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Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, c. 1880
(1815-11-12)November 12, 1815
Johnstown, New York, U.S.
|Died||October 26, 1902(1902-10-26) (aged 86)
New York City, U.S.
|Occupation||Writer, suffragist, women's rights activist, abolitionist|
Henry Brewster Stanton
( m. 1840; died 1887)
|Children||7, including Theodore Weld Stanton and Harriot Eaton Stanton Blatch|
|Parent(s)||Daniel Cady (1773–1859)
Margaret Livingston Cady (1785–1871)
|Relatives||Gerrit Smith, cousin
Col. James Livingston, grandfather
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (November 12, 1815 – October 26, 1902) was an American suffragist, social activist, abolitionist, and leading figure of the early women's rights movement. Her Declaration of Sentiments, presented at the Seneca Falls Convention held in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, is often credited with initiating the first organized women's rights and women's suffrage movements in the United States. Stanton was president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association from 1890 until 1892.
Before Stanton narrowed her political focus almost exclusively to women's rights, she was an active abolitionist with her husband Henry Brewster Stanton (co-founder of the Republican Party) and cousin Gerrit Smith. Unlike many of those involved in the women's rights movement, Stanton addressed various issues pertaining to women beyond voting rights. Her concerns included women's parental and custody rights, property rights, employment and income rights, divorce, the economic health of the family, and birth control. She was also an outspoken supporter of the 19th-century temperance movement.
After the American Civil War, Stanton's commitment to female suffrage caused a schism in the women's rights movement when she, together with Susan B. Anthony, declined to support passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. She opposed giving added legal protection and voting rights to African American men while women, black and white, were denied those same rights. Her position on this issue, together with her thoughts on organized Christianity and women's issues beyond voting rights, led to the formation of two separate women's rights organizations that were finally rejoined, with Stanton as president of the joint organization, about twenty years after her break from the original women's suffrage movement.
Stanton died in 1902, having written both The Woman's Bible and her autobiography Eighty Years and More, and many other articles and pamphlets about female suffrage and women's rights.
Childhood and family background
Elizabeth Cady, the eighth of eleven children, was born in Johnstown, New York, to Daniel Cady and Margaret Livingston Cady. Five of her siblings died in early childhood or infancy. A sixth sibling, her older brother Eleazar, died at age 20 just before his graduation from Union College in Schenectady, New York. Only Elizabeth Cady and four sisters lived well into adulthood and old age. Later in life, Elizabeth named her two daughters after two of her sisters, Margaret and Harriot.
Daniel Cady, Stanton's father, was a prominent Federalist attorney who served one term in the United States Congress (1814–1817) and then became both a circuit court judge and, in 1847, a New York Supreme Court justice. Judge Cady introduced his daughter to the law and, together with her brother-in-law, Edward Bayard, planted the early seeds that grew into her legal and social activism. Even as a young girl, she enjoyed reading her father's law books and debating legal issues with his law clerks. It was this early exposure to law that, in part, caused Stanton to realize how disproportionately the law favored men over women, particularly married women. Her realization that married women had virtually no property, income, employment, or even custody rights over their own children, helped set her course toward changing these inequities.
Stanton's mother, Margaret Livingston Cady, a descendant of early Dutch settlers, was the daughter of Colonel James Livingston, an officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Having fought at Saratoga and Quebec, Livingston assisted in the capture of Major John Andre at West Point, New York where Andre and Benedict Arnold, who escaped aboard HMS Vulture, were planning to turn West Point over to the English. Margaret Cady, an unusually tall woman for her time, had a commanding presence, and Stanton routinely described her mother as "queenly." While Stanton's daughter, Harriot Stanton Blatch, remembers her grandmother as being fun, affectionate, and lively, Stanton herself did not apparently share such memories. Emotionally devastated by the loss of so many children, Margaret Cady fell into a depression, which kept her from being fully involved in the lives of her surviving children and left a maternal void in Stanton's childhood.
With Stanton's mother depressed, and since Stanton's father contended with the loss of several children, including his eldest son Eleazar, by immersing himself in his work, many of the child rearing responsibilities fell to Stanton's elder sister, Tryphena, eleven years her senior, and Tryphena's husband, Edward Bayard. Bayard, a Union College classmate of Eleazar Cady's and son of James A. Bayard, Sr., a U.S. Senator from Wilmington, Delaware was, at the time of his engagement and marriage to Tryphena, an apprentice in Daniel Cady's law office. He was instrumental in nurturing Stanton's growing understanding of the explicit and implicit gender hierarchies within the legal system.
