«All Men and Women Are Created Equal»

Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s and Susan B. Anthony’s Proverbial Rhetoric Promoting Women’s Rights

by Wolfgang Mieder (Author)
©2014 Monographs X, 315 Pages


Even a cursory glance at the letters, speeches, and essays of Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902) and Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906) reveals that these two nineteenth-century feminists relied on Biblical and folk proverbs to make their relentless case for the equality of men and women before the law and in social interaction. All Men and Women Are Created Equal investigates the use and function of this proverbial language in their personal relationship and their vast correspondence, the appearance of the proverbial rhetoric in their many speeches and essays, and their innovative employment of proverbial quotations from such documents as the Declaration of Independence to further their cause. It also looks at how proverbs in their traditional wording or as innovatively changed pieces of wisdom were used to argue both for equal pay and education of women and to overcome the misogyny of the established church. A final chapter looks at how the Biblical proverb «Do unto others as you would have them do unto you» became a powerful verbal tool to justify their rightful call for equal rights for women. These interpretive chapters are followed by a large index of proverbs and proverbial expressions that are listed in their rhetorical contexts with precise information as to their source and date. Both parts together tell the story of Stanton’s and Anthony’s lives and work by way of enlightening proverbial paragraphs dealing with women’s rights.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • 1. “These are the times that try women’s souls”
  • The Multifaceted Rhetoric of the Women’s Rights Movement
  • 2. “We were in every way suited to be yoke-fellows”
  • The Proverbial Partnership of Two Liberated Work-Horses
  • 3. “It is a herculean job—but we propose to compass it”
  • The Letters as Proverbial Signs of Untiring Engagement
  • 4. “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander”
  • Folk Proverbs in the Speeches for Equal Rights for Women
  • 5. “New rights bring new duties”
  • Proverbial Quotations in Pointed Sociopolitical Writings
  • 6. “All men and women are created equal”
  • Women’s Rights and the Declaration of Independence
  • 7. “Government of the people, by the people, and for the people”
  • A Call for Politics Based on the Consent of the Governed
  • 8. “Equal pay for equal work”
  • Educational and Professional Justice for Liberated Women
  • 9. “A woman is the weaker vessel”
  • The Struggle Against the Proverbial Misogyny of the Bible
  • 10. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”
  • The Golden Rule as the Philosophical Foundation of Equality
  • Index of Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases
  • Bibliography

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It will remain an unforgettable coincidence for me that my local classical music station was playing Beethoven’s ninth symphony on November 2, 2013, as I was writing the final sentences of the manuscript on the proverbial rhetoric of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. After all, I felt like singing along with the “Ode to Joy” performed by the chorus of the New York Philharmonic upon the completion of a scholarly journey that had lasted several years. I still remember how I had come across the two ladies, as I like to call them, while I was working on my book “No Struggle, No Progress”. Fredrick Douglass and His Proverbial Rhetoric for Civil Rights (2001) more then a decade ago. As is well known, these three good friends supported each other in their fight for equal rights for African Americans and women. But when I checked at the library of the University of Vermont to find a scholarly edition of Stanton’s and Anthony’s letters, speeches, and articles, I discovered that only the first two volumes of Ann D. Gordon’s magisterially edited volumes of The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (1997 and 2000) had appeared in print. Just the same, I checked them out and did some cursory reading on the side, discovering rather quickly that both women appeared to be quite proverbial in their impressive rhetorical command of the English language. Consequently I decided then and there that I would study their proverbial prowess by investigating all volumes once they would be published.

← vii | viii →

As I was working on other books, among them The Proverbial Abraham Lincoln. An Index to Proverbs in the Works of Abraham Lincoln (2000), “Yes We Can”. Barack Obama’s Proverbial Rhetoric (2009), and “Making a Way Out of No Way”. Martin Luther King’s Sermonic Proverbial Rhetoric (2010), I bought the two extant volumes and began taking notes on the proverbs, proverbial expressions, twin formulas, and other fixed phrases like literary quotations and Bible verses. And I must admit, reading the papers of these two remarkable ladies became a wonderful scholarly obsession. I placed a standing order with Rutgers University Press and eagerly awaited every subsequent volume that appeared under Ann Gordon’s meticulous editorship. The third volume arrived in Vermont in 2003, the fourth in 2006, the fifth in 2009, and then the sixth and final volume reached me at the beginning of 2013. That was an understandably long wait, but by the time the last volume appeared, I had already labored through the first five volumes and had begun to look at the voluminous secondary literature on Stanton and Anthony. So I was ready for the sixth volume and began reading it immediately, by then already being well immersed into the selected papers and the scholarship not only on the two ladies but also on the women’s rights movement during the nineteenth century in general.

