Nan Johnson serves as founding president of Friends of Women's Rights
National Park, Inc. Friends, established in 1998, is a non-profit
organization committed to raising awareness and funds to insure that the
Women's Rights National Historical park in Seneca Falls, NY is positioned to
continue the great work begun there far into the future. Seneca Falls is the
site of the first women's rights convention which took place there in 1848.
In 1998, Johnson served as co-chair of Forum 98: "Taking Action for Women in
the 21st Century". Forum 98, held July 13-17 in Geneva, Rochester and Seneca
Falls NY, marked the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the 1848 Convention
by looking at women's rights and achievements since 1848 and setting a course
for further progress in a new century.
Johnson has served on numerous boards, including the Greater
Rochester Area Branch of the American Association of University Women,
the National Women's Hall of Fame and the the Landmark Society of
Western New York.
Always a vocal advocate for the rights of women, Nan Johnson
spent 1995 as the Co-Chair of Monroe County's Celebration of Woman
Suffrage - "95/75" -a
series of unique celebrations of women's history, achievements and
dreams. The Rochester-based celebrations drew national
From 1976-1990 she served as a Trustee of
the State University of New York. From 1984 until retirement in 1999, she
served as Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science
at the University of Rochester. Johnson founded and was named Director of the
Susan B. Anthony University Center in January, 1995 The Center continues as
a University-wide institution created to support the University's commitment
to the equality of women and men.
In 1975, Johnson was elected to the Monroe County Legislature where she served
until she resigned in 1995.
Johnson was returned to office seven times.
As the first woman and Democrat to serve as Majority leader of
the 29 member Legislative Body and the first woman to run for Monroe
County Executive in 1983, Johnson helped to set a precedent for
local women in elective office.
While in office Johnson served for six years as Chairwoman of the Human
Services Committee, which oversees the largest part of the Monroe
County Budget. She was instrumental in the formation of the Maternal,
Infants and Children Policy Group, concerned with issues such as:
women in jail, childhood immunizations, infant mortality, and teen
parenting. Johnson was the author of legislation requiring the
posting of warnings about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, the Monroe County
Smoking Ordinance that exists today, and was a major force behind
Monroe County's Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.
After graduating from Barnard College in 1952 with a Bachelor of Arts in
Political Science, Johnson attended Cornell Law School and received her
masters in Political Science from the University of Rochester in 1961.
She completed advanced study at the Warner School of
Education and Human Development at the University of Rochester.
Club Leader: Thank you for joining the chat. How are you?
Nan Johnson: I'm very well, thank you.
Club Leader: Today's topic is: How radical was Elizabeth Cady Stanton as a woman of the 1800's and how does the revolution she led compare to women's efforts today?
Let's start the discussion about the radical nature of Elizabeth Cady Stanton's work. How was she viewed at the time? And, would people today still consider her radical?
Nan Johnson:I think people would definitely consider her a radical.
Particularly in the realms of state and church.
She still would have a lot to say about the position of women of most organized religions.
And we would not have enough women in public office to suit her.
Stanton of course in her own day - was considered wildly radical.
Just for starters, asking for the vote for the elected franchise, was something shocking to her colleagues and fellow organizers.
Club Leader: Was Senecca falls not about getting the right to vote?
Nan Johnson: It was. But other rights that were equally important.
Which rights would this be?
Nan Johnson: Their right to an equal education. Her right to be a participant in making laws of the country and laws in which she was subject.
At that time, she was really considered a non person.
Because our law in our country at the time followed the British Common Law.
This law said that when she married - she was not longer a legal entity.
Club Leader: Before a woman was married at that time, what was her legal entity?
Nan Johnson: A woman had more rights as a single person than is she married.
But as a single women, she was still subject to the control of her father or male relatives.
Club Leader: So, can you explain as a single woman how she was better off?
Nan Johnson: She could have a right to hold property.
To her own wages if she worked.
These vanished and were controlled by her husband if she married.
One of the most important things to happen to a married woman is that she had no legal right to her own children.
Club Leader: So, why would a woman get married if she did not have rights?
Nan Johnson: First, many women did not realize that they did not have rights. This was one of the reasons for calling the convention of 1848.
In order to make women aware of the fact that they did not have any legal rights - the legal disabilities in which they lived.
sallys of akron, OH asks: Who do you think is a radical now?
Nan Johnson: I think Betty Friedan, Certainly with the Feminine Mystique - what I would call a radical reaction in the women who read that book.
