The Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony


SBA to ECS

Dear Mrs. Stanton

Your note came yesterday—  Most sincerly do I regret that your household must give you such greeting on your return— it is a shame that those large boys, young men— do not begin to feel a pride in helping to keep good order—  But I will only rejoice that you & the cause have had the little you have of this winters experience—  I have sent you the Utica Papers— & hope you get them—  We had two excellent meetings in Zions (Colored) Church, Rochester, on Sunday— [2]
Mrs. Stanton— The Hon. Phelps of Boston[3] is determined to execute the law on me—  I pray you impart nothing of my action to the sister Mrs. Garnsey—  I'd like you to get her account of the whole affair especially her testimony as to Mrs. Phelps sanity— but on no account reveal her whereabouts— moreover tell her, if any thing— that I know it not—
I have a letter from Mr. Garrison, begging me to reveal her hiding place[4]— he says there is not spot or blemish on Phelps character— get Mrs. Garnsey's opinion on his chastity to his Marriage Vow—  You will of course slip over to Auburn one of the days—
It is a shame that you can never be released from constant presence at your home—  I shall make a contract with the Father of my children to watch & care for them one half the time
I cannot write much—  Mr. Green was down yesterday— bright & pure as ever and fresh for the wars spiritual—
Garrison is clearly with us says they expect a sever time— but shall go on as if there was nothing but sunshine in prospect— & such is more & more clearly our duty—  Poor dear Mr. Mays philosophy, is just the one to best please his satanic Majesty— & we can even spare the test for Syracuse— [5] No, no, that city of loudest pretentions must be put to the test—  I hope you may steal down there one day—

S. B. A.

[P.S.]
[upside down on first page] P.S. I have asked Lydia to see Ramsey about the Divorce hearing before the Judiciary— [6]
ALS, Scrapbook 1, Papers of ECS, NPV.
    [1.] Written after newspapers reported on the Utica meeting of 14 January. ECS returned home before the Rochester meetings were done. (Utica Morning Herald, 15 January 1861; Utica Evening Telegraph, 15 January 1861.)
    [2.] After the proprietor refused to rent Corinthian Hall on Sunday, 13 January, William Watkins offered the Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church for Sunday's meeting. (New York Daily Tribune, 19 January 1861; National Anti-Slavery Standard, 26 January 1861.)
    [3.] Phoebe Harris Phelps, wife of Charles Abner Phelps of Boston and the sister of prominent New York lawyers and politicians, approached SBA in Albany in December 1860 for help in her flight from her husband. On Christmas day SBA accompanied Phoebe Phelps and one daughter to New York City, where Abby Hopper Gibbons and the writer Elizabeth Ellet concealed the fugitives until they moved on to Philadelphia. Charles Phelps (1820-1902), who graduated from Union College in 1841 and Harvard Medical School in 1844, practiced medicine with his father. A successful political career began with election to the Massachusetts legislature in 1855. Meanwhile, his wife, who worked at the Albany Female Academy before her marriage, raised their three children and published several children's books on religious themes. By her account, Charles Phelps became abusive and unfaithful before 1858, and when she confronted him, he committed her to the McLean Lunatic Asylum. After seventeen months of confinement, she got away to Albany. In one version she escaped; in another she was released to her brother's home, and the flight to New York occurred after several months of disputes over visits with the children. In Philadelphia Phoebe Phelps supported herself by writing and sewing until, after ten months of safety, agents of her husband seized their daughter and returned her to Boston. Phoebe Phelps followed and with help from friends found a safe place from which to file for divorce. She published one more religious book in 1865. When Charles Phelps died in 1902, his obituary named his wife but said nothing more about her. Their daughters, both single, lived in Boston. SBA kept clippings about the case in her scrapbooks and identified the principals. (Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Biography, s.v. "Phelps, Abner"; Wallace, Dictionary of North American Authors, 355; National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1:414, s.v. "Harris, Hamilton," and 2:96, s.v. "Harris, Ira"; obituary of Charles Phelps, from Boston Globe files, courtesy of Lynn Sherr; Anthony, 1:200-205; unidentified clippings, SBA scrapbook 1, Rare Books, DLC.)
    [4.] Ida Harper quoted a letter from Garrison, telling SBA to avoid "any hasty and ill-judged, no matter how well meant, efforts" of her own because she was identified with abolitionism and woman's rights. Wendell Phillips insisted that Phoebe Phelps return to her relatives and told SBA "that our movement's repute for good sense should not be compromised by any such mistake" as helping her. Harper also quoted SBA's reply: "as I ignore all laws to help the slave, so will I ignore it all to protect an enslaved woman." (Film, 9:1080-84.)
    [5.] Samuel J. May's biographer describes his mood after Lincoln's election as apprehensive and depressed about the country's future. He did, however, consent "to go forward and leave the responsibility of free speech or its suppression with the people of the places we visit— " Syracuse produced the worst riots of the trip. After stopping the meetings, the mob paraded the streets with effigies of May and SBA in the act of sexual intercourse. (SBA to W. L. Garrison, 18 January 1861, Film, 9:1071-72; Anthony, 1:210-11; May, Recollections of Our Antislavery Conflict, 392-95; Powell, Personal Reminiscences, 69-72; Yacovone, Samuel Joseph May, 170-71.)
    [6.] SBA asked Lydia Mott to visit Joseph H. Ramsey (1816-?), Republican senator from Schoharie and Delaware counties, who introduced a divorce bill in the senate on January 7. It would allow parties who had lived in the state for at least five years to file for divorce in cases of desertion after three years and for cruel and inhuman treatment after one year. On 8 February, ECS, Ernestine Rose, and Lucretia Mott obtained a hearing before the judiciary committee. ECS recalled that Mott deemed marriage "a question beyond the realm of legislation, that must be left to the parties themselves." The bill reached the floor of the senate in mid-February and was defeated. (Murphy, New York State Officers, 1861, 103-5; Journal of the New York Senate, 7, 12 January, 12, 14, 15 February 1861, pp. 40, 60, 168-69, 180-84; History, 1:745-46; National Anti-Slavery Standard, 16 February 1861; Albany Atlas and Argus, 8 February 1861; Address of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, on the Divorce Bill, before the Judiciary Committee of the New York State Senate, in the Assembly Chamber, Feb. 8, 1861 [Albany, 1861], Film, 9:1101-9; Eighty Years, 217.)