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rights and responsibilities in the public world that men had. As Fanny put it, “until women assume the place in society which good sense and good feeling alike assign to them, human improvement must advance but feebly . . . It is in vain that we would circumscribe the power of one half of our race, and that half by far the most important and influential. If they exert it not for good, they will for evil; if they advance not knowledge, they will perpetuate ignorance. Let women stand where they may in the scale of improvement, their position decides that of the race.” She spoke often in support of the proposition that women needed an education at least as rigorous as that available to men. Though she was born and bred a lady in the best Jane Austen tradition, Fanny was also the first woman I’ve found in America who was willing to make common cause with other women across the barriers of class and race. She believed that the interests of the working class “are more nearly approached to the great natural interests of man, and incline, therefore, more immediately to wholesome reforms and general union.” In defense of black women and their children, she said in print what many people knew but proper society did not discuss: that the races were mixing in the South, “viciously and degradingly, mingling hatred and fear with the ties of blood.” So far as Fanny was concerned, the only question was whether it should take place instead in circumstances marked by “good taste and good feeling.” She understood that it was not black women, but rather the white men who had the power of life and death over them who were primarily responsible for miscegenation. And some years after Fanny brought it up, two other white women mustered her courage to speak openly on the subject. Sarah and Angelina Grimke, daughters of a wealthy South Carolina planter, emigrated to the North out of revulsion for slavery and won many to the cause of abolition by pointing out the sexual humiliations of both black and white women under that system. But in speaking so openly, Fanny and the Grimkes encountered enormous hostility, because most white people refused to acknowledge the facts of miscegenation, or when they did indulged a peculiarly virulent form of blaming the victim by proclaiming that black women were by nature sexually immoral, while white women were by nature above the bodily passions. They gave us on the one hand the black whore, and on the other the white lady on the pedestal, thereby creating images so destructive to women that more than 160 years after Fanny Wright called the nation’s attention to the problem we are only beginning to lift the taboos on honest speech, and black and white women have made only the most fragile attempts to combine for their common good. For America has imposed extreme cultural penalties against black and white women who make common cause, or who get out of what is called their proper place. in 1828, when Fanny Wright tried to find ways to protect black women and their children from a Southern slave society that exploited them, she made herself into a pariah. As she spoke from New Orleans to upper New York State, arguing that Americans should live up to the ideals proclaimed by Jefferson’s Declaration and trying to find ways that society could move toward real equality and justice, the press attacks on her became as vicious as any in this country ever have been. Her most dedicated enemy was perhaps William Leete Stone, editor of the New York Commercial Advertiser, who wrote in 1829 that her deluded followers were as much to be pitied as their priestess was to be despised: “She comes amongst us in the character of a bold blasphemer, and a voluptuous preacher of licentiousness . . . Casting off all restraint, she would break down all the barriers to virtue, and reduce the world to one grand theatre of vice and sensuality in its most loathsome form. No rebuff can palsy her no insult can agitate her feelings. It is iron equally in her head and heart; impervious to the voice of virtue, and case-hardened against shame!” She was labeled the High Priestess of Infidelity which meant at that time religious skepticism and proper people would no longer receive her. She had at first many supporters, most interesting among them Quaker women, some of whom were wont to accompany her to the platform when she spoke. But by the late 1830s she’d been made so notorious that it became impossible for most people to hear what she actually said. Because she publicly opposed the institution to which the South was economically and ethically committed; because she challenged churches that either justified slavery or turned a blind eye to it, and that encouraged the silliness and the subjugation of women; because she stepped off the pedestal to which society had condemned women of her class and walked through the world as though she had as much right to it as her male peers, Fanny Wright was brutally condemned by women as well. For her temerity in claiming the full range of human experience for herself and for all women, she was attacked by the aggressively respectable Catharine Beecher, the guardian of female propriety for her day: “Who can look without disgust and abhorrence upon such an one