Club Leader: Let's take another question from a book club members: Louaust in Austin, TX asks: Who, in addition to L. Mott, was she influenced by (early on) in the Quaker Abolitionist movement, especially from Philadelphia? Thank You, this is a wonderful series.
Nan Johnson:She was influenced by L. Mott - also by English writers - Mary Wollenstoncrat who wrote on the vindication of the rights of women.
She was influenced also by the fact that the period of history was ripe with reform. And the idea that society was reformable.
She was influenced by the abolitionist movement. And she could draw parallels between the plight of slaves in the US and the situation which most women found themselves.
mmonfore in Ozark, AL asks: I just finished watching the repeat of today's program, which is wonderful, by the way. How many biographies exist on Elizabeth Cady Stanton and is Ms. Griffith's considered most prominent?
Nan Johnson: Thank you - I thought the program was great too.
Ms Griffith is certainly the most prominent and actually the only one I am aware.
Cady Stanton own work "80 years and more" is a must read for anyone who is interested in her and the subject.
Club Leader: can you tell us a little about Solitude of Self?
Nan Johnson: The Solitude of Self is Cady Stanon's ultimate expression of herself. It is her basic philosophy of life in which she sets forth her views of individual responsibility which include the responsibility to develop oneself.
In the greatest degree possible.
As Dr. Griffith said today, it is almost existential in its approach.
Club Leader: How did Stanton suggest women - and men I assume- develop oneself?
Nan Johnson: Through education of course and because of that, she felt strongly about women having access to education.
Dorothy Bishop of Oxford, AL asks: Based on the English Common law in our early American history. When a woman married, her property automatically became her husbands. When was a married woman permitted to own property in her own right?
Nan Johnson: Married Women's property acts passed during the 19th century.
The earliest in mid-19th century. But, many of these were not enforced.
And the remnants of this legal approach have lasted up through the mid-20th century.
Stanton was very much aware that women's lives were controlled to a great extent by state law. And that state law varied as it still does. So in one state a woman had more rights than in other states. And that is true today.
Helen T in Chesapeake, VA asks: When were women allowed custody of their children?
Nan Johnson:No - not in Stanton's time - Custody went to the father. That was the law - he had legal custody. And frequently exercised it. Fathers could also have their children work at certain places. For example, there was a case of a step father sending his step son of to sea against the mother's wishes.
Club Leader: So, if women had better rights in one state over the other, was Seneca Falls as the site for the convention based on the fact that women has more rights in New York?
Nan Johnson: Not necessary. It took place in Seneca Falls for one main reason being that she lived there.
The heritage of reform in that area - it was called the burnt over district because of the tremendous importance of reform movements in that part of the country. Cady Stanton was at the right place at the right time.
wendyny in new york, NY asks: What were Cady Stanton's views on organized religion?
Nan Johnson:Cady Standon become increasingly disenchanted with organized religion - as a very young woman, she had been present at the evangelical reform meetings that were held in her part of upstate new york in the time she was living there - they were very fire and brimstone approach to religion.
And frankly, it just scared her to death.
As she matured, she began to talk to people who had different approaches to religion and to come eventually to the conclusion that most organized religions put women in inferior positions. This led to her writing the women's bible.
In the bible, she analyzes the bible's approach to women.
maryellen snyder in Albania asks: How can women with good incomes help other women in other countries who are very poor raise their standard of living?
Nan Johnson: Well Mary Ellen, there are many ways women can help one another today and it is happening.
One way women with the means to do it can support education for women all over the world who cannot afford to go to school - the data show that educating a woman is the surest way to raise her standard of living - we know that.
So if women want to help other women around the world - the way is to get involved in organizations which educate them.
wendyny in new york, NY asks: In what state today is a man given a right that is withheld from women and what is that right?
Nan Johnson: I can't tell you about a specific right in a specific state - but it did take courts including Supreme court to establish that women had a right to serve on juries.
ANd that did not happen until the 1970's. That women did not get equal credit opportunities for themselves until the 1970's.
Sometimes because we are a federal system, we need to have a specific case and litigation to decide a specific question in a specific state. For example, does a woman need to take her husband's name in a specific state to get a drivers license? This is not the case anyone but this type of question had to be taken to the state courts.
Josie Fernandez in Seneca Falls, NY asks: As the superintendent of Women's Rights National Historical Park, I would like to invite all book club members and today's TV viewers to plan a visit to the Finger Lakes region of New York and to come and experience this wonderful national treasure that we preserve as a national park on behalf of the American public. Elizabeth Cady Stanton is an American heroine and the events of July 1848 in Seneca Falls and Waterloo, New York are a watershed moment in the development of our democracy.
