Secondary Source

Ken Burns’ Not For Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Stanton & Susan Anthony

Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony. Director: Ken Burns. Florentine Films/WETA, 1999.

Era: Post-Suffrage Era | Media: Book-Non-Fiction, Documentary Film, Film, Television, Video

This two-part documentary film shown on PBS tells the story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, the duo that brought the suffrage cause to widespread attention in the United States.

The film, directed by Ken Burns, shows how the two leaders—despite their widely divergent personalities and backgrounds—came together to fight for women’s voting rights, though both died before their dream was realized.

Stanton grew up with wealth and privilege, the daughter of a well-known judge. Anthony grew up in a Quaker household, the daughter of a factory owner. The two met in 1851, and went on to found multiple suffrage organizations to advance their cause. As historian Judith Harper explains in a PBS article:

The two women not only developed a deep friendship but also helped each other prepare themselves to change women’s lives. Anthony thrived under Stanton’s tutelage—soaking up her knowledge of politics, the law, philosophy, and rhetoric. Stanton, confined to her home by motherhood (she gave birth to her seventh and last child in 1859), was stimulated by Anthony’s thoughtful critiques of her ideas.

Burns’ film traces their personal lives, places them in historical context, and underscores how the impact of their activism stretched far beyond their deaths.

The documentary garnered positive reviews in Variety and the New York Times, which latter called it “a vibrant and extremely moving portrait of a lifelong friendship and the political strategies that defined the women’s rights movement.”

The PBS website on the film is filled with teaching resources, companion articles, and historical documents. The IMBD entry contains a list of the experts featured in the film.

You can buy the film from PBS or Amazon, or search on WorldCat to see if your local library carries it.

Burns and Geoffrey Ward also wrote a companion book to the film which is also available on Amazon.

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