Slavery did not end in New York State until July 4, 1827, and, like many men of his day, Stanton's father was a slaveowner. Peter Teabout, a slave in the Cady household who was later freed in Johnstown, took care of Stanton and her sister Margaret. While she makes no mention of Teabout's position as a slave in her family's household, he is remembered with particular fondness by Stanton in her memoir, Eighty Years & More. Among other things, she reminisces about the pleasure she took in attending the Episcopal church with Teabout, where she and her sisters enjoyed sitting with him in the back of the church rather than alone in front with the white families of the congregation. It seems it was, however, not immediately that her family owned at least one slave, but her exposure to the abolition movement as a young woman visiting her cousin, Gerrit Smith, in Peterboro, New York, that led to her staunch abolitionist sentiments.
Education and intellectual development
Unlike many women of her era, Stanton was formally educated. She attended Johnstown Academy in her home town until the age of 16. The only girl in its advanced classes in mathematics and languages, she won second prize in the school's Greek competition and became a skilled debater. She enjoyed her years at the school and said that she did not encounter any barriers there because of her sex.
In her memoir, Stanton credits the Cadys' neighbor, Rev. Simon Hosack, with strongly encouraging her intellectual development and academic abilities at a time when she felt these were undervalued by her father. Writing of her brother Eleazar's death in 1826, Stanton remembers trying to comfort her father, saying that she would try to be all her brother had been. At the time, her father's response devastated Stanton: "Oh, my daughter, I wish you were a boy!" Understanding from this that her father valued boys above girls, Stanton tearfully took her disappointment to Hosack, whose firm belief in her abilities counteracted her father's perceived disparagement. Hosack went on to teach Stanton Greek, encouraged her to read widely, and ultimately bequeathed to her his own Greek lexicon along with other books. His confirmation of her intellectual abilities strengthened Stanton's confidence and self-esteem.
Upon graduation from Johnstown Academy, Stanton received one of her first tastes of sexual discrimination. Stanton watched with dismay as the young men graduating with her, many of whom she had surpassed academically, went on to Union College, as her older brother, Eleazar, had done previously. In 1830, with Union College taking only men, Stanton enrolled in the Troy Female Seminary in Troy, New York, which was founded and run by Emma Willard. (In 1895, the school was renamed the Emma Willard School in honor of its founder, and Stanton, spurred by her respect for Willard and despite her growing infirmities, was a keynote speaker at this event.)
Views on religion
Early during her student days in Troy, Stanton remembers being strongly influenced by Charles Grandison Finney, an evangelical preacher and central figure in the revivalist movement. His influence, combined with the Calvinistic Presbyterianism of her childhood, caused her great unease. After hearing Finney speak, Stanton became terrified at the possibility of her own damnation: "Fear of judgment seized my soul. Visions of the lost haunted my dreams. Mental anguish prostrated my health. Dethronement of my reason was apprehended by my friends." Stanton credits her father and brother-in-law, Edward Bayard, with convincing her to ignore Finney's warnings. She further credits their taking her on a rejuvenating trip to Niagara Falls with restoring her reason and sense of balance: “My religious superstitions gave place to rational ideas based on scientific facts, and in proportion, as I looked at everything from a new standpoint, I grew more and more happy, day by day.” She never returned to organized Christianity and, after this experience, always maintained that logic and a humane sense of ethics were the best guides to both thought and behavior.
Stanton not only rejected Christianity, but all religions: “…all religions on the face of the earth degrade her [women], and so long as woman accepts the position that they assign her, her emancipation is impossible". Furthermore, she believed the natural course of studying theology is to come to reject religion, and that religion is a delusion that we must be freed from. In her autobiography, Stanton recalls, with her brother in-law, trying to convince her friends that religion is a mental delusion: “My brother in-law explained to us the nature of the delusion we had all experienced, the physical conditions, the mental processes, the church machinery by which such excitements are worked up, and the impositions to which credulous minds are necessarily subjected to.” She continues to recall how she eventually convinced them: “Together they passed through every stage of theological experience, from the uncertain ground of superstition and speculation to the solid foundation of science and reason.”
