This year marks the 150th anniversary of the first women's rights convention in America. In July 1848 women assembled in Seneca Falls, New York, to protest government that existed "without the consent of the governed," in the words of suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who spoke there - "to declare our right to be free as man is free ...."
Mrs. Stanton fought to free women from bondage to their husbands, and from the many patriarchal laws of the time, some of which denied voting rights to women. Through her efforts, and efforts of others like Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony, women eventually began to see signs of progress.
Recently, while reading Stanton's autobiography, I was interested in how she continually saw the need to first free women's thoughts before she could begin to free their lives. For instance, she understood that unless a woman believed she should have certain rights and privileges, it would be impossible for that woman to obtain and utilize them. So, Stanton set out to educate her own gender first. Once she was able to persuade those who believed they belonged to husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers that they had inherent rights, she was able to help them exercise the God-given freedom they'd always had.
During Stanton's lifetime, there was another woman fighting for freedom as well. She fought not just for the rights of women but for the physical and spiritual freedom of all - men and women alike.
This was the woman who discovered Christian Science in 1866. Mary Baker Eddy spent the first half of her life searching for personal freedom from frailty and sickness. She devoted the latter half to teaching others how to find this freedom in the way she had - through prayer. Mrs. Eddy, too, recognized that she first had to educate people to lay mental claim to freedom. To help them see that when they gained spiritual understanding they would be free of whatever physical or emotional ailments they had. She had to waken them to their God-given rights.
She had learned that when she understood we are truly God's sons and daughters, created in His likeness - spiritual, free, and whole - healing occurred. Eddy used the term man in reference to God's child, created both male and female. To her what mattered, whatever one's gender, was the understanding of spiritual identity. She persistently and bravely stood up for the rights of all to be healthy, whole, free, happy.
Mrs. Eddy discovered the Science of Christ, which Christ Jesus taught and practiced, and which proves that we are created and blessed by God. She found it in the Bible. And through understanding this Science, she healed spiritually, as Jesus did. God's laws bring physical freedom. When we conceive of the truth that each of us is beloved of God, we see direct evidence that we are made in God's good image.
Eddy proved constantly the power of prayer to free the invalid, the sick, the sorrowful. She wrote in the textbook of Christian Science: "A woman, whom I cured of consumption, always breathed with great difficulty when the wind was from the east. I sat silently by her side a few moments. Her breath came gently. The inspirations were deep and natural. I then requested her to look at the weather-vane. She looked and saw that it pointed due east. The wind had not changed, but her thought of it had and so her difficulty in breathing had gone. The wind had not produced the difficulty. My metaphysical treatment changed the action of her belief on the lungs, and she never suffered again from east winds, but was restored to health" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," Pgs. 184-185). Christian Science recognizes that thought produces effect. But further, it demonstrates that when thought is based on the knowledge of God's laws, only good is manifested in human experience. This is because God is infinite good.
To Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Mary Baker Eddy, freedom wasn't gender- based. It wasn't something that could be given to some but not to all. Both women were searching for freedom for the human race. And their efforts were in harmony with the laws of God.
A related exhibit is currently running at the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, N.Y.