Friday, January 27, 2017
I have been blogging about my new book, Elizabeth Cady Stanton & the Feminist Foundations of Family Law (NYU Press 2016). See Introduction; Chp 1, "What do you Women Want?"; Chp 2 "The Pivot of the Marriage Relation"; Chp 3 "Divorce is not the Foe of Marriage"; and Chp 4 "The Incidental Relation of Mother."
Today's blog is on Chapter 5, "Our Girls" on Stanton's theories of feminist parenting and raising up a new generation free from gendered norms.
After decades of activism and proposed legal reform, Stanton grew increasingly frustrated with the lack of tangible progress. One continual sticking point was women themselves. Stanton repeatedly heard from women “I have all the rights I want.”
Women’s resistance, Stanton believed, was based on their own social and religious acculturation of female difference and inferiority. As she entered her sixties and then seventies, Stanton became convinced that these foundational norms needed to be changed if there was any hope of meaningful and sustainable change for women’s equality.
Her first strategy was to teach the next generation differently. Her goal was to raise children the same: tell girls to climb trees, play sports, and like science and teach boys to be kind, have manners, and like music. In the 1860s, Stanton toured the country 10 months of the year for 11 years, speaking to large crowds as part of the Lyceum tour. Here she featured two key speeches, “Our Girls” and “Our Boys.” These popular speeches appealed to mothers, as they gave philosophical and practical ways to raise children. She also advocated coeducation of the sexes from primary school through college, eschewing concerns that young men were too immoral to study alongside young women.
As part of this redirection of the next generation, Stanton advocate for legal reform of child custody laws. At common law, fathers were solely given custody rights, in the case of separation, but also to make decisions about apprenticeships or guardianships at his death. In this one area, the courts kept pace with Stanton’s demands. The courts had begun to evolve away from the paternal right of custody to stronger assumptions of the right of maternal custody especially for young children of “tender years.” This law matched the social norms of the reverence for mothers, although still rendering judgments about “unfit” mothers based on political views or personal relationships. The custody issue was an issue that triggered large grassroots support among the women Stanton spoke to, as many had experienced the legal loss of their own children.
Stanton’s second grand strategy was to extirpate the origins of the norms of gender inferiority which she located in religious doctrine. The problem, she said, was that women heard everything Sunday from the pulpits of how women was morally inferior, having succumbed to the temptation of evil in the Garden of Eden, and created second to man for the sole purpose of being his help mate. Women believed that their inferiority of law and society was God ordained, and thus fundamentally resisted other ideas.
Her work was to reinterpret the biblical texts that had been used to subordinate women. Having been trained in Greek, the eighty-year old Stanton set out to offer alternative interpretations of key portions of the Bible in her book The Woman's Bible. In what we might now call feminist theological interpretation, Stanton questioned the bias of the text, went to the original meaning of the Greek words, and read women’s experience and stories back into the biblical lessons. This work, however, was too radical even for the women suffrage reformers. They censored her and the book and cast her out from the organization she had founded and lead for fifty years. Stanton didn’t care: her goal was for meaningful and permanent change for women’s equality.
Monday, January 23, 2017
Elizabeth Cady Stanton testifying before the House Judiciary Committee in 1872 on women's right to vote:
Some object that it was not the "intention" of the framers of the original Constitution, nor of the amendments, to enfranchise woman. When ordinary men, in their ordinary condition, talk of the "intentions" of great men specially inspired to utter great political truths, they talk of what they can not know or understand. When by some moral revolution men are cut loose from all their old moorings, and get beyond the public sentiment that once bound them, with no immediate selfish interest to subserve as, for instance, our fathers in leaving England, or the French Communes in the late war in hardship and suffering they dig down to the hard-pan of universal principles, and in their highest inspirational moments proclaim justice, liberty, equality for all.
Visiting Chicago not long since, I saw great pieces of rock of the most wonderful mineral combination gold, silver, glass, iron, layer after layer, all welded beautifully together, and that done in the conflagration of a single night which would have taken ages of growth to accomplish in the ordinary rocky formations. Just so revolutions in the moral world suddenly mould ideas, clear, strong, grand, that centuries might have slumbered over in silence; ideas that strike minds ready for them with the quickness and vividness of the lightning's flash. It is in such ways and under such conditions that constitutions and great principles of jurisprudence are written; the letter and spirit are ever on the side of liberty; and highly organized minds, governed by principle, invariably give true interpretations; while others, whose law is expediency, coarse and material in all their conceptions, will interpret law, Bible, constitution, everything, in harmony with the public sentiment of their class and condition. And here is the reason why men differ in their interpretations of law. They differ in their organizations ; they see everything from a different standpoint. Could ideas of justice, and liberty, and equality be more grandly and beautifully expressed than in the preamble to our Federal Constitution?
It is an insult to those Revolutionary heroes to say that, after seven years' struggle with the despotic ideas of the old. world, in the first hour of victory, with their souls all on fire with new-found freedom, they sat down like so many pettifogging lawyers, and drew up a little instrument for the express purpose of robbing women and negroes of their inalienable rights. Does the preamble look like it? Women did vote in America at the time the Constitution was adopted. If the framers of the Constitution meant they should not, why did they not distinctly say so? The women of the country, having at last roused up to their rights and duties as citizens, have a word to say as to the "intentions" of the fathers. It is not safe to leave the "intentions" of the Pilgrim fathers, or the Heavenly Father, wholly to masculine interpretation, for by Bible, and Constitution alike, women have thus far been declared the subjects, the slaves of men.
But able jurists tell us that the "intention'' of the framers of a document must be judged by the letter of the law. Following this rule the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia has decided that the XIV. Amendment does affect the status of women; that it advances. Amendment does affect the status of women; that it advances them to full citizenship, and clothes them with the capacity to become voters. The exact language of Judge Cartter, who spoke for the court, is as follows:
All that has been accomplished by this amendment to the Constitution, or its previous provisions, is to distinguish them (women) from aliens, and make them capable of becoming voters. In giving expression to my judgment, this clause does advance them to full citizenship, and clothes them with the capacity to become voters.
