Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Solitude of Self

In college, in addition to studying French I studied rhetoric.

I have an affection for public speaking.

My favorite speech (don't you have one too?) is the last address Elizabeth Cady Stanton gave in support of the suffrage movement, when she was almost 80 years old. After advocating for all of her life all of the more public-friendly reasons to grant women suffrage, such as protecting the children and upholding the morals of society, she ended her public career with her most beautiful and resonant appeal: women needed an equal voice and opportunity in society because, ultimately, a woman doesn't have a father, or a husband, or a son- she only has herself. The speech is referred to as The Solitude of Self.

The strongest reason for giving woman all the opportunities for higher education, for the full development of her faculties, her forces of mind and body; for giving her the most enlarged freedom of thought and action; a complete emancipation from all forms of bondage, of custom, dependence, superstition; from all the crippling influences of fear—is the solitude and personal responsibility of her own individual life.

It is early in the speech she gives my favorite quote:

No matter how much women prefer to lean, to be protected and supported, nor how much men desire to have them do so, they must make the voyage of life alone, and for safety in an emergency, they must know something of the laws of navigation.

 She goes on to insist on the individuality, humanity, and self sovereignty of each woman. To illustrate how some women learn this harshly early in life, she tells the story of a young maid who, on finding the family she served had nothing for her on Christmas morning, sat in her loneliness in a nearby field through the night:

[W]hen found in the morning [she] was weeping as if her heart would break. No mortal will ever know the thoughts that passed through the mind of that friendless child in the long hours of that cold night, with only the silent stars to keep her company.

She appeals to the need for education for all women in order to build a strong and healthy society. It is a relatively short but beautifully poetic address. She ends:

And yet, there is a solitude which each and every one of us has always carried with him, more inaccessible than the ice-cold mountains, more profound than the midnight sea; the solitude of self.... Such is individual life. Who, I ask you, can take, dare take on himself the rights, the duties, the responsibilities of another human soul?


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