When feminist scholars go through the historical archives, there is a good chance that they will miss material that does not support their viewpoint. “For nearly 30 years, both of us have been immersed in Susan B. Anthony’s words—Ann as the editor of Anthony’s papers, Lynn as the author of a biography,” Ann Gordon and Lynn Sherr wrote in an op-ed that appeared in The Washington Post. “We have read every single word that this very voluble—and endlessly political—woman left behind.”
“Our conclusion: Anthony spent no time on the politics of abortion. It was of no interest to her, despite living in a society (and a family) where women aborted unwanted pregnancies.” Gordon is a Research Professor at the Department of History at Rutgers and Sherr wrote “Failure is Impossible: Susan B. Anthony in Her Own Words.”
In her response to Gordon and Sherr that appeared in that same paper, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, unearthed a couple of quotes from her group’s namesake that the ladies may have missed:
“Sweeter even than to have had the joy of children of my own has it been for me to help bring about a better state of things for mothers generally, so that their unborn little ones could not be willed away from them,” Anthony stated to Frances Willard in 1889.
An unsigned editorial which Dannenfelser credibly attributes to Anthony reads: “Guilty? Yes. No matter what the motive, love of ease, or a desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed. It will burden her conscience in life, it will burden her soul in death; but oh, thrice guilty is he who… drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime!”
Dannenfelser shows that this antipathy towards abortion was not uncommon among pioneer feminists:
“When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit,” Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote in a letter to Julia Ward Howe dated October 16, 1873.
“Every woman knows that if she were free, she would never bear an unwished-for child, nor think of murdering one before its birth,” Victoria Woodhull, the first female presidential candidate, told the Wheeling, West Virginia Evening Standard on November 17, 1875.
Finally, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female physician, wrote in her diary in 1845 that “The gross perversion and destruction of motherhood by the abortionist filled me with indignation, and awakened active antagonism.”
“That the honorable term ‘female physician’ should be exclusively applied to those women who carried on this shocking trade seemed to me a horror. It was an utter degradation of what might and should become a noble position for women.”
Incidentally, here is another piece of feminist history that modern-day feminists may wish to avoid: Pioneer feminists worked to enact policies that allowed women to stay at home with their children.
“‘Maternalist’ feminists in the first half of the century had been largely responsible for the institution of measures such as Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) precisely with the purpose of insuring ‘full-time maternal care in the home’ for children whose fathers were unable to support the family due to death, incapacity or simple dereliction,” Brian C. Robertson reported in his 2003 book Day Care Deception.
“Proponents of ADC argued that mothers should not be forced to work out of economic necessity, nor should poverty ‘deprive a child of the full-time care of his or her mother.’”
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.