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«All Men and Women Are Created Equal»

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

Wolfgang Mieder

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


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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...

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