Saturday, March 21, 2015

Admirable Women

Eizabeth Cady Stanton
 Gail Collins, in today's New York Times brings attention to the efforts to replace Andrew Jackson with some admirable woman on the $20 bill. Having read about some of the women who have been put forward, I would suggest we replace Washington and Hamilton as well.  We simply have better, more interesting and inspiring people, who happen to be women. Why should we have a slaver on the $1 bill and Hamilton, who was, after all, the original Wall Street master of the universe, when we can have Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul and Clara Barton?
Alice Paul
 Knowing nothing about Ms. Cady Stanton or Alice Paul, I had to resort to Wikipedia, but my investigations will not stop there. These are amazing women. Not just amazing women--amazing human beings.  It's a failing on my part and on the part of the American educational system I have not heard of them before, or if I had heard of them, it was lost on me.

Ms. Barton is an old friend. 

Let me begin with Clara Barton, whose deserves a place on a bill without doubt.  She left her native Massachusetts to care for men from her state when the Civil War broke out and, arriving on the battlefield where next to nothing had been planned for the care of casualties, she set about organizing the basics: bandages, nursing, all the things the men of the era had neglected. Oh, you say we are going into battle where some of our soldiers will be shot? And we ought to have some plan for what to do with these wounded? Well, why should we plan for that? That's like admitting we might be putting our brave soldiers in harm's way!

Eventually, she got President Lincoln's ear and the rest, as they say, is history. 
Her house still stands today, in Glen Echo, Maryland, overlooking the Potomac, just down the road from where I once lived. Eventually, they named the parkway running along the Maryland side of the river "Clara Barton Parkway." It had been called the George Washington Parkway, but the parkway on the Virginia side of the river was also called the George Washington Parkway, which caused all sorts of confusion, so they gave Clara Barton the honor, and in a sense the precedent for replacing old, white male slave owner with a woman who actually worked to preserve the union and save a lot of young men in the process.

And she had to fight a whole lot of entrenched men, who had rank and position to protect, and she had to show they had neglected a basic responsibility to plan for misfortune and to allocate resources and she identified which resources would be needed and she fought relentlessly to get that accomplished.  There was not much political ideology here, simply humanity and moral outrage that men in splendid uniforms and shiny epaulets could be so totally incompetent, when this humble woman in a brown dress could be so efficient and smart.
Clara Barton
As for Elizabeth Cady Stanton, well she had me at her marriage vows, where she insisted the preacher omit the "obey" from the "I will love, honor and obey" my husband bit. If we are equal partners, why should I obey my husband?  She was also an abolitionist and she helped found a movement for getting women the vote. She was so appalled by the fire and brimstone of the evangelical Christian church, she left the church and decried organized religion.  Having attended a revival meeting as a young woman she was so shaken by the descriptions of what awaited her in Hell, she took to bed. When she emerged from bed, she was a firm advocate for a less vicious vision of godliness.  She did oppose the 14th and 15th amendments guaranteeing  black men new rights, but she did this because women did not yet have the right to vote, and she felt the Negro men had got enough with the 13th amendment, and it was the women's turn.  She was, then, something of a tactician, but her heart was, apparently, always in the right place. I like her.

Then there is Alice Paul, who came along after Ms. Cady Stanton, and Ms. Paul had all the advantages, but she fought for the disadvantaged. A descendant of William Pitt, educated at Swarthmore and the University of Pennsylvania and British universities, she could have had a satisfying, comfortable life of wealth, but she joined demonstrations in England for women's voting and she brought that fire back to this country, where she organized, got arrested, paraded and risked a lot to get women's suffrage passed as the 19th amendment and once that passed, she went after an Equal Rights Amendment. 

Her spirit lives today in women who campaign relentlessly to stop power plants from displacing more important things in the community, who do community organizing and political activism while men shrug their shoulders and go off to play golf. 

These are people who make a difference, who pushed the country in the right direction, who were not only on the right side of history, but who made history into something better than it would have been without them. 


  1. Mad Dog,
    Almost one hundred years since women's suffrage and still no women on the currency, no woman President, no where near equal representation in Congress and still not equal pay for equal work...Which, as I've said before, always leaves me baffled when other women say they don't consider themselves feminists. Are they crazy? Masochists? Certainly ill-informed. Feminism doesn't signify a fondness for removing and burning one's undergarments, having a hatred of men or believing men and women are exactly the same. It simply means you believe they should be treated exactly the same-with the same advantages and opportunities, c'mon, what woman wouldn't want this...As for men, hey we're your mothers, your wives, your sisters, your should be behind us on this one and thankfully some, like you, are...

    Part of the problem is certainly the black hole, in our culture, when it comes to awareness of the contributions made by women throughout our history- that is beyond giving birth or marrying, a historically significant man...Like you, my education never included much mention of women-there was Martha Washington and Mary Lincoln-wives-and Betsy Ross, good with the needle and Lizzie Borden, bad with the ax and that was about it..With the exception of Clara Barton, I never heard of any of the women you've mentioned during my school years. As for Clara Barton, most of my knowledge of her came from my reading my older cousin's text book when I was at my grandparents. The title of the book was "Famous Americans" and it contained the biographies of about twenty influential Americans-all men, Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, Eli Whitney, Henry Ford etc with the exception of two women-Clara Barton, and my childhood idol-Jane Addams. I read and reread the chapter on Jane Addams and Hull House until I probably could have recited it and can still recall in great detail the accompanying illustrations. I wanted to be Jane Addams and in my childhood fantasy "if I were rich..." I not only owned a farm with every species of farm animal, race horses, dogs and a huge quantity of puppies-I also started and presided over my own Hull House..I know-weird kid..but Ms. Addams was not only in the fore front of social work and educating the poor she also was the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. So you can imagine my dismay when Gail Collins and the "Women on the $20" web site neglected to mention her. The web site even has a list of fifteen women one is to choose from and vote on for the $20 bill, but no Jane Addams...I need to send them an email informing them of this oversight pronto...Poor forgotten Jane...One last thing, is it me, or do you see a resemblance between Gail Collins and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, well if Gail Collins was sporting a white wig and black veil that is...
    PS-When you say Ms. Barton "is an old friend" was that in a previous life by any chance?..

  2. Maud,
    It is maddening how little we know about the people who really matter. We are taught history of men who moved borders on maps, the generals, the politicians but virtually nothing about Jane Addams, Clara Barton or, for that matter Alexandre Yersin, Jonas Salk, Alexander Flemming, (plague, polio, penicillin.) Howard Zinn did a nice job of writing a history of unfamous people who actually shaped this country, but too few read it.

    I can see why Jane Addams would impress you--inspired by Dickens to see the poor and suffering others ignored--she's the ultimate Maud.

    Mad Dog