If so much has been done, we have already gone beyond the "intention" of the framers of the amendments, if, as some say, they did not intend to touch the status of woman at all. But with or without intent, a law stands as it is written "Lex ita scripta est." The true rule of interpretation, says Charles Sumner, under the National Constitution, especially since its additional amendments, is that anything for human rights is constitutional. "No learning in the books, no skill in the courts, no sharpness of forensic dialectics, no cunning in splitting hairs, can impair the vigor of the constitutional principle which I announce. Whatever you enact for human rights is constitutional, and this is the supreme law of the land, anything in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding."
History of Woman Suffrage, v.2:511-13; The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony, v.6:92-93 (Ann D. Gordon ed.)
Friday, January 20, 2017
Monday, January 16, 2017
A few years ago, I wrote an essay Sex v. Race, Again later included in the book Who Should Be First? Feminists Speak Out on the 2008 Presidential Campaign. The book was about the perceived battle between race and sex seen in the political campaign between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The essay connected that presidential context to the historic context of the battle for suffrage rights and how race and sex were set against each other. It showed how historically in law, we have spent time arguing "which is worse," discrimination on the basis of race or gender.
On this MLK Day of reflection on race, and as the March for Women's Rights is planned -- attracting criticism for being both too little and too much about race -- it may be useful to revisit one small piece of this history.
Sex v. Race, Again
The struggle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to make history as either the first woman or first African-Americanpresident resurrects the unfortunate historic battle between sex and race. The current debate presents striking parallels to the battle for voting rights after the Civil War when infighting between abolitionists over race and sex created deep separatism that pitted allies against each other and diluted their political strength. The potential fallout from this false dichotomy today threatens political credibility and social justice and demands a rethinking of the alleged opposition.
In the late nineteenth century, the debate over the constitutional right to vote became a clash of race versus sex. Women’s rights leaders, most notably Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, battled black men for the right to vote. Rather than unifying against the shared concern of the white male monopolization of political power and legal rights, the representatives of the disenfranchised classes fought each other to obtain rights first.
It began with the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1868, which precluded the rights of women voters by expressly penalizing states that improperly excluded male citizens from voting.2 This subordination of women’s rights continued in the debate over the Fifteenth Amendment when civil rights leaders abandoned the universal suffrage platform of voting rights for all citizens, temporarily advanced in 1866 by the combined forces of feminists and abolitionists, in favor of prioritized rights for black men. Frederick Douglass, previously one of the staunchest supporters of women’s suffrage, rejected the women’s issues as less urgent and asserted that the failure to grant strategic priority to black male suffrage was a major betrayal of the former slave and constituted outright racism.3 Douglass insisted:
I must say I do not see how any one can pretend that there is the same urgency in giving the ballot to woman as to the negro. With us, the matter is a question of life and death, at least, in fifteen States of the Union When women, because they are women, are hunted down through the cities of New York and New Orleans; when they are dragged from their houses and hung upon lamp-posts; when their children are torn from their arms, and their brains dashed out upon the pavement; when they are objects of outrage and insult at every turn; . . . then they will have an urgency to obtain the ballot equal to our own.
Douglass acknowledged that the same persecution was true for a black woman, “but not because she is a woman, but because she is
Stanton had earlier taken up the cause of black women when abolitionists began narrowing their focus on the rights of black men: “May I ask just one question based upon the apparent opposition in which you place the negro and the woman? Do you believe the African race is composed entirely of males?” The women’s rights leaders tried to highlight the plight of black women to expose the erroneous opposition of race and gender. A similar point was made one hundred years later by author and black activist bell hooks, who argued that the forced opposition between black power and women’s liberation ignored the reality of black women and unfairly narrowed the social and political debate.
Women in the nineteenth century lost the battle for universal suffrage, and were told that it was the “Negro’s hour” and that they must wait patiently for their time to come (which would be fifty years later). Some women’s rights leaders, like Lucy Stone, eventually acquiesced, and split from the nationalorganization for women’s rights. Others, like Stanton, refused to support a law that discriminated against women and granted preferential power to black men. As Phoebe Couzins, a law student and associate of Stanton’s proclaimed, “I repudiate the Fifteenth Amendment, because it asks me to acquiesce in an assertion to which I utterly refuse to assent, i.e., the inferiority of women.”
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
Queen Victoria is trending these days with 2 new books and an upcoming TV series. I have just finished both books, the fictional Victoria by Daisy Goodwin and the non-fiction Victoria: The Queen by Julia Baird. I am always interested in books that show us how we have been getting it all wrong. See also Queen Victoria's Story is More Inspiring, and More Badass, Than We've Seen Before
These books argue that the myth around Queen Victoria as a moralistic, strict leader of women's domestic role was manufactured by men -- particularly those male editors of her papers. These editors omitted all letters to and about women, on grounds that women's issues were irrelevant and not of interest to posterity. They rewrote Victoria's language to reflect the demure, submissive status expected of women. Victoria's youngest daughter Beatrice later edited her mother's papers to omit any signs of the intimate and volatile relationship with her husband, Albert. Modern author Julia Baird argues that the "Victorian" era would have been better named the "Albertine era" as it was Prince Albert who was more moralistic and leading of the domestic sphere and women's inferiority, even for his own wife and Queen. The books also present Victoria as a passionate, engaged, and hot tempered woman who demanded respect, power, and control.
My interest in Queen Victoria stems from her name repeatedly invoked by Elizabeth Cady Stanton as the model of a strong woman. During my research for my book on American feminist and legal thinker Stanton, I came across many references where Stanton cited Victoria as the ideal strong woman -- a woman with power, employment, but also domestic authority as the mother of nine children. Stanton told mothers they should act "queenly" and she used the history of queens as evidence of women's capacity for political power. I was puzzled by Stanton's continued reverence for Victoria, who is typically depicted as the role model for the domestic, not feminist. She is known as being obsessed and grieved by her husband's early death, the bearer of strict Victorian morality, and the icon for motherhood and domestic sphere (even a Queen should relegate to her domestic role).
