Addressing a group of ladies and gentlemen gathered in an unnamed village, Elizabeth Cady Stanton says that several weeks ago, she asked a gentleman living in the village to review her report of the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. She wanted this gentleman to offer her his objections to the Declaration of Sentiments she presented there so that his response could “serve […] as a text on which to found [her] address” this evening.
In the introductory lines of her address on women’s rights, Elizabeth Cady Stanton establishes that humor and irony will be central to her speech. Stanton was an accomplished women’s rights activist who organized the landmark Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights conference. So by beginning her speech by stating that she wanted to defer to a local gentleman, whose rebuttals to the issue of women’s rights she’d then use to fuel this address, Stanton is demonstrating her gutsy brand of humor. She’s also mockingly calling attention to how men’s opinions dictated much of what women of her era could say and do.
The gentleman did so—but the comments he offered were so terse that Stanton found it difficult to reply to them. If that same gentleman is in attendance now, however, and feels like offering any more objections, Stanton and her fellow women’s rights activists will be happy to answer his complaints.
Stanton knew that her ideas about women’s rights to vote, to pursue educations, and to participate in public life were largely unpopular amongst men at the time. So in jeering at a man’s terse objections to the declaration presented at Seneca Falls as she begins this new address, she’s showing her audience that she is going to push forward with her work no matter what men’s objections to it might be.
Stanton is usually very shy and not accustomed to public speaking. But she is so “nerved by a sense of right and duty” that she felt compelled to appear and give this speech. “Woman’s wrongs” must be laid out publicly, she says—but only a woman can understand the full scope “of her own degradation and woe.”
Here, Stanton tells her audience just how fully committed she is to righting the “wrongs” women are facing each and every day. She’s willing to step outside of her comfort zone because she knows that the work to be done must be done by women themselves. Only women can truly understand one another’s struggles and pain, so only women can communicate the depths of each other’s sorrow to the world.
Men cannot speak for women, Stanton says, because they’ve all been raised and educated to believe that women are so profoundly different from them that they couldn’t begin to understand them if they tried. People can only understand one another based on how they understand themselves. As an example, Stanton points out that drunkards are “hopelessly lost” until they realize that they are ruled by the same laws as a sober person.
Here, Stanton begins to outline one of the fundamental problems in the relations between men and women of her time. American society in the mid-1840s reinforced, at every level, the idea that men and women were completely different beings—and that men were the superior ones. As a result, men have developed a narrow-minded view of women and women’s issues. Men struggle to understand women because they have been taught only to see the world through the lens of their own righteousness. Stanton compares this state of mind to a state of dangerous and “hopeless” inebriation and impairment. Men must shake themselves out of this stupor and work to understand women as their equals.
Men can no more understand how women think and feel than they can understand the minds and feelings of any other living being, human or animal. Men know little with certainty—and what they do know, they can learn only by careful observation.
Men have been raised to consider only their own humanity. They don’t think of things from women’s point of view, because they’ve been taught that women are far too different from them. But men have the power to learn about the things around them. So Stanton is suggesting here that men need to carefully observe and actively work to understand women’s issues in order to help their female counterparts in the struggle for equality.
The idea of women’s rights, Stanton says, affects the entire family unit. Women around the world occupy a “degraded and inferior” position, and they must constantly put up with the ridicule and the cruel, lewd comments of the men around them when they try to stand by a man’s side as his equal. But God has put women and men on Earth to enjoy it equally. Women have been put down for so long that they may not know there is a solution to their pain.
In this passage, Stanton begins expanding several of her speech’s core rhetorical arguments. First, she makes the assertion that women’s issues don’t just affect women—because they affect women’s husbands and children as well, they are universal problems that need a serious global reckoning. Women’s rights aren’t just an issue in America—women all over the world, she posits, aren’t just excluded from public life but actively ridiculed and attacked when they try to change that fact. Stanton also brings religion into her argument here, widening the moral scope of her argument beyond the idea of earthly justice. By underscoring that women are exhausted and put upon, she highlights the serious toll women’s degradation and exclusion takes not just on individual women but on global society as a whole.
Though it’s impossible to address the entire present condition of women in one lecture, it is safe to say that wherever one turns, the history of women appears to be “sad and drear and dark.” Women don’t live under the “full blaze of the sun,” as men do—all around the world, women are regarded as inferior to their male counterparts.
