Patrick O’Neil Response to Solitude of Self

During her “Solitude of Self” speech, Elizabeth Cady Stanton immediately ties the women’s suffrage movement in with morality, stating that “the right of individual conscience and judgement” is a “Protestant idea.” This fits very well with other progressive notions of the day, as vices such as gambling and alcohol were other targets of the Progressives at the turn of the 20th Century. Stanton also speaks of “natural rights,” undoubtedly a reference to Jefferson’s inalienable “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

However, for most of the rest of the speech Stanton treats women’s rights as a political issue. Individual citizenship is a “republican idea,” and Stanton repeatedly refers to “selfs-“: self dependence, self-sovereignty, self-respect. Individual liberty is paramount to Stanton, and she sees herself as entitled to it just as male citizens are. Stanton decries the practice of defining women as mothers, sisters and daughters, since men are not defined solely as husbands or fathers. She implores the Senate not for a special place for women, but to be included with men to share the basic rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

It seems to me that Stanton draws much of her argument from slavery and the black rights movement. Just as DuBois wanted to stand on equal footing with the white man culturally (attend the same plays, learn at the same schools, hold the same public offices), Stanton desires for women to be on equal footing as men in a citizenship sense. “To refuse political equality is to rob the ostracized of all self-respect,” Stanton claims. She even compares the plight of women to a Shakespeare character whose tongue and hands are cut off,  which may also be an indirect reference to the similarities of the women’s suffrage movement and the horrors endured by slaves.

In the closing of her speech, Stanton makes sure to note that the Progressive vision for women is a modernistic one. Modern women, she argues, have made great strides in art and literature: “the poetry and novels of the century are theirs…” Just as technologies such as the spinning wheel have faded into the past, so should political constraints placed upon women. In an increasingly industrialized nation, this analogy is a powerful way for Stanton to make her case, and position her cause as the way of the future.

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