as Fanny Wright, with her great masculine person, her loud voice, her untasteful attire, going about unprotected, and feeling no need of protection, mingling with men in stormy debate, and standing up with barefaced impudence, to lecture to a public assembly . . . There she stands, with brazen front and brawny arms, attacking the safeguards of all that is venerable and sacred in religion, all that is safe and wise in law, all that is pure and lovely in domestic virtue . . . I cannot conceive any thing in the shape of a woman, more intolerably offensive and disgusting.” You recognize the images Catharine Beecher used, I know, because they are standard weapons in the arsenal of those who would keep women dependent and at home. Propriety, or the fear of what people might say, has always been a great crippler of women, and in the 1950s, at least, it was powerfully strong even in Texas. Miss Beecher was not the first to attack one of her own in order to win society’s approval, nor after the recent defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment can we claim that she has been the last. Some two decades after Fanny’s death, Pauline Wright Davis commented on this fact when she paid tribute to Fanny on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the women’s suffrage association: “Women joined in the hue and cry against her, little thinking that men were building the gallows and making them the executioners. Women have, crucified in all ages the redeemers of their own sex, and men mock them with the fact. It is time now that we trample beneath our feet this ignoble public sentiment which men have made for us; and if others are to be crucified before we can be redeemed, let men do the cruel, cowardly act; but let us learn to hedge womanhood round with generous, protecting care and love.” Women have needed each other’s generous, protecting care and love because our place in American society has always been precarious, and those among us who have tried to extend the boundaries of acceptable female behavior have had to work very stubbornly indeed and often against our own. Do you have any idea, for example, how long and how hard women fought to win the simple right to vote? A few women first asked for the suffrage in 1848, in the Declaration of Rights that issued from the women’s meeting in Seneca Falls, New York, that Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott had called. It was Mrs. Stanton who put in that demand and kept it there despite her husband, who said that unless she removed it, he would leave town and boycott the convention which he did. Even Lucretia Mott warned, “Thou will make us ridiculous. We must go slowly,” though the great black abolitionist Frederick Douglass promised to take the floor in Stanton’s support. The resolution demanding the franchise was the only one that failed to pass unanimously, and it carried in fact by only a small margin. The attack from press and pulpit that followed was both sustained and vitriolic. It was not until 1867, 19 years later, that the first state suffrage referendum was held in Kansas, and lost. According to Carry Chapman Catt, who led the National American Women’s Suffrage Association to final victory in that struggle, from 1870 to 1910 that is, over a period of 40 years they conducted 480 campaigns in 33 states just to get the issue submitted to the voters. Of these, only 17 resulted in actual referendum votes, and of those, only two succeeded. By the time the Nineteenth Amendment passed in 1920, American women had been working for it for 72 years. Women need each other’s generous, protecting care and love now, because the most recent statistics are eloquent proof that their position in American society is precarious still. Our battles for equity have by no means been won, as the America men have created is very hard on women. According to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, women as a whole make 57.41$ to a man’s $1.00; men’s earnings increase more than women’s, so that when they are in their early to mid-40s, women earn 50% of what men do. Black women are the poorest of the major race-sex groups in American society, and half the households they head are below the poverty line. Over 1/5 of the white women and more than 1/4 of the black women who work are overeducated for the jobs they hold; 27% of the white, and 29.1% of the black receive inequitable pay. In the South, black women are far more likely than any other race-sex group to be unemployed, and one out of four holds a marginal job. Furthermore, we now confront what has been called the feminization of poverty. In the nation as a whole, more than 2/3 of those who get Medicaid, food stamps, government-subsidized housing and legal services, and 90% of those who get the minimum Social Security benefit of $122 a month are women. Fully half the women over 65 who live alone are poor or live very nearly at the poverty line. Such statistics would convince any but the blindest ideologue that the ideas of equality and justice with which all of us grew up are myths, and that race and sex powerfully affect the degree to which Americans have access to the unprecedented wealth and resources of their country. To be concluded next issue. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23