Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton: Feminist Foremothers

The pioneer crusader for women’s right to vote started life as a precocious child. Raised in the 1820s by a Quaker father who believed in independent thinking and education for women, Susan learned to read and write by the time she was three. Her first career was as a schoolteacher, but she soon found her niche as a political reformer, taking up the cause of temperance, then abolition. In 1869, she and Elizabeth Cady Stanton organized the National Women’s Suffrage Association and put out a pro-feminist paper, The Revolution.

When the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution was passed in 1872 guaranteeing equal rights for African Americans, including the right, as citizens, to vote, Anthony and Cady Stanton kicked into action demanding the right to vote for women as well. Susan and a dozen other suffragists were jailed for trying to vote in the presidential election of that year. Undeterred, they began to work for a separate amendment giving this right to women. However, Congress patently ignored the amendments put before them each year on the vote for women until fifty years later.

Both Stanton and Anthony were real hell-raisers. Stanton, along with Lucretia Mott, organized the first women’s rights convention in 1848 with a platform on women’s rights to property, equal pay for equal work, and the right to vote. Stanton was introduced to Susan B. Anthony three years later. They were a “dream team,” combining Elizabeth’s political theories and her ability to strike people’s emotions, with Susan’s unmatched skill as a logician and organizer par excellence. They founded the first temperance society for women and amazed everybody with their drastic call for drunkenness to be recognized as a legal basis for divorce. Reviled during her lifetime, she learned to live with the taunts and heckles; critics claimed, among other traits, that she had “the proportions of a file and the voice of a hurdy-gurdy.” Nonetheless, the “Napoleon” of the women’s rights movement, as William Henry Channing called her, tirelessly lectured around the country for women’s rights until her dying day in 1906.

Although she didn’t get to realize her dream of voting rights for women, the successors she and Stanton trained did finally win this landmark victory for the women of America. Of the 260 women who attended the foremothers’ historic first women’s rights convention in 1848, only one woman lived long enough to see the passing of the victorious 1920 amendment grating women the right to vote— Charlotte Woodward. She declared at the time, “We little dreamed when we began this context that half a century later we would be compelled to leave the finish of the battle to another generation of women. But our hearts are filled with joy to know that they enter this task equipped with a college education, with business experience, with the freely admitted right to speak in public—all of which were denied to women fifty years ago.”

“Failure is impossible.”

— Susan B. Anthony
This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel: Fashion Shero

Coco_Chanel,_1920
By Time / Getty – Hal Vaughan. Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War. Random House (2011), p. 20., PD-US, Public Domain. 

Considered by many to be the mother of modern fashion, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was the first fashion designer to create clothes that matched emerging attitudes of women for greater freedom and independence. Born in France around 1883, Coco’s first step toward a life in the fashion industry was a job at a hatmaker’s shop in Deauville, France, where she worked until 1912. At thirty-one years old, she struck out on her own, opening her very own shop featuring streamlined and unfussy wool jersey dresses. Strikingly new, her simple style caught on quickly. Chanel’s success with the dresses and the celebratory atmosphere following World War I encouraged her to really go to town with smartly cut suits, sophisticated short skirts, and bold, chunky jewelry designed at her very own couture house in Paris!

In 1922, she created Chanel #5, the perfume every woman wanted, named for her lucky number; to this day, it remains one of the all-time favorite perfumes. Chanel’s innovations are legendary—costume jewelry, evening scarves, short skirts, and the little black dress all came from the steel-trap mind of Coco Chanel. She retired in 1938, but got bored and staged a remarkably successful comeback in the mid-fifties.

Coco, the ultimate Frenchwoman, never married, but seemed to be utterly happy with her career as an independent businesswoman, in charge of her own time and her own life. She makes America’s Horatio Alger look shabby—the daughter of a vagabond street peddler, she was raised in orphanages and went on to found an empire, live a busy glamorous life, and leave behind a legacy that will last forever. The idol of practically everyone in the industry, Coco Chanel was the epitome of the modern woman. Yves St. Laurent once called her “The Godmother of us all,” and French surrealist Jean Cocteau remarked, “(Coco Chanel) has, by a kind of miracle, worked in fashion according to rules that would seem to have value for painters, musicians, poets.”

“There have been many Duchesses of Westminster, but there is only one Coco Chanel.”
— Coco Chanel on why she rejected a famous suitor
This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.