In this passage, Stanton introduces some of her speech’s central images. She contrasts the dreary darkness of women’s history against the bright, blazing sun of enlightenment that marks men’s experiences in society. Stanton introduces sunlight as a symbol of the illuminating potential of equal rights. If granted equal rights, women will be able to experience the enlightening possibilities of education and suffrage—and they’ll also, more literally, be able to live lives outside of the private home spheres to which they’ve been relegated for centuries.
Whether a country is civilized or “heathen” doesn’t matter—women are essentially enslaved to men. Whether they do physical labor in the fields, domestic labor in the home, or the emotional labor of being “the idol of [man’s] lust,” women are treated like property or playthings. Even in the United States, women cannot hold office or vote—all of their rights are completely overlooked and disregarded.
In this passage, Stanton introduces yet another facet of her complex argument in favor of women’s rights. While her argument about “heathen” societies of the world may strike contemporary readers as reductive and racist, Stanton sought to widen her audience’s understanding of women’s experiences around the world. She wanted to show that while women in the United States are better off than women in other countries, the global fight for women’s rights was going to be a long and difficult one given how degrading and humiliating so many women’s positions around the world were.
Many men believe in their own “natural” superiority both in mind and body. These men ought to try comparing themselves to some of the great women of history, from leaders (like Elizabeth I of England) to writers to scientists to the “famous […] Amazones” (or Amazons, a mythical South American tribe comprised entirely of females). The men who object to women’s equality are often well-educated and well-traveled, yet they are utterly barbaric—and such men must be “vanquished.”
Here, Stanton ridicules the idea that men are naturally superior to women in any way. Such arguments had been used for centuries to excuse the subordination of women—but in highlighting various examples of women’s intellectual, moral, and physical strength, Stanton points out that this line of reasoning is nothing but a fallacy. She suggests that any men who seek to keep women in subordinate positions by using such flawed logic must be defeated. Such men are responsible for the slow but steady degradation of global society because they keep society focused on backwards, “barbaric” ways of thinking.
It can’t be decided whether men are actually superior to women until women have had a “fair trial” and have been allowed to participate in higher education and the professional world for at least a century. Until women are allowed to put themselves first and pursue the same opportunities as men, Stanton will not hear any more about men’s “boasted greatness.”
Because men have been given an unfair advantage in society up to this point, Stanton suggests, it’s impossible to know whether there is in fact a superior sex. Stanton points out that women have been barred from the spaces in which men are able to brag about their own success: education, religion, and politics were all off-limits to women of Stanton’s era. So while men claim at they’re superior to women in many ways, the truth is that they’ve just been given an unfair head start—until women are able to enjoy many decades of a leveled playing field, any arguments on which sex is the superior one will remain irrelevant.
Women are tired of watching men throw away the opportunities that women so desperately yearn for. Men squander their educations while women, confined to the home, must resign themselves to abandoning even the simplest of enjoyments—music and literature, for example—in order to care for their husbands and children. While men are “infinitely happy,” women can barely “endure” their own circumstances.
This passage gets at the core of Stanton’s sadness and dissatisfaction with the state of relations between the sexes. Men are given unfair advantages over their female counterparts—and they don’t even try to even the score. Men are told they can achieve anything, and they’re given unfettered access to education, suffrage, and participation in public life. But they don’t even try to share their knowledge with women or to fight on behalf of women’s rights. Men, this passage suggests, know how difficult and miserable things are for many women—but they do nothing with their power and privilege to ease women’s suffering.
Society, in Stanton’s estimation, has hardly progressed at all since Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden. There, the two had everything they needed—but “The Evil One,” or Satan, was troubled by their happiness and decided to destroy it. Satan knew he could destroy Adam through his affection for Eve—but that Eve could only be reached through intellect. So, Satan promised Eve knowledge and offered to expand her world by inviting her to eat an apple that would offer her knowledge of good and evil. When Eve offered the apple to Adam, he ate it without thinking about it. So, all along, men are the ones who have been driven by affection and emotion rather than intellect.
In this passage, Stanton suggests that while society deems men as having superior intellect, there is actually precedent for their susceptibility to emotionality and irrationality. In citing the biblical story of Adam and Eve—which has been used to demonize women as greedy traitors for millennia—Stanton humorously reckons with how even contemporary religion seeks to keep women down. In reality, society needs to more closely examine its foundational myths and reassess which traits define which sex.
