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Reviewed by:
  • Lucretia Mott's Heresy: Abolition and Women's Rights in Nineteenth-Century America, and: Elizabeth Cady Stanton: An American Life
  • Catherine J. Lanctot (bio)
Lucretia Mott's Heresy: Abolition and Women's Rights in Nineteenth-Century America. By Carol Faulkner. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011. Pp. 291. Cloth, $45.00.)
Elizabeth Cady Stanton: An American Life. By Lori D. Ginzberg. (New York: Hill and Wang, 2009. Pp. 254. Cloth, $25.00; paper, $16.00.)

Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton remain permanently enshrined in the creation myth of the American woman suffrage movement. Their tale runs from the legendary 1840 meeting between the newlywed Stanton and the committed Quaker abolitionist Mott at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, through the first public demand for woman suffrage at the 1848 Women's Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, New York, where Mott famously chided Stanton: "Why Lizzie, thee will make us ridiculous." Mott then vanishes, and only in recent decades has Stanton reemerged with any prominence. In two new biographies, Carol Faulkner and Lori D. Ginzberg seek to restore balance to the traditional assessment of these nineteenth-century reformers.

Faulkner succeeds admirably in asserting that Mott was the "foremost white female abolitionist" (4). William Lloyd Garrison characterized Mott as a "bold and fearless thinker" (62), and her inflexible approach as a "radical purist" provided a necessary impetus to the abolitionist movement (149). The woman so fervently committed to "belligerent non-resistance" (166) that she called Lincoln's first inaugural address "diabolical" (177) differs markedly from the sentimental image of Mott as the "gentle Quaker" (3). Faulkner also effectively exhumes Mott's role in the tumultuous religious controversies that wracked the American Quaker community.

Mott's place in the inception of the suffrage movement is more complex. Exclusion of women at the World Anti-Slavery Convention was a mere distraction for Mott, who would later be seen as a heretic for her radical views on immediate abolition. For Stanton, young enough to be Mott's daughter, exposure to entrenched male privilege and a powerful female role model would permanently alter her life. Similar differences emerged at Seneca Falls, as Mott's famous term "ridiculous" stemmed from a Quaker discomfort with government and party politics that Stanton, the daughter of a country lawyer, did not share.

Seventy-two years old when slavery was formally abolished, Mott lacked patience for the internecine conflicts that consumed the women's rights movement, and she resigned from the National Woman Suffrage Association due to her deep discomfort with Stanton's racist outbursts. [End Page 88] Nevertheless, her last public appearance on the national stage was at the thirtieth anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention in 1878, when she was well into her eighties.

Faulkner occasionally falters in bringing Mott to life, in light of her subject's general lack of personal introspection, and occasionally she may overstate Mott's prominence. Whether Mott would have approved of such praise is another matter; as she told one correspondent shortly before her death, "I'm a very much overrated woman" (210).

The brilliant and charismatic Elizabeth Cady Stanton never thought of herself as "overrated." In her insightful and lively biography, Ginzberg grapples with this large personality, concisely setting out Stanton's emergence as a leading female reformer and celebrity. Ginzberg plainly sees her adversarial work as a necessary corrective to apologists who have whitewashed this complex historical figure.

Ginzberg is sharply critical of Stanton, focusing on her "ugly, conscious, and unforgivable" appeals to nativist and racist sentiments (121). She has little patience with the argument that Stanton's outbursts should not be judged by twenty-first-century standards. For Ginzberg, there is no dilemma: Stanton was an upper-class white woman who reveled in privilege and never questioned her own deep-rooted prejudices based on race and class.

Even if it is fair to blame Stanton for these faults, however, Ginzberg's view of Stanton in many other particulars is colored by this disapproval. Indeed, in describing Stanton's worldview as one of "oppositional skeptic[ism]," Ginzberg inadvertently describes her own (190). In her contrarian view of the Seneca Falls Convention, the demands in the Declaration of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2159-9807
Print ISSN
2154-4727
Pages
pp. 88-90
Launched on MUSE
2012-02-23
Open Access
No
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