Philosophy and Early Feminist Thought

Ernestine Rose and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, two founders of modern feminism, are the subjects of my recent traveling philosophy series. While their advocacy for women’s rights, abolition of slavery, religious liberty, and other human rights issues was so important, wasn’t their work more about politics than anything else?

Why write about feminist activists for a philosophy blog?

It’s true, their focus was on achieving political goals: to establish laws protecting and empowering women and other classes of human beings in their property, their person, their range of opportunities, and their enfranchisement. But to accomplish this, they needed ideas: not only of their own, personal beliefs about the world and the way it should be, informed by facts and supported by reason; they needed to convince others that their ideas were not only interesting and desirable to themselves but good, true, and conducive to flourishing for all human beings.

The laws of their time, which barred most women from owning any property, which subjugated them and their children to husbands, fathers, and male relatives, and which failed to protect women as they sought to engage in traditionally ‘unwomanly’ activities such as voting, receiving a full education, pursuing any occupation other than housekeeping or teaching, speaking in public, taking leadership roles, and so on, were based on certain widely held ideas and beliefs about the nature and proper roles of women. 

Women in some states, especially married women, had few political rights in the era when Rose and Stanton began to agitate for them. In fact, many women in the United States, legally, had as few rights as many slaves did, which may surprise many of us today; I know it surprised me as I did my research. Not to suggest that slaves were better off: far from it. Cultural expectations required better behavior toward and treatment of (non-slave) women. Most husbands, then as now, treat their wives with respect and try to make them happy, and they had a degree of power and influence in the home in her position as mother and keeper of the house. Many states had laws protecting women in cases of abuse, and some had laws requiring men to provide for their wives in a ‘decent’ manner. And adult single women legally enjoyed a degree of personal liberty a slave could only dream of. But it was extremely difficult for any woman to earn a decent wage or find an interesting, full-filling, non-menial job, and women were generally denied access to a full education. 

While some states offered better protections for women than others with fairly liberal laws (for the standards of that time, not necessarily ours) concerning divorce, remarriage, and a woman’s right to some control of property she brought into a marriage, in many other states, women lost their individual identity upon marriage under coverture. The legal doctrine of coverture meant that a women’s identity was absorbed into, or ‘covered by’, that of her husband, and her rights were subsumed under those of her husband. In other words, they disappeared. As a result of coverture and other laws, if a married woman felt the desire or need to leave her husband for any reason, including abuse, cruelty, neglect, etc, she had no right whatsoever to her children, to any of her property besides the clothing she wore and utensils to cook with, or to keep any wages she would earn. Not only that, if she was apprehended, she could legally be forced to return, echoing the cruelty of the Fugitive Slave Law (Mistress of Herself, p 93-94, 185-86). It’s no wonder, then, that the early feminist movement rose out of, and in partnership with, the abolitionist movement, since many of the arguments in favor of emancipation of slaves applied to the liberation of women as well. Rose and Stanton’s sister feminists identified with their enslaved fellow women in this: married women had no identity as individual persons under the law, and all women were barred from choosing their own professions, fulfilling their intellectual and other capacities, and subject to laws to which they could not consent because they were not full citizens, or citizens at all.

And nowhere were women of any status permitted to vote. So how could they better their situation?

Rose, Stanton, and other human rights activists and reformers of their era recognized that laws and practices of their time that oppressed women, blacks and other racial minorities, religious dissenters, and immigrants, were all there, more or less, because of the same ideas. So to change the law, they had to change minds, not only with logical, well-supported, eloquent arguments, but with passion, which revealed the conviction behind the words. Their ideas inspired them, and in turn, inspired others. That’s where their philosophy comes in.

So what were these old ideas they wished to supplant? Why did they wish to supplant them? And with what?

Here are some of the most important ideas that underlie Ernestine Rose and Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s work; not comprehensive, to be sure, but central to their goals of attaining legal and cultural liberty and equality, and to their beliefs about human nature and what constitutes the good:

~ The nature of rights, and where they come from

Ernestine Rose and Elizabeth Cady Stanton both have similar, though not identical, views on the nature of human rights. Stanton believes in a divine creator*, and that all human beings are created with certain endowments and dignities, so to transgress against human nature was to transgress the divine will. Rose doesn’t believe in a divine creator, and doesn’t think it an important question in matters of ethics, law, or everyday life, as it would involve understanding a reality incomprehensible to the human mind. Since we can only comprehend this world, we are only responsible for life within it, and we must put all of our effort in making this life the best we can. For Rose, human nature is a product of nature, no supernatural explanation useful or necessary. To both of these thinkers, however, human rights are indissolubly linked to human nature, and one could no more be legitimately denied than the other, by the simple fact of the existence of human beings whose qualities and aspirations are clearly discernible to anyone. And both think that reason is all we need to describe these rights and put them into law. As Stanton says, ‘…Viewed as a woman, an equal factor in civilization, her rights and duties are still the same; individual happiness and development. ‘(Solitude Of Self)

Whether Rose and Stanton think human nature is primary and human rights are derived from it, or whether they think both exist equally as qualities or attributes of a human person, I haven’t been able to discern. For myself, I think human nature is primary, and rights are derived from it; that’s why we must formulate, fight for, and protect human rights, not merely observe them as facts of nature. Either view is consistent with Rose and Stanton’s writings, yet I suspect they perhaps would agree with me, or at least see my point, if we ever had a chance to sit down and thrash it out. What a delightful and invigorating afternoon that would be!

In any case, Rose says, one needs only to observe the world to discover the truth of the matter, and the evidence is available to anyone, anywhere, whatever one’s culture or belief system. In fact, one needs no education at all (though it helps!) to recognize what to her is so plain, if only one would put aside their biases for a moment. A young man once challenged Rose during a speech, claiming that divine revelation and authority are in opposition to the Women’s Rights movement platform and supportive of the traditional view of women’s rights and women’s ‘sphere’ in the home. Rose replied: ‘…I will show him the revelation from which we derive our authority, and the nature in which it is written, in living characters. It is true we do not go to revelations written in books… That revelation is no less than the living, breathing, thinking, feeling, acting revelation manifested in the nature of woman…Books and opinions, no matter from whom they came, if they are in opposition to human rights, are but dead letters’ (MOH, 227)

~ Individual identity

The legal doctrine of coverture, inherited from British law, remained more or less unchallenged in the United States until the early feminists, with Rose and Stanton, agitated for and finally pushed through laws protecting the property rights of married women in the mid-nineteenth century. Rose began the petition to the New York State Assembly in the 1930’s, where she was soon joined by other activists; Stanton’s efforts led to success in 1848, when the first Married Woman’s Property Act was passed into law in New York (MOH, 12). Coverture was widely justified on a Biblical basis: passages such as Ephesians 5:22-5:24 ‘Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church…Therefore as the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything’ was used to demonstrate divine support for complete control of husbands over their wives. And not only wives: Stanton goes through the Bible line by line, and finds and critiques a multitude of verses in support of the idea that all women should be subjugated to men (The Woman’s Bible).

As we have seen, Rose does not accept the idea that any sort of ‘revelation’ trumps the evidence of nature, so she scorns the idea that a woman’s identity could be absorbed in another’s. ‘From the cradle to the grave she is subject to the power and control of man…At marriage she loses her entire identity, and her being is said to have become merged in her husband. Has nature thus merged it? Has she ceased to exist and feel pleasure and pain?…What an inconsistency, that from the moment she enters that compact, in which she assumes the high responsibility of wife and mother, she ceases legally to exist…’ (MOH, p 93). Since a woman feels her own feelings, thinks her own thoughts, and experiences her own selfhood, she is fully an individual as a man, whatever her relation to him. And since she is an individual person, she should have all the rights of an individual person, to the same extent as a man, and for the same reasons. Stanton concurs: ‘The point I wish plainly to bring before you on this occasion is the individuality of each human soul; our Protestant idea, the right of individual conscience and judgment; our republican idea, individual citizenship’ (SOS)

What drive Rose and Stanton is that same idea that drive all feminists to seek full human rights protections: the inner experience of our own selves as human persons in the fullest sense of the term. The differences between women and men, as they repeatedly point out, are of minor significance compared to the similarities.

~ The intellectual, emotional, and moral equality of women and men

All able human persons, say Rose, Stanton, and their fellow feminists, enjoy and experience an inner life made up of the same components: reason, emotion, and the moral instincts chief among them. While there is some difference in degree and quality from person to person, and some minor differences in tendencies between male and female, women and men are the same kind of being. Rose, again, appeals to the evidence of experience: ‘What has man ever done, that woman, under the same advantages, could not do? …Even now, where her mind has been called out at all, her intellect is as bright, as capacious, and as powerful as his…And do you ask for fortitude, energy, and perseverance? Then look at woman under suffering, reverse of fortune, and affliction…’ (MOH,  99). She recognized, as her fellow reformers did, that the intelligence and ability they found in their own selves contradicted the claims underlying the rigid belief system of her day regarding the ‘proper spheres’ of men and women. 

Instead of thinking of intelligent, ambitious, entrepreneurial, and independent women as ‘unwomanly’ freaks of nature, and women as subservient mother and housewife as ‘natural’, Rose and Stanton think of women as complex and rich in their interior lives as men, and have similar needs. For example, Stanton reveled in motherhood and was one seven times over, but she often felt stifled by the way motherhood, in her day, relegated her to a narrower arena of activity and intellectual stimulation than suited her. She is restless and curious thinker, deeply intelligent and active by nature, and while her family lived in Boston, her busy social life kept her satisfied in mind and body. When her family moved to Seneca Falls, a small town in upstate New York, however, her new life of a full-time homemaker often made her feel trapped (Jacoby, 88). Stanton doesn’t recognize herself as confined to a ‘sphere’, or conforming to the ideal of ‘true womanhood’ of the time. She thinks these ideas are not divinely inspired, but are human creations, derived from men’s need to carry on their legacy and keep the mothers of their children obediently at home under their control (TWB, Jacoby 195). Instead, like Rose, Stanton recognizes in herself and her fellow woman the full human intelligence that needs to be satisfied and developed, and the range of needs, desires, and challenges in life that, like men, can only be addressed by protecting and furthering their chances of pursuing their own goals, in law and cultural practice.

(I felt this very same way, growing up, regarding ideas about women I was brought up to believe. Beginning in my mid- to late teens, the ideal of the ‘proper sphere of women’ of the very traditional, conservative religion I was brought up in, felt alien to me. I just couldn’t believe that most, let along all, women wanted more or less the same things, and though I recognized that lifestyle made many women happy, it was not so for all women. As an adult, I’m much more interested in the experiences, the day-to-day joys and challenges of my friends and family who are mothers, yet I still don’t feel the desire to live that life myself, especially that of a homemaker, and it’s increasingly undesirable to me personally as the years pass. Yet I’m glad that so many women now have a choice: they are not forced into it, or out of it, by the state, and less and less by overbearing families or isolationist, fundamentalist communities.)

~ Women, men, and their capacities

In the period in which Ernestine Rose and Elizabeth Cady Stanton lived, the ‘myth of true womanhood’ held that each woman naturally has a specific and narrow set of capacities and tastes, all of which confine her to the choice of a few roles, the first two being primary: wife, mother, homemaker, and/or teacher (of children and other women, not of men), craftsperson in the ‘daintier’ arts, and nurse. But Rose and Stanton see things differently: while they allow there may be some differences in temperament and ability on the average, especially when it comes to physical strength, as we have seen, men and women are far more alike than they are different (intellectually, emotionally, and morally). Since women and men have similar capacities and aspirations in accordance with their human nature and their individual proclivities, so each individual should have equal opportunity to make the fullest use of them. The first and arguably most important method of developing ones capacity is a quality education, and the goal of their education should be to expand and fulfill the intellectual capacity of each individual person to the utmost.

