Tag Archives: Seneca Falls

Obama’s Inspirational Inaugural

24 Jan
We the People

We the People

The inaugural speeches of U.S. Presidents are seldom very interesting. As part of a larger ceremony — admittedly a significant one in the operation of our government — they tend to be bland “what a great country” orations.  I must confess that I don’t usually pay much attention. This year, however, the presence of Myrlie Evers got me watching, and I’m truly glad that I did.

President Obama can be an inspiring speaker. This Monday he delivered what may be the finest speech of his career. The handful of great inaugurals — Lincoln’s call for healing in 1865, FDR’s “nothing to fear but fear itself” in 1933, JFK’s “ask not what your country can do for you” in 1961 — have taken place at pivotal moments in our country’s history. It can be hard to spot such moments when you are living in them, but our President did just that and I don’t know that I have ever been prouder to identify as an American.

The divide between Americans — by race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and so much more — have been cast in such sharp relief by the politics and behavior of the past decade that too many of us wonder where we fit in. Obama’s theme, We the People, called out this problem and sought everyone’s participation in its solutions.

I was stunned and thrilled to hear him use the world “marginalized” in the speech. That barely prepared me for the next sentence.

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths –- that all of us are created equal –- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.

Having the leader of the nation clearly show the path from the first feminists to the struggle for racial equality to the struggles for LGBT rights was stunning. The participation of gay poet Richard Blanco in the inaugural events was a welcome touch. The very real words of the President, calling for that march of justice to keep moving, was overwhelming. My husband and I were both in tears, caught off guard and astounded by his direct call for justice; this is probably the most hopeful I have felt in years.

The entire speech, only 15 minutes but packed with power, is worth reading. As a social worker, I found his very specific challenge to those who write the laws as well as those who rally for social justice particularly resonant.

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began.  For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia, to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.

For the first time, a President actually explicitly used the word “gay” in an inaugural. I have seldom felt so accepted as a citizen of this nation.

It’s no wonder that days later pundits and journalists and Americans of all types are still marvelling at this speech. It wasn’t just a pale summoning of an America that might be. It was an invocation of what we say we are and a challenge to all of us to live up to that promise — not just for ourselves but generations to come. Let us celebrate this President, his words, and his intentions. Let us work together to help his vision come true.

Happy Birthday, Elizabeth Cady Stanton

12 Nov

On this date in 1815, one of the most important figures in early women’s rights was born. Elizabeth Cady was born in Johnstown, NY. Her father, Daniel, was a prominent attorney who served one term in Congress and was a circuit court judge and New York Supreme Court Justice. Her mother, Margaret, was a tall, powerful woman who was energetic in her youth, but lost many children (six of her eleven); Elizabeth mainly remembered her as a sad, distant woman.

A youth spent browsing her father’s home law library fascinated Elizabeth. She also developed a realization of just how dramatically the law favored men over women in every particular. Although her family owned at least one slave — slavery was not abolished in New York until 1827 — early exposure to her abolitionist cousin Gerritt Smith helped form strong sentiments in Elizabeth. Elizabeth becomes an exceedingly strong voice in the abolitionist movement.

Unlike many women of her era, she was formally educated. She attended Johnstown Academy, where she studied until the age of 16. She enjoyed being in co-educational classes where she could compete intellectually and academically with boys her age and older. Since local Union College accepted only men, Stanton enrolled in the Troy Female Seminary, which was founded and run by Emma Willard. During her education she had unpleasant dealings with a local Calvinist preacher(imagine that, a male preacher mistreating a woman); as a result she rejected organized Christianity maintaining that logic and a humane sense of ethics were the best guides to both thought and behavior.

Elizabeth met Henry Brewster Stanton through her involvement in abolitionism. He was a journalist and anti-slavery orator who later became an attorney. They were married in 1840; Elizabeth instructed the minister to eliminate the promise to obey from the wedding vows, later observing, “I obstinately refused to obey one with whom I supposed I was entering into an equal relation.” She also assumed the name Elizabeth Cady Stanton, refusing to be subsumed as Mrs. Henry B. Stanton. She asserted that “[t]he custom of calling women Mrs. John This and Mrs. Tom That and colored men Sambo and Zip Coon, is founded on the principle that white men are lords of all.” Is it any wonder that I love our Elizabeth Cady Stanton?

She was an ardent suffragist as well as an abolitionist. Despite her large family (seven children), she maintained that she planned the birth of each child through “voluntary motherhood” and was a strong proponent of women’s reproductive and sexual rights. She and her husband shared many views but had lively discussions in which they often disagreed. They moved to Seneca Falls, NY for her husband’s health. It was there that her most famous work began.

In 1848, she and Lucretia Mott organized the first women’s rights convention, (The Seneca Falls Convention) attended by over 300 people. She delivered her Declaration of Sentiments at this conference, one of the most important early treatises on women’s rights. She went on to work with other reformers like Susan B. Anthony and Amelia Bloomer. She remained a powerful, often controversial figure throughout her life. Despite her work as an abolitionist, she initially opposed the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments, concerned that explicitly giving African American men the right to vote created a larger bloc that could oppose women’s suffrage. She later used the vague wording of the amendments to maintain that they had, in fact, created a right for women to vote, although that position never had legal support.

She wrote, published and spoke about women’s rights throughout her life. She died in 1902 at the age of 86. Sadly, she never did get to see the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

%d bloggers like this: