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Gems from the Stacks (1998)

In November 1948, Eleanor Garrison (Smith '04) sent a packet of letters to SSC Director Margaret Grierson with these words: "I came upon the enclosed letters this morning in a dusty mass. Pretty spirited. I love Mrs. Stanton's blasts."

The "enclosed letters" included the 1892 exchange between Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Eliza Wright Osborne excerpted below:

--Maida Goodwin

Dear Eliza,

In a recent letter… speaking of the occasion when we last met you say, "why was Mrs. Stanton so solemn?" to which I reply, Ever since an old German Emperor issued an edict, ordering all the women under that flag to knit,…I have felt humiliated whenever I have seen any daughters of our grand republic knitting,…or occupied with any of the ten thousand digital absurdities….

Looking forward to the scintillations of wit,…the mysteries of theosophy, palmistry, mental science, the revelations of the unknown world where angels & devils do congregate, looking forward to the discussions of all these grand themes, in meeting the eldest daughter of David and Martha Wright, the niece of Lucretia Mott, the sister in law of William Lloyd Garrison,…one can readily imagine the disappointment I experienced when such a woman pulled a cotton wash rag from her pocket & forthwith began to knit…: it was impossible for conversation to rise above the wash rag level….


Who can wonder that I was "solemn" that day. I made my agonized protest on the spot, but it fell unheeded &, with a satisfied sneer, Eliza knit on….I not only was "solemn" that day, but I am profoundly solemn whenever I think of that queenly woman & that cotton wash rag. And yet one can buy a whole dozen of these useful appliances…for twenty five cents!! Oh Eliza, I beseech you, knit no more.

Affectionately yours,
Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Elizabeth Cady Stanton at eighty years of age, 1895. Photograph by Rockwood studio, 1440 Broadway, N.Y. (Women's Rights Collection).

Dear Mrs. Stanton, in your skit
Against your sisterhood who knit,
Or useful make their fingers,
I wonder if,--deny it not,
The habit of Lucretia Mott
Within your memory lingers!

In retrospective vision bright,
Can you recall dear Martha Wright
Without her work or knitting?
The needles flying in her hands
On washing rags or baby's bands
Or other work as fitting?

I cannot think they thought the less,
Or ceased the company to bless
With conversation's riches,
Because they thus improved their time,
And never decreed it was a crime
To fill the hours' niches....

I could say more upon this head.
But must, before I go to bed,
Your idle precepts mocking,
Get out my needle and my yarn
And, caring not a single darn,
Just finish up this stocking

Eliza Wright Osborne

Eliza Wright Osborne, December 1895. Squyer (?) studio, Auburn, N.Y. (Garrison Family Papers).

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 © 2005 Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, MA 01063 Page last updated on Wednesday, 11 December 2013