Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: A Friendship That Changed the World
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: A Friendship that Changed the World
Written by Penny Colman
Grades 7 and Up
As the world changes around us this spring, we witness political unrest as it unfolds, thanks to cell phones and laptops, Twitter and Facebook. In the context of near ubiquitous twenty-four hour eyewitness news coverage, it is difficult to fully absorb and understand the herculean efforts of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, year after year, in their attempt to achieve women’s suffrage through paper, pen, and personal testimony. As Colman informs her readers in the introduction, the book is “not an analysis, or a hagiography, or a polemic. It is a story, a true story, told chronologically through incidents and quotations.” Colman starts the book with alternating chapters on Anthony’s and Stanton’s childhoods, and merges their narratives as their friendship matures and deepens and their separate efforts are unified. Chapter titles and mid-chapter sections are framed by short direct quotes from carefully researched primary sources, which help to keep the reader grounded amid tremendous detail. Dirty politics and ideologically-driven news are nothing new, and any illusion of innocence that readers might have regarding 19th century news media and politics will soon be shed, as Colman demonstrates the many ways that Stanton and Anthony were demonized and celebrated by reporters and rivals alike. The movement was deeply split over the 15th amendment, whether to advocate for black male suffrage independent of universal suffrage. Decade after decade, they wrote, plotted, and gave speeches as they traveled the ever-expanding nation on horseback, in wagons, aboard boats, and on trains. Across these decades, Anthony and Stanton trusted one another, even when they vehemently disagreed. The “friendship that changed the world” was as deep and unwavering as Stanton’s and Anthony’s commitment to women’s suffrage.
- Political Friendships. Colman’s book demonstrates the power of friendship to forge political alliances and movements. Examine other famous friendships with your students, and compare and contrast the ways in which the friendships influenced political or social reforms/efforts in the past or recently. You might consider: President Thomas Jefferson and President John Adams (a friendship formed after fissure); President George H. Bush and Bill Clinton (another friendship formed after a bitter rivalry); King George VI of England and his speech therapist, Lionel Louge.
- Who Should Be on the Coin? In 1979, and then again in 1999, Susan B. Anthony’s image was put on the dollar coin produced by the United States Mint. While the coin is no longer produced, it is still in circulation. Why Susan? Why not Elizabeth, too? Have students investigate how one member of this famous pair got recognition while the other didn’t.
- When Movements Change. Have some of your students read Colman’s book and some read Tonya Bolden’s MLK: Journey of a King (see Further Explorations below). In the mid-to-late 19th century, Anthony and Stanton struggled, as abolitionists who were against slavery, with the political expediency of advocating for black suffrage. Martin Luther King, in the mid-20th century, repositioned his message from one of racial equality for African-Americans to one of economic equality for all; this was not necessarily a popular decision. Have your students compare and contrast these decisions to one another, and make connections to social and political movements.
- Writing with Primary Sources. Colman succinctly and clearly blends short direct quotes from primary sources into her writing. While it’s easy to read, it is certainly not easy to write. Have your students read a series of primary source materials on a topic of interest, and have them write a short sample chapter modeling their use of primary source quotes on Colman’s style.
- Championing Your Cause. Stanton and Anthony worked for women’s suffrage and other rights for more than half a century. Indeed, by the time they both died, women’s lives in the United States had changed dramatically, even if they did not yet have the vote. Ask your students to each identify and research a human rights cause that they passionately believe in. How can they bring about change? Who is their audience? How do they shape their message for that audiences? What modes of communication are best used?
- Understanding Political Activism in the 21st Century. Anthony and Stanton wrote letters, prepared testimony for Congress, gave speeches, and even ran a newspaper for several years. How do activists convey their message today? In small groups, have students investigate how social media, cable news, traditional television, radio, and newspapers, and the online presence of organizations shape politics today. What advocacy groups sometimes share goals and work together?
Filed under: Nonfiction Chapter Books
About Mary Ann Cappiello
Mary Ann is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former public school language arts and humanities teacher, she is a passionate advocate for and commentator on children’s books. Mary Ann is the co-author of Teaching with Text Sets (2013) and Teaching to Complexity (2015) and Text Sets in Action: Pathways Through Content Area Literacy (Stenhouse, 2021). She has been a guest on public radio and a consultant to public television. From 2015-2018, Mary Ann was a member of the National Council of Teachers of English's Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction (K-8) Committee, serving two years as chair.
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