Marriage and family
As a young woman, Elizabeth Cady met Henry Brewster Stanton through her early involvement in the temperance and the abolition movements. Henry Stanton was an acquaintance of Elizabeth Cady's cousin, Gerrit Smith, an abolitionist and member of the "Secret Six" that supported John Brown's raid at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Stanton was a journalist, an antislavery orator, and, after his marriage to Elizabeth Cady, an attorney. Despite Daniel Cady's reservations, the couple was married in 1840, with Elizabeth Cady requesting of the minister that the phrase "promise to obey" be removed from the wedding vows. She later wrote, "I obstinately refused to obey one with whom I supposed I was entering into an equal relation." The couple had six children between 1842 and 1856. Their seventh and last child, Robert, was an unplanned baby born in 1859 when Elizabeth Cady Stanton was forty-four.
Soon after returning to the United States from their European honeymoon, the Stantons moved into the Cady household in Johnstown. Henry Stanton studied law under his father-in-law until 1843, when the Stantons moved to (Chelsea) Boston, Massachusetts, where Henry joined a law firm. While living in Boston, Elizabeth thoroughly enjoyed the social, political, and intellectual stimulation that came with a constant round of abolitionist gatherings and meetings. Here, she enjoyed the company of and was influenced by such people as Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Louisa May Alcott, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, among others. Throughout her marriage and eventual widowhood, Stanton took her husband's surname as part of her own, signing herself Elizabeth Cady Stanton or E. Cady Stanton, but she refused to be addressed as Mrs. Henry B. Stanton. Asserting that women were individual persons, she stated that, "the custom of calling women Mrs. John This and Mrs. Tom That and colored men Sambo and Zip Coon, is founded on the principle that white men are lords of all."
The Stanton marriage was not entirely without tension and disagreement. Henry Stanton, like Daniel Cady, disagreed with the notion of female suffrage. Because of employment, travel, and financial considerations, husband and wife lived more often apart than together. Friends of the couple found them very similar in temperament and ambition, but quite dissimilar in their views on certain issues, including women's rights. In 1842, abolitionist reformer Sarah Grimke counseled Elizabeth in a letter: "Henry greatly needs a humble, holy companion and thou needest the same." However, both Stantons considered their marriage an overall success, and the marriage lasted for 47 years, ending with Henry Stanton's death in 1887.
In 1847, concerned about the effect of New England winters on Henry Stanton's fragile health, the Stantons moved from Boston to Seneca Falls, New York, situated at the northern end of Cayuga Lake, one of the Finger Lakes found in upstate New York. Their house, purchased for them by Daniel Cady, was located some distance from town. The couple's last four children—two sons and two daughters—were born there, with Stanton asserting that her children were conceived under a program she called "voluntary motherhood." In an era when it was commonly held that a wife must submit to her husband's sexual demands, Stanton firmly believed that women should have command over their sexual relationships and childbearing. As a mother who advocated homeopathy, freedom of expression, lots of outdoor activity, and a solid, highly academic education for all of her children, Stanton nurtured a breadth of interests, activities, and learning in both her sons and daughters. She was remembered by her daughter Margaret as being "cheerful, sunny and indulgent".
Although she enjoyed motherhood and assumed primary responsibility for rearing the children, Stanton found herself unsatisfied and even depressed by the lack of intellectual companionship and stimulation in Seneca Falls. Throughout this period of removal from the woman's movement, Stanton kept in touch with Susan B. Anthony, and writing Anthony's speeches became one of Stanton's primary modes of involvement in the movement from afar. Additionally, Stanton often wrote Anthony letters about the difficulties of balancing domestic and public life, especially in a prejudiced society. As another antidote to the boredom and loneliness, Stanton became increasingly involved in the community and, by 1848, had established ties to similarly minded women in the area. By this time, she was firmly committed to the nascent women's rights movement and was ready to engage in organized activism.
Early activism in the women's rights movement
Prior to living in Seneca Falls, Stanton had become an admirer and friend of Lucretia Mott, the Quaker minister, feminist, and abolitionist whom she had met at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, England in the spring of 1840 while on her honeymoon. The two women became allies when the male delegates attending the convention voted that women should be denied participation in the proceedings, even if they, like Mott, had been nominated to serve as official delegates of their respective abolitionist societies. After considerable debate, the women were required to sit in a roped-off section hidden from the view of the men in attendance. They were soon joined by the prominent abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, who arrived after the vote had been taken and, in protest of the outcome, refused his seat, electing instead to sit with the women.
