Women & Money & Politics: Can Susan & Emily Work Together?

By McCarthy, Abigail | Commonweal, August 15, 1997 | Go to article overview

Women & Money & Politics: Can Susan & Emily Work Together?


McCarthy, Abigail, Commonweal


Can Susan & Emily work together?

On June 26, the statue depicting pioneer suffragists Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott was exhumed from the bowels of the United States Capitol and installed in the Rotunda among statues of prominent Americans from every state. It is a rather ugly statue depicting busts of the three women looking very firm-jawed indeed, rising from a massive base. But ugly or not, it was commissioned years ago to commemorate women's long struggle for suffrage, and many of today's leading feminists joined the drive to rescue it from near-oblivion.

There was a ceremony, of course, and press conferences. And, true to the spirit of the women enshrined, some lively controversy. The National Political Congress of Black Women objected to the statue because it did not include a bust of black suffragist Sojourner Truth. Liberal feminists disputed the right of prolife Republican women to claim Susan B. Anthony for their own.

Fiercely conservative Congresswoman Helen B. Chenoweth of Idaho, speaking to the press at the conference held by the Susan B. Anthony List (a so-called nonpartisan PAC dedicated to electing prolife women to high office), had praised Anthony for writing about abortion as an evil. Television correspondent Lynn Sherr (of "20/20") was quoted in the Washington Post (June 26) as countering that claim, saying that she had read everything written by Susan B. Anthony and that "she's never said anything on the subject of abortion at all." But Sherr's statement is called into question by quotations from Anthony's The Revolution (July 8, 1869), found in the Anthony List literature:

We want prevention, not merely punishment. We must reach the root of the evil...It is practiced by those whose inmost souls revolt from the dreadful deed....

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!

It is hard to see the above words as referring to anything but abortion. The Susan B. Anthony List was founded in 1993 for the express purpose of helping to "elect prolife women to high public office (that is, U.S. Senate, U.S. House, governor) through early donations and support." It was clearly meant to challenge the liberal and supposedly broader-based Emily's List.

Women were slow to recognize the importance of money in election politics - perhaps because so few had control of any. In the initial struggle, they had relied on speaking, writing, demonstrations, and political acts like hunger strikes and poll challenges to achieve their goals. After winning the vote, they tended to act on the long-held belief that the very presence of women in the process would purify politics. They altruistically formed coalitions around issues, such as protective legislation for women in the labor force and for children. They relied on persuasion and the power of the vote itself.

The second wave of feminism, however, focused on equality. …

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