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Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were two heroic women who vastly bettered the lives of a majority of American citizens. For more than fifty years they led the public battle to secure for women the most basic civil rights and helped establish a movement that would revolutionize American society. Yet despite the importance of their work and they impact they made on our history, a century and a half later, they have been almost forgotten.
Stanton and Anthony were close friends, partners, and allies, but judging from their backgrounds they would seem an unlikely pair. Stanton was born into the prominent Livingston clan in New York, grew up wealthy, educated, and sociable, married and had a large family of her own. Anthony, raised in a devout Quaker environment, worked to support herself her whole life, elected to remain single, and devoted herself to progressive causes, initially Temperance, then Abolition. They were nearly total opposites in their personalities and attributes, yet complemented each other's strengths perfectly. Stanton was a gifted writer and radical thinker, full of fervor and radical ideas but pinned down by her reponsibilities as wife and mother, while Anthony, a tireless and single-minded tactician, was eager for action, undaunted by the terrible difficulties she faced. As Stanton put it, "I forged the thunderbolts, she fired them."
The relationship between these two extraordinary women and its effect on the development of the suffrage movement are richly depicted by Ward and Burns, and in the accompanying essays by Ellen Carol Dubois, Ann D. Gordon, and Martha Saxton. We also see Stanton and Anthony's interactions with major figures of the time, from Frederick Douglass and John Brown to Lucretia Mott and Victoria Woodhull. Enhanced by a wonderful array of black-and-white and color illustrations, Not For Ourselves Alone is a vivid and inspiring portrait of two of the most fascinating, and important, characters in American history.
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In 1902, at the age of 83, Susan B. Anthony wrote a letter to her dearest friend, Elizabeth Cady Stanton:
We little dreamed when we began this contest, optimistic with the hope and buoyancy of youth, that half a century later we would be compelled to leave the finish of the battle to another generation of women. But our hearts are filled with joy to know that they enter upon this task equipped with a college education, with business experience, with the fully admitted right to speak in public--all of which were denied to women fifty years ago. They have practically but one point to gain--the suffrage; we had all.
Anthony and Stanton had worked together for over half a century for women's rights and were instrumental in keeping the movement alive despite repeated defeats. Sadly, Anthony is best remembered as "the woman on that funny dollar" and Stanton has been largely forgotten. PBS favorites Ken Burns and Geoffrey C. Ward have joined forces again to change all that, in their respectful dual biography of the great suffragettes, Not for Ourselves Alone. The authors trace Anthony and Stanton's very different lives--Anthony was a Quaker who remained single all her life; Stanton was born to a wealthy family and later married and raised several children--from girlhood on through their hard work, frequent disagreements on policy, and unflagging devotion to the cause of women's rights. In this era when fewer than half the eligible voters go to the polls, many have forgotten the struggles of Anthony and Stanton, the sacrifices they made, and the hardships they endured. Anthony, for one, was frequently vilified in the press, cruelly caricatured, and shouted down at lectures. What shines most brightly throughout the volume, however, is the love and respect these women felt for one another.
With contributions by noted historians Ann D. Gordon and Ellen Carol Dubois, and dozens of evocative contemporary photographs, Not for Ourselves Alone provides a view of the suffrage movement through the eyes of the women who fought hardest for it. "We are sowing winter wheat," Stanton confided to her diary, "which the coming spring will see sprout and which other hands than ours will reap and enjoy." Indeed, neither Stanton nor Anthony lived to be able to cast a ballot. But Burns and Ward have assured them of a larger place in the American memory--as is their right. --Sunny DelaneyAbout the Author:
Geoffrey C. Ward is the author of 11 books and has written for numerous documentary films. He lives in New York City.
Ken Burns, founder of Florentine Films, is a director, producer, and writer who has been making documentaries for more than 15 years. He lives in Walpole, New Hampshire.
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