And all persons should have full and equal access to engage in any occupation that suits their own tastes. As Rose says, in response to an influential lecturer who argues that women’s natural talents were confined to the ornamental arts, housekeeping, and the care and education of children, ‘…the great difficulty is, that …certain taste and adaptation or peculiar faculties are required for proficiency in any art or science…then it would be just as reasonable to expect all men to be painters, sculptors, or chemists, as to ask all women to be scientific cooks [chefs]. If men and women were educated in accordance with their predilections and tastes, it might so happen that some men might have the best capacity for the science of cooking, and some women for the science of government…’ (MOH, 115). In other words, preordaining and then imposing narrowly defined roles is, in fact, unnatural, and systematically wastes human potential.

~ Marriage and relationships between women and men

Rose and Stanton both believe that the traditional hierarchical view of marriage was wrong. It was still generally believed in their time that a marriage could only survive harmoniously if one partner was ultimately the authority figure, and many people in the world still believe that today (as in Paul’s doctrine of men as the ‘head’ of the family, for example, outlined in the Ephesians quote we considered earlier). Rose and Stanton, to the contrary, believe that sort of arrangement to be not only non-conducive to harmony (since it builds resentment, reduces serious consideration of the wishes and solutions to problems of the ‘subject’ partner, and encourages bullying in one and passivity in the other), but a to vow of obedience in marriage is to renege on one’s responsibilities as a moral agent:

Ernestine Rose has much to say about this subject. She was happily married for 57 years to a man who, like her, was radically egalitarian for the time, and also considered marriage a partnership between equals. She says, ‘But I assert that every woman …is bound to maintain her own independence and her own integrity of character; to assert herself, earnestly and firmly, as the equal of man, who is her only peer. This is her first right, her first duty: and if she lives in a country where the law supposes that she is to be subjected to her husband, and she consents to this subjection, I do insist that she consents to degradation: that this is sin…Marriage is a union of equals’ (MOH 275-276). She critiques the idea that blanket submission is a virtue: ‘Blind submission in woman is considered a virtue, while submission to wrong is itself wrong, and resistance to wrong is virtue alike in woman as in man’ (MOH 93). And she considers the vow of obedience in marriage not only wrong, but a lack of civilization:‘…who knows but the time may come when man and woman will be so far civilized as to agree to differ in an amicable and friendly way whenever they should not be able to agree?’ (MOH 119)

Stanton demonstrates her own commitment to the idea of marriage as a full and equal partnership not only in her writing, espousing the same principles as Rose, but likewise through action. She kept her own name upon marriage, adding her husband’s at the end. She thinks that referring to a married woman by ‘Mrs’ tacked onto the husband’s name, while leaving out hers, was a much a symbol of denigration and ownership as it was to refer a bondsperson by the name of their plantation or master. She agrees wholeheartedly that the vow of obedience was retrograde and against the true ideal of marriage as an equal partnership (Eighty Years 72). She lived a life of as much independence as her situation would allow during her years raising dependent children, and reveled in her freedom in later years, becoming more active than ever in her work for women’s rights.

~ The role of reform and progress in morality

Rose and Stanton hold somewhat different views of religion: to Rose, most religions oppressed women for so long, and their holy books contained so many anti-woman passages, that religions, in general, could only be considered more harmful than helpful, and were pretty much all antithetical to the women’s rights movement. Stanton is mildly religious, in the sense that she doesn’t identify with any particular sect of Christianity, and openly criticizes most of them for their support of retrograde laws and practices in respect to women. Yet she admires Jesus Christ himself, as a friend to the poor and oppressed, as a revolutionary, and as a promoter of tolerance (the story of Magdalene’s interrupted stoning, the Good Samaritan parable, and apostleship of the tax collector are some examples.) Both of them, in their day, would have been called freethinkers, and Stanton would also have been called an atheist by many, since that term was often used to refer to anyone who did not agree with orthodox ideas about God.

Many of the major religions go through more or less the same cycle: inspired by one (probably) historical figure 
who was some sort of inspirational radical (Abram, Siddhārtha Gautama, Jesus of Nazareth, Muḥammad ibn `Abd Allāh), evolving oral traditions and hagiography transformed these figures into gods or sacred beings with special moral authority (Abraham, the Buddha, Christ, The Prophet). As well as encouraging good behavior in their believers and often radically changing cultures for the better with their progressive ideas, eventually these belief systems rigidified, and were pressed into political service to enforce power structures which adopted them. Over time, culturally and legally, these religions were transformed from their reformist roots to dogmatic systems which enforced othodoxy of belief and rigidly proscribed behavior, with promises of reward and/or threats of punishment, by the divine and by the state. Sometimes this was beneficial to promoting pro-social behavior and attitudes; sometimes it led to such evils as religious wars, persecution of heretics, witch-hunts, and pogroms. Rose cites the cruel treatment of dissenters as one of her main criticisms of religion (MOH 76-77).

Over time, new reformists would spring up, challenging the more ugly, oppressive, or retrograde beliefs and practices religions had accumulated over time. Dissenters came from the fringes of that tradition (in the West, liberal anti-clerical Protestants such as Stanton, Deists such as Thomases Paine and Jefferson, Quakers such as Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony, and Unitarians* such as William Lloyd Garrison) as well as from the outside (freethinkers, atheists, and agnostics such as Rose, Robert Ingersoll, and Charles Darwin). Time and time again, it would take these reformers, and the moral and rational arguments with which they won over popular opinion, to convince these the old religions to reform themselves, to become more liberal and to adopt more humanistic beliefs and practices, in order to stay relevant. This process has advanced much more with some religions than with others; it’s not hard to recognize which ones, by the standard of living and the human rights protections in those countries in which those religions are most dominant.

Rose and Stanton, despite their differences of opinion of the existence of the divine, think that dogma is antithetical to morality, properly understood. The capacity of a culture or a belief system to be reformed from outside, or better yet, contain within it ideas that generate self-reform, is a sign of its superiority, since it can adapt to solve problems in a changing world. A rigid, ‘eternal’ system, by contrast, is necessarily harmful, since it’s immune to new evidence, and attempts to solve new problems with old ideas that don’t apply. In Rose’s and Stanton’s day, science had made a major breakthrough, illuminating how natural laws can explain the evolution of human nature and in turn, human morality. In Biblical times, for example, a relatively rigid, harsh moral code, centered on sexual dominance, tribal loyalty, and the accumulation of property (be it through farming, herding, dowry, or plunder) evolved to aid the survival of small nomadic tribes in a similarly harsh landscape. In a modern industrial society, such a code no longer appropriate. But aside from the usefulness of a moral code, Rose and Stanton think that morality should be drawn from observations of human nature, and as human nature expands and evolves, so does morality. Religion, they think, has this backward: it codifies some idea about what human nature is and should be in relation to a wider reality, and this rigid system is then imposed upon everyone, regardless of how poorly it’s equipped to deal with any particular circumstance or new problem that arises, or how poorly it fits with the personality, interests, or abilities of particular individuals.

In sum: Rose, Stanton, and the ideas of the early feminists are as relevant and as important today as they ever were, since they so eloquently and convincingly make the case for the equality of legal rights for women, and for a cultural and religious reexamination of the predominant ideas about women in their time. The debate over the ideas that they opposed, and the better ideas with which they convinced most of the Western world, is still raging today. In many parts of the world, women are still subjugated to men, for many of the same reasons as they were in Rose and Stanton’s time, though the holy book these oppressive laws are often based on now is more often a different one.
And in the modern Western world, the rights of women to control their own bodies and their own minds is still under attack from some quarters. For example, traditional views about women still lead many to attack President Obama’s recent remarks on such reform by deliberating misrepresenting his views based on a grammatical unclarity in one sentence of a speech that otherwise promoted the economic rights of mothers. The reforms he was calling for in that speech would ultimately support a women’s right to choose to be a full-time stay at home mother, by limiting the negative economic impact such a choice would have on her future prospects. But the fervor of some traditionalists against the idea that a women’s choice to remain childless, or to be a working mother, or pursue other goals altogether, is a valid one, can lead to blanket opposition to all women’s rights reform, however just such reform appears on its face. Opposition to full rights for women is alive and kicking, as is opposition to full human rights for immigrants, prisoners, atheists, and other minority groups, so it’s important to keep the ideas of Rose, Stanton, and the early feminists alive since they still apply, in essence, to all of these.
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*Note: it’s a little tricky to pin down Stanton’s religious views: she was, from early life, a liberal Protestant Christian, a believer in God and an admirer of Jesus Christ. Yet she was a fierce critic of the mainstream organized religions of her day which opposed rights for women, which were most of them, and did not consider the Bible the ultimate authority on questions of human rights or on morality generally. As she once remarked to Susan B. Anthony, she grew more radical in her opinions over the years, and later in life, may have been closer to a Deist or freethinking Theist than a Protestant (Eighty Years 44, Jacoby 194)

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Sources and inspiration:

The Bible, King James version

Cassidy, Jessie J. ‘The Legal Status of Women’. New York, The National-American Woman Suffrage Association, 1897. Obtained from the Library of Congress website

Dorress-Worters, Paula. Mistress of Herself: Speeches and Letters of Ernestine Rose, Early Women’s Rights Leader.  The Feminist Press at CUNY, 2008

Duke, Selwyn. ‘Just Say No to Stay-At-Home Moms‘. The New American. Nov 2nd, 2014.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton‘. (2014, November 4). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

Ernestine Rose‘. (2014, July 7). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

Gordon, Ann D. ‘Elizabeth Cady Stanton‘. American Natinal Biography Online.

Jacoby, Susan. Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. New York: Owl Books, 2004.

Married Women’s Property Laws‘, American Memory: American Women. Library of Congress website. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/awhhtml/awlaw3/property_law.html

Obama, Barack. ‘On Women and the Economy‘ speech, Oct 30th, 2014. Retrieved from the White House website, Office of the Press Secretary

Salmon, Marylynn. ‘The Legal Status of Women, 1776–1830‘. Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History (website)

Stanton, Elizabeth et al. Declarations and Sentiments / Proceedings of the First Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, New York, 1848.

Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. Eighty Years And More: Reminiscences 1815-1897 New Jersey: Mershon Company Press, 1897.

Stanton, Elizabeth. ‘Solitude of Self‘. Address Delivered by Mrs. Stanton before the Committee of the Judiciary of the United States Congress, Monday, January 18, 1892.

Stanton, Elizabeth et al. The Woman’s Bible, 1898.

Review: Sweet Bar Bakery

Found another new cafe with wi-fi, plenty of space to write, and an excellent assortment of tasty treats; and apparently, so have many other others! This rainy afternoon drove a lot of people indoors, but I was still able to find a great window seat, of which there are many. They offer a bottomless cup of coffee for two bucks, perfect for those like me who intend to stay awhile, and I started with a delicious slice of apple crumble pie with whipped cream. The coffee is good, the pie better, and people behind the counter were even sweeter than the pie. And while the people who work here and who frequent this establishment, the warm and friendly atmosphere give it a significant advantage to a certain way-too-cool-for-you vibe of another nearby one which will remain unnamed, though you locals may easily guess.

Besides pies, cakes, cookies, and other sweets, they have plenty of savory snacks and smaller meals to choose from, too.

All around, a tasty experience, highly recommended! I got one of those stamp cards where you can earn a free drink, since I’ll most definitely be back.

