ELIZABETH CADY STANTON'S "ADDRESS ON WOMAN'S RIGHTS, 1848": TEACHING AND LEARNING MATERIALS

 

Classroom Activities

 

A. Stanton's speech is fettered with biblical allusions. Look up each verse and unpack its rhetorical value. How does Stanton's biblical authority help her arguments? How does it challenge society's views of women?

 

B. How does Stanton's use of vivid imagery and nature metaphors contribute to her arguments for women's rights?

 

C. Stanton refers to many historical women (Catharine I of Russia, Elizabeth I of England, Harriet Martineau, Anne Louise Germaine Necker de Stael, Caroline Herschel, Mary Fairfax Somerville, Zenobia of Palmyra, Aurelian, Margaret I of Scandinavia, Semiramis, Isabella I of Castile, Maria Theresa, Nzinga Mbande, Blanche of Castile, Caroline of England, Josephine, wife of Napolean Bonaparte, and Hannah Moore). Choose one of the historical figures and prepare a briefing for class discussion.

 

D. Stanton argues that a home can only be a happy home if the husband and wife are equals. What evidence does she use for her argument? Do you agree with her? Was it possible for men and women to be equal in the home in 1848?

 

E. Stanton discusses the negative treatment of women in "eastern" countries (5). How does her discussion of women outside of the United States help her argument? To what extent does her discussion of these "slave" women stereotype other cultures?

 

F. What role does Christianity play in Stanton's arguments? In what ways does she criticize Christian beliefs and in what ways does she exalt them? How is she able to do both?

 

G. How did Stanton's identity as a white, educated woman, and as a young mother, contribute to her ethos?

 

H. What words does Stanton use to describe women throughout her speech? Are they contradictory or complementary? How so? Be prepared to discuss your opinions.

 

I. What role do men play in Stanton's arguments for women's rights? Are they to blame for women's oppression? Does she appear to believe that men can help liberate women? If so, in what ways?

 

J. How does Stanton get her audience's attention? As an unknown speaker, what strategy did she use to ingratiate herself to her audience?  

 

Student Research

 

A. When Elizabeth Cady Stanton delivered this speech, she was a young wife and mother. Throughout the 1850s, in fact, she continued to bear children. Locate an article from Godey's Ladies Book, a very popular women's magazine at the time, and discuss the roles women were expected to play. Further, explore how difficult it must have been for Stanton and other women's rights activists to speak in light of these expectations.

 

B. Lucretia Coffin Mott played a key role in the Seneca Falls Convention and was a mentor to Stanton. In fact, her name appeared on the announcement in the newspaper as the featured speaker. Locate one of her speeches and compare it to Stanton's "Address." Considering Mott opposed the suffrage resolution and Stanton supported it, how might their arguments for women's rights differ?     

 

C. Locate Ernestine Potowski Rose's "Speech at the National Woman's Rights Convention, Worcester, Massachusetts, 1851" and compare her use of humor to Stanton's. How did humor work in their arguments for women's rights?

 

D. The early women's rights movement grew out of the abolition movement. Locate Angelina Grimké's "Address at Pennsylvania Hall, 1838" and compare the rhetorical strategies used to argue for abolition and women's rights.

 

E. Locate three U.S. history textbooks and see, if at all, how Stanton is depicted. Do they say anything about the kinds of arguments she made for women's rights? What do they note as her most significant achievement? Why do you think the textbooks portray her in this way?

 

F. Locate a copy of the Declaration of Sentiments and a copy of the Declaration of Independence. In addition to the parallels noted in the paper, what others do you find? How many grievances are listed in each? What do the grievances suggest about women's lives in 1848?

 

G. Stanton offers a long-winded critique of The Education Society. What is The Education Society and why did Stanton oppose it? What does the Society's goal have to do with women's education?

 

H. Later in her life, Stanton co-authored The History of Woman Suffrage. Locate Volume I and read the excerpt of Chapter 2, "The First Woman's Rights Convention." How is the inception of the convention described? Do you see these women as radicals? How did these women think of themselves? 

 

I. The sentimental style was the predominant speaking style of the nineteenth century. Locate a contemporary political or social movement speech and compare styles. Why have styles changed? What was different about the twentieth century that no longer makes the sentimental style effective?

 

Citizenship Resources

 

A. Read Gloria Steinem's "Testimony Before Senate Hearings on Equal Rights Amendment, 1970" (http://www.historytools.org/sources/steinem.html). What parallels do you find between Stanton's arguments for equal rights and Steinem's arguments for equal rights?  How do the two speeches differ in their treatment of a woman's "moral authority"?

 

B. Stanton works to incorporate men into her vision for social equality. She blames "custom" and social inequities for women's oppression more so than she blames men. Further, as she argues against domestic abuse, she notes that men, too, can be "hen-pecked" or abused by their wives.  First, discuss what you think is most oppressive to women today—social customs, the media, men, or even women? Next, discuss the extent to which men's roles have changed in American society toward establishing gender equality. Can men be feminists?

 

C. Stanton argues that while women are physically smaller than men, they are no less physically able. Further, if given the opportunity to develop athletically, women could excel physically. Title IX of 1972 (http://www.dol.gov/oasam/regs/statutes/titleix.htm) attempts to ensure women attending colleges that accept federal funding equal access to play sports. Split the class in half and conduct a debate as to whether or not Title IX has given women the opportunity to develop athletically and/or if women are just as physically capable as men.

 

D. Do you think women are still responsible for the morality of our nation? To what extent do you agree that women are "naturally moral" or are just socialized to be moral?

 

E. Stanton refutes the argument that giving women equal rights would require women to fight in war. She contends that if women lead nations, there would be no war. Throughout second-wave feminism, opponents to the Equal Rights Amendment argued that if women had equal rights, then they would be drafted to war.  Is it "equal treatment" to have women fight in war? How comfortable is America with women fighting in America's current war(s)?  What if the draft was re-instated, would drafting women be a small price to pay for equality? 

 

F. Women who spoke publicly throughout the nineteenth-century were often considered unwomanly. In what ways do we see this happen to women today, particularly to high-profile women such as Condoleeza Rice and Hillary Rodham Clinton?

 

G. Read Hillary Rodham Clinton's "Women's Rights are Human Rights" (http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/hillaryclintonbeijingspeech.htm), and discuss the ways Clinton uses her identity as a woman compared to her identity as a person to connect to her audience.