I concluded that Stanton must have used Victoria simply because she was the most well-known figure to her audiences and that as Queen she generically illustrated women's potential for power. It may have also been that Stanton saw a little of herself in Queen Victoria. They were about the same age and lived almost the same 80 years (Stanton 1815-1902, Victoria 1819-1901), both were very short (Victoria was 4'11), both had large families (Stanton 7 children, Victoria 9). Stanton visited England in 1840 when Victoria was at the height of her popularity as the new queen and recently married, and Stanton visited England again in the late years of the century as Victoria continued as the longest serving monarch (until Queen Elizabeth II in 2015).
As I learn more about Victoria, I understand Stanton's references better. Stanton's theory of feminism was holistic. She envisioned equality for women in all spheres, both private and public. To her, feminism meant equal autonomy for women in all aspects of life -- public, politics, employment, religion, and family. Significantly, it also meant embracing and elevating the power of motherhood. Victoria represented this public and private power harmonized with the role of motherhood as authority, not subservience.
Thursday, December 22, 2016
I have been blogging about my new book, Elizabeth Cady Stanton & the Feminist Foundations of Family Law (NYU Press 2016).
And coming soon, the rest of the book:
Chapter 5 "Our Girls" (Feminist parenting, maternal custody, and shifting societal norms of gender)
Chapter 6 "Still Many Obstacles" (Stanton's legacy to feminism and the modern reform of domestic relations law)
Friday, December 16, 2016
I have been blogging about my new book, Elizabeth Cady Stanton & the Feminist Foundations of Family Law (NYU Press 2016). See Introduction, Chapter 1 (Marital Property), Chapter 2 (Marriage reform), and Chapter 3 (Divorce reform). Today I want to talk a bit about Chapter 4 “The Incidental Relation of Mother.”
Stanton’s philosophical point in identifying motherhood as "incidental" was that women’s role of mother did not define her legally or socially, but rather was one incident of her life. In a time when the cult of motherhood and the idealization of the domestic sphere of the home defined women, and denied them all public and legal rights as married women, Stanton clashed with the accepted status quo and challenged the notion that motherhood was the defining attribute of women’s citizenship. But one of the hardest audiences to convince of this was women themselves. Still she persisted in trying to shift the culture, as he wrote to the Seventh National Woman’s Rights Convention in 1856: “The woman is greater than the wife or the mother; and in consenting to take upon herself these relations, she should never sacrifice one iota of her individuality to any senseless conventionalisms.” Stanton herself had seven children, and presented a credible authority of one who could challenge the legal restriction of motherhood, even as she appreciated and enjoyed the role.
Both chapter 4 and chapter 5 of the book further develop the specific concrete rights and actions that Stanton then demanded under her philosophy of incidental motherhood. Chapter 4 addresses Stanton’s views of reproductive rights, most namely the right to “voluntary motherhood” and control of sexual relations and procreation.
This chapter to me was one of the most important chapters as I worked to set the record straight. For today, Stanton has been adopted as a poster-child of the prolife movement. Quite literally, her image and words are used on posters, flyers, and commemorative coffee mugs put out by the prolife organization, Feminists for Life. She is cited, repeatedly, in US Supreme Court amicus briefs as evidence of a feminist history against abortion. However, as I detail in the book and here, Stanton was not a prolife advocate. Not at all. In fact, I found only one reference in all of the thousands of historical documents I reviewed in which Stanton even mentioned the word abortion. In this one line, she lists it as one of many social problems identified by reformers, but which she traces back to the core problem of women’s inequality and lack of control in marriage and social and sexual relations.
What Stanton did talk about was voluntary motherhood. Voluntary motherhood was the ideology of both feminists and conservative women reformers which advocated the right of women to control when they engaged in sexual relations with their husbands. It reject the marital sexual privilege of the husband and the presumed right to unlimited sexual access. Instead, it placed the sole control of sexual relations with the wife, as it was the wife that bore the physical, emotional, and social consequences of pregnancy. It was a theory of abstinence that placed the right of reproductive control within the singular hands of the woman.
Stanton also wrote a great deal about infanticide, rather than abortion. Infanticide was the more shocking claim as it alleged a woman had killed her infant after its natural birth. Stanton defended women accused of infanticide and demand mercy rather than the death penalty. She trumped the defense of Hester Vaughn, an eighteen-year-old English working-class girl convicted of infanticide when her baby was found dead next to her where she had given birth alone, starving, in a freezing cold tenement. Stanton used infanticide to illustrate the injustice of a legal process that included women as jurors, judges, lawyers, lawmakers and even witnesses. For in heavy-handed prosecution of this crime, without prosecution of the male partner or attacker who caused the crime and without mercy from women who understood the situations of such a pregnancy, the law was patently unjust.
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
I have been blogging, chapter by chapter, about my new book, Elizabeth Cady Stanton & the Feminist Foundations of Family Law (NYU Press 2016). Chapter 1 was "What Do You Women Want?" on marital property reform. Chapter 2 was "The Pivot of the Marriage Relation" on marriage equality and restructuring marriage. Today is Chapter 3 on divorce reform and domestic violence.
From the Introduction to the chapter:
The “marriage question,” as it was called in the nineteenth century, was less about marriage and all about divorce. America inherited the divorceless legal tradition of England derived from canon law, prohibiting divorce but allowing separation and annulment. A few colonies and states experimented with divorce, slowly expanding the fault grounds for divorce by the middle of the nineteenth century, with a few states adopting broad grounds for any misconduct or cause. Legislatures were guided by legal concepts of individualism and contract theory, and influenced by temperance arguments for the protection of women. As the country grew through expansion, immigration, and industrialization, divorce increased. Numbers went from 9,937 in 1867, the first year a national census on divorce was taken, to 33,461 in 1890 and to 167,105 by 1920. The moral outcry was loud, as clergy and moral reformers predicted the deterioration of the family and the downfall of society.
Stanton was at the forefront of the very public debate on divorce. She viewed divorce as an important issue of women’s rights because it freed women from marriage, where their legal status was denied and their personal freedoms curtailed. Viewing marriage as a trap, she was supportive of any legal means for women to escape, including no-fault or “easy divorce.”Taking this a step further, Stanton argued that women had a duty, an obligation to divorce, in cases of domestic violence and intemperance, to protect themselves and their children.
