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Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a United States activist and suffragette who advocated for women’s rights and facilitated the movement’s beginnings. She announced the first formal call for universal suffrage at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention in New York with her Declaration of Sentiments. For more than 50 years Cady Stanton fought for more than just voting rights. She opened discussions on many important, controversial issues, including birth control, property, employment, income, and parental rights.

Early Years and Family

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was born on November 12, 1915, in Johnstown, New York. She was the eighth of eleven children from Daniel Cady and Margaret Livingston. Only five of the Cady children lived to see 21.[1] Daniel Cady served one term in the United States Congress and worked as a Federalist attorney. He became a Supreme Court Justice of New York in 1847.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s father introduced his daughter to the legal world and the huge gender disparities found within it.

Margaret Livingston Cady suffered serious depression and did not play a significant role in Cady Stanton’s early life. She was mostly raised by her older sister, Tryphena and her sister’s husband, Edward Bayard. She and Bayard conversed often in her father’s law office and he confirmed and revealed more gender disparities that they both witnessed within the legal realm.[2] Stanton’s father owned slaves and one, in particular, Peter Teabout, played a large role in her young life.[3]

Education

Elizabeth Stanton studied at Johnstown Academy until 16 years old. She excelled academically while learning writing, religion, mathematics, science, Greek, Latin, and French in classrooms with boys and girls.[4] Although she exhibited extreme intelligence and a great capacity for learning, her father could never reconcile the 1826 death of her brother, Eleazer. Elizabeth Cady Stanton quotes her father in her memoir as saying, “Oh, my daughter, I wish you were a boy!”

Elizabeth Cady Stanton experienced the definition of gender discrimination for the first time when she could not attend Union College because they did not accept women. This memory drove much of her later activism.

She felt undervalued by her father and turned to her neighbor, Reverend Simon Hosack for comfort and encouragement. He donated his time and intellect to teach her Greek, helping to reinforce her beliefs and confidence. When Stanton graduated in 1830, she could not join her male classmates at Union College. She instead attended Emma Willard’s Troy Female Seminary located in New York.[5]

Stanton Family Life

Elizabeth Cady married Henry Brewster Stanton in 1840. She refused to say the line “promise to obey” while reciting her vows.[6] Elizabeth Cady Stanton quotes in her memoir that, “I obstinately refused to obey one with whom I supposed I was entering into an equal relation.” They stayed married until his death in 1887, even though he shared her father’s limited views on women’s rights. They produced six children from 1842 to 1856 and a seventh in 1859 when Elizabeth Stanton was 44 years old.[7] When the couple moved from Boston, Massachusetts to Seneca Falls, New York, due to Henry’s ill health, Stanton began her first steps into real activism.[8]

A True Activist

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the definition of a social activist. She allied with Lucretia Mott, who she met while on her honeymoon in London, England during the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention. They formed the Seneca Falls Convention on July 19-20, 1848 with the help of Martha Coffin Wright, Mott’s sister. She presented her Declaration of Sentiments, which proclaimed the equality of both genders and the immediate need of suffrage for women.[9] Cady Stanton met Susan B. Anthony through a mutual feminist acquaintance, Amelia Bloomer, in 1851. They founded the Woman’s Temperance Society, which only lasted from 1852 to 1853. She and Anthony worked well as a team, complimenting each others skills, and fought together for women’s rights, including the right to vote.

Schism in the Women’s Rights Movement

Stanton and Anthony strongly opposed ratifying the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U. S. Constitution. These granted voting rights to African American men, but not women. The pair feared more male voters would result in further obstacles to women voting and felt insulted their abolitionist partners would not advocate for women as well. Eventually, Cady Stanton’s tone turned racist. She argued that well-educated women voters would be required to balance the political system from the "pauperism, ignorance, and degradation” inevitably brought with the votes of immigrants and freed slaves.[10]

In May 1869, Stanton and Antony founded the National Woman’s Suffrage Association (NWSA) creating a schism within the movement with their dedication to universal suffrage for all. In November, opposing suffragettes founded the American Woman Suffrage Association. They focused solely on the right to vote and not the more controversial topics of income and gender equality that the NWSA addressed.[11] The two women began advocating with Sojourner Truth and Matilda Gage, but the Fifteenth Amendment passed unchanged in 1870.[12]

Later Career and Death

Stanton addressed more women’s rights issues than just voting and disagreed with the religious fundamentalism of other feminist leaders. She addressed her concerns in her book, The Woman’s Bible.[13] She authored several more books, published a periodical, and lectured across the U.S. eight months every year, while still continuing to be president of NWSA. She worked internationally as well, forming the International Counsel of Women in 1888.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton worked tirelessly until her death from heart failure on October 26, 1902, in her New York City home. A monument sits over her grave in Woodlawn Cemetery.[14]

References

Bibliography

Baker, J. H. (2005). Sisters: The Lives of America’s Suffragists. New York: Hill and Wang.

Griffith, E., & Stanton, E. C. (1985). In Her Own Right: The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Oxford University Press, USA.

Stanton, E. C., DuBois, E. C., & Gordon, A. (1993). Eighty Years and More: Reminiscences, 1815-1897. United States: Northeastern University Press.

Footnotes

  1. Stanton, DuBois, & Gordon, 1993
  2. Griffith & Stanton, 1985
  3. Kern, K. (2002). Mrs. Stanton’s Bible. United States: Cornell University Press.
  4. Stanton, DuBois, & Gordon, 1993
  5. Stanton, DuBois, & Gordon, 1993
  6. Whitman, A. (Ed.). (1985). American Reformers. United Kingdom: H. W. Wilson.
  7. Stanton, DuBois, & Gordon, 1993
  8. Griffith & Stanton, 1985
  9. U.S. Department of Interior. Elizabeth Cady Stanton. National Park Service.
  10. Griffith & Stanton, 1985
  11. Stanton, E. C., & DuBois, E. C. (1992). The Elizabeth Cady Stanton - Susan B. Anthony Reader: Correspondence, writing, speeches. Boston: Northeastern University Press.
  12. James, E. T. (1990). Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary: 1607-1950. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  13. Stanton, E. C. (1972). The Woman’s Bible. United States: Arno Press.
  14. Griffith & Stanton, 1985

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