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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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9. “A woman is the weaker vessel”


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“A woman is the weaker vessel”

The Struggle Against the Proverbial Misogyny of the Bible

Even though Susan B. Anthony did not marry, she certainly shared Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s deep concern about the subservient role that many women played in problematic marriages with men finding justification for the ill treatment of their wives in the deliberate misinterpretation of the Bible by the established church. Important as their goal of suffrage for women was, they nevertheless realized that the sad state of marriages needed to be addressed if women were ever to gain equal social standing with men. Thus Stanton wrote to Anthony as early as March 1, 1852: “I do not know that the world is quite willing or ready to discuss the question of marriage. […] It is in vain to look for the elevation of woman, so long as she is degraded in marriage. I say it is a sin, and outrage on our holiest feelings to pretend that anything but deep, fervent love & sympathy constitutes marriage. The right idea of marriage is at the foundation of all reforms” (ECS, I, 53; March 1, 1852; see DuBois 2007: 82). In a major address at a mass meeting of women on May 17, 1870 at New York City, Stanton had much more to say about matrimony, closing her detailed remarks with a positive glance to the future that typifies her as a social reformer:

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