I’ve been thinking a lot about Susan B. Anthony – suffragette extraordinaire and symbol of the women’s rights movement. But this morning, someone in my Facebook feed called her a racist. So I started reading. Researching.
Yes, she started out as an abolitionist and, by some accounts, remained so in her private life. But she was also quick to condemn the black man to avoid alienating the white southern women of her movement.
What words can express her [the white woman’s] humiliation when, at the close of this long conflict, the government which she had served so faithfully held her unworthy of a voice in its councils, while it recognized as the political superiors of all the noble women of the nation the negro men just emerged from slavery, and not only totally illiterate, but also densely ignorant of every public question.
-Susan B. Anthony
I hold in my hand a silver dollar with her likeness as I reread that quote. I held it in my pantsuit pocket as I waited for my turn at the polls today. In disgust and disappointment, I’ve turned her face away a dozen times, instead gazing at the bald eagle on the other side of the coin. And yet, I can’t seem to walk away from it, dropping her back into my pocket as I go about my “womanly duties.”
Yes, she had to make compromises and concessions to further her cause. Yes, she was a product of her time. And yet she wasn’t, was she? A product of her time would not have fought for the right to vote so adamantly and doggedly. Nor would she, an unwed woman (gasp!) have sought guidance from Frederick Douglas.
The twenties (when the 19th amendment was ratified) weren’t so long ago. Neither were the 60s, when the rights of black suffragettes were finally assured.
This election has been intensely emotional and personal for many of us women. We’ve relived a lifetime of slights, compromises, and inappropriateness experienced due to our gender. We’ve cited, repeatedly, the historic import of women voters casting their ballots in support of a woman candidate. And we’ve watched as the character of that candidate was impugned.
At various points over the past year I’ve been surprised to learn that some women in my life supported a different candidate. In years past, a difference in political opinion wasn’t grounds for un-friending. But this year was so much more divisive. At times it felt like those pledges of support for the other candidate were personal attacks on the lifestyles of my friends and loved ones. On me. And I’ve often wondered if I could continue to be friends with someone who find their visions of America in his campaign promises.
But then there’s Susan B. Anthony. I flip the coin over again to study her stern profile, narrow lips. Do the compromises and questionable choices she made in frustration negate the work that came before? Do they negate the results that came after? Should she be celebrated or reviled?
At one point today there was a two hour wait to place an “I Voted” sticker on the grave of Susan B. Anthony. Despite my new knowledge, I’m still choked up when I look at pictures of the gray stone nearly indistinguishable beneath a sea of white, red, and blue. And I want to move forward, my fellow Americans, with both sides giving each other the benefit of the doubt, no matter what happens tonight.
Tomorrow I hope we can start to heal.
I’m hopeful for healing too, but so very wary as well.
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