I am wearing knee-highs on my head in the interest of liberty. I'm trying to make ringlets by wrapping locks of hair around strips of fabric. It turns out that stockings are recommended for this task, and since I have a brand new box of knee-high nylons, I though I'd give it a go. If the end result is a lovely set of ringlets, I'll be quite pleased. Ringlets would be just the thing to make me look a little more like Elizabeth Cady Stanton as she appeared in the 1850s.
I also need to launder my costume and make sure I have all the right accoutrements (corset, hoops, petticoats, boots, gloves, brooch, etc.) Or perhaps I will track down my "rational costume" or "Turkish dress" (more popularly known as bloomers after Amelia Bloomer who popularlized them through her Seneca Falls publication, The Lily). Stanton wore bloomers in the early half of the 1850s to her family's great consternation. Her cousin, Elizabeth Smith Miller, introduced the dress and Stanton found it most sensible and freeing though she acknowledged that the outfit did nothing for one's hips. Indeed, I can attest to that fact from personal experience. This is the key reason why I wear the rational costume so infrequently. Typically, I am vain enough to sacrifice comfort for the more aesthetically appealing result of a tightly laced corset. Sadly, given my current painful condition of costochondritis resulting in pain in my chest and ribs, I might think better of the corset this time.
Meanwhile, as I plan the details of my costume, I am (re)immersing myself in all things Elizabeth Cady Stanton. I'm reading historical essays on her life and work as well as on Enlightenment feminst theory. I'm reading a biography and autobiography, and her letters and speeches. I find that this process is helpful whenever I am called upon to "be" Mrs. Stanton. People will ask such personal questions of her when I embody her for an afternoon. It helps to be able to not only be familiar with her theory, method, politics, and aspirations, but also with her childhood and children, her marriage, her housekeeping, her travels, and her idiosyncrasies.
Normally, I am called upon to make a speech as Stanton. Sometimes the task is quite simple and I need only give the speech just as she wrote it. Other times, I am asked to give a speech as her, but not a speech by her. In those situations, I have to channel her as I write, attempting to capture her tricks of speech and rhetoric. This time, I am not called to do any speech-making, but to sit down in conversation (before an audience of interested persons collected primarily from a large university campus) with the mayor of the town in which she most famously lived. So that means that I'm supposed to just be Stanton, to think and to react (believably) as she might have done if she were given the power of reanimating her great Soul in my body to have a conversation with the first female mayor of the first American village to host a women's rights convention.
The request to serve in this capacity was given not more than a month ago. I would have liked more time to prepare, but honestly, I doubt I would have taken the time even if I had it. I'm always busy with something that prevents me from preparing myself as I would like. My children's education doesn't happen on its own. There's Latin and math, history, geography, music, art, language arts, religion studies, and science to teach. My students expect me to grade their papers and to prepare lessons for every week. (How inconvenient!) I have readings therefore, in European and American history. I have to be aware of African American and women's history, and I must begin preparing lessons in environmental history and American religious history. Meanwhile, my own special research projects in Quaker history and theo/alogy are much neglected.
The dog keeps peeing on my son's bed. No matter how many times I sweep and mop, there are still masses of pet hair that seem to shift across our painted floors like tumbleweed across the desert. People insist on eating at least three times a day. They require someone to prepare the meals and do the dishes. Clothes must be laundered (and blankets, sheets, comforters, and towels too!). Occasionally, it becomes necessary to do something about the dust and the cobwebs and I can only ignore that sticky something-or-other so long before I must confront it head on.
I do not feel up to the task of embodying a woman who is credited for being the the chief intellect behind nineteenth-century feminist theory. Good grief! If my socks actually match my top, I'm ahead of the game. For that matter, if they match each other, it is one more miracle than I can expect on a weekday.
I do not feel up to this task and have questioned my sanity in accepting its responsibilities. My sister comforts me by reminding me that regardless of my performance, we will inevitably derive many humorous stories from the event. This is probably true. I find all absurdity, particularly my own, very diverting. Even if I fall flat on my face, it will at least provide me with years of self-deprecating hilarity to share at social gatherings. But wouldn't it be nice if I didn't fail? I think I'd like that even more.
In 1854, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was preparing a document to be read before New York State lawmakers in Albany. It turns out that despite her genius and eloquence, she too felt hurried, hassled, and ill-prepared for the task ahead of her. To Susan B. Anthony she wrote:
"I can generalize and philosophize easily enough of myself but the details of the particular laws I need...You see, while I am about the house, surrounded by my children, washing dishes, baking, sewing, etc. I can think up many points, but I cannot search books, for my hands as well as my brains would be necessary for that work...Prepare yourself to be disappointed in its merits, for I seldom have one hour undisturbed in which to sit down and write. Men who can, when they wish to write a document, shut themselves up for days with their thoughts and their books, know little of what difficulties a woman must surmount to get off a tolerable production."
To that I can only say, "Amen" before I save this post and get back to my own dishes. When my curls are good and dry, I'll take these knee-highs off from my head and observe the results. Perhaps I'll be lucky and it will work. There's reason enough to do my best (however insufficient my best may be) to remind people of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. If, in her name, I can remind other women that liberty has not yet been achieved for our sex, it will be worth any humiliation. Better to stumble toward liberty than to sit still and curse my fate.
"Men and angels give me patience!" I say with Mrs. Stanton, "I am at the boiling point! If I do not find some day use of my tongue in this question, I shall die of intellectual repression, a women's rights convulsion."
So wish me luck.
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