The rest is history, as one commonly says when something has reached an end. Indeed, I used the year 2013 to bring my investigation of Stanton’s and Anthony’s proverbial rhetoric to a conclusion. Of course, there were other projects during these years and also during these final months, but I can honestly state that whenever I had a stretch of time to work on this particular project, I became energized and excited about their dedicated, enthusiastic, and revolutionary work on behalf of women and people in general for civil rights that was informed especially by their commitment to the establishment of universal suffrage. As can be imagined, I also thoroughly enjoyed telling the students of my large lecture course on “The Nature and Politics of Proverbs” about the effective use of proverbs and proverbial expressions by these two early feminists as they joined the causes of abolition, temperance, suffrage, and others. I had studied major political figures like the ones already mentioned but also John Adams, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler, Harry S. Truman, Winston S. Churchill, and others to a lesser extent, but my prolonged work on Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony was without doubt equally challenging and rewarding. I would gladly have continued to read even more of their unpublished works, but the six volumes of their selected papers definitely are voluminous enough to conclude that in addition to everything else they accomplished for human rights, they were definitely also rhetorical proverbialists par excellence. And yet, their rich proverbial language, including both Bible proverbs and folk proverbs, has hitherto not been noticed by scholars who have ← viii | ix → made major contributions to their lives and works. It is my hope that the interpretive first part and the index of all contextualized proverb references of the second part will convince readers that it behooves us to pay attention to how our sociopolitical leaders use proverbial language as metaphorical and expressive strategies of effective communication.

As always, I wish to thank my colleagues of the library of the University of Vermont for their much appreciated help in obtaining research materials for me. I also would like to express my appreciation to my immediate colleagues of the Department of German and Russian, Gideon Bavly, Adriana Borra, Elena Carter, Theresia Hoeck, Kate Kenny, Dennis Mahoney, Kevin McKenna, Brian Minier, Helga Schreckenberger, and Kathleen Scollins for their interest in and support of my work. Much thanks are due once again to Chris Myers and his incredible colleagues at Peter Lang Publishing in New York.

Both Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were always forward looking, and that included the future of the younger generation that would carry on their work and by doing so honor these two exceptional women. All women not only in the United States but throughout the world are indebted to them, and it is my hope that my small contribution will also be understood in this way. I have the good fortune to have a dear wife who, as a graduate of Mount Holyoke College, brought her views about the equality of women in all walks of life into our happy marriage. I even recall that I enjoyed reading Ms. magazine after we got married in 1969. I learned much from Barbara over the years as she kept me focused on the fact that women are still fighting the battle of equality even though much progress has been made. In her own way, she inspired me to write this book, and it is with much love that I dedicate it to her. But I would like her to share this dedication with our two grandnieces Emily Busker and Susan Lutton, little toddlers both, who in due time will play their part in carrying the torch of equality as their grandaunt did in her life.

FALL 2013

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“These are the times that try women’s souls”

The Multifaceted Rhetoric of the Women’s Rights Movement

The American nineteenth century is marked by a series of significant cultural, political, and social upheavals, among them the charged problem of slavery, the devastating Civil War resulting from it, and the demand by women for equal rights. Abolitionists like Theodore Parker (1810–1860) and Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) as well as President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) remain heroic figures to this day for their struggle to rid the nation of the inhumane institution of slavery while at the same time trying to keep the young political union in tact. Their powerful declarations, speeches, essays, and letters are lasting examples of their deep-rooted commitment to basic human decency and compassion, and they most certainly rose to unsurpassed rhetorical heights in their sociopolitical discourse. This communicative prowess was to a considerable degree informed by their effective employment of folk speech in the form of proverbs and proverbial expressions that rendered their important messages not only accessible to the general public but also charged them with emotional expressiveness (Mieder 2000 and 2001). While their proverbial rhetoric has been studied in considerable detail—something that is also true for later male orators as for example Harry S. Truman (1884–1972), Martin Luther King (1929–1968), and Barack Obama (born 1961)—no detailed investigations of the proverbial speech of female reformers and politicians have been undertaken (Mieder and Bryan 1997, Mieder 2009 and 2010a). And yet, even a cursory glance at the letters, speeches, ← 1 | 2 → and essays of Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902) and Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906) clearly reveals that these two nineteenth-century feminists are any time the equals of the male political giants when it comes to the employment of proverbial language during the fifty years of their unceasing, emotive, and aggressive struggle for women’s rights. Of course, they have been praised for their masterful use of the multifaceted English language, but their rather obvious reliance on folk speech in general and proverbs and proverbial expressions in particular has basically received no attention by linguists, cultural historians, folklorists, and paremiologists (proverb scholars). The many biographies and studies about both Stanton and Anthony go into great detail about their fascinating lives and their progressive sociopolitical causes as they relate to women, but for the most part they fail in analyzing how their fight for abolition, temperance, gender equality, and women suffrage in particular was verbalized in such a way that their messages effected social change over time (O’Connor 1954). In other words, it is one thing to scrutinize what these two effective orators and essayists said in the cause of civil and women’s rights, but it is also of significance to analyze how they used what aspects of language to bring their message across. Just as Abigail Adams (1744–1818)—an early American feminist without a political voice—employed proverbs and proverbial phrases to argue for women’s rights in her plethora of letters to her family and many friends (Mieder 2005: 56–89), so did Stanton and Anthony also rely on Biblical and folk proverbs to make their relentless case for the equality of men and women before the law and in social interaction.

