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Mrs. Cerulean might be Isabella Beecher Hooker, who supports Victoria and is known in the Beecher clan for having her head in the clouds. Or she might be a composite of the respectable women who, to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s astonishment, have likewise been beguiled by Victoria. But the words she speaks could have come straight from Susan Anthony, who defends Victoria in just the kind of language Harriet puts in Mrs. Cerulean’s mouth. “In regard to the gossip about Mrs. Woodhull I have one answer to give all my gentlemen friends,” Susan Anthony says: “When the men who make the laws for us in Washington can stand forth and declare themselves pure and unspotted from all the sins mentioned in the Decalogue, then we will demand that every woman who makes a constitutional argument on our platform shall be as chaste as Diana. If our good men will only trouble themselves as much about the virtue of their own sex as they do about ours, if they will make one moral code for both men and women, we shall have a nobler type of manhood and womanhood in the next generation than the world has seen. We have had women enough sacrificed to this sentimental, hypocritical prating about purity. This is one of man’s most effective engines for our division and subjugation. He creates the public sentiment, builds the gallows, and then makes us hangmen for our sex.” Women should rally behind Victoria, Anthony says. They certainly must not do men’s dirty work for them. “If Victoria Woodhull must be crucified, let men drive the spikes and plait the crown of thorns.”
Elizabeth Stanton seconds the sentiment in a personal letter to Victoria. “Dear madam,” Stanton writes from Cheyenne, Wyoming Territory. “To you, the last victim sacrificed on the altar of woman’s suffrage, I send my first word from the land of freedom.” Stanton has gone to Wyoming, accompanied by Susan Anthony, to witness woman suffrage in action. The West has long been the cradle of voting reform. In the early nineteenth century the new trans-Appalachian states vied with the older states of the seaboard, and with one another, for population; one inducement to settlers was the promise of universal suffrage for adult white males, at a time when the older states imposed stiff property and residency requirements. The interstate competition drove down the barriers to political participation; the result was the wave of democracy that swept Tennessean Andrew Jackson into the White House in the election of 1828. As the frontier moved farther west, still newer states and territories extended the competition. Women have always been scarce in the West; Wyoming seeks to remedy the deficiency by making women the political equals of men. With Congress still obstinate on the suffrage question, Stanton and Anthony head for Wyoming and, they hope, the future.
Elizabeth Stanton, treating Victoria as a peer in the struggle for equality, shares the experience. “As Miss Anthony and myself retired for the night, dashing over the prairies of Nebraska, we asked the conductor what hour the train reached Wyoming in the morning,” Stanton tells Victoria. “He said 4 o’clock; so we closed our eyes, with the satisfaction of knowing that when we awoke we should behold that blessed land where, for the first time in the history of the world, the true idea of a just government is realized, where woman is the political equal of man, with the right of trial by a jury of her own peers, and a voice in the laws that govern her.”
Stanton reflects on the reactions the suffrage movement has evoked. “Unthinking men often express surprise that those of us who enjoy social and educational advantages should so keenly feel the degradation of disappointment. But that is the very reason we do. It is because we are the equals, in fact, of most men we meet, that we feel the humiliation of their artificial superiority. The lash on the back of Frederick Douglass would be far more galling to his spirit than to that of a groveling, degraded slave.” Stanton writes to Victoria knowing the experience will resonate with her. “You, who have drunk deep from woman’s cup of bitterness, can understand all this, and so too, you can appreciate the intense joy, the new dignity we fell in treading this sacred soil. ‘Deprive me of one right,’ says Daniel Webster, ‘and that is the one of all others I long most to possess.’”
Stanton sympathizes with Victoria for what she is going through. “It may be a light thing for the press of the country to hold up one frail little woman to public ridicule and denunciation, but this reckless hashing of individual reputations is destructive of all sense of justice and honor among our people, and will eventually force on us a censorship of the press.” Victoria must maintain her courage. “You have not suffered in vain. You have made some grand points of assault on the old tyrant Custom. In declaring that women are already citizens and pointing the short way to freedom, you have inspired the strongest of us with new hope and enthusiasm.”
History teaches that demands for equality eventually become irresistible, Stanton tells Victoria. “At one time the press of this nation made itself merry over the bulls and blunders of the Irishman. Then ‘poor Pat’ was the target for the people’s ridicule and scorn. But that is all passed away. With the ballot in his hand, the Irishman soon became a power that editors and politicians could not afford to ridicule or ignore. Then Sambo took his turn. Our journals delighted to dwell on his thick skull, woolly head, shin-bone and long heel; but we hear no more of that now. Sambo is crowned with the rights of citizenship; he holds that scepter of power, the ballot, in his hand. He sits in the Senate of the United States and the Legislature of Massachusetts; and lo! editors and politicians are compelled to do him reverence.”
And so it will be with women. “When the votes of women make and unmake presidents, the philosopher of the New York Tribune”—a recent critic of Victoria—“will soon find as many arguments in favor of Woman Suffrage as he now does against it.”