Divorce had been seen historically and biblically as a way for men to “put away their wives,” but Stanton reframed it as a legal remedy for women. She “single-handedly shifted the age-old idea of divorce as a male prerogative to a right demanded by women on humanitarian grounds.” Women needed divorce, Stanton argued, to escape domestic violence, abuse, poverty, and simple unhappiness. “Liberal divorce laws for oppressed wives,” Stanton proclaimed, “are what Canada was for Southern slaves.” The majority of divorces, over two-thirds, were filed by women—a key fact for Stanton proving the importance of this issue for women and the propriety of including it within the women’s rights platform. Divorce was not a morality crisis, but simply a consequence of women’s assertion of rights. “This is woman’s transition period, from slavery to freedom, and all the social upheavings, before which the wisest and bravest stand appalled, are but necessary incidents in her progress to equality.” Divorce provided the self-help remedy that let women enforce their own rights and expectations of marriage, with the secondary effect of transforming marriage into a more egalitarian structure.
Stanton’s tenaciousness on divorce, however, alienated colleagues and divided the women’s rights movement. Her vocal support of divorce outraged reformers, increased opposition to women’s rights, and contributed to the split in the organized women’s movement. Stanton remained undeterred, convinced of the necessity of divorce to women’s full equality. As the eighty-year-old Stanton recalled, “[S]o bitter was the opposition to divorce for any cause that but few dared to take part in the discussion.” But, she said, “I was always courageous in saying what I saw to be true, for the simple reason that I never dreamed of opposition. What seemed to me to be right I thought must be equally plain to all other rational beings.”
Stanton initially presented divorce as woman’s duty to free herself and her children from an alcoholic husband and domestic violence.
She first wrote of her support for divorce in 1850 in a short article aptly titled “Divorce,” published under the pseudonym “Sun Flower” in the women’s temperance newspaper, the Lily. At this time, a New York legislative committee had proposed a bill to expand divorce beyond the cause of adultery to include desertion, imprisonment, drunkenness, and insanity. Stanton brought this to her readers’ attention and gave it her vote. “I see there is a bill before the Legislature providing some new doors, through which unhappy prisoners may escape from the bonds of an ill assorted marriage. . . . I hope that bill may pass.” She strongly endorsed divorce in the context of intemperance and abuse. “The Legislature, so far from placing any barrier in the way of a woman wishing to leave a drunken husband, ought to pass laws, compelling her to do so.” Divorce, she suggested, would be woman’s duty in such circumstances. Going further, Stanton proposed a broader right to no-fault divorce. “If, as at present, all can freely and thoughtlessly enter into the married state, they should be allowed to come as freely and thoughtfully out again.”
She later then wove divorce reform of no-fault divorce and equal fault divorce into her speeches to the New York legislature and to the public, “speaking wisdom to the popular ear.” But the notorious McFarland v. Richardson trial gave her a national stage on which to play out her critique of marriage and solution of divorce. McFarland, with premeditation, shot his ex-wife’s lover, a famous journalist. The jury acquitted on grounds that McFarland was entitled to defend his property of his home and his wife. Even though his wife had divorced him (out-of-state). And even though he had committed domestic violence against her.
Stanton then repeated her shocking demand for free and easy divorce a year later in the context of the Laura Fair trial in San Francisco. Fair was sentenced to death for shooting her longtime lover when he returned to his wife. Stanton argued the disparate inequalities in the law that would starkly excuse the murder by a husband, but condemn the same murder by a woman.
The Intimate State: Gender, Sexuality, and Governance in Modern U.S. HistoryCall for Proposals: Due April 10, 2017Editors: Margot Canaday, Nancy Cott, & Robert SelfWe are soliciting original history essays—archive-based research on specific topics, as well as conceptual essays addressing more abstract questions—regarding gender, sexuality and the state for a new edited volume. We seek to bring twenty-five years of scholarship on gender, sexuality, and the family to bear on the history of modern state authority in the United States (1865 to the present). While the volume will reach back to the Reconstruction era and value this history as such, we also hope to point toward a usable past in an uncertain present.The historical study of state power (its accumulation at various scales, its structures,and its modes of operation) is a longstanding field while that of gender, sex, and sexuality is relatively young though very vibrant. For the most part, these two fields have produced their profoundest insights and advancements without substantial dialogue with one another. Yet contemporary developments and recent scholarship have made it plain that government action at the local, state and federal levels is entwined with incentives, obligations and punishments related to gender and sexuality, and that decisions imagined as personal and intimate choices are almost always already structured by state rules.These collected essays will aim to demonstrate that the involvements of government authority in intimate life warrant greater historical analysis and theorization than they have generated to date. We envision a volume that encourages scholars whose primary intellectual commitment is to the history of gender and sexuality to leverage that scholarship in the service of new understandings of modern state power (whether at local, state, regional, national, or transnational scales) and that scholars of state authority will also be persuaded to attend more to the insights of gender and sexuality studies in their scholarship. How might the history of American state development—its periodization, its overall theorization—look different at every governmental level from the local to the federal when questions of gender and sexuality move to the center of the analytical frame? The volume invites intersectional approaches to that question, foregrounding the relationship of gender, sexuality, and state power to race, class, and other categories of analysis and experience, and also welcomes contributions that are transnational or comparative in their approach.Possible topics might include gender/sexuality and:--borders of the nation/immigration
--racism, racial violence
--penal power and incarceration
--militarization and war
--national securityAs well as state power/regulation and:--forms of marriage, nonmarriage, marital dissolution
--commercialized sex/sex work
--sexual science, eugenics
--reproduction, contraception, abortion
--transgender lives and experiencesPlease send an abstract of no more than 750 words, including references to major sources for the research if archive-based, to Margot Canaday (email@example.com), Nancy Cott (firstname.lastname@example.org), and Robert Self (email@example.com) by April 10, 2017, along with a one-page CV. Authors will be notified by June 1, 2017, of their selection to participate in a conference to be held at Brown University in January of 2018. Essays (of no more than 10,000 words) to be circulated for the conference will be due December 15, 2017.
