Elizabeth Cady Stanton and fashion

bathing suit code ‘Clothes make the man and woman’… so goes the saying. And it must be true for what we wear on a given day can either lift our spirits or depress us. How often is the closet door opened and like looking into a refrigerator lamenting that there is nothing ‘good’ to eat, so mirrors a similar sentiment when you are about to embark upon a very special outing and what is suspended from the hangers appears as outdated as a 1980s haircut.

And what a dilemma it is to purchase clothes … for as soon as you buy something, it goes on sale the very next week. As for choosing what fits well …the sales clerk has that habit of remarking that you look simply divine, whereupon we often wonder if he or she is being sincere, politely kind, or giving you a positive nod of approval that is actually attached to the chance of a sales commission.

But who can complain for our stores are brimming, the shelves are overstocked, (except if you wear a very petite size you are out of luck for these items are seldom available). Our clothes are as divergent as the seasons; fabrics that were once worn in the winter… such as wool have been customized over the years, keeping us snug in the coldest of winds while preventing that interminable itch that once came along with the tight weave of your sweater against the back of your neck. And like the change of seasons so is the trend of fashions, making buyers acutely aware that what was once quite the chic attire must be set aside like yesterday’s news when the snow melts. Our only saving grace is that the older we grow the more wisdom we have acquired, for haven’t we seen those outdated fashions come back into vogue…it does take time but often patience pays off… the only regret is that one’s figure may have altered before the “yellowing” of fabric.

With our selections are invitations for us to make bold statements, demonstrating our own freedom of expression; an action that subliminally reinvents the present and asks others to make room for change. Some take little notice while others take offense; but whatever the response, fashion and the art of willful choices are not a new sensation.

elizabeth cady stanton 2 Today I bring back our esteemed thinker: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, author of the great “Declaration of Sentiments”, a revolutionary call for women’s rights in the early 19th century and president of the National Woman Suffrage Association for 20 years. In spite of her grand efforts, women did not get the right to vote in the United States until 1920; yet her resolve and introduction for an amendment in 1878 and her fight for change on the national and state levels paved the way to ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

So, let us hear the words of our great lady for she will present to you a more troubling and politically charged look at a women’s wardrobe from The History of Woman Suffrage (1881)…

“… Quite an agitation occurred in 1852, on woman’s costume. In demanding a place in the world of work, the unfitness of her dress seemed to some, an insurmountable obstacle. How can you, it was said, ever compete with man for equal place and pay, with garments of such frail fabrics and so cumbrously fashioned, and how can you ever hope to enjoy the same health and vigor with man, so long as the waist is pressed into the smallest compass, pounds of clothing hung on the hips, the limbs cramped with skirts, and with high heels the whole woman thrown out of her true equilibrium. Wise men, physicians, and sensible women, made their appeals, year after year; physiologists lectured on the subject; the press commented, until it seemed as if there were a serious demand for some decided steps, in the direction of a rational costume for women.

The most casual observer could see how many pleasures young girls were continually sacrificing to their dress: In walking, running, rowing, skating, dancing, going up and down stairs, climbing trees and fences, the airy fabrics and flowing skirts were a continual impediment and vexation. We can not estimate how large a share of the ill-health and temper among women is the result of the crippling, cribbing influence of her costume. Fathers, husbands, and brothers, all joined in protest against the small waist, and stiff distended petticoats, which were always themes for unbounded ridicule.

But no sooner did a few brave conscientious women adopt the bifurcated costume, an imitation in part of the Turkish style, than the press at once turned its guns on “The Bloomer,” and the same fathers, husbands, and brothers, with streaming eyes and pathetic tones, conjured the women of their households to cling to the prevailing fashions. The object of those who donned the new attire, was primarily health and freedom; but as the daughter of Gerrit Smith introduced it just at the time of the early conventions, it was supposed to be an inherent element in the demand for political equality.

