I wonder if my recent news about my upcoming arrival prompted me to notice this book on the New Books shelf. Possibly. Baby Monkey is a GIRL! and I’m delighted and excited that Raisin will have a little sister.
At any rate, when I saw the biography of the two foremost proponents of women’s rights (at least for the last half of the 1800s), I felt the need to pick it up and read it. For, although I know the name of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and I’ve of course been exposed the Susan B. Anthony as a historical figure, I knew very little of the work, the lives, and the legacy of the two women.
Penny Colman’s young adult biography of the two women (titled Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: A Friendship That Changed the World) tells their story, especially focusing on the women’s rights work that they dedicated their lives to. Although the book had some flaws, it was full of history that I needed to learn and I’m glad I read it.
Penny Colman begins by describing the childhoods of the two women in alternating chapters. I was struck as I considered how young Elizabeth must have felt, for example, when her father praised her intelligence only to sigh, “Ah! You should have been a boy!” It showed me that our opinions and comments that young children hear do make an impression on the child. She never seemed to forget that her father, while he loved her and encouraged her in many ways, still felt her potential was lost since she was a girl.
Elizabeth’s subsequent life seemed to prove him wrong. She married and raised seven children, and she also managed to work in the public sphere as a speaker and social activist, fighting for the rights of women in her society. On the other hand, Susan’s Quaker upbringing did not discourage her from gaining a strong education as good as that of her brothers, but she did likewise become involved in the social issues of the day, from the abolition of slavery to temperance, her preferred topic. When Susan and Elizabeth met in 1851, they found in each other a potential ally for changing some of the social problems of the day.
Penny Colman’s biography was strongest in part 1 when it focused on the girls’ upbringings. She seemed to have a tone of personality that brought me, as a reader, into the lives of the two girls. As the two aged, Ms Colman’s text seemed to get more bogged down with details. I wasn’t as interested in all of the conventions. Granted, the two women spent lots of time in the political sphere, and this needed to be mentioned. However, the personalities of the two women seemed to sink below the political details. It was not as engaging reading to me as the women age, and I wonder how young adults would feel as they read the story. Would they make it to the end of the women’s lives given the extensive political dates and details?
Because I began to feel a lack of connection with the women as the years passed, I also felt there were many details that were left unsaid. I didn’t remember Elizabeth’s husband and was surprised to find that he died in her relatively old age: for more than 100 pages, I didn’t recall hearing about him at all. Certainly, Elizabeth’s work was for women and he didn’t seem too eager to support her in the beginning. But how did their subsequent marriage work? It seemed to me that important personal matters would have added personality to the impressive lives I read about. I got a good feel for their personalities, but something seemed to be missing.
I needed to read about these impressive women and the work they accomplished. It was shocking to hear about the abuse that women had to endure simply because they were women. Some of the women’s experiences sounded like the women were trapped in slavery, and while abolition of slavery was eventually abolished by the Civil War, it took Elizabeth and Susan more than 50 years of their life to reverse many of the discriminatory laws which entrapped women in abusive marriages. Even then, the vote wasn’t granted to women until 1920, 14 years after Susan’s death. This is shocking, considering that Elizabeth’s first women’s rights convention occurred in 1848. As a woman, soon to bring another future woman into the world, I found it important to learn just what a struggle was wagged for women’s rights.
In short, then, Penny Colman’s tribute to the two feminists greatly encouraged me, but the book didn’t give the two women personality details that would have made them come alive. I am glad I read it, though, because I know I was rather ignorant of the history these two women worked for.