Thursday, December 8, 2016
I have been blogging, chapter by chapter, about my new book, Elizabeth Cady Stanton & the Feminist Foundations of Family Law (NYU Press 2016). Chapter 1 was "What Do You Women Want?" on marital property reform and Chapter 2 was "The Pivot of the Marriage Relation" on marriage equality and restructuring marriage.
Sticking with Chapter 2, here is an excerpt I have been reading at book talks:
Stanton’s second goal was to offer a solution that would transform marriage into a relation respecting women’s equal individuality. Her proposal was to conceptualize marriage legally as a contract, rather than a sacrament or status, which would allow freedom to designate the terms and the termination of the marriage.[i] Socially, she advocated an egalitarian vision of marriage as a union of soul mates that fully respected the freedom of each individual as they worked together as partners in the joint enterprise of the family. This transformational vision of marriage required little state regulation, permitting free divorce and other restrictions on choice of marital partner. Stanton believed in the theoretical ideal of free love, resulting “whenever compulsion and restraint, whether of the law or of a dogmatic and oppressive public opinion, are removed.”[ii]
So when her friend Frederick Douglass remarried to Helen Pitts, a white woman, she sent her personal congratulations and support for his subversive act. She noted that
there’s much hostile criticism on your condescension in marrying a white woman. After all the terrible battles and political upheavals we have had in expurgating our Constitutions of that odious adjective “white” it is really remarkable that you or all men should have stooped to do it honor. The “white” feature of this contract is bad enough, but “the woman” is still worse.
Stanton commented on the gender implications of the controversy, in which his “large circle of admiring friends protest” against him risking his legacy as a black civil rights leader on white interests, especially those of a mere woman.[iii] Stanton wanted to draft a public announcement of support for Douglass from both her and Anthony and invite him to speak at the next women’s rights convention. Anthony refused, concerned with the potential backlash on “the subject of amalgamation” against the growing consensus on women’s suffrage. Anthony wrote to Stanton, “I do hope you won’t put your foot into the question of intermarriage of the races. It has no place on our platform, any more than the question of no marriage at all, or of polygamy, and so far as I can prevent it, shall not be brought there.” She pleaded, do not “throw around that marriage the halo of a pure and lofty duty to break down race lines.”[iv] For Stanton had publicly supported interracial marriage before, attending legislative hearings in Boston to repeal colonial miscegenation laws and printing an editorial in her newspaper in support of interracial marriage.[v] But this time, she backed down.
Despite the suggestion that marriage was not a proper issue of women’s rights, for Stanton, it was central to her vision of equality. Changing the marriage relation, she wrote early in the movement, “is at the foundation of all reforms.”[vi]
[i] ECS, “Side Issues,” Rev., Oct. 6, 1870; ECS, “The Kernel of the Question,” Rev., Nov. 4, 1869.
[ii] DuBois, “On Labor,” 65.
[iii] ECS to Frederick Douglass, June 27, 1884; see Maria Diedrich, Love across Color Lines (New York: Hill and Wang, 1999).
[iv] SBA to ECS, Jan. 27, 1884; Newman, 4.
[v] ECS to Elizabeth J. Neall, Feb. 3, 1843; “Theodore Tilton’s Opinion of Anna E. Dickinson,” Rev., Nov. 5, 1868.
[vi] ECS to SBA, Mar. 1, .
Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Stanton, Feminism & the Family: “The whole question of women’s rights turns on the pivot of the marriage relation.”
I have been blogging, chapter by chapter, about my new book, Elizabeth Cady Stanton & the Feminist Foundations of Family Law (NYU Press 2016). Chapter 1 was "What Do You Women Want?" on marital property reform.
Today, is chapter 2.
Chapter 2, “The Pivot of the Marriage Relation” addresses Stanton’s key philosophical premise that equality in marriage was as important as equality in public, church, and state.
I do not know that the world is quite willing or ready to discuss the question of marriage. . . . It is in vain to look for the elevation of woman, so long as she is degraded in marriage. . . . The right idea of marriage is at the foundation of all reforms. . . . I feel this whole question of woman’s rights turns on the pivot of the marriage relation, and sooner or later it will be the question for discussion.
—Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Susan B. Anthony, Mar. 1, 
Marriage needed “pivot,” to do an about-face from the slave-like subordinated status of married women under coverture to an autonomous, individual partner of a marital partnership. For this first feminist, family was not opposed to women’s rights, but was a key site of needed change. The public and private spheres were not segregated as feminist theory first developed.
Stanton’s critiques and theories of marriage were colored by her own disappointing personal experience in marriage. She had dreamed, and often espoused, the idea of a close companion, a soulmate, with whom a woman shared family, work, and intimacy. Instead, she was married to abolitionist and some-time lawyer Henry Stanton who was fully absorbed in his own (unrealized) political ambition. Henry spent most of their married life living elsewhere, working on a political campaign or issue in another city or state, while Elizabeth raised their seven children. The two finally set up separately households in their fifties, visiting and remaining cordial for family events.
Philosophically, Stanton’s first objective was to establish that marriage was a problem. She made her point sometimes symbolically, using metaphors like slavery which her audience understood, and lamenting the wife’s duty to obey and take her husband’s name, “Mrs. Henry Stanton.”
Stanton’s radical “Man Marriage” critique presented in speeches and newspaper editorials conveyed this idea of the oppressive nature of marriage on a more sophisticated level. Like modern feminist legal theorists, she deconstructed the seeming objectivity of the law to show how the laws of marriage were made “by and for the benefit of men.” She applied this critique to the controversy over Mormon polygamy, subversively suggesting that polygamy was no worse than monogamy for women.
Stanton’s second objective was to offer a corrective solution to the problem of marriage. Her reconstructive ideal conceptualized marriage as a contract. Marriage as a contract, rather than a status, changed everything legally for Stanton. It supported the notion of a legal partnership of equals, free modification of termination of that contract by divorce, as well as state laws of higher age for marriage and abolition of common law marriage.
Friday, December 2, 2016
This is part of a continuing series blogging about my new book, Elizabeth Cady Stanton & the Feminist Foundations of Family Law (NYU Press 2016). Today, is chapter 1.