Mott's example and the decision to prohibit women from participating in the convention strengthened Stanton's commitment to women's rights. By 1848, her early life experiences, together with the experience in London and her initially debilitating experience as a housewife in Seneca Falls, galvanized Stanton. She later wrote:
The general discontent I felt with woman's portion as wife, housekeeper, physician, and spiritual guide, the chaotic conditions into which everything fell without her constant supervision, and the wearied, anxious look of the majority of women, impressed me with a strong feeling that some active measures should be taken to remedy the wrongs of society in general, and of women in particular. My experience at the World Anti-slavery Convention, all I had read of the legal status of women, and the oppression I saw everywhere, together swept across my soul, intensified now by many personal experiences. It seemed as if all the elements had conspired to impel me to some onward step. I could not see what to do or where to begin—my only thought was a public meeting for protest and discussion.
In 1848, acting on these feelings and perceptions, Stanton joined Mott, Mott's sister Martha Coffin Wright, Jane Hunt and a handful of other women in Seneca Falls. Together they organized the Seneca Falls Convention held in Seneca Falls on July 19 and 20. Over 300 people attended. Stanton drafted a Declaration of Sentiments, which she read at the convention. Modeled on the United States Declaration of Independence, Stanton's declaration proclaimed that men and women are created equal. She proposed, among other things, a then-controversial resolution demanding voting rights for women. The final resolutions, including female suffrage, were passed, in no small measure, because of the support of Frederick Douglass, who attended and informally spoke at the convention.
Soon after the convention, Stanton was invited to speak at the second women's rights convention, the Rochester Convention of 1848, in Rochester, New York, solidifying her role as an activist and reformer. Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis invited her to speak at the first National Women's Rights Convention in 1850, but because of pregnancy, Stanton chose instead to lend her name to the list of sponsors and send a speech to be read in her stead. In 1851, Stanton was introduced to Susan B. Anthony on a street in Seneca Falls by Amelia Bloomer, a feminist and mutual acquaintance who had not signed the Declaration of Sentiments and subsequent resolutions despite her attendance at the Seneca Falls convention.
Although best known for their joint work on behalf of women's suffrage, Stanton and Anthony first joined the temperance movement. Together, they were instrumental in founding the short-lived Woman's State Temperance Society (1852–1853). During her presidency of the organization, Stanton scandalized many supporters by suggesting that drunkenness be made sufficient cause for divorce. But the relationship between the women's suffrage movement and the temperance movement was hardly accidental. The two movements had common interests, with women's suffrage filling the role of cause and prohibition becoming the effect. Later, in state after state, once women gained the right to vote, they could press for various political measures to reduce drunkenness, perceived to be largely a problem involving the male sex. Thus the two movement became frequently allied.
Stanton and Anthony's focus, however, soon shifted to female suffrage and women's rights, activities which inexorably brought them into acquaintance with Alice Cary and Phoebe Cary; for a short time Phoebe Cary served as editor of Anthony's newspaper, Revolution.
Single and having no children, Anthony had the time and energy to do the speaking and traveling that Stanton was unable to do. Their skills complemented each other; Stanton, the better orator and writer, scripted many of Anthony's speeches, while Anthony was the movement's organizer and tactician. Stanton once wrote to Anthony, "No power in heaven, hell or earth can separate us, for our hearts are eternally wedded together." Likewise, when writing a tribute that appeared in The New York Times when Stanton died, Anthony described Stanton as having "forged the thunderbolts" that she (Anthony) "fired." Unlike Anthony's relatively narrow focus on suffrage, Stanton wanted to push for a broader platform of women's rights in general. While their opposing viewpoints led to some discussion and conflict, no disagreement threatened their friendship or working relationship; the two women remained close friends and colleagues until Stanton's death some 50 years after their initial meeting. While always recognized as movement leaders whose support was sought, Stanton and Anthony's voices were soon joined by others who began assuming leadership positions within the movement. These women included, among others, Matilda Joslyn Gage.
Stanton's speech regarding the destructive male
In 1868 at the Women's Suffrage Convention in Washington, D.C., Elizabeth Cady Stanton, at age 52, gave a powerful speech which begins as such: "I urge a sixteenth amendment, because 'manhood suffrage,' or a man's government, is civil, religious, and social disorganization. The male element is a destructive force, stern, selfish, aggrandizing, loving war, violence, conquest, acquisition, breeding in the material and moral world alike discord, disorder, disease, and death. See what a record of blood and cruelty the pages of history reveal! Through what slavery, slaughter, and sacrifice, through what inquisitions and imprisonments, pains and persecutions, black codes and gloomy creeds, the soul of humanity has struggled for the centuries, while mercy has veiled her face and all hearts have been dead alike to love and hope!"
