Tuesday, February 16, 2010

History: It's All in the Interpretation

The Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum opened Sunday, the day before what would've been her birthday. In addition to several local dignitaries, a small group of protesters gathered to distribute leaflets and point toward a website, with what they deem to be "the truth" about Ms. Anthony's abortion stance.

It seems that her birthplace had been sold at auction in 2006 to Carol Crossed, a New York state anti-abortion activist and the museum board consists primarily of people from "Feminists for Life".

Additionally in December, a trained historian abruptly resigned as the museum's director and was replaced by a Vice-President of the New York organization, plus the museum's mission statement describes the suffragette hero as being "pro-life".

Not a lot is actually known about Ms. Anthony's stance on the abortion question; Activists point toward the fact that her newsletter didn't allow advertising from companies peddling chemical abortions and reportedly this is highlighted in the museum's "Restellism" exhibit, but if you read an excellent history of "Madame Restelle", you'll find that Horace Greeley and other giants of New York City media regularly railed against the smaller publications which featured her advertisements. Perhaps, Ms. Anthony was at least partially motivated by a desire to keep her publication in a separate sphere than the lesser press.

Apparently, based on a local blogger's account, there may not be any exhibits in the museum directly referencing the one Revolution article anti-abortion activists have long used to co-opt Ms. Anthony's legacy, but whose authorship is in dispute.

The article, which was signed simply "A", used the phrase "the horrible crime of child-murder" while journalist Lynn Sherr, who has publisheda collection of Susan B. Anthony's writings and other scholars say that she only signed things with the initials "S.B.A.".

Personally, I didn't know that there was such a controversy surrounding the thoughts of Ms. Anthony and not only do I think that the anecdotal evidence may be stretch, but it's also a lot of hoopla about a couple of isolated examples which can easily be dismissed or explained.

If there's anything that can be taken from this situation, other than it producing more work for researchers, it'd be that any future historical leaders should write it all down and should really sign their name.
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