Last updated: April 6, 2020
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) stirred strong emotions in audiences from the 1840s to her death in 1902. Was she catalyst, crusader or crank? Dedicated wife and mother? Privileged white woman, hiding her family's slave-holding past and stealing credit for other's work in the women's rights movement? Feminist firebrand, alienating coworkers with unnecessary controversy and uneasy alliances? Political strategist? popular speaker, philosopher and writer, who returned to the argument of individual rights in her last published speech? Lifelong friend?
For different people and at different times, Stanton was all of these. The fruits of her long life are still under scrutiny and up for debate. One thing is sure: she attracted attention and used it to push her ideas about women, rights and families for more than fifty years.
Stanton got her start in Seneca Falls, New York, where she surprised herself with her own eloquence at a gathering at the Richard P. Hunt home in nearby Waterloo. Invited to put her money where her mouth was, she organized the 1848 First Woman's Rights Convention with Marth Coffin Wright, Mary Ann M'Clintock, Lucretia Mott and Jane Hunt. She co-authored the Declaration of Sentiments issued by the convention that introduced the demand for votes for women into the debate. Her good mind and ready wit, both well-trained by her prominent and wealthy family, opened doors of reform that her father, Daniel Cady would rather she left shut. She studied at Troy Female Seminary and learned the importance of the law in regulating women through her father's law books and interactions with him and his young male law students.
At nearly six feet tall, Stanton's mother, Margaret Livingston Cady, "an imposing, dominant and vivacious figure who controlled the Cady household with a firm hand," modeled female presence. As Elizabeth entered her twenties, her reform-minded cousin Gerrit Smith introduced her to her future husband, Henry Brewster Stanton, a guest in his home. Stanton, an agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society and an eloquent speaker for the immediate abolition of slavery, turned Elizabeth's life upside down. In 1840, they married against her parents' wishes departing immediately on a honeymoon to the World's Anti-Slavery convention in London. There, the convention refused to seat American female delegates. One, though short, slight, and gentle in demeanor, was every bit as imposing as Stanton's mother. Lucretia Mott, a Hicksite Quaker preacher well-known for her activism in anti-slavery, woman's rights, religious and other reforms, "opened to [Stanton] a new world of thought."
At the First Woman's Rights Convention, Mott and her wide circle of fellow Quakers and anti-slavery advocates, including M'Clintocks, Hunts, Posts, deGarmos, and Palmers, opened a new world of action to Stanton as well. Between 1848 and 1862, they worked the Declaration of Sentiments' call to "employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the State and national Legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press in our behalf." They worked on conventions in Rochester, Westchester, PA, and Syracuse and organized, sent letters to, or attended national conventions between 1850 and 1862. Stanton met Susan B. Anthony, wrote articles on divorce, property rights, and temperence and adopted the Bloomer costume. By 1852, she and Anthony were refining techniques for her to write speeches and Anthony to deliver them. In 1854, she described legal restrictions facing women in a speech to the New York State Woman's Rights Convention in Albany. Her speech was reported in papers, printed, presented to lawmakers in the New York State legislature, and circulated as a tract. Though an 1854 campaign failed, a comprehensive reform of laws regarding women passed in 1860. By 1862, most of the reforms were repealed. The Stantons moved from Seneca Falls to New York City in 1862, following a federal appointment for Henry Stanton.
In the early 1860s national attention focused on the Civil War. Many anti-slavery men served in the Union Army. The women's rights movement rested its annual conventions; but in 1863, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony created the Women's Loyal National League, gathering 400,000 signatures on a petition to bring about immediate passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to end slavery in the United States. The war over, the women's movement created its first national organization, the American Equal Rights Association, to gain universal suffrage, the federal guarantee of the vote for all citizens. Elizabeth Cady Stanton's signature headed the petition, followed by Anthony, Lucy Stone, and other leaders. But the political climate undermined their hopes. The 15th Amendment eliminated restriction of the vote due to "race, color, or previous condition of servitude" but not gender. Campaigns to include universal suffrage in Kansas and New York state constitutions failed in 1867. Anthony's newspaper, The Revolution, edited by Stanton and Parker Pillsbury, male newspaperman and woman's rights supporter, published between January 1868 and May 1870, http://www.placematters.net/node/1440 with articles on all aspects of women's lives.
Between 1869 and 1890, Stanton and Anthony's National American Woman Suffrage Association worked at the national level to pursue the right of citizens to be protected by the U.S. constitution. Despite their efforts, Congress was unresponsive. In 1878, an amendment was introduced and Stanton testified. She was outraged by the rudeness of the Senators, who read newspapers or smoked while women spoke on behalf of the right to vote. Between 1878 and 1919, a new suffrage bill was introduced in the Senate every year. Meanwhile, the American Woman Suffrage Association turned its attention to the states with little success until 1890, when the territory of Wyoming entered the United States as a suffrage state. By then, Anthony had engineered the union of the two organizations into the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Colorado, Utah and Idaho gained woman suffrage between 1894 and 1896. There is stayed until well after Stanton and Anthony's deaths.
Nothing seemed to stop Stanton. In the 1870s she traveled across the United States giving speeches. In "Our Girls" her most frequent speech, she urged girls to get an education that would develop them as persons and provide an income if needed; both her daughters completed college. In 1876 she helped organize a protest at the nation's 100th birthday celebration in Philadelphia. In the 1880s, she, Susan B. Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage produced three volumes of the History of Woman Suffrage. She also traveled in Europe visiting daughter Harriot Stanton Blatch in England and son Theodore Stanton in France. In 1888, leaders of the U.S. women's movement staged an International Council of Women to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention. Stanton sat front and center. In 1890, she agreed to serve as president of the combined National American Woman Suffrage Society. In 1895, she published The Woman's Bible, earning the censure of members of the NAWSA. Her autobiography, Eighty Years and More, appeared in 1898. Her final speech before Congress, The Solitude of Self, delivered in 1902, echoed themes in "Our Girls," claiming that as no other person could face death for another, none could decide for them how to educate themselves.
Along the way, Stanton advocated for Laura Fair, accused of murdering a man with whom she was having an affair. She allied the movement and her resources to Victoria Woodhull, who claimed the right to love as she pleased without regard to marriage laws. She supported Elizabeth Tilton, a supposed victim of the sexual advances of clergyman Henry Ward Beecher. She broke with Frederick Douglass over the vote in the 1860s and congratulated him on his marriage to Helen Pitts of Honeoye, NY in 1884, when others, including family, criticized their interracial marriage. Stanton was a complicated personality who lived a long life, saw many changes and created some of them. Her writings were prolific. She often contradicted herself as she and the world around her progressed and regressed for the better part of a century.
Read more by and about Stanton at the following links.
Read Stanton's favorite public speech, Solitude of Self. 1892.
Read Stanton's Address to the Legislature of New York, 1854.
View or print more information about Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her life in Seneca Falls.