Kudos to Penn State University historian Lori Ginzberg for her 2009 biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and for her interview this morning about the book on NPR’s Morning Edition. The angle of the interview, and of the book I gather, is Stanton’s bitterness about voting rights being extended to African American men via the Fifteenth Amendment before white women won the franchise. Stanton in fact would die almost a generation before the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting voting rights to all adults, and the U.S. has never passed an Equal Rights Amendment. The division among Civil War-era reformers like Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Frederick Douglass who had been allies in the struggle both for women’s rights and for abolition, is one that continues to shape the relationships between feminism and anti-racist movements in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
I look forward to the day when biographers of white, male progressives make the focus of their books the racism and sexism inherent in their activism and writings. Woodrow Wilson has been raked over with respect to his racial politics, and rightly so, but Teddy Roosevelt? Eugene V. Debs? Mark Twain? Clarence Darrow? “Fighting Bob” LaFollette? William Jennings Bryan? It seems that they, like Stanton, were white people captive to many of the prejudices of their times. And we never, ever read books that center on the fact that these men benefited from the unpaid or undercompensated labor of their wives, daughters, and servants, do we?
I appreciate the intellectual honesty of feminist scholarship. I just wish it were a more broadly shared value among other historians.