The speech ends as such "With violence and disturbance in the natural world, we see a constant effort to maintain an equilibrium of forces. Nature, like a loving mother, is ever trying to keep land and sea, mountain and valley, each in its place, to hush the angry winds and waves, balance the extremes of heat and cold, of rain and drought, that peace, harmony, and beauty may reign supreme. There is a striking analogy between matter and mind, and the present disorganization of society warns us that in the dethronement of woman we have let loose the elements of violence and ruin that she only has the power to curb. If the civilization of the age calls for an extension of the suffrage, surely a government of the most virtuous educated men and women would better represent the whole and protect the interests of all than could the representation of either sex alone."
Ideological divergence with abolitionists and the women's rights movement
After the American Civil War, both Stanton and Anthony broke with their abolitionist backgrounds and lobbied strongly against ratification of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, which granted African American men the right to vote. Believing that African American men, by virtue of the Thirteenth Amendment, already had the legal protections, except for suffrage, offered to white male citizens and that so largely expanding the male franchise in the country would only increase the number of voters prepared to deny women the right to vote, both Stanton and Anthony were angry that the abolitionists, their former partners in working for both African American and women's rights, refused to demand that the language of the amendments be changed to include women.
Eventually, Stanton's oppositional rhetoric took on racial overtones. Arguing on behalf of female suffrage, Stanton posited that women voters of "wealth, education, and refinement" were needed to offset the effect of former slaves and immigrants whose "pauperism, ignorance, and degradation" might negatively affect the American political system. She declared it to be "a serious question whether we had better stand aside and see 'Sambo' walk into the kingdom [of civil rights] first." Some scholars have argued that Stanton's emphasis on property ownership and education, opposition to black male suffrage, and desire to hold out for universal suffrage fragmented the civil rights movement by pitting African-American men against women and, together with Stanton's emphasis on "educated suffrage," in part established a basis for the literacy requirements that followed in the wake of the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment.
Stanton's position caused a significant rift between herself and many civil rights leaders, particularly Frederick Douglass, who believed that white women, already empowered by their connection to fathers, husbands, and brothers, at least vicariously had the vote. According to Douglass, their treatment as slaves entitled the now liberated African American men, who lacked women's indirect empowerment, to voting rights before women were granted the franchise. African American women, he believed, would have the same degree of empowerment as white women once African American men had the vote; hence, general female suffrage was, according to Douglass, of less concern than black male suffrage.
Disagreeing with Douglass, and despite the racist language she sometimes resorted to, Stanton firmly believed in a universal franchise that empowered blacks and whites, men and women. Speaking on behalf of black women, she stated that not allowing them to vote condemned African American freedwomen "to a triple bondage that man never knows," that of slavery, gender, and race. She was joined in this belief by Anthony, Olympia Brown, and most especially Frances Gage, who was the first suffragist to champion voting rights for freedwomen. In her work The Slave's Appeal, written in 1860, Elizabeth Cady Stanton brings awareness not only to feminism, but also to the issues and struggles of slavery. Although not African American, to convey her message best, she wrote from the perspective of one to show that she viewed women's suffrage as something that should not be limited to only Caucasian women.
Thaddeus Stevens, a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania and ardent abolitionist, agreed that voting rights should be universal. In 1866, Stanton, Anthony, and several other suffragists drafted a universal suffrage petition demanding that the right to vote be given without consideration of sex or race. The petition was introduced in the United States Congress by Stevens. Despite these efforts, the Fourteenth Amendment was passed, without adjustment, in 1868.
By the time the Fifteenth Amendment was making its way through Congress, Stanton's position had led to a major schism in the women's rights movement itself. Many leaders in the women's rights movement, including Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Blackwell, and Julia Ward Howe, strongly argued against Stanton's "all or nothing" position. By 1869, disagreement over ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment had given birth to two separate women's suffrage organizations. The National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) was founded in May, 1869 by Anthony and Stanton, who served as its president for 21 years. The NWSA opposed passage of the Fifteenth Amendment without changes to include female suffrage and, under Stanton's influence in particular, championed a number of women's issues that were deemed too radical by more conservative members of the suffrage movement. The better-funded, larger, and more representative woman suffragist vehicle, the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), founded the following November and led by Stone, Blackwell, and Howe, supported the Fifteenth Amendment as written. Following passage of that Amendment, the AWSA preferred to focus only on female suffrage rather than advocate for the broader women's rights espoused by Stanton: gender-neutral divorce laws, a woman's right to refuse her husband sexually, increased economic opportunities for women and the right of women to serve on juries.
