Scholar discusses women’s rights, equality and suffrage

Sarina Tracy
Journal Staff

Suffolk recognized the 90th anniversary of women’s suffrage with an event led by Lori Ginzberg last Thursday in Sargent Hall. Ginzberg, a distinguished visiting scholar, discussed women’s rights, the quest for equality in the 19th century, and their fearless leader, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, on Thursday afternoon in Sargent Hall.

Ginzberg is a professor at Penn State, and has written numerous books on 19th century women and their political and intellectual identities. Her most recent is “Elizabeth Cady Stanton: An American Life,” a biography on the life of the leading women’s rights activist who was “as infuriating as she was fascinating.”

Among the audience of adults and scattered students was Stanton’s own great-great granddaughter. Ginzberg discussed the personality, strengths, and weaknesses of Stanton.

“There was no one else like Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She belongs in the pantheon of people who built this nation,” she said.

A larger-than-life woman, Stanton was infuriated at the preference of boys in a society where females were of little importance. Met by cold indifference in regards to her gender, at times even by her own father, Stanton set out to make a difference in the way her status as a woman blockaded her opportunities. She used her brilliance and ferocity to stand up for her gender’s cause: their future.

“Stanton didn’t invent the notion of equal rights, nor was she the first to demand that those rights be extended to women,” Ginzberg said, “but she grabbed the ideas that floated around her, shook them hard, shaped them into words that were strong and accessible, mixed the whole thing with a good dose of charm and charisma and flung them back into the world forcefully enough to move countless thousands to act.”

The radical ideas Stanton promoted in her time are inalienable rights in ours. Keeping women out of colleges or professions, trapped in hateful marriages, unable to earn or control or inherit money, and barred from voting or holding office because of their identity was unacceptable. Things have changed for the better, and we have, in part, Stanton to thank. As an activist, she had her share of failings. She was not so apt to see the African American male gain suffrage before a white female, and because of this, her achievements are somewhat eclipsed by her racist tidings.

Ginzberg explained that Congress, in Stanton’s time, was commanded by her. She was treated as a “rock star” who was “happiest when ‘hurling her thunder’” at both friends and opponents.

“And yet,” said Ginzberg, “she was not able to evaluate her own prejudices, her racism, or her astonishing self-regard. Nor could she acknowledge the moral complexity of those who disagreed with her. All of us here breathe the air of that legacy, one that celebrates ideas that now seem kind of old-fashioned: liberty, equality, independence, and individualism. So we should applaud her insights, and praise her work, and then hurl some thunder back.”