Celebrate the 97th Anniversary of women winning the right to vote on August 26, 1920–as well as the 169th Anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 which started the women’s rights movement in in the U.S.–by listening to this excerpted play by Women’s Liberation Movement pioneer Carol Hanisch.
The play features the fiery speeches and debates of Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and many more. It focuses on how the powerful alliance that had grown up between the Anti Slavery and Women’s Rights movements during the Civil War was split asunder when the debate became centered on which was more urgent—enfranchising Black men or white women (with Black women not even in the picture). The play presents the arguments between the abolitionists and feminists of the previously united movement that resulted from having to make this terrible choice. Many of the activists took surprising positions; some advocating that the vote for Black men be granted immediately and others wanting the movement to hold out for Universal Suffrage. We also see the racism, sexism and class elitism that came out in this sometimes bitter struggle.
The play also features the modern debut of a song by 19th century feminist and author Charlotte Perkins Gilman, written in 1898, for which the music had been lost until singer/songwriters Bev Grant and Carol Hanisch created an original new melody for it. As part of the play, Grant performs the song for the first time. Gilman wrote the song as a response to the bitter irony of the men of her time using the argument that women “did not really want the vote” as a reason for denying it, while claiming that they were doing this for” the good of women.” This ploy eerily reflects today’s right wing arguments that women do not really want to have freedom and choices.
The performance is followed by Carol Hanisch’s original feminist song from the 1960’s movement: Fight On Sisters–and excerpts from the passionate discussion that took place in the WBAI studios, after the performance, between the playwright and the actors (many of them also activists). In this discussion, Maretta Short questions why the author left out, in the condensed radio version presented, parts of her play that described discrimination against Black women within the suffragist movement. The discussants then debate the meaning and relevance of the vote today.
“Promise and Betrayal” examines the question of whether the power of the ballot really changed what these freedom fighters thought it would–and what happens when political movements forfeit a larger vision of liberation for reform gains for a few.
TWO ABOLITIONIST AND FEMINIST NEWSPAPERS OF THE PERIOD
The North Star, edited by Frederick Douglas and Martin Delaney. The masthead of the anti-slavery newspaper was: “Right is of no sex. Truth is of No Color”
The Revolution, edited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Parker Pillsbury. Masthead of the feminist newspaper “Men their Rights and Nothing More; Women their Rights and Nothing Less”
Creator/Author: Carol Hanisch; Producer, Casting, Editing: Fran Luck; Direction: Ethel Michelson, Fran Luck; Music: Carol Hanisch, Bev Grant; Singer, Guitarist: Bev Grant; WBAI recording Engineers: Tony Ryan, DeLise Lum
Narrator: Pawnee Sills; Sojourner Truth, boy’s voice in motherhood sketch: Maretta J. Short; Frederick Douglas: Will Sales; Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony: Ethel Michelson; Lucy Stone: Julie Weiner; Nebraskan Anti-Suffrage male: Bobby Hieger; Frances Ellen Harper: Vicki Ridley; Gertrude Bustill Mossel: Marcia M. Walker; Matilda Joslyn Gage, Rev. Olympia Brown: Jennifer Fasulo; Robert Purvis, Charles Remond, Labor Union statement: Ngoma; William Lloyd Garrison, Parker Pillsbury, voice of Blackstone: Pete Dolack; Abby Kelley Foster: Fran Luck