Believing that men should not be given the right to vote without women also being granted the franchise, Sojourner Truth, a former slave and feminist, affiliated herself with Stanton and Anthony's organization. Stanton, Anthony, and Truth were joined by Matilda Joslyn Gage, who later worked on The Woman's Bible with Stanton. Despite Stanton's position and the efforts of her and others to expand the Fifteenth Amendment to include voting rights for all women, this amendment also passed, as it was originally written, in 1870.
In her later years, Stanton became interested in efforts to create cooperative communities and work places. She was also attracted to various forms of political radicalism, applauding the Populist movement and identifying herself with socialism, especially Fabian socialism.
In the decade following ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, both Stanton and Anthony increasingly took the position, first advocated by Victoria Woodhull, that the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments actually did give women the right to vote. They argued that the Fourteenth Amendment, which defined citizens as "all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof," included women and that the Fifteenth Amendment provided all citizens with the right to vote. Using this logic, they asserted that women now had the constitutional right to vote and that it was simply a matter of claiming that right. This constitution-based argument, which came to be called "the new departure" in women's rights circles because of its divergence from earlier attempts to change voting laws on a state-by-state basis, led to first Anthony (in 1872), and later Stanton (in 1880), going to the polls and demanding to vote. Despite this, and similar attempts made by hundreds of other women, it would be nearly 50 years before women obtained the right to vote throughout the United States.
During this time, Stanton maintained a broad focus on women's rights in general rather than narrowing her focus only to female suffrage in particular. After passage of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870 and its support by the Equal Rights Association and prominent suffragists such as Stone, Blackwell, and Howe, the gap between Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other leaders of the women's movement widened as Stanton took issue with the fundamental religious leanings of several movement leaders. Unlike many of her colleagues, Stanton believed organized Christianity relegated women to an unacceptable position in society. She would eventually come to publish this view in her biblical commentary, called The Woman's Bible, which elucidated a feminist understanding of biblical scripture and sought to correct the fundamental sexism Stanton believed was inherent to organized Christianity. In stark contrast to nineteenth century American society, where politicians would often cite the Bible to enforce the subjugation of women, Stanton criticized the Bible, refusing to treat it as a sacred text. Stanton makes many criticisms that take a severe departure from the Christian tradition, including suggesting a revision of the foundational Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Later, in her autobiography, Stanton would describe that while writing her biblical commentary, "The more I read, the more keenly I felt the importance of convincing women that the Hebrew mythology had no special claim to a higher origin than that of the Greeks… It's objectionable features would long ago have been apparent had they not been glossed over with a faith in their divine inspiration."
Stanton's views would continue to alienate her from some of her fellow feminists. Stanton supported divorce rights, employment rights, and property rights for women, issues in which the American Women's Suffrage Association (AWSA) preferred not to become involved. The Woman's Bible, which rejected Christianity as an inherently patriarchal and oppressive religion, made calls to, "construct a more rational religion for the nineteenth century, and thus escape all the perplexities of the Jewish mythology as of no more importance than those of the Greek, Persian, and Egyptian", alienated many Christians from her cause. Many of her positions were considered radical in the society in which she lived, including her call for acceptance of interracial marriage. Despite her opposition to giving African American men the right to vote without enfranchising all women and the derogatory language she had resorted to in expressing this opposition, Stanton had no objection to interracial marriage and wrote a congratulatory letter to Frederick Douglass upon his marriage to Helen Pitts, a white woman, in 1884. Anthony, fearing public condemnation of the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and wanting to keep the demand for female suffrage foremost, pleaded with Stanton not to make her letter to Douglass or support for his marriage publicly known.
Stanton went on to write some of the most influential books, documents, and speeches of the women's rights movement. Starting in 1876, Stanton, Anthony, and Gage collaborated to write the first volume of History of Woman Suffrage, a path-breaking, six-volume work containing the full history, documents, and letters of the woman's suffrage movement. The first two volumes were published in 1881 and the third in 1886; the work was eventually completed in 1922 by Ida Harper. Stanton's other major writings included the two-part The Woman's Bible, published in 1895 and 1898; Eighty Years & More: Reminiscences 1815–1897, her autobiography, published in 1898; and The Solitude of Self, or "Self-Sovereignty," which she first delivered as a speech at the 1892 convention of the National American Woman's Suffrage Association in Washington, D.C.
