Mother Knows Best

Ernestine Rose, the subject of my novel-in-progress, was a contemporary of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Ernestine was much closer to Susan B. Anthony, who accompanied Ernestine to Washington, D.C., in 1854, defended Ernestine against those who would have kept her off the platform because of her open atheism, and visited Ernestine, a recent widow, in London in 1883. Ernestine was also on good terms with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, however, and the two women were instrumental in getting the New York State legislature to pass an act in 1848 granting married women certain property rights.

While researching my novel, I came across this anecdote by Margaret Stanton Lawrence, a daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. It is contained in a typescript, “Who Was Elizabeth Cady Stanton? My Mother, part. 2,” at Vassar College’s digital library.

“At one time mother was much troubled at the way her boys swore, so she took council with sweet little Lucretia Mott, who was her guest, and with Miss [Susan B.] Anthony . . . So when the family gathered for the next meal, Lucretia, in her trim white Quaker cap and ‘kerchief, said ‘Elizabeth, may I give thee some of this damn chicken?’ The boys all looked amazed, but as none of the ladies cracked a smile, and as the oaths, from the lips of the three women, flew thick and fast, the youngsters joined in and enjoyed the fun. This was kept up for three meals; at the fourth meal, however, some distinguished guests were present, who had been let into the secret. . . .

” . . . The boys were distressed, as they served the guests [as they had been taught by their mother to do in lieu of reliable servants], to see the look of disapproval on Governor [William] Seward’s and Gerrit Smith’s faces as their hostess and her two Quaker friends ripped out their oaths. So when they got their mother alone, they gathered around her and with tears in their eyes said: ‘Oh, mother, what will the Governor and Cousin Gerrit think, hearing you swear like that?’ ‘Well,’ she said, ‘you boys all do it, and so we thought we would also; don’t you like to hear us? . . . If you boys will stop swearing, I will also.’ And they did.”

(Photo of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her foul-mouthed kids from Wikipedia.)

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