Live the Legacy

SERRIN M. FOSTER, PRESIDENT

Recently I was asked by a student if abortion was necessary for women to achieve equality in the workplace. Absolutely not. Consider for a moment all of the landmark reforms that our feminist foremothers, who opposed abortion, achieved in their struggle for equality in the last half of the 19th century.

In a peaceful revolution led by Susan B. Anthony and  Elizabeth Cady Stanton, women won the right to keep  their own earnings, sign contracts, sit on a jury, testify  on their own behalf, to secure a divorce if a husband  drank the family’s income away or physically abused hiswife (the courts did not recognize marital rape), and share custody of their children. When these two feminist foremothers were born, no women were admitted to college. By the time they died, colleges and universities opened their doors to women, and they started down the path to equal opportunities in the workplace.

Even less well known, anti-abortion laws enacted in the  latter half of the 19th century were a result of the advocacy  efforts by feminists who worked in an uneasy alliance  with the male-dominated medical profession and the  mainstream media. The early feminists understood  that, much like today, women resorted to abortion  because they were abandoned or coerced by boyfriends,  husbands, or parents and lacked the financial resources  to have a child on their own. So they sought legal  protection from abortion.

Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton passed the torch to two more generations before women’s suffrage—their most cherished goal—was realized. By the time the struggle ended, women had suffered greatly for what too many today take for granted—or sadly, don’t exercise at all.

In 1913, Alice Paul, author of the original Equal Rights  Amendment, organized a magnificent pageant to parade  down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. Women,  dressed all in white, were led by New York attorney Inez  Milholland Boissevain, who was dressed like Joan of Arc  on a white horse. At the end of the parade, women were pulled off their horses, grabbed  by jeering men as police stood  by smirking. By the time the  cavalry had been brought in  to restore order, 100 people  were hospitalized—but not  one man had been arrested.

Later, a perpetual delegation of dignified, silent, peaceful protesters was organized by  Paul to hold vigil outside the White House. Angry men tore their banners down.  Alice Paul was knocked to the ground by a sailor and dragged down the street. Another man tore a  woman’s blouse off in order to remove her purple and gold suffrage sash as the police looked on. Later,  the women were arrested and forced to remove all of their clothing—one by one—in front of a  company of men, and incarcerated for days, weeks,  or months at time. They were fed infested food and rotting horse meat. Their mail was cut off, and they were made to perform hard labor. They were terrorized by the guards, some tossed like dolls headfirst into their prison cells and rendered unconscious. One political prisoner was left handcuffed above the cell door all night long. 

Women became more resolved than ever to win the vote—and men in ever-increasing numbers began to support the fight for women’s suffrage. By the  time the 19th Amendment was ratified on August  18, 1920, Inez Milholland Boissevain had died  after collapsing on stage while traveling the country  with her message of “votes for women.” She is known as a martyr for women’s suffrage. Susan B.  Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were long deceased, but their legacy lives on today in each of us who cherishes the right of women to vote and peacefully defends the right of children to be born.  Live the legacy.

Learn more about Alice Paul:

Although Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton did not live to see their cherished dream of women’s suffrage nationwide, they were able to pass the torch to the next generation. Who led the cause to victory with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920?
Inez Milholland Boissevain tragically died after collapsing on stage during one of her suffrage tours. During the famous 1913 Washington D.C. suffrage parade, she led thousands of white-clad suffragists on horseback dressed as which historical figure?

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