In 1868 Stanton, together with Susan B. Anthony and Parker Pillsbury, a leading male feminist of his day, began publishing a weekly periodical, Revolution, with editorials by Stanton that focused on a wide array of women's issues. In a view different from many modern feminists, Stanton, who supported birth control and likely used it herself, believed that both the killing of infants and abortion could be considered infanticide, a position she discussed in Revolution. At this time, Stanton also joined the New York Lyceum Bureau, embarking on a 12-year career on the Lyceum Circuit. Traveling and lecturing for eight months every year provided her both with the funds to put her two youngest sons through college and, given her popularity as a lecturer, with a way to spread her ideas among the general population, gain broad public recognition, and further establish her reputation as a preeminent leader in the women's rights movement. Among her most popular speeches were "Our Girls", "Our Boys", "Co-education", "Marriage and Divorce", "Prison Life", and "The Bible and Woman's Rights". Her lecture travels so occupied her that Stanton, although president, presided at only four of 15 conventions of the National Woman's Suffrage Association during this period.
In addition to her writing and speaking, Stanton was also instrumental in promoting women's suffrage in various states, particularly New York, Missouri, Kansas, where it was included on the ballot in 1867, and Michigan, where it was put to a vote in 1874. She made an unsuccessful bid for a U.S. Congressional seat from New York in 1866, and she was the primary force behind the passage of the Woman's Property Bill that was eventually passed by the New York State Legislature. She worked toward female suffrage in Wyoming, Utah, and California, and in 1878, she convinced California Senator Aaron A. Sargent to introduce a female suffrage amendment using wording similar to that of the Fifteenth Amendment passed some eight years previously.
Stanton was also active internationally, spending a great deal of time in Europe, where her daughter and fellow feminist Harriot Stanton Blatch lived. In 1888, she helped prepare for the founding of the International Council of Women. In 1890, Stanton opposed the merger of the National Woman's Suffrage Association with the more conservative and religiously based American Woman Suffrage Association. Over her objections, the organizations merged, creating the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Despite her opposition to the merger, Stanton became its first president, largely because of Susan B. Anthony's intervention. In good measure because of The Woman's Bible and her position on issues such as divorce she was, however, never popular among the more religiously conservative members of the "National American".
On January 18, 1892, about ten years before she died, Stanton joined Anthony, Stone, and Isabella Beecher Hooker to address the issue of suffrage before the United States House Committee on the Judiciary. After nearly five decades of fighting for female suffrage and women's rights, it was Elizabeth Cady Stanton's final appearance before members of the United States Congress. Using the text of what became The Solitude of Self, she spoke of the central value of the individual, noting that value was not based on gender. As with the Declaration of Sentiments she had penned some 45 years earlier, Stanton's statement expressed not only the need for women's voting rights in particular, but the need for a revamped understanding of women's position in society and even of women in general:
The isolation of every human soul and the necessity of self-dependence must give each individual the right to choose his own surroundings. The strongest reason for giving woman all the opportunities for higher education, for the full development of her faculties, her forces of mind and body; for giving her the most enlarged freedom of thought and action; a complete emancipation from all forms of bondage, of custom, dependence, superstition; from all the crippling influences of fear—is the solitude and personal responsibility of her own individual life. The strongest reason why we ask for woman a voice in the government under which she lives; in the religion she is asked to believe; equality in social life, where she is the chief factor; a place in the trades and professions, where she may earn her bread, is because of her birthright to self-sovereignty; because, as an individual, she must rely on herself ...
Stanton strongly supported the Spanish–American War in 1898, writing: "Though I hate war per se, I am glad that it has come in this instance. I would like to see Spain ... swept from the face of the earth."
Death, burial, and remembrance
Stanton died of heart failure at her home in New York City on October 26, 1902, 18 years before women were granted the right to vote in the United States. She was interred in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City, the grave upon which there is a monument for her and her husband. Although Elizabeth Cady Stanton had been unable to attend a formal college or university, her daughters did. Margaret Livingston Stanton Lawrence attended Vassar College (1876) and Columbia University (1891), and Harriot Stanton Blatch received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Vassar College in 1878 and 1891 respectively.
