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The Ladies of Liberty

“Removing the Bodice of Ignorance One Clasp at a Time”

Outside the Inauguration: The Plan

On Inauguration Day, Dubya’s rabbit eyes are about to shift into their dopiest state of confusion yet when he sees Lila Rose Kaplan’s Ladies of Liberty stomping up to triangulate DuPont Circle in D.C. Arm-in-arm with comedic escorts Billionaires for Bush, this bilious band of 19th century battle-axes plans to hammer its croquet mallets straight into the groin of the president’s administration as it makes its way up its batty belfry to sound the death knell for women’s reproductive rights. “They expect ‘liberal radicals?” says Kaplan, “Let’s give them 19th-century ladies instead.”

As Liberals Mourned, the Ladies of Liberty Was Born

On November 3, 2004, we were all forced to accept the unacceptable: Bush won. Our inalienable rights were left to quiver like endangered species on the fruited plains. Wherever thinking people congregated, a besetting question sang: “What now?”

In a diner near Columbus Circle, two theater artists, Lila Rose Kaplan and Sarah Long, were asking this same question just as the topic of reproductive rights arose. Sarah casually suggested that, since the country was taking a big step backwards, so should activism. They should dress up like suffragettes—prim and proper tea-party warriors—and advance reform in the 21st Century. A light went on in Lila Rose’s head. She emailed her writer friend Lauren Rubenzahl, a fellow alumnus from Brown, now in Boston. The three young women combined listserves, devised committees and delegated responsibilities. The Ladies of Liberty was born under the slogan: “Removing the Bodice of Ignorance One Clasp At A Time.”

The Latest on Bush’s Reproductive Rights Agenda

One of Bush’s first measures after taking his second Oath of Office will be to appoint Dr. W. David Hager, author of As Jesus Cared for Women: Restoring Women Then and Now, to head up the F.D.A.’s Reproductive Health Advisory Committee. Even beyond Hager’s religious fanaticism and anti-abortion politics, in his OB/GYN practice, he refuses to prescribe contraceptives to unmarried women. As for those pink pills in your goodie drawer, gather ye Ortho-Cyclen while ye may. Hager has publicly condemned each one as an “abortifacient.” After legions of judicial nominations, departmental appointments, domestic and international sanctions, and federal legislation prohibiting anything but abstinence-only and pro-life education (offensives extensively catalogued on—Hager’s pending instatement is only the latest in Bush’s all-fronts campaign to reverse Roe v. Wade and make the womb the province of religion and government.

Then As Now: Church and State

I won’t even bore you with the question: “Whatever happened to separation of church and state?” as though that’s ever been the norm of this nation. A propos of Ladies of Liberty, scripture-thumpers in government were constantly assailing suffragettes with accusations that their movement violated the biblical ordinance that man and woman be “no more twain but one flesh.” It took Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s subversive The Woman’s Bible to finally take the issue out of the hands of religious dogmatists and into an Enlightenment-based discourse on basic human rights.

Now, compare Bush’s stance on gay marriage and reproductive rights with the anti-suffrage sentiments expressed by Rev. Prof. H.M. Goodwin in 1884: “Women’s suffrage strikes at the root of that which should be the first end of government: to protect the sacred unity of the Family.” (New Englander and Yale Review, Vol. 43, pg. 213, 1884)


Exact same party line, different subject. On so many issues, today’s human rights activists have to go all the way back to the fight we started at square one.

Abigail Adams may have begun the campaign for women’s right to vote in 1776, but women did not win it until 1920. Why? For one thing, until Seneca Falls (1884), there wasn’t enough of an uprising. For whatever their weaknesses, the rise of psychoanalysis, artistic modernism, and industrialism after World War I should also be credited for transforming traditional conceptions of women and helping them win the right to vote. Equally, today’s world has experienced its own paradigm shift, capable of spawning an unprecedented advancement of vision. Now is the time for an uprising.

Now: The Ladies of Liberty

So, Bush wants to strip away or otherwise halt plethoric civil liberties in the name of God. Are we going to take this lying down? Well, all right, then, let’s go back to basics. Lila Rose and her troupe donning the costumes of early feminist radicals like Alice Paul is a funny but profound way to symbolize a much-needed American revolution, one which reaches back in time to inaugurate the future security of human freedoms.



Kyle Thomas Smith

Kyle Thomas Smith is the author of the novel, 85A. He lives in Brooklyn.


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DEC 04-JAN 05

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