Not for Ourselves Alone - The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony Reviews

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September 12, 2012
A Story More People Should Know

It kind of bothers me that not everyone who did a voice in this has identified on the IMDb page exactly whose voice they did. Okay, I did not entirely need to be told that the man who voiced Frederick Douglass is not exactly unfamiliar with voicework--not only does he have Friends on the Other Side, but he came back from the Other Side with an awesome cape and protected a little girl. So, you know, there's that. However, I don't know who Adam Arkin voiced. Or Carolyn McCormick. And while I recognized George Plimpton's voice in the moment, that moment was last night, and I don't remember anymore. I'd like to know, given my feelings that George Plimpton transplanted into the era in which these women lived would have in many ways been one of the people campaigning against them, and I'd like to know if Ken Burns shares my feelings on that particular subject and cast accordingly.

They were born into the Cult of True Womanhood, a belief that women were to be seen and not heard, that they were to be protected and sheltered and never have to deal with the harsh events of life. None of Daniel Cady's boys survived, and he was constantly disappointed in Elizabeth--he would have been proud of her actions if she had been a boy, but he wanted his daughter to behave like a proper lady. On the other hand, Susan was encouraged by her family. Elizabeth married Henry Brewster Stanton and had eight children. Susan never married. However, the two were so intimately connected as friends and partners in the movement that newspaper headlines about Elizabeth's death mentioned Susan before mentioning any of her blood relatives. Together, they fought for long and wearying decades for the rights of women, starting with their right to own property and keep any wages they earned through their own work and ending, though not until after they were both dead, with the right to vote.

I suspect that if most people know either of their names, they know Susan's name, and they only know it because of the ill-received dollar coins which bore her image. That is a horrible shame. The world as we know it was in large part founded on their work. The Nineteenth Amendment was ratified pretty much exactly as they had first presented it in the hopes of even just getting it through Congress some forty years before it was actually passed. (Some of my dates may be off on this, because the Wikipedia articles I'm using to doublecheck my possibly faulty memory aren't helping.) They, or their successors, found someone to present that Amendment in those words literally every year that whole time before they finally got anyone to vote on it. Heck, Susan B. Anthony actually voted once--she registered to vote assuming they'd reject her application, so she could sue. And then she was arrested weeks after the election and tried in one of the most obvious show trials in US history. Never paid her fine, either.

The problem, I think, is outlined in a statement in the documentary that their achievements aren't considered as important, because they were the achievements of women. They ended up insisting that only women could hold positions of authority in the movement after years of working alongside men, because those men were willing to accept the women's help in the abolitionist movement but felt that women should continue to wait for their own suffrage until after black men got theirs. The final split came after the Amendment guaranteeing black men the right to vote also became the first use in the Constitution of the word "male." And indeed, a court verdict which said that states were permitted to keep women from voting was then used to finagle laws which prevented black men from voting. Elizabeth and Susan both saw it all of a piece, and they were betrayed by men who were willing to accept their help but not willing to reward their efforts.

Some of the women (Ruth Dyk and Ethel Hall) shown in this documentary were eligible to vote in 1920, when the Nineteenth Amendment had been passed. At least one of them expressed a little dismay at how little had been accomplished since then. When Susan voted, she wrote that she'd voted a straight Republican ticket, and I think that's yet another example of how the parties have shifted over the last century. You won't hear the Republicans bragging that they're the party of Susan B. Anthony now--they're still thinking about those coins, I'm sure. These two women were not among those who suffered most for suffrage; women went on hunger strikes, were force-fed, and choked to death. However, they were the biggest voices for equal rights for women of their age. I think they would be disappointed by how few women take advantage of the victories these women helped win for them; I think they would be angry at every woman who didn't vote because politics weren't interesting. And maybe if more young women learned about women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, more would actually vote.
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