Coufal: Women: giving (overdue) credit for many contributions

Jim Coufal

Jim Coufal

by Jim Coufal

Throughout our male-dominated, misogynist history, the good works and many contributions of women have been overlooked, downplayed or conveniently forgotten. This brief look at a certain group of women, the freethinkers, is to give credit where it is clearly due. The women looked at below followed the motto of one of their members, Quaker Lucretia Mott, who said, “Truth for authority/ Not authority for truth.”
They were often disparaged because truth upsets the status quo, especially of those in authority, and that was what they sought to do.
All Americans, men and women, black and white, young and old should understand how these courageous women moved us upward on Martin Luther King’s arc of history. They worked for women’s suffrage, the rights of women, including the right to own property, to an education equal to that of men’s, to being able initiate divorce proceedings, the abolition of slavery, the equality of the races, to speak and teach in churches and politics, to go into professions and the separation of church and state.

These are things we take for granted today that were won for us by their hard fought efforts over many decades. They were precursors of the civil disobedience of the 1960s civil rights movement, of the current LBGT civil rights movement and others.
Any many of these things needs continued work today.
While they all were generally involved in more than one of these efforts, many became synonymous with a single arena. Anthony for women’s suffrage, Stanton for separation of church and state, Gage for bringing notice of the Bible and Christianity as the opponent of women’s rights.
Some brief quotes from the works of several of these women will need to suffice to give a feeling of their thoughts.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton – “As learned bishops and editors of religious newspapers are warning against further demands for new liberties, and clergymen are still preaching sermons on the ‘rib origin’ and refuse to receive women as delegates to their synods … it is evident that our demands for equal recognition should now be made of the Church for the same rights we have asked of the State for the last 50 years, for the same rights, privileges and immunities that men enjoy.
“We must demand that the canon law, the Mosaic code, the Scriptures, prayer books and liturgies be purged of all invidious distinctions of sex, of all false teaching…”
Some of the rights called for were as serious as that of initiating divorce proceeding, others as simple as wearing pants.
Madilyn Joslyn Gage – “In the old anti-slavery times, men did not hesitate to call the American Church the bulwark of American slavery. In like manner to-day we shall proclaim the Church—American, English, Greek, Protestant, Catholic—to be the bulwark of woman’s slavery.
“Man trained by the church from infancy that woman is secondary and inferior to him, made for him, to be obedient to him, the same idea permeating the Jewish and all Christian churches, all social, industrial and educational life, all civilians religious institutions, it is no subject of astonishment, if one gives a moment’s thought, that woman’s political enfranchisement is so long delayed…”
Another moment’s thought reveals a caution as we bewail Islam’s current treatment of women.
Susan B. Anthony –  Put suffrage above other concerns, but worked to enhance all women’s rights, black rights, and civil rights of all. She recognized what such works meant to those involved, and still do.
“Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about reform,” Anthony said. “Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out avow their sympathy with despised and persecuted ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences.”
Such ideas often appear to go through a sequence, as described by J. S. Haldane. First, this idea is worthless, insulting, unfounded. Second, it’s interesting but perverse. Third, it’s true but unimportant. Finally, it’s what I always agreed with.
Julia Ward Howe – Feminists then and now are often painted as wanting domination. Howe, as most of the others did, had a different vision. In 1908, she had a “vision of the world regenerated by the combined labor and love of Men and Women,” in which they stood “side-by-side, shoulder to shoulder, a calm and lofty and indomitable purpose lighting every face with the glory of this earth.”
A bonus is that Stanton, Gage and Anthony were from Central New York, as close as Fayetteville to Seneca Falls, with National Historical Sites to visit.
Stanton, Gage, Anthony, Howe, Lucy Colman, Ernestine Rose, Annie Bessant and so many strong women were leaders in the fights of abolition, suffrage, abortion, ownership of property, divorce, education, pay discrepancy, and the degradation of half of the human race—women—leading to the better world we live in today, and serving as role models for today’s women and men.
They followed the motto, Truth for authority/Not authority for truth.
Thank you, ladies.
Jim Coufal of Cazenovia is a part-time philosopher and full-time observer of global trends. He can be reached at

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