As some of those who advocated the right of suffrage wore the dress, and had been identified with all the unpopular reforms, in the reports of our conventions, the press rung the changes on “strong-minded,” “Bloomer,” “free love,” “easy divorce,” “amalgamation.” I wore the dress two years and found it a great blessing. What a sense of liberty I felt, in running up and down stairs with my hands free to carry whatsoever I would, to trip through the rain or snow with no skirts to hold or brush, ready at any moment to climb a hill-top to see the sun go down, or the moon rise, with no ruffles or trails to be limped by the dew, or soiled by the grass. What an emancipation from little petty vexatious trammels and annoyances every hour of the day. Yet such is the tyranny of custom, that to escape constant observation, criticism, ridicule, persecution, mobs, one after another gladly went back to the old slavery and sacrificed freedom to repose…”

Esteemed thinker: Elizabeth Cady Stanton

animals The animal kingdom is a curiosity and for most, regarding relationships between off spring and parents… these beasts, both domestic and wild, are often enchanting to watch. I say enchanting not to affirm these bonds are always sweet and tender, but with the notion that they are captivating. And as we contemplate these relationships, it is equally curious to acknowledge how the elders know what to do with their off-spring. After all, they have no self- help books, no pediatrician to call when their baby koala comes down with a fever … so what is it that allows such animals the wisdom to care for their brood? Some say it is instinct, a trait that they are born with…thus passing down the knowledge from generation to generation … a sort of watch me and learn method…

And as humans, we like to personify these animals making some species seemingly more like us in their delivery of affection. A mother lion is known to be quite protective of her cubs, while the male secures the territory; a mother bear too will fight to defend her children, but like many other parents, she is strict disciplinarian, holding back the soft touch so that these cubs learn to survive in the harsh world without her. The father penguin is the modern day stay- at- home dad, taking on egg-sitting duties for weeks while the mother heads out to sea to hunt fish for her soon-to-hatch offspring.

But not all the parents of the animal kingdoms take on the devotional attributes at first blush; to our dismay that sweet little rabbit we all find so cute is actually an “absentee mother” leaving the baby bunnies right after birth and only returning for a few minutes to feed them in the first twenty -five days. And though we are ready to call in the authorities, in her defense she does not want her “tasty children” to be found by predators and so to keep these fiends at bay she stays away; not calling attention to her new family and allowing the secrecy of the burrow to remain intact.

And tough as the Black Eagle mom is portrayed by not intervening during sibling fights that are often to the death…she is really planning for the bigger picture…protecting the species by shielding and conserving the limited food source for the heartiest offspring.

So it seems that the upbringing rituals in the animal kingdoms have remained the same even though the physical world, their habitats, have been defaced by a myriad of reasons; thus making us wonder if their instincts, theses inborn pattern of behaviors, will slowly evolve and their method of ‘child-rearing’ will change too.

We humans are not driven by those instinctive, automatic, irresistible, and unmodifiable actions … but rather we are motivationally driven, able to overcome situations and change willfully. Child rearing is a behavior that is as different in ideals as from neighbor to neighbor. And while the centuries have slipped by, so have the philosophy of generations of parent- child relationships taken twists and turns, summoning societal and individual retrospection.

elizabeth cady stanton Allow me now to turn our attention to the introduction of a most esteemed thinker: Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902); writer, political reformer, and courageous 19th century woman. Born in Johnston, New York, she worked tirelessly throughout her life for the emancipation of slavery and the rights of women. During the American Civil War Stanton and her friend Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906) created the National Woman’s Loyal League to build support for what became the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which ended slavery in the United States. Once the slaves were free, Stanton and Anthony worked to ensure that women would be given the vote along with former male slaves.

I now give you the words of one of the most prominent suffragette’s and feminist in American history; from her book, Eighty Years or More, here is a parcel of thoughts from Elizabeth Cady Stanton….

“The psychical growth of a child is not influenced by days and years, but by the impressions passing events make on its mind. What may prove a sudden awakening to one, giving an impulse in a certain direction that may last for years, may make no impression on another. People wonder why the children of the same family differ so widely, though they have had the same domestic discipline, the same school and church teaching, and have grown up under the same influences and with the same environments. As well wonder why lilies and lilacs in the same latitude are not all alike in color and equally fragrant. Children differ as widely as these in the primal elements of their physical and psychical life.

Who can estimate the power of antenatal influences, or the child’s surroundings in its earliest years, the effect of some passing word or sight on one, that makes no impression on another? The unhappiness of one child under a certain home discipline is not inconsistent with the content of another under this same discipline. One, yearning for broader freedom, is in a chronic condition of rebellion; the other, more easily satisfied, quietly accepts the situation. Everything is seen from a different standpoint; everything takes its color from the mind of the beholder…”