Who: Sweet Bar Bakery
What and Why: Baked sweets and savories, coffee, tea, soup, pizza, and more
Where: 2355 Broadway, Oakland CA 94612 
When: Mon – Fri 8am – 8pm, Sat 8am – 7pm, Sun 9am -7 pm

In Her Own Words: A Defense of Atheism, by Ernestine Rose, 1861

My friends: –In undertaking the inquiry of the existence of a God, I am fully conscious of the difficulties I have to encounter. I am well aware that the very question produces in most minds a feeling of awe, as if stepping on forbidden ground, too holy and sacred for mortals to approach. The very question strikes them with horror, as is owing to this prejudice so deeply implanted by education, and also strengthened by public sentiment, that so few are willing to give it a fair and impartial investigation, –knowing but too well that it casts a stigma and reproach upon any person bold enough to undertake the task, unless his previously known opinions are a guarantee that his conclusions would be in accordance and harmony with the popular demand. But believing as I do, that Truth only is beneficial, and Error, from whatever source, and under whatever name, is pernicious to man, I consider no place too holy, no subject too sacred, for man’s earnest investigation; for by so doing only can we arrive at Truth, learn to discriminate it from Error, and be able to accept the one and reject the other.

No is this the only impediment in the way of this inquiry. The question arises, Where shall we begin? We have been told, that “by searching none can find out God” which has so far proved true; for, as yet, no one has ever been able to find him. The most strenuous believer has to acknowledge that it is only a belief, but he knows nothing on the subject. Where, then, shall we search for his existence? Enter the material world; ask the Sciences whether they can disclose the mystery? Geology speaks of the structure of the Earth, the formation of the different strata, of coal, of granite, of the whole mineral kingdom. –It reveals the remains and traces of animals long extinct, but gives us no clue whereby we may prove the existence of a God.

Natural history gives us a knowledge of the animal kingdom in general; the different organisms, structures, and powers of the various species. Physiology teaches the nature of man, the laws that govern his being, the functions of the vital organs, and the conditions upon which alone health and life depend…. But in the whole animal economy–though the brain is considered to be a “microcosm”, which which may be traced a resemblance or relationship with everything in Nature–not a spot can be found to indicate the existence of a God.

Mathematics lays the foundation of all the exact sciences. It teaches the art of combining numbers, of calculating and measuring distances, how to solve problems, to weigh mountains, to fathom the depths of the ocean; but gives no directions how to ascertain the existence of a God.

Astronomy tells us of the wonders of the Solar System–the eternally revolving planets, the rapidity and certainty of their motions, the distance from planet to planet, from star to star. It predicts with astonishing and marvelous precision the phenomena of eclipses, the visibility upon our Earth of comets, and proves the immutable law of gravitation, but is entirely silent on the existence of a God.

In fine, descend to the bowels of the Earth, and you will learn what it contains; into the depths of the ocean, and you will find the inhabitants of the great deep; but neither in the Earth above, nor the waters below, can you obtain any knowledge of his existence. Ascend into the heavens, and enter the “milky way,” go from planet to planet and to the remotest star, and ask the eternally revolving systems, Where is God? and Echo answers, Where?

The Universe of Matter gives us no record of his existence. Where next shall we search? Enter the Universe of Mind, read the volumes written on the subject, and in all the speculations, the assertions, the assumptions, the theories, and the creeds, you can only find Man stamped in an indelible impress his own mind on every page. In describing his God, he delineated his own character: the picture he drew represents in living and ineffaceable colors the epoch of his existence–the period he lived in.

It was a great mistake to say that God made man in his image. Man, in all ages, made his God in his own image, and we find that just in accordance with his civilization, his knowledge, his experience, his taste, his refinement, his sense of right, of justice, of freedom, and humanity, –so has he made his God. But whether coarse or refined; cruel and vindictive, or kind and generous; an implacable tyrant, or a gentle and loving father; it still was the emanation of his own mind –the picture of himself.

But, you ask, how came it to be that man thought or wrote about God at all? The answer is very simple. Ignorance is the mother of Superstition. In proportion to man’s ignorance he is superstitious–does he believe in the mysterious. The very name has a charm for him. Being unacquainted with the nature and laws of things around him, with the true causes of the effects he witnessed, he ascribed them to false ones–to supernatural agencies. The savage, ignorant of the mechanism of a watch, attributes the ticking to a spirit. The so-called civilized man, equally ignorant of the mechanism of the Universe, and the laws which govern it, ascribes it to the same erroneous cause. Before electricity was discovered, a thunderstorm was said to come from the wrath of an offended Deity. To this fiction of man’s uncultivated mind, has been attributed all of good and evil, or wisdom and of folly. Man has talked about him, written about him, disputed about him, fought about him,–sacrificed himself, and extirpated his fellow man. Rivers of blood and oceans of tears have been shed to please him, yet no one has ever been able to demonstrate his existence.

But the Bible, we are told, reveals this great mystery. Where Nature is dumb, and Man ignorant, Revelation speaks in the authoritative voice of prophecy. Then let us see whether that Revelation can stand the test of reason and of truth.–God, we are told, is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, –all wise, all just, and all good; that he is perfect. So far, so well; for less than perfection were unworthy of a God. The first act recorded of him is, that he created the world out of nothing; but unfortunately the revelation of Science–Chemistry–which is based not on written words, but demonstrable facts, says that Nothing has no existence, and therefore out of Nothing, Nothing could be made. Revelation tells us that the world was created in six days. Here Geology steps in and says, that it requires thousands of ages to form the various strata of the earth. The Bible tells us the earth was flat and stationary, and the sun moved around the earth. Copernicus and Galileo flatly deny this flat assertion, and demonstrates by Astronomy that the earth is spherical, and revolves around the sun. Revelation tells us that on the fourth day God created the sun, moon, and stars. This, Astronomy calls a moon story, and says that the first three days, before the great torchlight was manufactured and suspended in the great lantern above, must have been rather dark.

The division of the waters above from the waters below, and the creation of the minor objects, I pass by, and come at once to the sixth day.

Having finished, in five days, this stupendous production, with its mighty mountains, its vast seas, its fields and woods; supplied the waters with fishes–from the whale that swallowed Jonah to the little Dutch herring; peopled the woods with inhabitants–from the tiger, the lion, the bear, the elephant with his trunk, the dromedary with his hump, the deer with his antlers, the nightingale with her melodies, down to the serpent which tempted mother Eve; covered the fields with vegetation, decorated the gardens with flowers, hung the trees with fruits; and surveying this glorious world as it lay spread out like a map before him, the question naturally suggested itself. What is it all for, unless there were beings capable of admiring, of appreciating, and of enjoying the delights this beautiful world could afford? And suiting the action to the impulse, he said, “let us make man.” “So God created man in his own image; in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them.”

I presume by the term “image” we are not to understand a near resemblance of face or form, but in the image or likeness of his knowledge, his power, his wisdom, and perfection. Having thus made man, he placed him (them) in the garden of Eden–the loveliest and most enchanting spot at the very head of creation, and bade them (with the single restriction not to eat of the tree of knowledge), to live, to love, and to be happy.

What a delightful picture, if we could only rest here! But did these beings, fresh from the hand of omnipotent wisdom, in whose image they were made, answer the great object of their creation, answer the great object of their creation? Alas! no. No sooner were they installed in their Paradisean home, than they violated the first, the only injunction given them, and fell from their high estate; and not only they, but by a singular justice of that very merciful Creator, their innocent posterity to all coming generations, fell with them! Does that bespeak wisdom and perfection in the Creator, or in the creature? But what was the cause of this tremendous fall, which frustrated the whole design of the creation? The Serpent tempted mother Eve, and she, like a good wife, tempted her husband. But God did not know when he created the Serpent, that it would tempt the woman, and that she was made of such frail materials, (the rib of Adam,) as not to be able to resist the temptation? If he did not know, then his knowledge was at fault; if he did, but could not prevent that calamity, then his power was at fault; if he knew and could, but would not, then his goodness was at fault. Choose which you please, and it remains alike fatal to the rest.

Revelation tells us that God made man perfect, and found him imperfect; then he pronounced all things good, and found them most desperately bad. “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” “And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created, from the face of the earth; both man and beasts, and the creeping things, and the fowls of the air, for it repenteth me that I have made them.”So he destroyed everything, except Noah with his family, and a few household pets. Why he saved them is hard to say, unless it was to reserve materials as stock in hand to commence a new world with; but really, judging of the character of those he saved, by their descendants, it strikes me it would have been much better, and given him far less trouble, to have let them slip also, and with his improved experience made a new world out of fresh and superior materials. (*see footnote)

As it was, this wholesale destruction even, was a failure. The world was not one jot better after the flood than before. His chosen children were just as bad as ever, and he had to send his prophets, again and again, to threaten, to frighten, to coax, cajole, and to flatter them into good behaviour. But all to no effect. They grew worse and worse; and having made a covenant with Noah after he sacrificed of “every clean beast and of every clean fowl,”–“The Lord smelt the sweet savour; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every living thing, as I have done.” And so he was forced to resort to  the last sad alternative of sending “his only begotten son,” his second self, to save them. But alas! “his own received him not,” and so he was obliged to adopt the Gentiles, and die to save the world. Did he succeed, even then? Is the world saved? Saved! From what? From ignorance? It is all around us. From poverty, vice, crime, sin, misery, and shame? It abounds everywhere.Look into your poor-houses, your prisons, your lunatic asylums; contemplate the whip, the instruments of torture, and of death; ask the murderer, or his victim; listen to the ravings of the maniac, the shrieks of distress, the groans of despair; mark the cruel deeds of the tyrant, the crimes of slavery, and the suffering of the oppressed; count the millions of lives lost by fire, by water, and by the sword; measure the blood spilled, the tears shed, the sighs of agony drawn from the expiring victims on the altar of fanaticism; –and tell me from what the world was saved? And why was it not saved? Why does God still permit these horrors to afflict the race? Does omniscience not know it? Could omnipotence not do it? Would infinite wisdom, power, and goodness allow his children thus to live, to suffer, and to die? No! Humanity revolts against such a supposition.

Ah! Not now, says the believer. Hereafter will he save them. Save them hereafter! From what? From the apple eaten by our mother Eve? What a mockery! If a rich parent were to let his children live in ignorance, poverty, and wretchedness, all their lives, and hold out to them the promise of a fortune at some time hereafter, he would justly be considered a criminal, or a madman. The parent is responsible to his offspring–the Creator to his creature.

The testimony of Revelation has failed. Its account of the creation of the material world is disproved by science. Its account of the creation of man in the image of perfection, is disproved by its own internal evidence. To test the Bible God by justice and benevolence, he could not be good; to test him by reason and knowledge, he could not be wise; to test him by the light of the truth, the rule of consistency, we must come to the inevitable conclusion that, like the Universe of matter and of mind, this pretended Revelation has also failed to demonstrate the existence of a God.

Methinks I hear the the believer say, you are unreasonable; you demand as impossibility; we are finite, and therefore cannot understand, much less define and demonstrate the infinite. Just so! But if I am unreasonable in asking you to demonstrate the existence of the being you wish me to believe in, are you not infinitely more unreasonable to expect me to believe–blame, persecute, and punish me for not believing–in what you have to acknowledge you cannot understand?