The neglect of noticing the proverbial nature of Stanton’s and Anthony’s language is also apparent in Karlyn Kohrs Campbell’s otherwise superb two-volume study Man Cannot Speak for Her (1989a) that presents and analyzes nineteenth-century female rhetoric as it was practiced by them and some of their significant contemporaries in the struggle for women’s rights. In her informative introduction Campbell points out that “men have an ancient and honorable rhetorical history” dating back to ancient Greece and classical Rome, while “women have no parallel rhetorical history” since “for much of their history women have been prohibited from speaking” especially in the public arena (Campbell 1989a: I, 1). She defines rhetoric as “the study of the means by which symbols can be used to appeal to others, to persuade. The potential for persuasion exists in the shared symbolic and socioeconomic experience of persuaders (rhetors) and audiences [as well as readers]; specific rhetorical acts attempt to exploit that shared experience and channel it in certain directions” (Campbell 1989a: I, 2). And she goes on to state that rhetorical analysis has focused on “the rhetor’s skill in selecting and adapting those resources available ← 2 | 3 → in language, in cultural values, and in shared experience in order to influence others” (Campbell 1989a: I, 2). This makes perfect sense, but those linguistic resources available to women are exactly the aspects that have not been looked at in detail by scholars interested in the feminist movement over time. To be sure, Campbell even speaks of a “feminine style” of the suffragists, whose “discourse will be personal in tone, relying heavily on personal experience, anecdotes, and other examples. It will tend to be structured inductively (crafts are learned bit by bit, instance by instance, from which generalizations emerge). […] The goal of such rhetoric is empowerment, a term contemporary feminists have used to refer to the process of persuading listeners [or readers] that they can act effectively in the world, that they can be agents of change” (Campbell 1989a: I, 13). As will be seen, proverbs as generalizations of human behavior and expressions of social norms will add considerable weight to the “rhetorical creativity” (Campbell 1989a: I, 15) of feminists, and it is surprising that the vast scholarship on Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in particular has not stressed this invaluable aspect of the rhetoric of the women’s rights movement (see Fuss 1989). As will be shown, the partial justification of referring to Stanton and Anthony as “rhetorical giants” (Campbell 1989b: 212) is due to their incredibly effective use and innovative manipulation of proverbial wisdom and proverbial metaphors in the service of feminist rhetoric.

Naturally there are studies that have looked at the language of Stanton and Anthony in some detail, to wit Beth M. Waggenspack’s valuable book The Search for Self-Sovereignty. The Oratory of Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1989) that by necessity also comments on Susan B. Anthony’s oratorical strengths. It has long become a commonplace to refer to these two feminists as two sides of the same coin or, proverbially expressed, as two peas in the same pod. In other words, the following remarks about Stanton’s rhetorical style are also pretty well applicable to Anthony’s deliberate use of language:

The addresses and essays [also the letters!] displayed a wide range of rhetorical strategies. Cady Stanton was especially adept in using extensive testimony and precedent, vivid imagery, extended metaphor and analogy, humor and irony. She structured her speeches with precision and utilized the logical argumentation skills she learned in her father’s law office. She gently, but sometimes sarcastically, juxtaposed truth and reality with false beliefs by citing examples of the conditions woman was forced to endure. Cady Stanton displayed a unique ability to draw from wide-ranging sources in legal, religious, political, and literary arenas. She developed compelling narratives replete with imagery that evoked emotions ranging from despair to elation. According to contemporary sources, she was reported to be a confident and serene speaker, self-assured and motherly on the platform. In fact, she was one of the more popular female orators of her day. (Waggenspack 1989: 91)


X, 315
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (September)
women laws feminist law education misogyny social interaction
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 315 pp.

Biographical notes

Wolfgang Mieder (Author)

Wolfgang Mieder is Professor of German and Folklore at the University of Vermont, where he served for thirty-one years as the chairperson of the Department of German and Russian. He is an internationally acknowledged proverb scholar, the author of the two-volume International Bibliography of Paremiology and Phraseology (2009), and the founding editor of Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship (since 1984). Among his more recent books in English are «Yes We Can»: Barack Obama’s Proverbial Rhetoric (2009), «Making a Way Out of No Way»: Martin Luther King’s Sermonic Proverbial Rhetoric (2010), International Bibliography of Paremiography (2011), Proverbs: A Handbook (2012), and Proverbs Are Never Out of Season: Popular Wisdom in the Modern Age (2012).


Title: «All Men and Women Are Created Equal»
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328 pages