Harriot Stanton Blatch and the Winning of Woman Suffrage.
Last summer marked the 150th anniversary of the woman's rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York. Susan B. Anthony received considerable attention even though she did not attend that historic meeting and was not yet working for suffrage in 1848. Nonetheless, Anthony looms larger in popular memory than her colleagues, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who convened the Seneca Falls meeting. If Stanton has been overshadowed by Anthony, the life of her daughter Harriot Stanton Blatch has received virtually no attention from the general public and relatively little from women's historians. Ellen DuBois sets out to rectify this in Harriot Stanton Blatch and the Winning of Woman Suffrage.
Blatch is best known for her innovative leadership of the New York state suffrage movement in the early years of the twentieth century. She revitalized this movement with an organization drawing both working-class and upper-class women into activism and she employed novel tactics such as outdoor meetings, parades, and the strenuous lobbying of politicians. Blatch can be credited with helping to bring woman suffrage to New York, a state pivotal to the national campaign.
DuBois argues that Blatch's life can help us better understand the women's movement of the early twentieth century. During two schisms which are usually seen as two-sided, Blatch offered alternatives. In the 1910s Blatch was not fully aligned with either the National American Woman Suffrage Association or the group later known as the National Woman's Party in their fight over tactics as well as basic principles. A few years later, after the achievement of suffrage, Blatch did not ally with either position in the acrimonious debate between those who supported protective labour legislation for women and those who advocated strict legal equality between men and women. In both cases, Blatch presented alternatives which could have helped resolve debilitating fights and broaden feminist action.
Understanding Blatch's role allows for a more subtle analysis not only of these two debates but of feminist activism in general. In the 1920s, for example, Blatch offered an alternative to a debate which women's historians have summarized as a fight over the principles of "equality versus difference." Blatch advocated a mixture of equality and difference: protective labour legislation for all workers and mothers' pensions for women with children. In this way, Blatch attempted to broaden feminism by combining her concern with the position of women as a group with concern for the rights of workers. Blatch's ideas underscored the fact that feminists faced more than two choices in the 1910s and later in the 1920s.
Blatch seemed to come by her interests naturally; she was the sixth child of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Henry Stanton, a reformer, journalist, and politician. Blatch followed more closely in her mother's footsteps than did any of her siblings and DuBois analyzes this relationship closely. DuBois argues that Henry Stanton greatly influenced his daughter as well, leading her to value electoral politics far more than her fellow suffragists did. This was apparent in her persistent and successful lobbying of state politicians leading to the first referendum on woman suffrage in New York.
DuBois argues that Blatch differed from colleagues not only in terms of the importance she placed on politics but also in terms of her analysis of industrial class relations. After marrying an upper-class Englishman in 1882, Blatch settled in England where she eventually joined the Fabian Society. Belief in socialism led Blatch, when she returned to the United States, to join the cross-class Women's Trade Union League, and more importantly, to establish the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women. The Equality League was an organization of working-class suffragists and professional, elite women, a group virtually unique in its emphasis on working women and its linkage of suffrage to the trade union movement.
DuBois may overstate the exceptionalism of Blatch's attention to class issues. Few other American women's rights activists shared Blatch's Fabian experience, but during the Progressive era, many reformers forged a radical understanding of twentieth-century class relations and attempted to work for (if not always with) working-class women. Kathryn Kish Sklar's recent biography of Florence Kelley, to take just one example, reveals a woman dedicated to empowering both women and the working class.
By the mid-1920s, Blatch was largely marginalized in feminist political circles. She joined the Socialist party, and later worked on the Progressive party campaign of Robert La Follette but progressivism was dead; women as a group had limited success in building on the achievements of suffrage and American politics had become far more conservative. Largely left behind, Blatch spent her last years working to restore her mother's memory to its rightful place at the head of the women's rights pantheon and in so doing, Blatch worked to assure her own historical place. She was not successful before her death in 1940, but DuBois has skilfully taken up the task.
This book is significant less as a biography of one leader than as a challenge to reigning assumptions about the feminist movement. The very cause of Blatch's relative obscurity -- the fact that she forged her own path -- is the key to her importance. Blatch's life demonstrates that the feminist movement was more complex and contained more possibilities than is often acknowledged.
St. Anselm College
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||Canadian Journal of History|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Apr 1, 1999|
|Previous Article:||Early American Railroads: Franz Anton Ritter von Gerstner's `Die innern Communicationen,' 1842-1843.|
|Next Article:||A History of Latin America: Empires and Sequels, 1450-1930.|