But, says the Christian, the world exists, and therefore there must have been a God to create it. That does not follow. The mere fact of its existence does not prove a Creator. Then how came the universe into existence? We do not know but the ignorance mind of man is certainly no proof of the existence of a God. Yet upon that very ignorance has it been predicated, and is maintained. From the little knowledge we have, we are justified in the assertion that the Universe never was created, from the simple fact that not one atom of it can be annihilated. To suppose a Universe created, is to suppose a time when it did not exist, and that is a self-evident absurdity. Besides, where was the Creator before it was created? Nay, where is he now? Outside of that Universe, which means the all in all, above, below, and around? That is another absurdity. is he contained within? Then he can only be a part, for the whole indeed includes all the parts. If only a part, then he cannot be the Creator, for a part cannot create the whole. But the world could not have made itself. True; nor could God have made himself; and if you must have a God to make the world, you will be under the same necessity to have another to make him, and others still to make them, and so on until reason and common sense are at a stand-still.

The same argument applies to a First Cause. We can no more admit of a first than a last cause. What is a first cause? The one immediately preceding the last effect, which was an effect to a cause in its turn–an effect to causes, themselves effects. All we know is an eternal chain of cause and effect, without beginning as without end.

But is there is no evidence of intelligence, of design, and consequently of a designer? I see no evidence of either. What is intelligence? It is not a thing, a substance, an existence in itself, but simply a property of matter, manifesting itself through organizations. We have no knowledge of, nor can we conceive of, intelligence apart from organized matter; and we find that from the smallest and simplest insect, through all the links and gradations in Nature’s great chain, up to Man–just in accordance with the organism, the amount, and the quality of brain, so are the capacities to receive impressions, the power to retain them, and the abilities to manifest and impart them to others; namely, to have its peculiar nature cultivated and developed, so as to bear mental fruits, just as the cultivated earth bears vegetation–physical fruits. Not being able to recognize an independent intelligence, I can perceive no design or designer except in the works of man.

But, says Paley, does the watch not prove a watchmaker–a design, and therefore a designer? How much more does the Universe?Yes; the watch shows design, and the watchmaker did not leave us in the dark on the subject, but clearly and distinctly stamped his design on the face of the watch. Is it as clearly stamped on the Universe? Where is the design, in the oak to grow to its majestic height? In the formation of the wing of the bird, to enable it to fly, in accordance with the promptings of its nature? or in the sportsman to shoot it down while flying? In the butterfly to dance in the sunshine? or its being crushed in the tiny fingers of a child? Design in man’s capacity for the acquisition of knowledge, or in his groping in ignorance? In the necessity to obey the laws of health, or in the violation of them, which produces disease? In the desire to be happy, or in the causes that prevent it, and make him live in toil, misery, and suffering?

The watchmaker not only stamped his design on the face of the watch, but he teaches how to wind it up when it runs down; how to repair the machinery when it is out of order; and how to put a new spring in when the old one is broken, and leave the watch as good as ever. Does the great Watchmaker, as he is called, show the same intelligence and power in keeping, or teaching others to keep, this complicated mechanism–Man–always in good order? and when the life-spring is broken replace it with another, and leave him just the same? If an Infinite Intelligence designed man to possess knowledge, he could not be ignorant; to be healthy, he could not be diseased; to be virtuous, he could not be vicious; to be wise, he could not act so foolish as to trouble himself about the Gods, and neglect his own best interests.

But, says the believer, here is a wonderful adaptation of means to ends; the eye to see, the ear to hear, &c. Yes, this is very wonderful; but not one more jot so, than if the eye were made to hear, and the ear to see. The supporters of Design use sometimes very strange arguments. A friend of mine, a very intelligent man, with quite a scientific taste, endeavored once to convince me of a Providential design, from the fact that a fish, which has always lived in the Mammoth Cave of Kentucky, was entirely blind. Here, said he, is strong evidence; in that dark cave, where nothing was to be seen, the fish need no eyes, and therefore has none. He forget the demonstrable fact that the element of light is indispensable in the formation of the organ of sight, without which it could not be formed, and no Providence, or Gods, could enable the fish to see. That fish story reminds me of the Methodist preacher who proved the wisdom and benevolence of Providence in always placing the rivers near large cities, and death at the end of life; for Oh! my dear hearers, said he, what could have become of us had he placed it at the beginning?

Everything is wonderful, and wonderful just in proportion as we are ignorant; that that proves no “design” or “designer”. But did things come by chance? It exists only in the perverted mind of the believer, who, while insisting that God was the cause of everything, leaves Him without any cause. The Atheist believes as little in the one as in the other. He knows that no effect could exist without an adequate cause, and that everything in the Universe is governed by laws.

The Universe is one vast chemical laboratory, in constant operation, by her internal forces. The laws or principles of attraction, cohesion, and repulsion, produce in never-ending succession the phenomena of composition, decomposition, and recomposition. The how, we are too ignorant to understand, to modest to presume, and too honest to profess. Had man been a patient and impartial inquirer, and not with childish presumption attributed everything he could not understand, to supernatural causes, given names to hide his ignorance, but observed the operations of Nature, he would undoubtedly have know more, been wiser, and happier.

As it is, Superstition has ever been the greatest impediment to the acquisition of knowledge. Every progressive step of man clashed against the two-edged sword of Religion, to whose narrow restrictions he had but too often to succumb, or march onward at the expense of interest, reputation, and even life itself.

But, we are told, that Religion is natural; the belief in a God universal. Were it natural, then it would indeed be universal, but it is not. We have ample evidence to the contrary. According to Dr. Livingstone, there are whole tribes or nations, civilized, moral, and virtuous; yes, so honest that they expose their goods for sale without guard or value set upon them, trusting to the honesty of the purchaser to pay its proper price.

Yet these people have not the remotest idea of a God, and he found it impossible to impart it to them. And in all the ages of the world, some of the most civilized, the wisest, and the best, were entire unbelievers; only they dared not openly avow it, except at the risk of their lives. Proscription, the torture and the stake, were found most efficient means to seal the lips of heretics; and though the march of progress has broken the infernal machines, and extinguished the fires of the Inquisition, the proscription, and the more refined but not less cruel and bitter persecutions of an intolerant and bigoted public opinion, in Protestant countries, as well as in Catholic, on account of belief, are quite enough to prevent men from honestly avowing their true sentiments upon the subject. Hence there are few possessed of the moral courage of a Humboldt.

If the belief in a god were natural, there would be no need to teach it. Children would possess it as well as adults, the layman as the priest, the heathen as much as the missionary. We don;t have to teach the general elements of human nature;–the five senses, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling. They are universal; so would religion be were it natural, but it is not. On the contrary, it is an interesting and demonstrable fact, that all children are Atheists, and were religion not inculcated into their minds they would remain so. Even as it is, they are great sceptics, until made sensible of the potent weapon by which religion has ever been propagated, namely, fear–fear of the lash of public opinion here, and a jealous, vindictive God hereafter. No; there is no religion in human nature, nor human nature in religion. It is purely artificial, the result of education, while Atheism is natural, and, were the human mind not perverted and bewildered by the mysteries and follies of superstition, would be universal.

But the people have been made to believe that were it not for religion, the world would be destroyed–man would become a monster, chaos and confusion would reign supreme. These erroneous notions conceived in ignorance, propagated by superstition, and kept alive by an interested and corrupt priesthood who fatten on the credulity of the public, are very difficult to be eradicated.

But sweep all the belief on the supernatural from the face of the earth, and the world would remain just the same. The seasons would follow each other in their regular succession; the stars would shine in the firmament; the sun would shed his benign and vivifying influence of light and heat upon us; the clouds would discharge their burden in gentle and refreshing showers; and cultivated fields would bring forth vegetation; summer would ripen the golden grain, ready for harvest; the trees would bear fruits; the birds would sing in accordance with their happy instinct, and all Nature would smile as joyously around us as ever. Nor would man degenerate. Oh! no. His nature, too would remain the same. He would have to be obedient to the physical, mental, and moral laws of his being, or to suffer the natural penalty for their violation; observe the mandates of society, or receive the punishment. His affections would be just as warm, the love of self-preservation as strong, the desire for happiness and fear of pain as great. He would love freedom, justice, and truth, and hate oppression, fraud, and falsehood, as much as ever.

Sweep all belief in the supernatural from the globe, and you would chase away the whole fraternity of spectres, ghosts, and hobgoblins, which have so befogged and bewildered the human mind, that hardly a clear ray of the light of Reason can penetrate it. You would cleanse and purify the heart of the noxious, poisonous weed of superstition, with its bitter, deadly fruits–hypocrisy, bigotry, and intolerance, and fill it with charity and forbearance towards erring humanity. You would give man courage to sustain him in trials and misfortune, sweeten his temper, give him a new zest for the duties, the virtues, and the pleasures of life.

Morality does not depend on the belief in any religion. History gives ample evidence that the more belief the less virtue and goodness. Nor need we go back to ancient times to see the crimes and atrocities perpetrated under its sanction. Look at the present crisis–at the South with 4,000,000 of human beings in slavery, bought and sold like brute chattels under the sanction of religion and of God, which the Reverends Van Dykes and Raphalls of the North fully endorse, and the South complains that the reforms in the North are owing to Infidelity. Morality depends on accurate knowledge of the nature of man, of the laws that govern his being, the principles of right, of justice, and of humanity, and the conditions requisite to make him healthy, rational, virtuous, and happy.

The belief in a God has failed to produce this desirable end. On the contrary, while it could not make man better, it has made him worse; for in preferring blind faith in things unseen and unknown to virtue and morality, in directing his attention from the known to the unknown, from the real tot he imaginary, from the certain here to a fancied hereafter, from the fear of himself, of the natural result of vice and crime, to some whimsical despot, it perverted his judgment, degraded him in his own estimation, corrupted his feelings, destroyed his sense of right, of justice, and of truth, and made him a moral coward and a hypocrite. The lash of a hereafter is no guide for us here. Distant fear cannot control present passion. It is much easier to confess your sins in the dark, than to acknowledge them in the light; to make it up with a God you don’t see, than with a man whom you do. Besides, religion has always left a back door open for sinners to creep out of at the eleventh hour. But teach man to do right, to love justice, to revere truth, to be virtuous, not because a God would reward or punish him hereafter, but because it is right; and as every act brings its own reward or its own punishment, it would best promote his interest by promoting the welfare of society. Let him feel the great truth that our highest happiness consists in making all around us happy, and it would be an infinitely truer and safer guide for man to a life of usefulness, virtue, and morality, than all the beliefs in all the Gods ever imagined.

The more refined and transcendental religionists have often said to me, if you do away with religion, you would destroy the most beautiful element of human nature–the feeling of devotion and reverence, ideality, and sublimity. This, too, is an error. These sentiments would be cultivated just the same, only we would transfer the devotion from the unknown to the known; from the Gods who, if they existed, would not need it, to man who does. Instead of reverencing an imaginary existence, man would learn to revere justice and truth. Ideality and sublimity would refine his feelings, and enable him to admire and enjoy the ever-changing beauties of Nature; the various and almost unlimited powers and capacities of the human mind; the exquisite and indescribable charms of a well-cultivated, highly refined, virtuous, noble man.

But not only have the priests tried to make the very term Atheism odious, as if it would destroy all of good and beautiful in Nature, but some of the reformers, not having the moral courage to avow their own sentiments, wishing to be popular, fearing lest their reforms would be considered Infidel, (as all reforms assuredly are,) shield themselves from the stigma, by joining in the tirade against Atheism, and associate it with everything that is vile, with the crime of slavery, the corruptions of the Church, and all the vices imaginable. This is false, and they know it. Atheism protests against this injustice. No one had a right to give the term a false, a forced interpretation, to suit his own purposes (this applies also to some of the Infidels who stretch and force the term Atheist out of its legitimate significance). As well we might use the terms Episcopalian, Unitarian, Universalist, to signify vice and corruption, as the term Atheist, which means simply a disbelief in a God, because finding no demonstration of his existence, man’s reason will not allow him to believe, nor his conviction to play the hypocrite, and profess what he does not believe. Give it its true significance, and he will abide the consequences; but don’t fasten upon it the vices belonging to yourselves. Hypocrisy is the mother of a large family!

