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On Doing Research

With a little over a month until the publication date–May 10th–of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: A Friendship That Changed the World, I’m going to write a series of posts about pieces of my research process.  Yes, “pieces” because research for me is akin to putting together a jigsaw puzzle, the major exception being, of course, that I have to make the pieces.  To do that, I start by coming up with a list of pieces I need to make.  For this book, one piece was comments/impressions that people– close friends to reporters to adversaries–recorded about Elizabeth & Susan in letters, speeches, articles, books, etc.  Here’s a sampling from Martha Wright:

Martha Wright, a co-founder along with her sister Lucretia Mott, Jane Hunt, Mary Ann M’Clintock, and Elizabeth of the first Woman’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, NY, in 1848, became a close friend with both Elizabeth and Susan, although it took her awhile to warm up to Susan. In 1850, she wrote to Elizabeth M’Clintock, the daughter of Mary Ann, “I love Mrs. Stanton for the ardor and energy she shows in advocating our cause, and envy her ability to clothe her thoughts in words that burn! In 1854 Martha wrote to her sister Lucretia about a visit with Elizabeth, “She is a very lovely looking unassuming woman, with all the graceful ease that characterizes one accustomed to refined society . . . .We all fell in love with Mrs. Stanton, the merry twinkle of her eye and her genuine hearty laugh would cure a misanthrope, and she talks so sensibly.”

After hearing Elizabeth and Susan speak at a woman’s rights meeting in March 1855,  she wrote to her sister Lucretia that the audience “listened with apparent interest to the Banthony’s hard facts, and the more polished periods of Mrs. Stanton.”  Martha went on to describe Susan’s “hammer and anvil style” and added “She is a good, worthy girl, and is doing her full part toward the promotion of the great cause to which she has devoted herself. I envy her business talent, and envy her capacity of saying all she does, but I hope it isn’t wicked to say that people of the Gradgrind stamp do not attract me so much as some others do.”  (Thomas Gradgrind is a tedious character in Charles Dickens’s Hard Times.)

Martha stopped using “Banthony” once she got to know Susan and they became close friends.  In a letter to Elizabeth in 1871, she referred to Susan as “Susan, dear indefatigable, indomitable, self-sacrificing Susan.”

In May 1872, Elizabeth and Susan had a falling out over Victoria Woodhull’s attempted take over of the National Woman Suffrage Association to further her presidential ambitions. Distraught by Elizabeth’s apparent support of Victoria, Susan sought refuge at Martha’s house.   After the weekend visit, which included another friend & co-worker, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Martha wrote to Elizabeth, “We wished for you all the time–for of course no effective programme of future measures to convulse the world could be satisfactorily evolved, without your aid. Susan mournfully came to the conclusion . . . for positive practical aid and wise suggestion Mrs. Stanton was the one to go to. . . . . she has the largest brain, had given the most thought to the subject . . . . I have always said that you & Susan were the complement of each other.”

Martha Wright died in 1875, years before Elizabeth in 1902 & Susan in 1906.  “In all the usual frictions, jealousies and antagonisms . . . Martha Wright never had a personal grievance or complaint,” Elizabeth wrote in a memorial. “Her voice was always for peace, except against the common enemy, there she was ever ready for uncompromising resistance.”  When Susan heard the news, she wrote in her diary,  “I could not believe it; clear-sighted, true and steadfast almost beyond all other women! Her home was my home, always so restful and refreshing, her friendship never failed; the darker the hour, the brighter were her words of encouragement, the stronger and closer her support.”

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