Next, Stanton turns her attentions to claims of men’s moral superiority. Only men are allowed to attend seminaries and study religion—yet men are nowhere near the perfect ideal of a devoted, self-sacrificing being of “perfect moral rectitude.” Even faith leaders from different sects and religions fight as bitterly among themselves as common politicians—and even priests are not unimpeachably virtuous, pure, and chaste. Religious leaders commit “sickening deed[s]” too—and if they aren’t above sin, neither are doctors, lawyers, or any other men.
In her discussion of men’s ostensible moral superiority over women, Stanton calls out the idea of moral authority as yet another way that men seek to keep women in subordinate positions even as they hypocritically flout any real moral code. Stanton suggests that even the men in society who should be held to the most stringent moral standards—religious leaders—are just as prone to vice as anyone else. By pointing out the hypocrisy and abdication of duty that blights moral leadership in America, Stanton debunks the idea that men are naturally somehow more virtuous or righteous than women.
Men, in Stanton’s estimation, are “infinitely woman’s inferior in every moral virtue.” Men are selfish where women are giving—yet they excuse their own behavior by claiming that God made women to be inherently “self-denying.” In fact, women have been educated to deny themselves, whereas men have been educated to indulge themselves. It is ridiculous to claim that God would have made men and women differently—in fact, God commands men to exhibit the same selflessness and kindness he commands of women. Men should guard their virtues just as carefully as women do.
Here, Stanton delves even more deeply into the intricacies of men and women’s comparative morality. While men have been given license to do whatever they please and face no consequences, women have been held to stringent moral standards since time immemorial. For this reason, it may seem that women are inherently more virtuous and giving—but in fact, societal pressure has made them this way. Stanton uses religious rhetoric here to further underscore her assertion that men and women were created exactly the same—and that it only because society treats them differently that they’ve adapted to act differently.
Stanton clarifies that she isn’t calling for women to be or to act “less pure,” but for men to act more purely. Both men and women should be guided by the same moral code. Men should suffer the same consequences women do for moral impropriety—they’ve gotten away with too much for too long, and as a result, the world has been filled with depravity and degeneracy. Both men and women have suffered as a result, and the world has become a much more vulgar and coarse place.
Stanton’s activism, which would later come to be known as first-wave feminism, wasn’t defined by the assertion that women deserved more than men or that they were inherently superior to men. Instead, Stanton defined her politics by the belief that men and women had been created by God as equals, and so should treat one another as equals in all matters. One sex’s behaviors and actions, she suggested, always had an impact on the other. The world, Stanton believed, had become corrupt and vulgar due to society’s refusal to hold men accountable for their behavior. So women didn’t need the freedom to act vulgarly, too—rather, men needed to get their act together and behave in a way befitting a creature of God.
Next, Stanton turns her attentions to men’s claims to physical superiority. She knows that many will be scandalized by her claims that men have no physical superiority over women. But until women have been granted opportunities for the same physical educations as their male counterparts, it is impossible to say if men are truly physically superior to women. Strength and size aren’t all that matter—endurance is a tremendous part of physical strength and superiority.
Here, Stanton once again debunks a baseless claim of male superiority. She suggests that physical prowess is more complicated than it seems. Men are generally larger than women, so they’re seen as being stronger. But women, Stanton suggests, have plenty of unrealized and unexplored potential when it comes to physical strength. Additionally, women are skilled in enduring terrible things. Stanton isn’t just referencing the dearth of women’s rights—she’s also tacitly acknowledging how women must often face threats of violence, especially sexual violence, due to their subordinate positions in society. Women are stronger than they seem, and it would be ridiculous to assert that men are inherently stronger than women given the head-start they’ve had in life.
The strength of the body depends on the power of the will. After all, no one claims that horses are physically superior to men. Horses have great power, but the power of man’s mind allows him to assert dominance over the horse and guide it wherever he chooses. The power of the mind isn’t connected to the size and strength of the body. Many small men possess great intellectual power and emotional courage.
By invoking the metaphor of the horse here, Stanton suggests that physical strength alone isn’t a marker of power, endurance, or potential. Horses are stronger animals than men by far, yet humans’ superior intellect allows them to command horses. Men use the argument of their greater physical stature to justify their cruel treatment of women—but Stanton suggests that women will no longer tolerate such a ridiculous, faulty argument.