In conclusion, the Atheist says to the honest conscientious believer, Though I cannot believe in your God which you have failed to demonstrate, I believe in man; if I have no faith in your religion, I have faith, unbounded, unshaken faith in the principles of right, of justice, and humanity. Whatever good you are willing to do for the sake of your God, I am full as willing to do for the sake of man. But the monstrous crimes the believer perpetrated in persecuting and exterminating his fellowman on account of differences of belief, the Atheist, knowing that belief is not voluntary, but depends on evidence, and therefore there can be no merit in the belief of any religions, nor demerit in a disbelief in all of them, could never be guilty of. Whatever good you would do without fear of punishment, the Atheist would do simply because it is good; and being so, he would receive the far surer and more certain reward, springing from well-doing, which would constitute his pleasure, and promote his happiness.

‘A Defense of Atheism’ by Ernestine Rose. Reproduced with permission from Women Without Superstition: No Gods – No Masters, The Collected Writings of Women Freethinkers of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Edited by Annie Laurie Gaylor. Madison, Wisconsin 1997.
https://ffrf.org/shop/women-without-superstition-no-gods-no-masters

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* Note: In the paragraph regarding the story of Noah’s flood, Ernestine Rose could be interpreted as having a negative view of human nature, or she could be satirizing religious views of human nature as intrinsically evil and in need of redemption from some power outside of itself. From her other writings, it appears to be the latter; in her writings overall, she reveals her more positive view of human nature. For example, consider this quote: “I have endeavored to the best of my powers and ability to serve the cause and progress of humanity, to advocate what seemed to be the truth; to defend human nature from the libel cast upon it by superstition…” (Dorress-Worters, Paula. Mistress of Herself: Speeches and Letters of Ernestine Rose, Early Women’s Rights Leader. The Feminist Press at CUNY, 2008, p. 208)

In Her Own Words: Solitude of Self, by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1892

Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee: We have been speaking before Committees of the Judiciary for the last twenty years, and we have gone over all the arguments in favor of a sixteenth amendment which are familiar to all you gentlemen; therefore, it will not be necessary that I should repeat them again.
 
The point I wish plainly to bring before you on this occasion is the individuality of each human soul; our Protestant idea, the right of individual conscience and judgment–our republican idea, individual citizenship. In discussing the rights of woman, we are to consider, first, what belongs to her as an individual, in a world of her own, the arbiter of her own destiny, an imaginary Robinson Crusoe with her woman Friday on a solitary island. Her rights under such circumstances are to use all her faculties for her own safety and happiness.
 
Secondly, if we consider her as a citizen, as a member of a great nation, she must have the same rights as all other members, according to the fundamental principles of our Government.
 
Thirdly, viewed as a woman, an equal factor in civilization, her rights and duties are still the same–individual happiness and development.
 
Fourthly, it is only the incidental relations of life, such as mother, wife, sister, daughter, that may involve some special duties and training. In the usual discussion in regard to woman’s sphere, such as men as Herbert Spencer, Frederic Harrison, and Grant Allen uniformly subordinate her rights and duties as an individual, as a citizen, as a woman, to the necessities of these incidental relations, some of which a large class of woman may never assume. In discussing the sphere of man we do not decide his rights as an individual, as a citizen, as a man by his duties as a father, a husband, a brother, or a son, relations some of which he may never fill. Moreover he would be better fitted for these very relations and whatever special work he might choose to do to earn his bread by the complete development of all his faculties as an individual.
 
Just so with woman. The education that will fit her to discharge the duties in the largest sphere of human usefulness will best fit her for whatever special work she may be compelled to do.
 
The isolation of every human soul and the necessity of self-dependence must give each individual the right, to choose his own surroundings.
 
The strongest reason for giving woman all the opportunities for higher education, for the full development of her faculties, forces of mind and body; for giving her the most enlarged freedom of thought and action; a complete emancipation from all forms of bondage, of custom, dependence, superstition; from all the crippling influences of fear, is the solitude and personal responsibility of her own individual life. The strongest reason why we ask for woman a voice in the government under which she lives; in the religion she is asked to believe; equality in social life, where she is the chief factor; a place in the trades and professions, where she may earn her bread, is because of her birthright to self-sovereignty; because, as an individual, she must rely on herself. No matter how much women prefer to lean, to be protected and supported, nor how much men desire to have them do so, they must make the voyage of life alone, and for safety in an emergency they must know something of the laws of navigation. To guide our own craft, we must be captain, pilot, engineer; with chart and compass to stand at the wheel; to match the wind and waves and know when to take in the sail, and to read the signs in the firmament over all. It matters not whether the solitary voyager is man or woman.
 
Nature having endowed them equally, leaves them to their own skill and judgment in the hour of danger, and, if not equal to the occasion, alike they perish.
 
The appreciate the importance of fitting every human soul for independent action, think for a moment of the immeasurable solitude of self. We come into the world alone, unlike all who have gone before us; we leave it alone under circumstances peculiar to ourselves. No mortal ever has been, no mortal over will be like the soul just launched on the sea of life. There can never again be just such environments as make up the infancy, youth and manhood of this one. Nature never repeats herself, and the possibilities of one human soul will never be found in another. No one has ever found two blades of ribbon grass alike, and no one will never find two human beings alike. Seeing, then, what must be the infinite diversity in human, character, we can in a measure appreciate the loss to a nation when any large class of the people in uneducated and unrepresented in the government. We ask for the complete development of every individual, first, for his own benefit and happiness. In fitting out an army we give each soldier his own knapsack, arms, powder, his blanket, cup, knife, fork and spoon. We provide alike for all their individual necessities, then each man bears his own burden.
 
Again we ask complete individual development for the general good; for the consensus of the competent on the whole round of human interest; on all questions of national life, and here each man must bear his share of the general burden. It is sad to see how soon friendless children are left to bear their own burdens before they can analyse their feelings; before they can even tell their joys and sorrows, they are thrown on their own resources. The great lesson that nature seems to teach us at all ages is self-dependence, self-protection, self-support. What a touching instance of a child’s solitude; of that hunger of heart for love and recognition, in the case of the little girl who helped to dress a Christmas tree for the children of the family in which she served. On finding there was no present for herself she slipped away in the darkness and spent the night in an open field sitting on a stone, and when found in the morning was weeping as if her heart would break. No mortal will ever know the thoughts that passed through the mind of that friendless child in the long hours of that cold night, with only the silent stars to keep her company. The mention of her case in the daily papers moved many generous hearts to send her presents, but in the hours of her keenest sufferings she was thrown wholly on herself for consolation.
 
In youth our most bitter disappointments, our brightest hopes and ambitions are known only to otherwise, even our friendship and love we never fully share with another; there is something of every passion in every situation we conceal. Even so in our triumphs and our defeats.
 
The successful candidate for Presidency and his opponent each have a solitude peculiarly his own, and good form forbid either in speak of his pleasure or regret. The solitude of the king on his throne and the prisoner in his cell differs in character and degree, but it is solitude nevertheless.
 
We ask no sympathy from others in the anxiety and agony of a broken friendship or shattered love. When death sunders our nearest ties, alone we sit in the shadows of our affliction. Alike mid the greatest triumphs and darkest tragedies of life we walk alone. On the divine heights of human attainments, eulogized land worshiped as a hero or saint, we stand alone. In ignorance, poverty, and vice, as a pauper or criminal, alone we starve or steal; alone we suffer the sneers and rebuffs of our fellows; alone we are hunted and hounded through dark courts and alleys, in by-ways and highways; alone we stand in the judgment seat; alone in the prison cell we lament our crimes and misfortunes; alone we expiate them on the gallows. In hours like these we realize the awful solitude of individual life, its pains, its penalties, its responsibilities; hours in which the youngest and most helpless are thrown on their own resources for guidance and consolation. Seeing then that life must ever be a march and a battle, that each soldier must be equipped for his own protection, it is the height of cruelty to rob the individual of a single natural right.
 
To throw obstacle in the way of a complete education is like putting out the eyes; to deny the rights of property, like cutting off the hands. To deny political equality is to rob the ostracised of all self-respect; of credit in the market place; of recompense in the world of work; of a voice among those who make and administer the law; a choice in the jury before whom they are tried, and in the judge who decides their punishment. Shakespeare’s play of Titus Andronicus contains a terrible satire on woman’s position in the nineteenth century–“Rude men” (the play tells us) “seized the king’s daughter, cut out her tongue, out off her hands, and then bade her go call for water and wash her hands.” What a picture of woman’s position. Robbed of her natural rights, handicapped by law and custom at every turn, yet compelled to fight her own battles, and in the emergencies of life to fall back on herself for protection.
 
The girl of sixteen, thrown on the world to support herself, to make her own place in society, to resist the temptations that surround her and maintain a spotless integrity, must do all this by native force or superior education. She does not acquire this power by being trained to trust others and distrust herself. If she wearies of the struggle, finding it hard work to swim upstream, and allow herself to drift with the current, she will find plenty of company, but not one to share her misery in the hour of her deepest humiliation. If she tried to retrieve her position, to conceal the past, her life is hedged about with fears last willing hands should tear the veil from what she fain would hide. Young and friendless, she knows the bitter solitude of self.
How the little courtesies of life on the surface of society, deemed so important from man towards woman, fade into utter insignificance in view of the deeper tragedies in which she must play her part alone, where no human aid is possible.
 
The young wife and mother, at the head of some establishment with a kind husband to shield her from the adverse winds of life, with wealth, fortune and position, has a certain harbor of safety, occurs against the ordinary ills of life. But to manage a household, have a desirable influence in society, keep her friends and the affections of her husband, train her children and servants well, she must have rare common sense, wisdom, diplomacy, and a knowledge of human nature. To do all this she needs the cardinal virtues and the strong points of character that the most successful statesman possesses.
 
An uneducated woman, trained to dependence, with no resources in herself must make a failure of any position in life. But society says women do not need a knowledge of the world, the liberal training that experience in public life must give, all the advantages of collegiate education; but when for the lock of all this, the woman’s happiness is wrecked, alone she bears her humiliation; and the attitude of the weak and the ignorant in indeed pitiful in the wild chase for the price of life they are ground to powder.
 
In age, when the pleasures of youth are passed, children grown up, married and gone, the hurry and hustle of life in a measure over, when the hands are weary of active service, when the old armchair and the fireside are the chosen resorts, then men and women alike must fall back on their own resources. If they cannot find companionship in books, if they have no interest in the vital questions of the hour, no interest in watching the consummation of reforms, with which they might have been identified, they soon pass into their dotage. The more fully the faculties of the mind are developed and kept in use, the longer the period of vigor and active interest in all around us continues. If from a lifelong participation in public affairs a woman feels responsible for the laws regulating our system of education, the discipline of our jails and prisons, the sanitary conditions of our private homes, public buildings, and thoroughfares, an interest in commerce, finance, our foreign relations, in any or all of these questions, here solitude will at least be respectable, and she will not be driven to gossip or scandal for entertainment.
 
