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Nancy Pelosi, in her speech accepting the position of Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, made the following remark:
“This is an historic moment - for the Congress, and for the women of this country. It is a moment for which we have waited more than 200 years. Never losing faith, we waited through the many years of struggle to achieve our rights. But women weren't just waiting; women were working. Never losing faith, we worked to redeem the promise of America, that all men and women are created equal. For our daughters and granddaughters, today we have broken the marble ceiling.”
(http://www.thebostonchannel.com/politics/10671591/detail.html, January 10, 2007.)
Pelosi’s speech refers to the 200 year struggle of American women towards equality. This class, with Shimer Faculty member Ann Dolinko, will examine three women who contributed enormously to this struggle: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Sojourner Truth.
The political theory that informed the Founders of the United States of America was centered on justice and rights as understood by propertied white men in charge of the public sphere. The history of our country has, in part, been one of struggle to achieve justice and rights for all Americans. Stanton, Anthony, and Truth were social activists who worked to achieve justice and rights for women, both within civic life and within the home. All three women first worked to end slavery, and then dedicated themselves to justice for women. Not only did they campaign for women’s right to vote, they fought for women to be seen as fully human, and thus endowed with all the rights and responsibilities of full citizenship in the public sphere and autonomy in the private sphere.
The five readings we will discuss in class are all directed toward the goal of bringing about “the equal station to which [women] are entitled.” A struggle that continues to this day.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) was a leader in the Nineteenth Century Feminist movement. While raising 7 children she tirelessly engaged in the fight for the rights of not only women, but of slaves and of the poor. Her close ally in this work was her friend Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906). The two women worked together for more than 50 years. They were social activists, women’s rights leaders and political organizers. Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) was an abolitionist and feminist. She was born into slavery as Isabella, and once free changed her name to Sojourner Truth and became a political activist. All of us stand on the shoulders of these women. If not for their courage we would not now have the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives. It is important that we read their words to learn how to advance the cause of justice and equality in our own time.