It’s impossible to know what physical feats women could achieve if they were allowed to play and romp and hunt and fight as men are. Women from other cultures and countries ride horses, till fields, and carry heavy burdens while their husbands rest and idle. Yet when women have “well developed intellectual region[s]” they’re called masculine, and when men are simple and small-minded, they’re called feminine. But the brain “grows with using,” no matter an individual’s sex.
In this passage, Stanton points out the numerous double standards to which women are constantly held. Women all over the world prove their physical might in many ways—yet any time they try to assert their physical or intellectual worth, they’re constantly reminded that strong bodies and minds are considered exclusively masculine traits. This is yet another way that men have rigged society against women: they’ve claimed that weakness is inherently feminine, while strength is inherently masculine in flagrant disregard for the fundamental similarities between the two sexes.
The women of New York have met at conventions in Rochester and Seneca Falls over the last several months to discuss their “rights and wrongs.” At these conventions, women didn’t just discuss their social rights or bash their husbands or demand to be clothed in men’s attire. In fact, men’s clothing, Stanton jokes, violate every standard of beauty that women hold dear. And after all, bishops, priests, judges, and even the Pope of Rome wear long, flowing, feminine robes in their professions.
In this passage, Stanton asserts, once again, that women don’t want to switch places with men or usurp men’s roles in society. All they want is the freedom that comes with equal rights. Throughout her speech, Stanton is systematically debunking the many excuses men use to ignore or undermine the women’s rights movement. It’s important that in this section, she highlights the “wrongs” perpetuated against women by men who seek to corrupt or pervert the mission of the women’s rights movement.
What the women did assemble to protest was a government that exists without the consent of the women it governs. Women should be free in the same way men are free. They should be represented in government—they pay taxes, after all—and they should be able to earn incomes, hold property, and fight unjust laws. All women want is to uplift their own “fallen divinity” on to an “even pedestal with man.”
Even as Stanton uses this section of her speech to discuss women’s political and fiscal rights, she underscores the moment with an appeal couched in religious language. Both women and men are “divine” creatures because they’ve been created in God’s own image. Yet men debase women by denying them man-made rights. Stanton is underscoring that men shouldn’t have the authority to keep women down or to govern them without their consent—women have a divine right to occupy a equal position in society beside men, not below them.
At the Seneca Falls convention, Stanton and her fellow women declared their own right to vote under the U.S. constitution. Women don’t need to be accomplished lawmakers or politicians in order to vote—even the most ignorant men, after all, have the right to participate in democracy. Men of all stripes are considered equal in America, no matter the size or value of their mind, body, or estate—so women, too, should have the right to vote.
Here, Stanton points out that while different kinds of men are certainly unequal to one another in intelligence and morality, they’re seen as one homogenous group and are all allotted the right to vote. Even the best of women, though, are seen as being somehow lower than men, and they’re excluded from public life. This is an injustice that, in Stanton’s estimation, can no longer be tolerated.
It is “grossly insulting” for women to watch the most vile, stupid men enjoy full rights while women cannot participate in public life. No just government can be formed without the consent of the governed—and women will not be silent on this matter until there is change.
Here, Stanton is pointing out the compounding indignities women must bear as they watch the men in their lives enjoy freedoms that they cannot. In Stanton’s view, it is not only humiliating, but also unconstitutional, for women to be so excluded from a say in their own country’s government. By appealing not only to her audience’s emotions, but to their sense of justice as well, Stanton is hoping to get more people dedicated to the cause of women’s rights.
Many men claim that women are too pure to participate in public life alongside the very rowdiest and worst of men. But Stanton’s counterargument is that women, if allowed to participate more in the public sphere, might indeed mitigate the violence and vulgarity of the world that men have long presided over. After all, as a pacifist, Stanton believes that men should reject war and violence and learn to be better to one another—with or without the influence of women.
Stanton is deftly anticipating and overturning every possible argument to women’s suffrage (and more general participation in public life) that comes her way. By suggesting that women’s participation in American society might actually stand to improve that society from the inside out, Stanton is forcing those who oppose women’s rights to admit that they care more about keeping women out of public spaces than potentially bettering their society. Stanton is placing her opponents in a kind of catch-22: if women are so gentle and pure, she’s suggesting, society would ostensibly become more peaceful and generous with their input.