The chief reason for opening to every soul the doors to the whole round of human duties an pleasures is the individual development thus attained, the resources thus provided under all circumstances to mitigate the solitude that at times must come to everyone. I once asked Prince Krapotkin, the Russian nihilist, how he endured his long years in prison, deprived of books, pen, ink, and paper. “Ah,” he said, “I thought out many questions in which I had a deep interest. In the pursuit of an idea I took no note of time. When tired of solving knotty problems I recited all the beautiful passages in prose or verse I have ever learned. I became acquainted with myself and my own resources. I had a world of my own, a vast empire, that no Russian jailer or Czar could invade.” Such is the value of liberal thought and broad culture when shut off from all human companionship, bringing comfort and sunshine within even the four walls of a prison cell.
 
As women of times share a similar fate, should they not have all the consolation that the most liberal education can give? Their suffering in the prisons of St. Petersburg; in the long, weary marches to Siberia, and in the mines, working side by side with men, surely call for all the self-support that the most exalted sentiments of heroism can give. When suddenly roused at midnight, with the startling cry of “fire! fire!” to find the house over their heads in flames, do women wait for men to point the way to safety? And are the men, equally bewildered and half suffocated with smoke, in a position to more than try to save themselves?
At such times the most timid women have shown a courage and heroism in saving their husbands and children that has surprise everybody. Inasmuch, then, as woman shares equally the joys and sorrows of time and eternity, is it not the height of presumption in man to propose to represent her at the ballot box an the throne of grace, do her voting in the state, her praying in the church, and to assume the position of priest at the family alter.
 
Nothing strengthens the judgment and quickens the conscience like individual responsibility. Nothing adds such dignity to character as the recognition of one’s self-sovereignty; the right to an equal place, every where conceded; a place earned by personal merit, not an artificial attainment, by inheritance, wealth, family, and position. Seeing, then that the responsibilities of life rests equally on man and woman, that their destiny is the same, they need the same preparation for time and eternity. The talk of sheltering woman from the fierce sterns of life is the sheerest mockery, for they beat on her from every point of the compass, just as they do on man, and with more fatal results, for he has been trained to protect himself, to resist, to conquer. Such are the facts in human experience, the responsibilities of individual. Rich and poor, intelligent and ignorant, wise and foolish, virtuous and vicious, man and woman, it is ever the same, each soul must depend wholly on itself.
 
Whatever the theories may be of woman’s dependence on man, in the supreme moments of her life he can not bear her burdens. Alone she goes to the gates of death to give life to every man that is born into the world. No one can share her fears, on one mitigate her pangs; and if her sorrow is greater than she can bear, alone she passes beyond the gates into the vast unknown.
 
From the mountain tops of Judea, long ago, a heavenly voice bade His disciples, “Bear ye one another’s burdens,” but humanity has not yet risen to that point of self-sacrifice, and if ever so willing, how few the burdens are that one soul can bear for another. In the highways of Palestine; in prayer and fasting on the solitary mountain top; in the Garden of Gethsemane; before the judgment seat of Pilate; betrayed by one of His trusted disciples at His last supper; in His agonies on the cross, even Jesus of Nazareth, in these last sad days on earth, felt the awful solitude of self. Deserted by man, in agony he cries, “My God! My God! why hast Thou forsaken me?” And so it ever must be in the conflicting scenes of life, on the long weary march, each one walks alone. We may have many friends, love, kindness, sympathy and charity to smooth our pathway in everyday life, but in the tragedies and triumphs of human experience each moral stands alone.
 
But when all artificial trammels are removed, and women are recognized as individuals, responsible for their own environments, thoroughly educated for all the positions in life they may be called to fill; with all the resources in themselves that liberal though and broad culture can give; guided by their own conscience an judgment; trained to self-protection by a healthy development of the muscular system and skill in the use of weapons of defense, and stimulated to self-support by the knowledge of the business world and the pleasure that pecuniary independence must ever give; when women are trained in this way they will, in a measure, be fitted for those hours of solitude that come alike to all, whether prepared or otherwise. As in our extremity we must depend on ourselves, the dictates of wisdom point of complete individual development.
In talking of education how shallow the argument that each class must be educated for the special work it proposed to do, and all those faculties not needed in this special walk must lie dormant and utterly wither for want of use, when, perhaps, these will be the very faculties needed in life’s greatest emergencies. Some say, Where is the use of drilling girls in the languages, the Sciences, in law, medicine, theology? As wives, mothers, housekeepers, cooks, they need a different curriculum from boys who are to fill all positions. The chief cooks in our great hotels and ocean steamers are men. In large cities men run the bakeries; they make our bread, cake and pies. They manage the laundries; they are now considered our best milliners and dressmakers. Because some men fill these departments of usefulness, shall we regulate the curriculum in Harvard and Yale to their present necessities? If not why this talk in our best colleges of a curriculum for girls who are crowding into the trades and professions; teachers in all our public schools rapidly filling many lucrative and honorable positions in life? They are showing too, their calmness and courage in the most trying hours of human experience.
 
You have probably all read in the daily papers of the terrible storm in the Bay of Biscay when a tidal wave such havoc on the shore, wrecking vessels, unroofing houses and carrying destruction everywhere. Among other buildings the woman’s prison was demolished. Those who escaped saw men struggling to reach the shore. They promptly by clasping hands made a chain of themselves and pushed out into the sea, again and again, at the risk of their lives until they had brought six men to shore, carried them to a shelter, and did all in their power for their comfort and protection.
 
What especial school of training could have prepared these women for this sublime moment of their lives. In times like this humanity rises above all college curriculums, and recognizes Nature as the greatest of all teachers in the hour of danger and death. Women are already the equals of men in the whole of ream of thought, in art, science, literature, and government. With telescope vision they explore the starry firmament, and bring back the history of the planetary world. With chart and compass they pilot ships across the mighty deep, and with skillful finger send electric messages around the globe. In galleries of art the beauties of nature and the virtues of humanity are immortalized by them on their canvas and by their inspired touch dull blocks of marble are transformed into angels of light.
 
In music they speak again the language of Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, and are worthy interpreters of their great thoughts. The poetry and novels of the century are theirs, and they have touched the keynote of reform in religion, politics, and social life. They fill the editor’s and professor’s chair, and plead at the bar of justice, walk the wards of the hospital, and speak from the pulpit and the platform; such is the type of womanhood that an enlightened public sentiment welcomes today, and such the triumph of the facts of life over the false theories of the past.
 
Is it, then, consistent to hold the developed woman of this day within the same narrow political limits as the dame with the spinning wheel and knitting needle occupied in the past? No! no! Machinery has taken the labors of woman as well as man on its tireless shoulders; the loom and the spinning wheel are but dreams of the past; the pen, the brush, the easel, the chisel, have taken their places, while the hopes and ambitions of women are essentially changed.
 
We see reason sufficient in the outer conditions of human being for individual liberty and development, but when we consider the self dependence of every human soul we see the need of courage, judgment, and the exercise of every faculty of mind and body, strengthened and developed by use, in woman as well as man.
 
Whatever may be said of man’s protecting power in ordinary conditions, mid all the terrible disasters by land and sea, in the supreme moments of danger, alone, woman must ever meet the horrors of the situation; the Angel of Death even makes no royal pathway for her. Man’s love and sympathy enter only into the sunshine of our lives. In that solemn solitude of self, that links us with the immeasurable and the eternal, each soul lives alone forever. A recent writer says:
 
I remember once, in crossing the Atlantic, to have gone upon the deck of the ship at midnight, when a dense black cloud enveloped the sky, and the great deep was roaring madly under the lashes of demoniac winds. My feelings was not of danger or fear (which is a base surrender of the immortal soul), but of utter desolation and loneliness; a little speck of life shut in by a tremendous darkness. Again I remember to have climbed the slopes of the Swiss Alps, up beyond the point where vegetation ceases, and the stunted conifers no longer struggle against the unfeeling blasts. Around me lay a huge confusion of rocks, out of which the gigantic ice peaks shot into the measureless blue of the heavens, and again my only feeling was the awful solitude.
 
And yet, there is a solitude, which each and every one of us has always carried with him, more inaccessible than the ice-cold mountains, more profound than the midnight sea; the solitude of self. Our inner being, which we call our self, no eye nor touch of man or angel has ever pierced. It is more hidden than the caves of the gnome; the sacred adytum of the oracle; the hidden chamber of Eleusinian mystery, for to it only omniscience is permitted to enter.
 
Such is individual life. Who, I ask you, can take, dare take, on himself the rights, the duties, the responsibilities of another human soul?
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‘Solitude of Self’. Address Delivered by Mrs. Stanton before the Committee of the Judiciary of the United States Congress, Monday, January 18, 1892 (In the Public Domain) Source: National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection (Library of Congress) 
http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/nawbib:@field(NUMBER+@band(rbnawsa+n8358)):

Ernestine Rose and Elizabeth Cady Stanton Sites, Part 3

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014
This is my last day in NYC on my Ernestine and Elizabeth pilgrimage.
First, I head north on the number 4 train, to the last stop at Woodlawn. It takes me right across the street from the gate to Woodlawn Cemetery, at 517 E 233rd St, The Bronx, New York City, NY 10470, where Elizabeth Cady Stanton is buried.

It’s a cold, windy day, and I’m so glad I piled on all the wool clothes I brought with me; Californian that I am, I was overly optimistic about the weather when I packed for the trip, as I am wont to do. But the sky is a beautiful azure blue, and Woodlawn is a beautiful place, the fall leaves adding vibrancy to a scene of serene green lawns and gray marble. Elizabeth is buried here with her husband and other family. 

From the Jerome Avenue gate, I walk down Central, with one beautiful view before me after another, after another…

A friendly man who works here had given me directions, and after I walk for a little while, he’s about to pass me in his little work car. He’s driving around the park grounds, clearing the drives and paths of the large branches that the strong winds were knocking off the trees. He pulls up and offers me a ride to a spot nearer Elizabeth’s grave, since he sees me apparently looking around and wondering if I’m going the right way. I accept his offer so I can hear any stories he might have to tell about the cemetery and those resting there. Instead, we chat a little about sports and the weather, between stops now and again to clear another branch, and about California, about which he has a lot of questions.

He drops me off near her final resting place between Observatory and Lake, a few plots east of Observatory, on the north side of the road.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Family Gravestones at Woodlawn Cemetery, New York City, Photo 2014 by Amy Cools

 The simple stone between Henry Brewster Stanton’s on the left (her husband) and Daniel Cady Stanton’s on the right (her son) is Elizabeth’s, with her initials and years of life etched on the top. Some of her story, of her seven children, and other descendants, is etched into the large monument:

As you can see, many of her female descendants felt free and inspired to pursue careers and interests that were closed to women on Elizabeth’s time, and were unusual even in theirs, decades later. Harriet Stanton Blatch, as told in my previous piece, carried on her mother’s work as a suffragette, as did her granddaughter, Nora Stanton Blatch, who became a civil engineer as well.

As I stand at Elizabeth’s grave, and call to mind all that she did to make my life and all the lives of my fellow women free and independent, I feel deeply moved.

I am so, so grateful, and humbled by her boldness and bravery when she took such a stand against centuries of oppression of women, when few stood with her on that side of the struggle. Every woman, be she single, coupled, or married, professional or full-time homemaker, a mother or without children, have her to thank, because she did so much to make it possible for her to choose her own way, and to prevent men from forcing her to live according to their whims and desires.

She did it all: she was a stay-at-home mother of a large brood of seven children for many years before she became a professional public speaker and author; she was a wife who pursued her own interests independently of her husband when her children were sufficiently grown, and had a vibrant and active single life after his death; she was an intellectual outside of academia; she was a fierce critic of religion who was a close ally of religious leaders so long as their beliefs supported the cause for women’s liberty.