“What do you women want?” That was the question Elizabeth Cady Stanton was asked by the New York legislature in 1854. She responded with a long-list of demands for marital property, child custody, domestic violence protections, women on juries, tax exemptions for widows, and wholescale elimination of coverture.
These many goals were laid out by Stanton in her Declaration of Sentiments delivered at the Woman’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, New York in July 1848. (Now the site of the Women's Rights National Historical Park). The Declaration was Stanton’s road map for reform, in that she articulated 17 demands for reform of state, law, church, and the family in order to accomplish women’s full equality of opportunity.
Stanton began her fifty-years of legal and political advocacy for women’s rights on the issue of marital property. This was her starting point, and so it is the starting point for the book. In 1848, the NY legislature was considering reforms to the property laws that prevented married women from owning property, either separate, earned, inherited, or marital. It was supported by some expressed feminist concerns, but more by business concerns with recession, transferability of property, and family debt protection. But the issue was at the front and center, with Married Women’s Property Acts beginning to be passed across the nation, and grassroots advocacy happening in Stanton’s close circle.
Stanton also started with the issue of marital property as it was the one that involved her personally. Her father, Daniel Cady, was a respected property and equity lawyer, legislator, and jurist. He was in the inner group of those considering legal reform, reformers who interacted with Stanton. Stanton also learned the law from her father, in what I call a “de facto apprenticeship,” observing his clients and trials, reading law with his apprentices, and serving one year as his clerk. This legal training and ability to “think like a lawyer” would serve her well. But her own attempts to own and earn separate property, to make up for her under-employed husband, ran smack into the limitations of coverture.
After introducing Stanton’s personal training and experience with the law of marital property, this chapter traces her philosophies, speeches, and proposals for legal reform. These included marital property laws that envisioned joint ownership of martial property – an idea that was not on the table in the Married Women’s Property Acts that merely allowed a woman to retain separate ownership of premarital or separately inherited (and later earned) property. She also advanced ideas of “taxation without representation,” challenging the taxation of widows’ property without the corresponding right of a property owner to vote.
The chapter also explores Stanton’s attempt to capitalize on the newly-enacted Privileges & Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which Stanton though was self-evidently empowering for sex equality. The Supreme Court, however, quickly squashed the expected interpretation of the clause to apply to voting or a generalized sex equality. Had Stanton’s view prevailed, much on women’s legal equality would have been different.
Here is an excerpt: Download ExcerptStantonChap1
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
As part of the AHRC-funded project ‘Women Negotiating the Boundaries of Justice’, and in conjunction with Swansea University’s annual ‘Symposium by the Sea’, we are pleased to announce a two-day symposium on the female litigant in the medieval and early modern period (c.1100-c.1750). The intention is to bring scholars together in order to explore women’s access to legal redress and to shed new light on individuals’ lived experiences of the law. We are seeking 25-minute papers from researchers (of all career-stages) working on any aspect of the history of women litigating in the courts across the known world during this broad timeframe. We welcome work on all courts, regions, jurisdictions, ethnicities, languages and religious and confessional identities, and on any aspect of those histories or historiographies. Post-graduate students are encouraged to apply.
Topics and approaches might include:
- The operation of gender in the courts.
- The practicalities of litigation: travel, subsistence, accommodation, planning and expense.
- The impact of a woman’s life-stage, status or ethnicity on her experience at law.
- The woman’s voice and barriers to its ‘audibility’.
- Visual or textual representation of the female litigant.
- Specific case-studies and longue durée perspectives.
- Historiography and ‘where do we go from here?’.
Applicants are invited to submit by 21 January 2017 a proposal of c.500 words, together with a short biography for inclusion in the programme.
Tuesday, November 8, 2016
Ann Gordon, The Trial of Susan B. Anthony, Federal Judicial Center (2005)
United States v. Susan B. Anthony was a criminal trial in the federal courts. In the federal election in November 1872, Anthony, the best-known advocate of woman suffrage, registered to vote and then voted. The government charged her with the crime of voting without “the legal right to vote in said election district”—she, in the words of the indictment, “being then and there a person of the female sex.” Her trial revealed the complexity of federalism in the post-Civil War years. She was convicted in federal court under federal law for violating state law about who was eligible to vote. New York state law prohibited women from voting, and a recent federal law provided for the criminal prosecution of anyone who voted in congressional elections “without having a lawful right to vote.”
Primarily a case about woman suffrage and sexual discrimination, United States v. Susan B. Anthony is also a case about Reconstruction and the balance of federal and state authority. Prior to the Civil War, the demand for woman suffrage was directed to state governments, each of which set the qualifications of voters in the respective states. Reconstruction redirected the demand. The federal government assumed some authority over the voting qualifications enacted by the states, and woman suffragists saw in that change an opportunity to extend voting rights not only to black men but also to black and white women. They called for universal suffrage.
Anthony and the members of the National Woman Suffrage Association, after failing to gain explicit reference to the voting rights of women in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, set about testing the meaning of what those amendments did say and how the amendments might have changed the rights of women. Anthony was among a group of women in the country trying to establish, through test cases in the federal courts, that the amendments had so redefined citizenship and rights that women were protected by the federal government in their right to vote.
(Cartoon mocking SBA for wanting to vote)
Remarks by Susan B. Anthony in the Circuit Court of the Northern District of New York, June 19, 1873
As a matter of outward form the defendant was asked if she had anything to say why the sentence of the court should not be pronounced upon her.
"Yes, your honor," replied Miss Anthony, "I have many things to say. My every right, constitutional, civil, political and judicial has been tramped upon. I have not only had no jury of my peers, but I have had no jury at all."
Court—"Sit down Miss Anthony. I cannot allow you to argue the question."
Miss Anthony—"I shall not sit down. I will not lose my only chance to speak."
Court—"You have been tried, Miss Anthony, by the forms of law, and my decision has been rendered by law."