Many men ask what women would gain by voting. If women had a voice in government, the laws that govern women might be fairer. Women aren’t consulted on anything—instead, men represent all their interests. Men try to satisfy women in other ways by insisting women are too delicate and pure to endure the “tempests of public life.” But the care and protection men give women is equal to the protection “the wolf gives the lamb.”
Here, Stanton is dismantling the condescending, paternalistic rhetoric that men use to keep women out of public life. Men suggest that women cannot weather the “tempests,” or storms, of life in the public sphere. But as Stanton shows, such language is patronizing and demeaning, suggesting that women must be shielded and protected from everything. In reality, men aren’t protecting women—they’re threatening them. By comparing men to wolves and women to lambs, Stanton is externalizing the fear women experience—and the cruelty men leverage against them—in debates about what women should have the right to do.
Women are so entrapped by men that many young women who discover the cause of women’s rights ridicule it themselves. But hopefully, Stanton says, when women are granted greater freedoms, they will stop finding “glory in their bondage.” Women in the Eastern world are held in “harems” and constantly reminded of their inferiority. Women who have traveled there claim that Eastern women pity Western women for being free—Eastern women feel that the intensity of their imprisonment speaks to their value.
In this passage, Stanton explores how women, both in America and abroad, have internalized so much of men’s rhetoric against women that they actually come to see their “bondage” as a form of protection. Men want women to believe that in being excluded from public life, they’re being shielded from danger. But in reality, men are just keeping women from using their voices. While Stanton’s assessment of how “Eastern” women are treated is racist and reductive by today’s standards, she uses the anecdote about women who see enslavement as an assessment of their great value to point out how insidious men’s methods of control truly are.
But Western women know better; they cannot be content as long as they cannot have an equal share in the world of man. Women must demand equality—they must stand beside their husbands as peers and look only to God their “Maker” as superior above them. Women must learn to see themselves as entitled to earthly rights, beholden only to the moral accountability required to one day enter Heaven.
In this passage, Stanton appeals to her audience’s sense of pride by stating that enlightened Christian women who live in the Western world are already leagues ahead of their fellow women elsewhere around the globe. She’s doing so to bolster their sense of self-worth—because she knows that it is only through a sense of dignity and worth that women will be able to join the fight. It is time, Stanton says, for women to stop looking to men for approval—as long as they look to God as their only moral authority, they will be righteous, and their cause will succeed .
To women who say that the Bible commands they must obey their husbands, Stanton has a ready reply: she claims that these women have not read the Bible correctly. God, after all, didn’t tell Adam and Eve anything about being obedient to one another—throughout the Bible, God addresses men and women as equals. St. Paul’s minor claim that wives must “obey [their] Husbands in the Lord” is up to women to interpret, according to Stanton—women must decide for themselves “what is in the Lord.” But refuting equality between the sexes based on biblical claims is too complicated a road to go down, and so Stanton will say only that the Bible’s best books actually argue for freedom, justice, and love.
In this passage, Stanton continues to place power back in the hands of the women in her audience. For too long, society and religion have told women that they’re somehow inherently lesser or subordinate to men. But by reminding the women in her audience that they alone have the power to decide what is godly, she’s restoring some of their agency and helping them realize how men have weaponized potential sources of strength against them. The idea of women being able to assess for themselves “what is in the Lord” was an incredibly powerful one. Men had been seen for so long as the only worthy interpreters of the Bible—but Stanton wanted women to claim their right to decide such personal matters, like religion and belief, for themselves.
Next, Stanton turns her attentions to the education society—“one of the greatest humbugs of the day.” It is “monstrous and absurd” that women should receive inferior educations while men hoard learning to themselves. Women go ignorant unnecessarily, toiling at idle tasks like stitching while even “great strong lug[s]” of men are thoroughly educated. Men’s educations come at the expense of women’s. Any man who avails himself of such a thing should be morally obligated to use his knowledge to educate women around the world. It is vulgar and cruel for men to boast of their own intellectual superiority rather than help women who cannot secure educations for themselves.