Elizabeth, in short, was a powerhouse.

Then onto the last visit of my trip: the site of the original Church of the Puritans, where the ‘old Tiffany store’ stood, which I had missed on my second day of site-hunting. of 15th St and Broadway (download the PDF to see the 1911 New York Times article showing the original church and its location at the southeast corner). There’s a series of bronze plaques embedded into the sidewalk around the perimeter of the park, with scenes of the park in its various phases. This one shows the southeast corner of Union Square, and if you compare the image of the central building portrayed in the plaque, the tallest one with the pointy tower on the left and the flat-top tower on the right, you can see it’s the same Church of the Puritans that would have stood there in 1866 convention, at the time of the convention.

The southeast section of Union Square Park, near the George Washington Equestrian Statue and to the left if you’re heading southward, was built where the church stood; as you can see from the 1911 New York Times article and the plaques, Union Square Park changed in size and shape many times over its history.

As you may recall, the Church of the Puritans (it’s also referred to as Dr. Cheever’s church in many of the old sources) was the site of the eleventh Women’s Rights National Convention, where the American Equal Rights Association was formed, where Elizabeth discussed her plans to run as the first female candidate for Congress, and both Ernestine and Elizabeth were featured speakers. (See my previous piece for more of the story.)

Thus ends my voyage of discovery in New York City, and again, I’ve had the most marvelous time, and learned so much, following in the footsteps of some of my favorite thinkers. There really is something about visiting actual locations where these important things happened and these wonderful people went about their lives; it centers you, focuses you, in much the same way religious idols or artifacts inspire the believer and the archaeologist. But I’ll soon be returning to Ernestine and Elizabeth’s most important legacy: their ideas, and the story of their work on behalf of the liberation of all women, and of all dispossessed and disenfranchised people. Until then….

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Sources and Inspiration:

“American Equal Rights Association (AERA)”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014.
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/19648/American-Equal-Rights-Association-AERA

Belden, E. Porter. New York, Past, Present, and Future: Comprising a History of the City of New York. New York, 1849. http://books.google.com/books/about/New_York_Past_Present_and_Future.html?id=Jv-nXd8W8b0C

The Church of the Puritans, Presbyterian: 130th Street, near 5th Ave, New York. Anonymous. 1889. https://archive.org/details/churchofpuritans00chur

‘Contrasts in New York City Development Strikingly Seen Around Union Square’. New York Times, May 21st 1911. (Download PDF to see full article)http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9B0DEFDA1431E233A25752C2A9639C946096D6CF

Dorress-Worters, Paula. Mistress of Herself: Speeches and Letters of Ernestine Rose, Early Women’s Rights Leader. The Feminist Press at CUNY, 2008

Elizabeth Cady Stanton. (2014, November 4). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

Ernestine Rose. (2014, July 7). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

Find A Grave (website)  http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=73495804

Freedman, Janet. ‘Ernestine Rose.’ Jewish Women’s Archive. 
http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/rose-ernestine“Harriot Stanton Blatch,” Biography.com (website) 2014

http://www.biography.com/people/harriot-stanton-blatch-9215141

‘Nora Stanton Blatch’. IEEE Global History Network (website) 
http://www.ieeeghn.org/wiki/index.php/Nora_Stanton_Blatch

Burns, Ken. Not For Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Documentary film (1999, November 7). ” href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Not_for_Ourselves_Alone”>http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Not_for_Ourselves_Alone
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Josyn Gage. History of Woman Suffrage, volumes 1 and 2. Rochester, N.Y., 1881 and 1887
https://archive.org/stream/historyofwomansu01stanuoft#page/n11/mode/2up

https://archive.org/stream/historyofwomansu02stanuoft#page/n5/mode/2upThe Woodlawn Cemetery (website) http://www.thewoodlawncemetery.org/”>http://www.thewoodlawncemetery.org/

Ernestine Rose and Elizabeth Cady Stanton Sites, Part 2

Central Stairway of the Metropolitan Opera House

Central Stairway of the Metropolitan Opera House

I commence my second day in New York City from mid-Manhattan, and work my way up.

I start with the Metropolitan Opera House, where a grand celebration of the life and work of Elizabeth Cady Stanton was held on her eightieth birthday, November 12th, 1895, arranged by the National Council of Women and Susan B. Anthony, her fifty-year partner in the cause of women’s rights.

The Met is currently located at the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts, several blocks west of the south end of Central Park, between 62nd and 65th Streets and Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues.

As you can no doubt recognize from its decidedly mid-20th century style, this is not the original building, and as I later discover, not the site of the original one. With this series, as with my first on David Hume, I research sites to visit only briefly before I set out since I want these journeys to lead me to new and unexpected discoveries.

New York City's Metropolitan Opera House

New York City’s Metropolitan Opera House today

As I mention in the previous piece in this series, I learn about New York City’s penchant for tearing down and building anew in the course of this travel series. My sister Therese described it best, after reading my account of the first day: ‘Sounds like you went on the most fun scavenger hunt ever!’ That’s really what this series is intended to be, a hunt for the sense of the places and times of these heroes of thought that I admire, so I hope you don’t mind the twists and turns in the story as I occasionally discover myself at the wrong location the first time around.

Here’s the original Met where Elizabeth’s birthday celebration was held, at 39th and Broadway Streets:

Old Metropolitan Opera House, New York City, image public domain via Library of Congress

Old Metropolitan Opera House, New York City, image public domain via Library of Congress

On the first day of my trip, I pass by this spot, since I walk to the Lower East Side from Chelsea via Broadway, but I take no pictures of it since I only learn later that the Met had been relocated from its original site.

Elizabeth was deeply moved to be honored in such spectacular fashion during this event. In the early years of her activism, when she was obliged to stay home with her seven children, she was often frustrated that she was unable to be present in person as the women’s rights movements progressed and grew. She had worked closely with Susan B. Anthony through several decades, writing speeches, letters, and articles, and devising campaign tactics to introduce and pass legislation to expand the rights of women. While she was widely published and she wrote prodigiously on its behalf, she had often felt removed from the movement, a ‘caged lion’, as Susan would say. At this birthday celebration, however, Elizabeth could have no doubts any longer at the instrumental role she played, and the gratitude of countless women for the freedoms she had helped them win.

Next, I go to Harlem, the northernmost of my destinations planned for the day, to work my way south since I want to end up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (for a lovely art-filled evening; though I inquire, I find no images or artifacts associated with Ernestine or Elizabeth at the Met).

This time, I’m seeking the Church of the Puritans, site of the first Women’s Rights convention after the Civil War in 1866, where both Elizabeth and Ernestine Rose were featured speakers, Elizabeth’s campaign as the first woman to run for Congress in 1866 was discussed (she received 24 votes!) , and the American Equal Rights Association was formed. The AERA would hold its first annual meeting the next year there in 1867. The AERA was formed in order to focus on a broader agenda: to seek expansion not only of women’s rights, but to equal rights ‘irrespective of race, color, or sex’.

The Church of the Puritans I visit is at 15 W. 130th St near 5th Ave, Harlem, a neo-Gothic style church that looks very like it originally did when it was built in the 1870’s…. what!?! I exclaim to myself, when I’m at the New York City Public Library the next morning, doing more research for this piece. The meeting was held in 1866, so it couldn’t be the same building! Sigghhh. That’s the second site in a row that I visit that day, it turns out, that wasn’t the original one.

Though I’m disappointed for a moment, I get over it pretty quickly. To begin with, I enjoy my bus ride to Harlem, I ‘ve never been there before and I’m really enjoying learning more about New York City.

Secondly, I meet this really nice lady in front of the church (it’s now called St. Ambrose) who I approach out front, to see if I can take a look inside. She’s evidently waiting for a man to return who was doing some work there. I ask her if the church is open to the public, and she said yes, but only during services. She asks me if I live around there and I tell her, briefly, about the women’s rights movement history associated with the Church of the Puritans, its former name. She’s friendly, and we chat a bit; she invites me to come to church on Sunday and meet the minister. The church is pretty, is on a lovely street, and has an interesting history of its own.

Museum of the City of New York, photo 2014 by Amy Cools

Museum of the City of New York

Then I headed for the Museum of the City of New York, a small and lovely museum, with lovely natural light (even in its windowless areas, it’s beautifully lit) and nicely curated, well-proportioned galleries. It’s at 1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd St, nearer the north end of Central Park on the east side.

In 2009 the Museum of the City of New York recognized Ernestine Rose on its NYC400 list of those who have had the greatest impact and influence on the world’s greatest city.’ The MCNY also hosted a celebration of Ernestine’s life on April 27th, 2010, the most significant event I could find in recent years in New York City, for this woman who did so much in the cause of human rights, but has been so long mostly forgotten.

Main stairway and light installation at the Museum of the City of New York

As I mention in a previous post in this series, it appears clear from my reading and research thus far that Ernestine was largely forgotten as a major figure in any of the various human’s rights causes she championed because she was such a controversial figure: not only were her campaigns and public speaking for women’s rights and abolition radical for the time, but her uncompromising egalitarianism and unapologetic atheism were practically unheard of. Though such giants in the feminist movement as Elizabeth Cady Stanton (who carried through the campaign Ernestine had begun to obtain property rights for women) to Susan B. Anthony (who traveled with Ernestine on speaking tours and kept a portrait of her on her wall) considered her work a primary inspiration for theirs, later feminists downplayed her legacy due to her controversial, very publicly aired beliefs. Elizabeth was among the few who admired and emulated Ernestine’s outspoken freethought and arguments for complete religious freedom, and was no doubt inspired by her when she herself, in her later years, offered a scathing critique of the Bible’s despicable passages about women.

Nothing of the Ernestine Rose exhibit remains, but there’s another wonderful one dedicated to New York City’s radical movements, from activism for immigrants’ and religious minorities’ rights (Quakers and Catholics were two religious groups especially persecuted in NYC’s early history) to women’s, ethnic minorities’, workers’, and cyclists’ rights. The women’s rights movement is also covered in this exhibit, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and especially her daughter, Harriet Stanton Blatch, are prominently featured.

Here are some photos of plaques and pictures from the exhibit telling the story of Elizabeth, her daughter Harriet, and the great feminists who carried on their work:

In the museum’s other New York City history exhibits and in my research the next day, I learn more about the city leaders and planners’ rebuilding projects, to make the city’s layout more orderly, its architecture more modern and state-of-the-art, but in the process, much of the city’s historical character was lost. One of the movements that the Activist New York exhibit covered was the efforts of people who fought to keep more of the city’s oldest, most beautiful, and most historically significant structures from being torn down.

The Stanton Building, New York City

From the MCNY, I head across Central Park (so beautiful in the fall!) in a south-westerly direction, to visit the last site of the day.

The building where Elizabeth Cady Stanton lived the last years of her life, and where she died, is also no longer standing. The Stanton is located at 250 W 94th St, New York, NY 10025, between West End Ave and Broadway, several blocks west of Central Park. The original building is gone, torn down and another built in its place shortly after she died, and the new building was named for her.

Her granddaughter, Nora Stanton Blatch, also lived here as a high school student and graduated as the first female civil engineer from Cornell University. No doubt, her grandmother would have been extra proud; both her daughter and her granddaughter carried on her legacy of breaking down barriers for women.

In addition to the building name itself, there’s an exhibit in the main lobby in tribute to Elizabeth, with photographs and some information about her life and work:

To be continued….

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Sources and Inspiration:

About Ernestine Rose‘. Ernestine Rose Society, Brandeis University (website)

Activist New York. Exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York, Fall 2014.

American Equal Rights Association (AERA)‘. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014.

