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Year 21 – 1881: History of Woman Suffrage edited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage

Published: New York, 1881-1882
2 volumes

If this publication didn’t exist, the women who edited it – Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage – would still be famous historical figures. All three were important 19th century champions of women’s rights, particularly the right to vote.  But each was also a unique individual; in fact they were very different from one another in important ways. This landmark work serves as a moving testament to what intelligent, courageous, and committed individuals can accomplish when they join together despite differences, disenfranchisement, and a society’s determination to disempower them.

History of Woman Suffrage was written and published during the heat of battle. The preface notes that some women’s rights activists felt it was too soon to publish the history of a movement that was still working to attain its goal. Some insisted that “actors themselves can not write an impartial history … they have had their discords, divisions, personal hostilities, that unfit them for the work.” The editors replied that they “felt no temptation to linger over individual differences. Those occur in all associations, and may be regarded in this instance as an evidence of the growing self-assertion and individualism in woman.” In any case, Stanton, Anthony and Gage were determined to capture the words and insights of their contemporaries in the movement while they were still living.

One aspect of the publication that could be called premature is the phrase “In Two Volumes” that appears on the title page of volume I. By the time volume II appeared just a year later, the wording changed to “In Three Volumes.” In fact the work would eventually grow to six volumes, and not see completion until 1922.

It’s impossible not to be saddened by the fact that neither Anthony, Stanton, nor Gage lived to see enactment of the 19th amendment in 1920. But their work for the cause was invaluable, their names continue to resonate and inspire, and the History itself is a crucially important document. In addition to this handsome first edition, the MIT Libraries also own two reprints of the full six-volume set, one published in 1969, the other in 1985.

This first edition of the work was a gift from Professor Ruth Perry, founding director of the Women’s Studies Program (now the Women’s and Gender Studies Program) at MIT.

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