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Susan B. Anthony

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Susan B. Anthony’s Quakerism and its Importance in the Feminist Narrative
The word feminist as known by the mass media, and the general population carries a myriad of connotations and a series of perceived stigmas that mark feminism as “dangerous” or “controversial” (Offen, 1988). In the same light, mass media has portrayed women’s rights movements as problematic, and that notion continues to exist today, difficulting any investigation on women and their history. Hence, achieving a “complete” definition of feminism would be an endeavor longer than the pages available. Consequently, this investigation will use the most accurate definition on hand, taking for valid the French-American feminist tradition where feminism is defined as.
“Feminism opposes women’s subordination to men in the family and society, along with men’s claims to define what is best for women without consulting them; it thereby offers a frontal challenge to patriarchal thought, social organization, and control mechanisms. It seeks to destroy masculinist hierarchy but not sexual dualism.” (Offen, 1988)
On the other hand, assessing the importance of women in the American history is often an underlooked subject that is often abandoned or cut short by the patriarchy efforts. Similarly, women in the American history receive the same treatment despite their efforts and their importance. So then, showing the importance of Susan B. Anthony, as well as her grit and determination to succeed in making women’s lives better, is a show of her compromise to the feminist cause, albeit at her time such cause did not exist as it does today.

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To understand Susan B. Anthony’s notions of gender equality, it is important to comprehend one of the capital beliefs of Quakerism that revolves around the concept that ‘God in every man’ applies equally to women and stems from the earliest days of Quakerism (Quakers in the World 1). Hence, as a Quaker women, she was used to living a life of almost equality, as most Quakers considered men and women had spiritual equality and deemed both sexes as equal (Taylor 13). By the same token, women could preach and be ingrained in the community, despite being dominated by male members. Also, Quaker laws granted women the same rights and authority that man had and encouraged literacy among women. However, it is possible that given the Christian background of his faith, some decisions such as refusing the right to abortion and linking the life of the unborn child to its mother’s might stem from their Quaker background (Thomas 9).
By actively promoting the education of both sexes since the 17th century, Quakers showed how women and men could be equal. They founded colleges and schools to serve women and even allowed women to enroll for the degree of Doctor of Medicine. That way, Quakerism can be seen as one of the first Christian denominations that helped women and offered them equality of rights regardless their situations in the “outside world.” Consequently, Quaker women such as Susan B. Anthony enjoyed a high degree of autonomy and authority that dated from the beginning of the establishment of the Society of Friends basing on the belief that man and women are one in Jesus Christ. That belief, and that leniency toward woman could have sparked Anthony’s zeal to correct what she considered as unfair (NWSA 2). Hence, her position as a Quaker has much to do with her views regarding women and what would become today’s feminism.
To assess the importance of her religion in her narrative, this essay shall speak about two instances on which religion might have influenced her views: Abortion and suffrage. On one hand, abortion is not an issue to which she cared much about. Nevertheless, the evidence points toward her opposition to abortion. She committed to undoing gender oppression, and abortion seemed to be a form of abuse as it shattered the notion of enduring commitment and the preservation of life. Nevertheless, she identified how violence relates to the lives of many women and that most of the times those pregnancies did not come from a healthy environment (Clerk 2).
However, it is impossible to say for sure whether she would have chosen to support abortion if she would have lived in this particular era. The only thing that can be said for sure is that she would have kept her word concerning taking nonviolent choices regarding their bodies and their lives. Perhaps something such as the famous slogan “my body my decision,” but adapted to an anti-abortion rhetoric. In her words “… abortions and infanticides are perpetual reminders of men’s incapacity to cope successfully with this monster evil of society.” (Clark 3)
Regarding suffrage, Susan B. Anthony helped to propose the first deep draft of a women’s suffrage amendment. To her and other feminists, the right to vote was an essential right, and it could serve as a platform to gaining other rights and truly contribute to the country’s growth. Consequently, when seeing the Seneca Falls Declaration, a glimpse of the Quakerism as a driving force in the Women’s movement can be considered in the light of the “Declaration of Sentiments”, modelled after the Declaration of Independence and its beginning that says “all men are created equal” (Quakers in the World 1) and considered that most men have squelched women’s rights, and they needed to retake them in non-violent fashion. Similarly, the creation of committees and associations to improve their visibility resulted in the creation of the American Equal Rights Association. Their motto “Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less,” as a way to establish their beliefs that Jesus Christ manifests in both women and man regardless of their sex. To Quaker women such as Susan B. Anthony, campaigning for their beliefs was something habitual, as the Friends had a tradition of women preachers, and many of her speeches have a marked preacher-like rhetoric.
To sum up, it is possible to say that the Quakerism has enriched the early feminist narrative by proposing a series of non-violent options that employed the institutions as the way to elicit real change. Hence, the Quakers used their influences and their knowledge of the systems as well as their superior schooling and preparation to make lasting changes in the country’s evolution. Nevertheless, it is important to note that there was not such a thing as a “Quaker agenda” related to women suffrage. Although the Friends did not help, it is possible to say that they prepared these leaders to take actions and change the country. For this reason, Susan B. Anthony and the rest of the women of this early feminism confronted a system and eventually won, not by sheer force, but by the words and by making people understand that women are not toys not tools, they have the same rights and the same feelings.
Works Cited
Clark, C. “The Truth About Susan B. Anthony: Did One of America’s First Feminists Oppose Abortion?” The American Feminist (2007). Web. 25 Oct. 2015.
“Quakers and the American Women’s Suffrage Movement.” Quakers in the World. Quakers in the World. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.
“Rights of Women.” Quakers in the World. Quakers in the World. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.
Offen, K. “Defining Feminism: A Comparative Historical Approach.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society Signs 14.1 (1988): 119. JSTOR. Web. 19 Sept. 2015. <http://drbeardmoose.com/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/whatisfeminism.pdf>.
Thomas, T.A. “Misappropriating Women’s History in the Law and Politics of Abortion.” Seattle University Law Review 36.1 (2012): 1-67. Web. 26 Oct. 2015

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