An Introduction to the Metropolitan Opera.’ (2012, July)  The Metropolitan Opera (website).

Belden, E. Porter. New York, Past, Present, and Future: Comprising a History of the City of New York. New York, 1849.

Burns, Ken. Not For Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Documentary film (1999, November 7). Also listed on IMDB

The Church of the Puritans, Presbyterian: 130th Street, near 5th Ave, New York by Church of the Puritans (New York, N.Y.) Published 1889. Retrived from the New York Public Library digital collections

Dorress-Worters, Paula. Mistress of Herself: Speeches and Letters of Ernestine Rose, Early Women’s Rights Leader.  The Feminist Press at CUNY, 2008

EC’s 80th Birthday Celebration, 1895‘.(Updated 2010, August). The Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Papers Project. (website).

Elizabeth Cady Stanton. (2014, November 4). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

Elizabeth Cady Stanton Dies At Her Home.’ On This Day, New York Times. Oct 7th, 1902

Ernestine Rose‘. (2014, July 7). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

The First Metropolitan Opera House‘ (2013, March 25) Topics in Chronicling America. Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room, Library of Congress (website).

Freedman, Janet. ‘Ernestine Rose.’ Jewish Women’s Archive. 

Kolmerten, Carol. The American Life of Ernestine L. Rose. Syracuse, N.Y., 1999

Gaylor, Annie Laurie. ‘Ernestine L. Rose Lives!‘ Freedom From Religion Foundation website, 2010, April 9th.

Gordon, Ann. The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: An Awful Hush, 1895 – 1906, Volume 6. Rutgers University Press, 2013.

New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission‘. (2014, October 8). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

Stanton, Elizabeth Cady.Eighty Years And More: Reminiscences 1815-1897New York: T. Fisher Unwin, 1898.

Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Josyn Gage. History of Woman Suffrage, Volume 1 and Volume 2Rochester, N.Y., 1881 and 1887

Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. The Woman’s Bible. New York, 1895

Ernestine Rose and Elizabeth Cady Stanton Sites, Part 1

To start my journey, I set out from where I’m staying, in Manhattan near where Chelsea and Flatiron neighborhoods meet, bound for the Lower East Side. That’s where newly married Ernestine and William Rose made their first home in New York City, at 484 Grand St near Willett, near the Williamsburg Bridge. The house is no longer standing, nor are any other nearby buildings from their time, except for the synagogue behind where it probably stood.

In fact, as I visited places associated with their lives over the course of four days, I found not a single building still standing that I could be sure Ernestine or Elizabeth set foot in. As I was to learn more throughout the course of my trip, New York has systematically pulled down and rebuilt itself over and over again through the centuries, with its restless culture of self-reinvention, innovation, and progress, until a movement in the 1960’s arose and reminded New York that its history was important too. But that’s another (fascinating) story, which I’ll return to later.

Despite the lack of extant sites, seeking them out led to me to discover not only more about the lives and times of Ernestine Rose and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but more about how they influenced others, more about other people doing great work for the same or related causes, and more about New York City’s history. I also learned more about other movements, not only political and ideological but of people: migrations of those seeking better opportunities for themselves and their children when their homeland had less to offer. In visiting this first site, for example, I stumbled upon a treasure trove of fascinating parallels between the builders and inhabitants of the current structures, and the lives and philosophies of Ernestine and Elizabeth.

Henry Street Settlement and Playhouse, Lilian Wald Site, New York City, 2014 Amy Cools

The Abron Arts Center, adjacent to the Harry De Jur playhouse now stands near the probable original site of the Roses’ first New York home. The Center is one of the buildings that comprise the Henry Street Settlement, founded by Lillian Wald. She, like Ernestine Rose herself, was a human rights activist of Jewish descent. She was also a dedicated and tireless humanitarian: Henry Street Settlement provides health care and educational and recreational services for underserved communities.

In both Ernestine Rose and Lilian Wald’s days, the Lower East Side was crowded with immigrants who, lacking opportunities in their native countries, flocked to New York City’s factories to seek jobs and a chance at a better life. From the early 1800’s onwards, NYC was an industrial powerhouse, with many of its entrepreneurs and investors amassing great wealth, while the greater number suffered the worst effects of an industrial city before the age of  reform and regulation: overcrowding, disease, grinding poverty, and crime. Between the time Ernestine and Lilian arrived in the lower east side, conditions had become quite dire; Henry Street Settlement was founded as a solution to many of these social problems. No doubt, Ernestine, a radical egalitarian and human rights advocate, would have approved of the building that stood on the site of her old home, and of its founder’s mission.

(Note: in visiting another Ernestine Rose site the next day, coincidentally, I had the opportunity to learn more about H.S.S. and its founder, Lilian Wald. Stay tuned!)

Behind the Abron Arts Center and the probable site of the first Rose home, there’s also a synagogue and Jewish education center (the Daniel Potkorony Building). The Bialystoker Synagogue, built as a Christian church in 1826, predates the Rose’s moving there in 1837 by 11 years, so she would have been familiar with the building. Of course, I have no way of knowing one way or the other definitively, but since the Roses, especially Ernestine, were eempahically non-religious, it’s improbable that they would have visited the church much, unless it was the site of social events unrelated to worship.

Bialystoker Synagogue, coincidentally or not, was organized by Polish Jews in 1865, who purchased the former church as its new and permanent home. Ernestine was a Polish Jew by birth, and while she was quite open about the fact that she rejected the religion of her youth, she also very much identified with many aspects of her Jewish heritage. Her excellent education was, at least in large part, a result of her father’s being a rabbi and her consequent desire to learn ancient Hebrew, history, and the arts of theological and textual discussion. She also defended the Jewish community vigorously when they became the target of anti-Semitic attacks in the Boston Investigator newspaper (Dorress-Worters pp 42-44, 311-333). The synagogue also operated as a stop on the Underground Railroad; Ernestine was an ardent and committed abolitionist. Another coincidence, perhaps!
Right across the street, on the same side of Grand as the Rose house would have stood, and across Willett, stands the Cooperative Village. Built by trade unions, the Village and its sister establishments were designed to improve living conditions for its working class, lower income inhabitants by including gardens, sunlight in all apartments, attractive design, good views, and other amenities, as well as being reasonably priced and, best of all, democratically run, with each tenant getting an equal vote regardless of the property value of any given unit.
Rose was a dedicated Owenite, so I suspect she would have heartily approved of such an establishment. Robert Owen, her inspiration and mentor, was a social reformer who believed that shared goals in work, daily life and politics would ennoble the human mind and rid the human race of the hatred, violence and ignorance that results from the selfish pursuit of personal wealth. While Owen’s philosophy may appear, today, to be based on an overly optimistic unrealistic idealism (he believed that human nature was mostly or entirely good, and it was people’s surroundings which could support and inspire them in their good traits, or could cause them to fall into bad habits, become greedy or selfish, commit crimes, etc), he derived it from his personal experiences working in the horrific mill and factory conditions in mills in early Industrial England. (Observations of the miserable living and working conditions of industrial workers would later inspired Engels and Marx.) His New Lanark community was a resounding success for many years: its mill was profitable and its workers and their families comfortably housed and well fed, their children educated, and their surroundings, already in a lovely river valley, clean and beautified by gardens.
Despite my best efforts, I could find no plaque or anything else marking the site of the original Rose home. Yet, I felt I had found something better: in searching for the site, I learned that within just a few city blocks from that site, many others had lived and worked to accomplish the same excellent goals that Ernestine had pursued in her time there: the freedom of enslaved people, the improvement of the lives of working people, community-building for Polish Jews and other immigrant people.
Next, I head over towards Park Row and City Hall Park.
9 Fran kfort Street no longer exists either. It’s located somewhere underneath or alongside the place where the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge now rests, across from Pace University. Ernestine and William Rose owned a perfume and silversmith / jewelry shop there, called ‘Fancy and Perfumery’. Their rooms over the shop was their second home in New York City.
William was an accomplished jewelry maker and fine-metal worker, and while Ernestine had supported herself for many years up to that time and her perfume inventions contributed significantly to the family income, he was happy to help finance her public speaking and human rights work over the next few decades.
Here’s where the Brooklyn Bridge ends, where Frankfort ends and Park Row begins. 9 Frankfort would have been near the intersection of those two streets.
The last site I visit today is 37 Park Row, where
On January 8, 1868, in a room on the fourth floor of 37 Park Row in downtown Manhattan, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton published the first issue of Revolution, a newspaper dedicated to advancing the cause of women’s suffrage, among other social reform issues. Although the newspaper survived in its original form for just slightly over two years, it helped gain public exposure for the women’s suffrage movement and for Anthony and Stanton, two of the movement’s most influential leaders‘. (Scanlon, pp. 1)

Elizabeth and Susan established their own feminist newspaper, The Revolution, after the split in the women’s rights movement over the 15th Amendment, which extended the right to vote to men of all races while, for the first time, specifically excluding women as it used the word ‘male’. Because they felt betrayed by the majority of the men, and many of the women, in the movement for giving up the fight for universal suffrage so easily (as they saw it), Elizabeth and Susan felt that the movement must now be run exclusively by women, for women, in order to retain the revolutionary spirit and singleness of purpose necessary to accomplish their key goal. Every contributor to the paper was a woman, as well as every single employee of the paper.

37 Park Row also no longer exists; I write my search notes in the Starbucks at 38 Park Row, across from City Hall Park. The street sign on the corner of the park dedicated to these ladies is directly across the street, and since it’s the corresponding even number across, the sign probably stands near or at the actual site where the newspaper was published. Here’s an illustration from 1868, which shows the original buildings comprising Printing House Square, where so many of New York’s major periodicals were produced:

Thus ends my first day following in Ernestine and Elizabeth’s footsteps in New York City.

To be continued…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sources and Inspiration:

‘Bialystoker Synagogue: History’. http://www.bialystoker.org/history.htm

Brawarsky, Sandee. ‘Safe Havens on the Freedom Line.’ New York Times. January 19, 2001. 

http://www.nytimes.com/2001/01/19/arts/safe-havens-on-the-freedom-line.html

Burns, Ken. Not For Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Documentary film (1999, November 7). 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Not_for_Ourselves_Alone
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0220253/

Cooperative Village: History. (website) http://coopvillage.coop/history.php

Dorress-Worters, Paula. Mistress of Herself: Speeches and Letters of Ernestine Rose, Early Women’s Rights Leader. The Feminist Press at CUNY, 2008

 

Elizabeth Cady Stanton. (2014, November 4). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Cady_Stanton

 

Elizabeth Cady Stanton Dies At Her Home.’ On This Day, New York Times. Oct 7th, 1902.

http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/1112.html

 

Ernestine Rose. (2014, July 7). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

 

Freedman, Janet. ‘Ernestine Rose.’ Jewish Women’s Archive. 

Henry Street Settlement, website. 

 

Kolmerten, Carol. The American Life of Ernestine L. Rose. Syracuse, N.Y., 1999. 

http://books.google.com/books?id=0JkRzTh7QUsC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_atb#v=onepage&q&f=false


Lillian Wald. (2014, September 28). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lillian_Wald

New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. (2014, October 8). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia
 
‘Robert Owen’ and ‘New Lanark: An Introduction’. Undiscovered Scotland: The Ultimate Online Guide
Scanlon, Breanne. ‘Revolution, the Feminist Periodical’. Place Matters.

 

Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Josyn Gage. History of Woman Suffrage, volumes 1 and 2. Rochester, N.Y., 1881 and 1887 

https://archive.org/stream/historyofwomansu01stanuoft#page/n11/mode/2up