Miss Anthony—"Yes, but laws made by men, under a government of men, interpreted by men and for the benefit of men. The only chance women have for justice in this country is to violate the law, as I have done, and as I shall continue to do," and she struck her hand heavily on the table in emphasis of what she said. "Does your honor suppose that we obeyed the infamous fugitive slave law which forbade to give a cup of cold water to a slave fleeing from his master? I tell you we did not obey it; we fed him and clothed him, and sent him on his way to Canada. So shall we trample all unjust laws under foot. I do not ask the clemency of the court. I came into it to get justice, having failed in this, I demand the full rigors of the law."
See also Doug Linder, Famous American Trials: The Trial of Susan B. Anthony and Trial Record in the Case of Susan B. Anthony
Friday, November 4, 2016
Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, Politicizing and Practicing Motherhood
“I’d like to burn you at the stake,” pioneering feminist Betty Friedan famously spat at conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly during a 1973 debate about the Equal Rights Amendment. Her loathing reflected the recognition of a formidable opponent. Though our largely liberal profession took several decades to recognize Schlafly’s power in shaping political culture, the flurry of insightful reflections from historians in the wake of her recent death affirms Schlafly’s rightful place in the historical record even as her anti-feminist and anti-gay politics position her on what many agree is the wrong side of history.
A hallmark of Schlafly’s public persona was portraying the world as a series of stark opposites. Her feminist straw woman was joyless man-hater; in 1977, she contrasted a conservative, “positive woman” with the “miserable” who embraced the new feminist honorific “Ms.” But if we treat Schlafly exclusively as the conservative complement to this caricature, we miss important dimensions of her function in the history of feminism as more than a reactionary foil. An illuminating way to read Schlafly as a more complex figure is to look beyond her rich public life to explore how she perceived motherhood not just as a political symbol but also as a personal practice.
I’m not the first historian to suggest that Schlafly demands a nuanced approach. For one, the feminism Schlafly railed against ironically enabled her political career. Moreover, that illustrious career was constrained by the same misogyny that thwarted women of all political affiliations, as her unsuccessful attempts in the 1950s to break into the old-boys’ foreign policy network proved. For Schlafly’s homages to homemaking (and her frequent infuriating introductory anecdote that she had asked permission of her husband to speak publicly), she rivaled Friedan in her efforts to mobilize a generation of female political neophytes. She sent detailed handwritten notes to housewives, precisely instructing how to organize around “women’s issues” such as education, abortion, and “the homosexual agenda,” which made “family values” a central plank of contemporary conservatism and launched her into public life. Like her early-twentieth-century progressive foremothers, Schlafly used a form of “maternalism” to access the political arena, though in order to promote rather than challenge traditional gender roles even as her very participation embodied such a challenge.
Tuesday, November 1, 2016
MARCH 8 (International Women’s Day) 2017
CALL FOR PAPERS
As part of the celebrations for Hull as UK City of Culture 2017 the University of Hull is hosting an interdisciplinary celebration of the life, work and legacy of Mary Wollstonecraft, (who spent her formative years in the nearby town of Beverley).
Papers are welcome on any aspect of Wollstonecraft’s life, work and legacy from Gender Studies, Philosophy, Politics, History, Literature, Education or any other relevant discipline.
A prize of £100 will be awarded for the best paper, which will also be published in the Journal of Gender Studies Special issue on Mary Wollstonecraft, which will follow the conference.
Please send abstracts of no more than 500 words to K.Lennon@hull.ac.uk by January 6 2017
For some thinking on the legal thought of foundational feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, see Charles Reid, Jr., The Journey to Seneca Falls: Mary Wollstonecraft, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Legal Emancipation of Women, 10 Univ. St. Thomas L.J. 1123 (2013)
Monday, October 31, 2016
Which means the Salem Witch Trials.
Most of the victims of the trials were women. And most of the accusers. Scholars have talked about the trials as misogyny and at the same time as women's assertion of agency and power. They also suggested the lax evidentiary standards allowed social judgments about women to be determinative of legal guilt.
Stacy Schiff, The Witches: Salem, 1692 (2015)
Carol Karlsen, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman (1998)
Jane Moriarty, Wonders of the Invisible World: Prosecutorial Syndrome and Profile Evidence in the Salem Witchcraft Trials, 26 Vermont L. Rev. 43 (2001)
Mary Beth Norton, In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 (2003)
Peter Hoffer, The Salem Witchcraft Trials: A Legal History (1997)
Friday, September 9, 2016
When Congress submitted the Equal Rights Amendment to the states in 1972, it seemed as if a monumental feminist victory was at hand. In five years all but three of the 38 states needed for ratification had approved the measure, which asserted that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Then conservative forces — led by Phyllis Schlafly, who died this week at the age of 92 — fought back, killing the E.R.A. and staggering the feminist movement.
Since then, Supreme Court rulings have recognized principles of equality the amendment was intended to enforce. Did feminists win even though the E.R.A. was defeated?
Joanna Grossman, Even the ERA Couldn't Bring About Real Equality
Mary Ann Case, Supreme Court has Delivered on Many of the ERA's Promises
Elizabeth Price Foley, The ERA's Defeat Prevented More Radical Changes
Serena Mayeri, Despite Feminist Gains, Effects of ERA's Defeat are Unknown
I recently wrote a bit on this topic in a book chapter forthcoming tracing the history of the ERA back to its origins in the late suffrage movement and then up to its modern resurrection. See Tracy Thomas, After Suffrage Comes Equal Rights? ERA as the Next Logical Step, in 100 Years of the Nineteenth Amendment: An Appraisal of Women’s Political Activism (Lee Ann Banaszak & Holly McCammon eds. forthcoming Oxford U. Press) (with TJ Boisseau)
A key question is whether legally women need the ERA, or whether its goals of general equality and specific rights have effectively been accomplished through other means. The virtually unanimous consensus of legal scholars is that the ERA’s goals have been effectively achieved through the Supreme Court’s equal protection jurisprudence. Courts now review gendered state action under intermediate scrutiny requiring that any laws treating women differently be justified by important governmental interests and that the laws be closely tailored to those interests. Other scholars, however, have emphasized the limitations of equal protection analysis for sex equality. For gender discrimination cases under equal protection, the Court utilizes a lower standard of intermediate scrutiny, rather than the strict scrutiny used in race and religions discrimination. This lower standard tolerates many of the continuing instances of less overt sex discrimination and laws that have discriminatory effect rather than textual prohibitions on gender. The equal protection approach is also limited because it requires proof of intent--defendants thinking bad thoughts about women--which [Catharine] MacKinnon notes “doesn’t address how discrimination mostly operates in the real world,” where “the vast majority of sex inequality is produced by structural and systemic and unconscious practices” inherited from centuries of gender hierarchy. Equal protection law’s formal classification structure, she explains, which rigidly treats only exactly similar things the same, is incapable of assessing the ways in which people “can be different from one another yet still be equals, entitled to be treated equally” or where affirmative diversity is needed to treat alike those whom are different.