Nan Johnson:HI Josie!
I join you in urging all our participants to visit the spot where it all happened and to visit our web site where they can read for themselves the 1848 declaration of Sentiments and discover how it has meaning today.
The web site is www.womensrightsfriendsforever.org
Club Leader: Josie - what is the web site for the park?
Josie Fernandez in Seneca Falls, NY asks: Our park web site is www.nps.gov/wori
Club Leader: Nan, what would her views on abortion be?
Nan Johnson:It is hard to read that from an historical perspective.
I do know from reading her "80 years and more" that she strongly favored what she called "the right and duty of parents to limit population."
From my own knowledge of Stanton and her approach to the individual responsibility and self realization, I think she would have been pro choice but that is my take on the subject.
maryellen snyder in Albania asks: How can women in America help stop our new president, George Bush, from taking away the rights women gained in all areas of their lives due to the previous administrations more liberal stands on many important women's rights issue, MaryEllen from Farmington, not Albania
Nan Johnson: Well, Cady Stanton, her entire life's work is dedicated to securing the vote and other rights for women, is the women had a civic responsibility and the right to be true citizens of this country.
With that, she emphasized the responsibility aspect heavily.
I think she would have urged women to be politically active to work for and support candidates whom they felt represented them. I think she would have urged women to take stands and be brave in regard to controversial questions.
syriacus (New York, NY) asks: S. B. Anthony opposed abortion and refused to take ads for abortion drugs in the paper, The Revolution, that she shared with Stanton. How did this play out?
Nan Johnson: Again, she was living in a period where medical procedures were quite different from those we have today.
She may have felt that the message of abortion - the drugs that were then available were toxic to women.
it was true in colonial times and in first part of the 19th century in this country, abortion generally followed the British Common Law which would not prohibit abortion before a "quickening" that is before the woman was quick with child.
Club Leader: Can you describe Cady Stanton's relationship with Susan B. Anthony?
Nan Johnson: They were great fast friends and co-agitators and co-workers.
Stanton met Anthony in 1852 - that was four years after the Seneca Falls convention. Anthony had been teaching school and working in the abolition movement.
Stanton brought her into the women's rights movement and they worked together steadfastly for the next 50 years.
Hal43 asks: How were Stanton and Anthony able to start their newspaper?
Nan Johnson: They had money given to them to enable them to do that and it still was in debt when they closed it down and Anthony paid that off.
Julia777 asks: Did she have any children?
Nan Johnson: Stanton had 7 children - 5 boys and 2 girls and her one daughter Harriot Stanton Blatch was very active in the suffrage movement.
Can you tell us about her views on family life?
She married for love and eloped.
It was in the early years a romantic relationship. She has strong views on how one should raise children.
I guess we would call her by the standards of her time quote"permissive progressive"
She prided herself on knowing how to take care of children - how to feed them and how to dress them.
She was interested in what we called the domestic arts.
And frequently commented on what was considered a well run household and what was not.
womenright asks: Was her family and husband supportive?
Nan Johnson: Her husband was older than she and a well know abolitionist and elected politician. Supposedly an excellent orator.
But he found increasingly Elizabeth a little to radical. As nearly as we can figure out, he probably left town when the seneca falls convention was convened.
As the years went by, he did not always approve whole heartedly of her activities.
Club Leader: What would Stanton work on now if she were alive today?
Nan Johnson: I am sure she would be working to get more women elected to political office since she had great respect for the power of law - she would be working to get more women on the bench,.
She would be interested in equal pay for women - and excellent day care for children.
I think she would be interested in the whole array of what we call human services and I think she would be very interested in the globalization of the women's rights movement.
Club Leader: Did she ever run for office?
Nan Johnson: No. Women did not then.
Club Leader: Did she have those aspirations if they could?
Nan Johnson: I think she would have been a wonderful politician and a wonderful public servant in another day and age - she would probably have done that.
Club Leader: Thank you Nan for joining us.
Do you have any parting comments for us in the Book Club?
Nan Johnson: I hope you get Griffith's book and read it. I hope you read the book "80 years and more" which is Stantons' autobiography titled in her own right.
Club Leader: You can purchase the books online in the community book store.
Nan Johnson: Stanton is probably the most radical and innovative thinker the women's movement has ever had and she deserves to be better known.