After Stanton's death, her unorthodox ideas about religion and emphasis on female employment and other women's issues led many suffragists to focus on Anthony, rather than Stanton, as the founder of the women's suffrage movement. Stanton's controversial publishing of The Woman's Bible in 1895 had alienated more religiously traditional suffragists, and had cemented Anthony's place as the more readily recognized leader of the female suffrage movement. Anthony continued to work with NAWSA and became more familiar to many of the younger members of the movement. By 1923, in celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, only Harriot Stanton Blatch paid tribute to the role her mother had played in instigating the women's rights movement. Even as late as 1977, Anthony received the most attention as the founder of the movement, while Stanton was not mentioned. Over time, however, Stanton received more attention.
Stanton was commemorated along with Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony in a sculpture by Adelaide Johnson at the United States Capitol, unveiled in 1921. Originally kept on display in the crypt of the US Capitol, the sculpture was moved to its current location and more prominently displayed in the rotunda in 1997.
In 1969 New York Radical Feminists was founded. It was organized into small cells or "brigades" named after notable feminists of the past; Anne Koedt and Shulamith Firestone led the Stanton-Anthony Brigade.
The Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Papers project was an academic undertaking to collect and document all available materials written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, which began in 1982. The project has since been ended.
In March 2008, 37 Park Row, the site of the original office of Stanton and Anthony's newspaper, The Revolution, was included in the map of Manhattan historical sites related or dedicated to important women created by the Office of the Manhattan Borough President.
In 1999, interest in Stanton was popularly rekindled when Ken Burns and others produced the documentary Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony. Once again, attention was drawn to her central, founding role in shaping not only the woman's suffrage movement, but a broad women's rights movement in the United States that included women's suffrage, women's legal reform, and women's roles in society as a whole.
Also in 1999, a sculpture by Ted Aub was unveiled commemorating when on May 12, 1851, Amelia Bloomer introduced Susan B. Anthony to Stanton. This sculpture, called "When Anthony Met Stanton", consists of the three women depicted as life-size bronze statues, and is placed overlooking Van Cleef Lake in Seneca Falls, New York, where the introduction occurred.
The Elizabeth Cady Stanton Pregnant and Parenting Student Services Act, first introduced by Senator Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) on November 8, 2005 as S. 1966, would establish a pilot program to provide $10 million annually for 200 grants to encourage institutions of higher education to establish and operate a pregnant and parenting student services office. The on-campus office would serve parenting students, prospective student parents who are pregnant or imminently anticipating an adoption, and students who are placing or have placed a child for adoption.
The U.S. Treasury Department announced on April 20, 2016, that an image of Cady Stanton would appear on the back of a newly designed $10 bill along with Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul and the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession. Designs for new $5, $10 and $20 bills will be unveiled in 2020 in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of American women winning the right to vote via the 19th Amendment.
Writings by Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Elizabeth Cady Stanton's writing as author or co-author:
- History of Woman Suffrage: Volumes 1–3 (written with Susan B. Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage; vol 4–6 completed by other authors, including Anthony, Gage, and Ida Harper) (1881–1922)
- Solitude of Self (originally delivered as a speech in 1892; later published in a hard bound edition by Paris Press)
- The Woman's Bible (1895, 1898)
- Eighty Years & More: Reminiscences 1815–1897 (1898)
Selected periodicals and journals
- Revolution (Stanton, co-editor) (1868–1870)
- Lily (published by Amelia Bloomer; Stanton as contributor)
- Una (published by Paulina Wright Davis; Stanton as contributor)
- New York Tribune (published by Horace Greeley; Stanton as contributor)
Selected papers, essays, and speeches
- Declaration of Sentiments And Resolutions (1848)
- A Petition for Universal Suffrage (1866)
- Self-government the Best Means of Self-development (1884)
- Solitude of Self (1892)
- The Degradation of Disenfranchisement (1892)
- Lyceum speeches: "Our Girls," "Our Boys," "Co-education," "Marriage and Divorce," "Prison Life," and "The Bible and Woman's Rights," "Temperence and Women's Rights" and many others
Stanton's papers are archived at Rutgers University: The Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Papers Project, Rutgers University (See particularly entries for Ann D. Gordon, editor, in the bibliography below.)
Writings about Elizabeth Cady Stanton
- Mieder, Wolfgang. 2014. All Men and Women Are Created Equal: Elizabeth Cady Stanton's and Susan B. Anthony's Proverbial Rhetoric Promoting Women's Rights. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.
- Ginzberg, Lori D. Elizabeth Cady Stanton: An American Life (NY: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 2009)
- Tetrault, Lisa, The Myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Women's Suffrage Movement, 1848–1898 (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2014)
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