The U.S. Capitol sculpture of Elizabeth Cady Stanton,
Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott
The U.S. Treasury recently announced plans to redesign the $5, $10, and $20 bills. The new ten-dollar bill will retain the portrait of Alexander Hamilton but its reverse side will feature Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth, Alice Paul, and Lucretia Mott alongside the Treasury building. These five famous suffragists advocated for women’s right to vote, but lesser known are the pro-life convictions found among them and other feminists of their era.
Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton co-founded a weekly women’s rights newspaper called The Revolution. From its beginning the paper had a policy against accepting ads for abortifacients: “Quack medicine vendors, …Foeticides and Infanticides, should be classed together and regarded with shuddering horror by the whole human race.” Their rejection of such revenue was a principled sacrifice for their struggling publication, since “child murder both before and after birth [was] a regular and, terrible to tell, a vastly extensive business.” In an 1868 editorial, Stanton called abortion “Infanticide,” declaring, “We believe the cause of all these abuses lies in the degradation of women.” (As honored suffragist Alice Paul, author of the first Equal Rights Amendment, wrote, “Abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women.”)
An 1869 Revolution piece denouncing abortion is frequently attributed to Susan B. Anthony, though its signature (“A.” rather than “S.B.A.”) may well stand for some “Anonymous” author. However, there is no doubt that in an 1875 speech about “the evil of intemperance” Anthony listed abortion among the society’s worst evils: “The prosecutions on our courts for breach of promise, divorce, adultery, bigamy, seduction, rape; the newspaper reports every day of every year of scandals and outrages, of wife murders and paramour shooting, of abortions and infanticides, are perpetual reminders of men’s incapacity to cope successfully with this monster evil of society.”
These five suffragists devoted many words and efforts to women’s equality at the voting booth and throughout society. By comparison, they said relatively little about abortion. Yet this is not because early feminists accepted the killing of the unborn as normal, but because they acknowledged its great evil as a given. In the 1880’s, all U.S. states had laws against abortion, and for early feminists opposition to abortion was a commonly held conviction.
It is especially fitting that the women to be honored on the ten-dollar bill will be sharing the company of Alexander Hamilton. As the sensational, new musical about him dramatically recalls, by Providence, Alexander Hamilton, the out-of-wedlock son of a prostitute, was born impoverished and in squalor yet grew up to be a hero and a scholar. In our day, baby Alexander quite likely would have been aborted, but his remarkable life demonstrates how even an unwanted child can bless an entire nation.
In this conviction, as on the new ten-dollar bill,
the pro-life suffragists have Hamilton’s back.