In this passage, Stanton points out one of men’s great moral failings. They know that women are being unfairly denied equal access to education—and yet they don’t take any initiative to share what they learn in school and in seminary with their female counterparts. Men don’t think twice about the rights they’re afforded—and Stanton suggests that many men don’t even appreciate their educations. Yet all the while, men claim to be superior to women based on their educations. This vicious cycle is, in Stanton’s estimation, vile and predatory. Men should be helping women to grow and learn rather than seeing them as useless, dull, or subordinate.
But men are too proud and selfish to use their educations for good. Women who can neither read nor write are so generous that they do whatever is necessary to scrape together the money to educate their sons—but men never return the favor. Stanton encourages those in attendance—especially women—to stop donating money to the education society. Women have worked long enough for men while getting nothing in return.
The education society, which helped young men without good finances gain access to educations in universities and ministries, helped many disadvantaged men. Women, as some of the primary donors to the education society, were in a way responsible for helping those young men. So here, Stanton is suggesting that because men don’t share the knowledge they gain over the course their educations, women should stop sharing their time and resources as well until there is equality for all.
Many people argue against women’s education by stating that educated women would destroy the intrinsic harmony of the domestic sphere. But there’s no such thing as a truly harmonious household in the first place—every housewife is forced to remain “meek and subdued” as they care for sick children and mend their husband’s tattered garments. Men can’t converse with their wives the way they can with their educated peers, and so women don’t even receive equal attention or love from their husbands. Isolated and alone, women find few comforts in their homes in the first place.
Here, Stanton overturns a claim that was, at the time, treated as fact: that women across America presided over harmonious, peaceful homes, and that entry into academia or the public sphere would somehow disrupt their ability to maintain that harmony. But Stanton believes that homes are not the idyllic, blissful retreats that Americans consider them to be: every home is fundamentally an unequal, discordant place as long as women must shoulder all the burdens of homemaking and reap none of the joys of equality.
Women are forced to be perfectly subordinate and abandon all will of their own. Men require their wives to wait on them hand and foot—yet even when their wives fall ill, these men can’t be bothered to care for them. God gave women “holy love” for their husbands and children—but women have been made to experience a twisted, forced version of that love. It is a mother’s “sacred duty” to shield their families from violence, and so women must recognize the violence inherent in their own oppression.
In this passage, Stanton coldly satirizes the idea that women’s sense of “holy love” for and “sacred duty” to their families is any more intrinsic than men’s supposed superiority. Women have been forced to put all of their available energy into doting on their husbands and children because there are no other opportunities or pursuits available to them. So while women have indeed become capable, generous caregivers, it’s not because of any innate “holiness” or sanctity—it’s because society has relegated women to the domestic sphere.
Even in households where “Hen-pecked Husband[s]” defer to their wives so that everything runs smoothly, there is no harmony. The only truly happy households are the ones in which men and women share equally in the governing of their homes. No dignity can be found when one spouse is subordinate, and no happiness can be found when one spouse is not free.
Stanton uses this moment to state that she believes domestic harmony is a fallacy perpetuated in order to keep women down. There can only be true happiness when neither men nor women rule over one another. For homes to become happy places that raise prosperous children, there must be complete equality between the sexes.
Stanton finds it strange that men are “slow to admit” to the intellectual and moral power of women. After all, throughout history, there have been far more good queens than good kings. Monarchs like Margaret of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden and Isabella of Spain have done much more for their countries than any man has. Women are generous of spirit and strong of character—they make good, just, and fair negotiators and leaders, and they remain devoted wives and mothers even in positions of power.
Here, Stanton cites several examples of female monarchs in Europe who have led their countries to unity, prosperity, and glory. If women in other countries can not only participate in public life but indeed occupy the highest station in their land, she’s suggesting, American women must at least demand the immediate right to suffrage. Men who insist that women are unfit for public life or otherwise unequipped to have a say in how their countries are run are perpetuating a harmful lie about women’s inferiority simply for the purpose of barring women from equality.
In times of national crisis, men often turn to women for advice and aid. Women like Hannah More, a celebrated English religious thinker and writer, have steered the course of history by influencing the men around them. And it was Isabella, after all, who urged Christopher Columbus to sail to America. The public prejudice against women in the U.S. is much like the “prejudice against colour that has been proved to be so truly American.” Women like Joan of Arc have saved their countries and inspired greatness—yet there is no faith in or enthusiasm for women’s capabilities in the United States.
