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Sage Hall: Experiments in Coeducation and Preservation at Cornell University

by Jennifer Cleland and Robert P. Stundtner

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Although she was educated at Willard’s Seminary in Troy, Elizabeth Cady was denied admission to higher education because of her sex.Instead, she learned from her father, a judge, that the law treated women as dependents to their male relatives in property and civil matters, and she worked against that injustice her whole life.While newlyweds, Elizabeth and her husband, the abolitionist Henry Stanton, attended the World Antislavery Convention in London in 1840 as part of the New York delegation.The women of the group were initially refused entry to the hall and finally segregated on a riser in the back.Feeling slighted, Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, a Quaker minister from Watertown, N.Y., angrily paced the streets of London, and decided to convene a meeting concerning women’s rights when they returned to the U.S.

The result was the Women’s Rights Convention that they organized in Seneca Falls on the 20th of July, 1848.The convention adopted Stanton’s Declaration of Sentiments, inspired by the Declaration of Independence.In it, she declared that:

Whereas, the great precept of nature is conceded to be, “that man shall pursue his own true and substantial happiness,” therefore, resolved:That such laws as conflict, in any way, with the true and substantial happiness of woman, are contrary to the great precept of nature, and of no validity.

A modern reader can scarcely comprehend how radical this manifesto was in 1848, also the year that women gained the right to own property in New York State.The product of an elite education herself, equal coeducation was central to Stanton’s argument for enfranchising women.

Susan B. Anthony was managing her family’s farm outside of Rochester, N.Y., having retired from teaching school, when she met E.C. Stanton in 1851.Constrained by her domestic responsibilities from touring, Stanton wrote most of the speeches that were delivered by Anthony, who spoke indefatigably in the region’s cities, and ultimately around the country and abroad, advocating women’s right to vote and to pursue an education.The two women shared a passion for reform, whether the cause was abolition of slavery, temperance, or women’s rights, and the first time they worked together was to advocate a place for women in the People’s College that was being discussed by the State Legislature.

 

Anthony wrote to Stanton in 1856, begging her to write a speech advocating public education for girls equal to that of boys, to deliver to teachers’ conferences throughout New York.The letter is a poignant reminder of the everyday difficulties facing the campaign for women’s rights, and sets out an early formulation of Anthony’s underlying philosophy.Her sense of urgency is evident, as she asks Stanton to “load her gun” (emphases hers):

And Mrs Stanton, not a wordwritten on that Address for Teachers ConferenceThis week was to be leisure to me – & lo, our girl, a wife, had a miscarriage on Tuesday, – at eve one Lady Visitor came & today a man & the mercy only knows when I can get a moment – & what is worse, as the Lord knows full well, is, that if I getall the time the world has I can’t get up a decent document, so for the love of me, & for the saving of the reputation of womanhood, I beg you with one baby on your knee & another at your feet & four boys whistling buzzing hallooing Ma Ma set your self about the work – it is but small moment who writes the Address, but of vast moment that it be well done. I promise you to work hard, oh, how hard, & pay you whatever you say for your time & brains – but oh Mrs. Stanton don’t say no, nor don’t delay it a moment, for I must have it all done & almost commit it to memory.

Stanton did write the speech, and Anthony delivered it, first at conventions of the state teachers’ association, and then as the basis for a public lecture proclaiming that “to earn their bread and live is the work of both sexes.Every woman is born into the world alone and goes out of the world alone.”The women’s message was about equal opportunity, but also about self-fulfillment.