To mark the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, August 18, 2020, giving women the right to vote, student writer for the Greenwich Library Oral History Project, Noor Rekhi, a senior at Greenwich Academy, draws from four interviews with Greenwich descendants of suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton. John Barney and his sister, Rhoda Barney-Jenkins, were interviewed by volunteer Penny Bott Haughwout in 1974. Catherine Stanton was interviewed by volunteer Donna H.Kavee in 1982, and Coline Jenkins was interviewed by volunteer Patricia Holch in 1997.
This month, the Oral History Project dedicates its blog to Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her descendants. While Stanton lived in New York State, many of her descendants lived or currently live in Greenwich. Through interviews conducted with John Barney, Rhoda Barney Jenkins, Catherine Stanton, and Coline Jenkins, the Oral History Project has learned more about the Stanton family and their strong ties to the advocacy of feminism.
Although Elizabeth Cady Stanton, born in 1815, did not live to see the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, she was arguably one of the most famous suffragists in American history. Coline Jenkins recounted her great-great grandmother’s legacy saying, “She and other women rewrote the Declaration of Independence. Their document was named the Declaration of Sentiments and was a list of grievances against the male-dominated society. There was a radical part of her document. The radical part was that women should vote; and she believed that, through the vote, women could gain other rights. She felt these rights were inherent to being a citizen of America, despite the gender of the citizen. She’s a central character in our family.”
|Elizabeth Cady Stanton with her son |
Henry Brewster Stanton Jr., circa 1855.
Photo courtesy: Coline Jenkins
Central character she was. Her descendants have made efforts
to preserve her history and carry on her efforts. Rhoda Barney Jenkins, great granddaughter of
Stanton, was herself an advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment and a member of
the National Organization for Women. A resident of Greenwich when interviewed
in 1974, she shed light on the background of the family going back to Margaret
Livingston Cady, Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s mother. The daughter of a
Revolutionary War colonel, Margaret was born with a fervor to stand up for what
was right. Jenkins fondly recounted a family story in which Margaret cleverly
managed to ensure that women would have the opportunity to get their votes
counted in the election of their new minister. It is highly plausible to
suggest that Margaret’s spirit may have been passed on to Elizabeth Cady
Stanton, who would in turn inspire other generations of Stanton women.
Rhoda Barney Jenkins, accompanied by her grandson,
Eric Jenkins-Sahlin, voting at Julian Curtiss School, circa 2000.
Photo courtesy: Coline Jenkins
Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s daughter Harriet Stanton Blatch played an active role in the movement her mother ignited. Blatch was a powerful feminist in her own right and was instrumental in organizing the first suffrage parade in New York City. Her work helped lead to the passage of the 19th Amendment. Blatch’s daughter, Greenwich resident Nora Stanton Barney, paved the way for other women as well. She was one of the first female civil engineers in America, graduating from Cornell in 1905, despite the lack of acceptance from her male peers. Even though she was purposely excluded from a class yearbook photo with her fellow engineer graduates, she received her degree and came in second in her class. At Cornell, she founded the University’s suffrage club. Undoubtedly, Nora Stanton Barney was an impressive figure. She was even invited to the British Parliament’s visitors’ box, although the invitation was retracted when she informed the State Department of her plan to shout, “Votes for Women!” in solidarity with British feminists.
Most recently, Coline Jenkins, Greenwich resident and RTM member, helped preserve Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s legacy and ensure suffragists maintain their place in history. In 1921, a statue of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Susan B. Anthony was relegated to the crypt beneath the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C., days after its dedication. It remained there until the 1990s when a Woman Suffrage Statue committee was formed to return it to its place in the Rotunda, “the centerpiece of American democracy,” as described by Jenkins. Jenkins helped create the documentary An American Revolution: Women Take Their Place about the moving of the statue. Elizabeth Cady Stanton helped secure the right of women to vote and Coline Jenkins helped ensure that her ancestor would still have a voice today.
As we reflect on the anniversary of the 19th Amendment, it is imperative that we recognize Stanton and the generations of women after her who campaigned for women’s rights. When you cast your ballot this November, remember all the people who persevered so that every American woman could vote.
Reflecting on Stanton’s work, Rhoda Barney Jenkins remarked,” I really would have liked to have known Elizabeth Cady Stanton. You know, the more you read of what she’s written, the more you respect how deeply she thought about things and how elegantly she put it, and this tremendous amount of work that she did, too. It’s just incredible.” Although Stanton lived over a century ago, we do get to know her. We know her through the progress she has made for women in our society and through the oral histories preserved for generations to come.
The John Barney, Rhoda Barney-Jenkins, Catherine Stanton, and Coline Jenkins interview Transcripts may be read at Greenwich Library and are available for purchase at the Oral History Project office. The Oral History Project is sponsored by the Friends of the Greenwich Library. Visit the OHP website at glohistory.org. Mary Jacobson, OHP blog editor