Not only are women capable of doing public-facing jobs and steering their governments, Stanton suggests, but men in other countries often actually seek the counsel of their female counterparts. This underscores Stanton’s assertion that discrimination against women is, in many ways, a uniquely American problem. She suggests that the U.S. is laden with prejudices—not just against women—and it is time for the men in power to recognize the nation’s moral failings and reckon with how these unseemly prejudices are hampering the nation’s progress.
The United States has come to a place of “moral stagnation.” War, slavery, and vice have corrupted the nation—and the forced subordination of women is the reason that so many problems have seized the country. Women languish in obscurity, unable to speak or vote, while men struggle to “redeem [their] race unaided.” Because women and men have never truly been equal, there has never been a “truly great and virtuous nation” on Earth.
Here, Stanton points out several of the problems currently plaguing the U.S. She makes reference to the abomination of slavery, the difficult war with Mexico that was just ending at the time of her speech, and the lack of temperance laws (an issue that was particularly important to Stanton as an advocate of temperance, or abstention from alcohol). She’s saying that there are so many problems in the U.S. that men—who have created all these problems in the first place—can’t possibly fix the nation or redeem their own failings alone. The U.S. conceives of itself as a new kind of nation—yet it is squandering an opportunity to be the world’s first authentically “virtuous” nation by pioneering unequivocal equality between the sexes.
As long as the women of America remain “half developed,” so too will the men they raise and send out into the world be only half developed. The husbands of women who aren’t allowed to explore their full potential will suffer, too, as long as their family units are sites of deprivation and “violence.”
In this passage, Stanton asserts that the state of women’s lives reflect the state of their nation’s health. Right now, in the U.S., women are “half developed” due to their exclusion from public life and education. And because of this, the children they raise and the husbands they attend to can only ever be “half developed” as well. Women’s degradation, Stanton asserts, is at the core of every single one of the United States’ political, social, and moral failings.
American women must armor themselves against their enemies. Like Joan of Arc, they must heed the voices within them telling them to aspire to more and fulfill the prophecy of equality that has long been foretold. The struggle ahead will be long and hard, and many will oppose the fight for equal rights. But women must stay strong and steadfast as they carry the banner of their fight.
Stanton begins to wrap up her speech by instigating a rousing call to arms. Women in the United States, she says, must no longer accept unequal treatment. Instead, they must look to the legacies of the powerful women who have come before them and draw strength from their stories. Men are not going to take up the cause of women’s rights—it must be women themselves who advocate tirelessly for their own equality.
A new era is about to dawn. The old guard must yield, and the tyrants must surrender. Women cannot be held captive any longer—their “slumber is broken” and the days of darkness are over. All over the globe, legions of women are about to rise and resolve “to be free or perish.”
Here, Stanton brings back the symbolic imagery of sunlight, dawn, and awakening. She’s stating that a new era of women’s equality will be as warming and illuminating as a bright dawn after a long, numbing “slumber.” Women must see their freedom as the glorious thing it is so that they are more motivated to fight for it with all that they have.
The new “flashing sunlight” of the women’s movement will make dark the old world dominated by men. Women will no longer live in “narrow and circumscribed sphere[s]” assigned to them by men. God, after all, gave women the same powers and faculties he gave to men—and women’s lives are just as divine as those of their male counterparts. Men must revere women “that that is of like nature with [them]selves”—in other words, women.
By contrasting the bright sunlight of equality against the dank, cramped darkness of subordination, Stanton is encouraging the women in her audience to aspire toward more than they currently have. Men have relegated women to the shadows of society for too long, but women know that they deserve equality. So men, too, must be brought under the “flashing sunlight” of the women’s movement and begin to understand that God himself has ordained women to be their equals and companions.
Women must “persist to ask,” and justice will eventually come. Men and women, together as Kings and Queens, must demand their “castles” and “palace homes.” Only then will they “see what few have seen.”
Here, Stanton continues to use rousing, evocative language as she paints a portrait of men and women ascending together into shining palaces as equal rulers of their own destinies. By using the attractive imagery of palaces—and the vague, enticing language of “see[ing] what few have seen”—Stanton is allowing her audience to imagine for themselves the illuminating, limitless potential that equality will bring to every aspect of life: relationships, politics, and the edifications of men and women alike.