand and revise what men have thus far written,” Stanton concluded, “but they are all suffering from inherited ideas of their inferiority; they do not perceive it, yet such is the true explanation of their solicitude, lest they should seem to be too self-asserting…So long as tens of thousands of Bibles are printed every year, and circulated over the whole habitable globe, and the masses in all English-speaking nations revere it as the word of God, it is vain to belittle its influence.”

The Woman’s Bible became a best seller.  Its success fractured the suffrage movement.  Suffragists, especially younger members of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, feared the loss of elective support.  The problem was more than the Bible’s sexist title.  It was the ‘cult of domesticity;’ Virginia Minor’s unsuccessful 1875 US Supreme Court challenge, and the 1878 defeat of US Senator A.A. Sargent’s Susan B. Anthony suffrage amendment.

“You say ‘women must be emancipated from their superstitions before enfranchisement will be of any benefit,’” and I say just the reverse, that women must be enfranchised before they can be emancipated from their superstitions,” Anthony age 75 told Stanton.

In January 1896 the National American Woman Suffrage Association held its 28th annual meeting in Washington, D.C.  The Association rejected The Woman’s Bible stating “that the Association is nonsectarian, being composed of persons of all shades of religious opinion, and that it has no official connection with the so-called ‘woman’s bible.’”

“I have worked 40 years to make the [women’s suffrage] platform broad enough for atheists and agnostics to stand upon, and now if need be I will fight the next 40 years to keep it Catholic enough to permit the straightest Orthodox religionist to speak or pray and count her beads upon.”  Anthony declared.  Association member, Anthony ally, and meeting attendee Caroline Hallowell Miller agreed.

Miller, born in Alexandria, D.C. in 1831, was the daughter of Alexandria Quakers Benjamin and Margaret Hallowell.  The Hallowells were accomplished educators.  Margaret Hallowell, at the request of Quaker Mary Stabler, opened the city’s first school for girls.  Caroline also started a girls’ school; in Sandy Spring, Maryland.

“Her strongest characteristic was a love of justice, and this was what made her a champion for women’s enfranchisement,” the Friends’ Intelligencer wrote.

“At Wednesday’s meeting of the [1883] National Woman Suffrage Convention, now in session, in Washington, Miss Susan B. Anthony introduced Mrs. Caroline Hallowell Miller,” the Alexandria Gazette reported.  “Mrs. Miller is about medium height and over middle age.  She was dressed with Quaker simplicity [and] spoke with much emphasis.  Born and reared in a Virginia town noted for its slave pens and its intense conservatism….”

“Yet in that town she had seen women stripped to the waist and brutally beaten in public by order of the law,” the Alexandria Gazette continued.  “Their only offence was impertinence to young snips of dry goods clerks, whose improper conduct provoked the impertinence.  Reared in such a cradle she yet, through the blessings of a good home, was able to appreciate the efforts of Susan B. Anthony and the other leaders of the great cause in behalf of women.”  Caroline Hallowell Miller organized the Maryland Woman Suffrage Association in 1889.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, perturbed by public criticism, published part two of The Woman’s Bible in 1898.  Neither she; Caroline Hallowell Miller nor Susan B. Anthony lived to revel in the 1919 passage of the women’s suffrage amendment.  It was twice widowed Carrie Chapman Catt and Quaker Alice Paul, founder of the 1916 National Woman’s Party, who led the final charge.  Catt served as President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association from 1915 until 1920.

“To get the ‘male’ in effect out of the Constitution cost the women of the country 52 years of pauseless campaign [1868-1920],” Carrie Chapman Catt recounted.  “During that time they were forced to conduct 56 campaigns of referenda to male voters, 480 campaigns to get Legislatures to submit suffrage amendments to voters, 47 campaigns to get state constitutional conventions to write woman suffrage into state constitutions; 277campaigns to get State party conventions to include woman suffrage planks, 30 campaigns to get presidential party campaigns to include woman suffrage planks in party platforms and 19 campaigns with 19 successive Congresses.”  Former Republican President Teddy Roosevelt’s 1912 Progressive [or Bull Moose] Party was the first national party to embrace woman’s suffrage.

Amendment 19, Section 1 as ratified in 1920: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”  In 1917, for reasons of accelerating process, more than 70 suffragists were imprisoned in the Occoquan Workhouse, then part of the Lorton Prison System.  Their crime: picketing Woodrow Wilson’s White House.  Maryland ratified the 19th Amendment in 1941; Virginia in 1952.

Written by: Sarah Becker, ©2014
Email: abitofhistory53@gmail.com

0.00 avg. rating (0% score) - 0 votes