Some scholars also conclude that equality for women has essentially been achieved for women without the ERA because the specific substantive goals of the amendment were accomplished through a variety of federal legislation on specific issues as well as the parallel state constitutional amendments. Twenty-three states adopted mini-ERAs and such amendments have helped strengthen women’s ability to challenge discriminatory laws in those states. Courts often interpret the state ERAs to require strict scrutiny, and two states mandate an even higher absolute standard that presumes any discriminatory law to be unconstitutional. In addition, federal legislation has mandated equal employment and education in The Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, and the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. Such piecemeal legislation, however, is subject to the political ebb and flow and can be rolled back, as the Violence Against Women Act was when the Supreme Court held in United States v. Morrison (2000) that Congress had no power to address civil remedies for domestic violence.
The renewed campaign for an ERA emphasizes the continued systemic harms to women of economic inequality, violence against women, and pregnancy discrimination and the limits of existing laws to address these concerns. Proponents of ERA emphasize the need for a permanent constitutional guarantee to control an overarching legal and social principle of women’s equality. The U.S., unlike the majority of other countries, has refused to incorporate such an express guarantee in its written constitution or adopt the international women’s bill of rights by ratifying the United Nations’ treaty. The absence of an express guarantee permits traditional literalists like Justice Antonin Scalia to opine: “Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t.” The ERA offers a corrective to this thinking and the equivocal state of women’s rights under the law. It offers a textual guarantee of sex equality, an inspiration for public policy, and a powerful symbolic support of women’s equality in all social and legal venues.
Thursday, September 8, 2016
Arch anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly died this week. She has ironically, as Slate notes, become "doomed to represent the feminism she hated."
I recently wrote about Schlafly and her leadership of the political movement that stopped ERA. After Suffrage Comes Equal Rights? ERA as the Next Logical Step, in 100 Years of the Nineteenth Amendment: An Appraisal of Women’s Political Activism (Lee Ann Banaszak & Holly McCammon eds.) (Oxford Univ. Press forthcoming) (with TJ Boisseau).
The face of women’s opposition to ERA was conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly and her STOP ERA (Stop Taking Our Privileges) organization. Schlafly, a mother to six children, offered herself to the anti-ERA movement as a voice for stay-at-home mothers in need of special privileges and protections under the law. The irony that she, much like all the most prominent reformers historically lining up on either side of the ERA amendment (such as Alice Paul, Florence Kelley, and Pauli Murray), held a law degree and enjoyed a flourishing decade-long career in the public eye, was utterly elided in her rhetoric.
Doggedly focused on women’s roles as mothers and home-makers, Schlafly trumpeted the cause of women’s difference from men—championing the special rights of women as citizens who, ideally, did not work outside the home. She asserted that equality was a step back for women: “Why should we lower ourselves to ‘Equal Rights’ when we already have the status of ‘special privilege?’” She and other ERA opponents reframed the issue as forcing women into dangerous combat, co-education dormitories, and unisex bathrooms. Feminist advocates responded by clarifying that privacy rights protected concerns about personal living spaces in residences and bathrooms, but their counsel was unheard in the din of threat to traditional family and gender roles. Opponents equated ERA with homosexuality and gay marriage, as the amendment’s words “on account of sex,” “were joined with ‘sexual preference’ or homosexuality to evoke loathing, fear, and anger at the grotesque perversion of masculine responsibility represented by the women’s movement” Schlafly hurled insults at the ERA supporters, urging her readers to view photographs of an ERA rally and “see for yourself the unkempt, the lesbians, the radicals, the socialists,” and other activists she labeled militant, arrogant, aggressive, hysterical, and bitter. When ERA supporters “gathered at the federally financed 1977 International Women’s Year Conference in Houston and endorsed homosexual rights and other controversial resolutions on national television, they helped to make the case for ERA opponents.”
The shift in debate slowed and then stopped ratification of the ERA. In 1974, three states ratified the amendment, one state ratified in 1975 and in 1977, and then ended with only 35 of the 38 required. At the same time, states began to rescind their prior ratifications, with five states voting to withdraw their prior approval. The legality of the rescissions was unclear, but these efforts had political reverberations in the unratified states. When the deadline arrived without the required three-fourths approval, Congress voted in 1978 to extend the ratification deadline three years to June 30, 1982. Not a single additional state voted to ratify during this extension.
The life and times of a trailblazing feminist in American law. The first female Stanford law professor was also first director of the District of Columbia Public Defender Service, one of the first women to be an Assistant Attorney General of the United States, and the biographer of California’s first woman lawyer, Clara Foltz. Survivor, pioneer, leader, and fervent defender of the powerless and colorful mobsters alike, Barbara Babcock led by example and by the written word — and recounts her part ofhistory in this candid and personal memoir.
"For woman lawyers, Barbara Babcock has led the way. How? By being smarter and tougher than the men; also, more empathetic and self-aware. Funny, shrewd, and telling, her memoir Fish Raincoats is a joy to read.”
— Evan Thomas, author of Being Nixon: A Man Divided
“Life will afford you no better sherpa on the extraordinary journey women have taken in the legal profession than Barbara Babcock. This book should be required reading for anyone who isn’t certain that they have a place at the lawyers table. Babcock’s amazing life has made a space for so many of us. Her story will do the same.”
— Dahlia Lithwick, Senior Editor, Slate
Here is also a book review I wrote of Babcock's key work on the biography of California's first lawyer Clara Foltz. Book Review: Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz (Stanford Press 2011).